Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Goldfinch

OK… gotta say this. There is one person, and his name starts with "M" and he always criticizes me when he sees me walking through the office on my way to the lunchroom with a new book under my arm, and he says something along the lines of "Oh! Another five-star book?" -- implying that I am an always-positive reviewer of what I read.
Admittedly, I rarely hate a book. 

But I attribute this to my GREAT SELECTION OF AUTHORS…..!! -- you know?
Like, for instance -- Donna Tartt.
I do not even have words to adequately describe how much I love her work.
Her The Secret History, vying for Anna Karenina as my fave fiction of all time!
I may even be in love WITH her.
And her latest book, The Goldfinch had me captivated from page 1 to 771. Superb.
The Goldfinch follows [via first-person narration] the life-journey of young Theo Dekker… a 13-year old New Yorker who survives a bomb blast in an art museum.  As he recovers amid the wreckage, a still-living old-timer speaks to him about a certain painting and seems to advise Theo that the right thing to do would be to take the painting… to preserve it, if he survives. Theo takes it, and leaves the smouldering ruins of the art gallery. This painting, and his purloined ownership of it, [of a tethered goldfinch], will follow him the days of his life! 
A panoply of other sort of surrogate owners of the painting are at work, behind the scenes -- unbeknownst to Theo. The uninitiated reader is, like Theo, thrown against the seedy dealings of the stolen-art underworld -- in a word, Theo is in way over his head, involved now in something he had not bargained for, in that decision to take the painting.
This book is every bit as intriguing and inter-woven as her first book, The Secret History, and lovers of that novel will have a difficult time deciding which is better, this one, or that one.
The Goldfinch has clinched Donna Tartt for me as my favorite author in two categories:
1) Authors who make me believe every word of every sentence.
2) Authors I wish were more prolific.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Discovering T.C. Boyle

The second-to-last book I read was When The Killing's Done [2011] by T.C. Boyle. I have to say a few things about it because I thought it was a real gem.
First of all -- I had no idea what to expect. Bought it at a whim. And I was pleasantly surprised.
I love "realism" fiction. I have to be honest -- I just tend to prefer straightforward storytelling -- I don't do too well with stream-of-consciousness stuff, and books where I have to worry too much about what is happening, and what is not really happening

Think about it. My favourite author is still Tolstoy!
Boyle is a "realist" writer, he even describes himself in that way on his own website.  The way I interpret that term is WYSIWYG. "What you see is what you get." What you hear is what was heard, etc.
The word "Killing" in the title of this book does not refer to human murder or anything like that. 

Rather, it involves… animals.
The protagonist is a female National Park Service biologist whose job it is to rid an island off the coast of California of its presence of feral pigs and rats. Introduced by man, these invasive species are threatening the other indigenous wildlife. But animal rights activists do not share her views on the subject. One of them, this extremely obnoxious guy named Dave [with a name like that, you know he's got be a major * * * hole, am I right?]… makes her life a living hell -- constantly boating out to the off-limits island and trying to thwart the efforts of her federally sanctioned actions.
I know -- sounds boring as watching paint dry, right?
Yeah -- maybe because you have not yet read this book!
Trust me, this is a terrific, exciting, and deadly realistic novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it has made me want to read more of T.C. Boyle's stuff!


Splash du Jour: Friday

The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.
-- William Styron --

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wherein I Let Kennedy Choose My Next Book To Read...

 Apparently my cat thinks I should be reading more John Irving!

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

"I'm like the trunk of a cactus, I suppose." she told him. "I take in a dose of culture and time with friends, then I retreat and go live on it for a while until I get thirsty again."
-- Nancy Horan, Loving Frank --

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Splash diu Jour: Tuesday

Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?
-- Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch --

Have a great Tuesday!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dream Catcher: A Review

If you really want to know about this book, the first thing you'll probably want to know is whether you yourself should read it -- "and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it".
Friend -- if you do not recognize the above literary allusion -- you probably will not want to read this book. Because you really have to be into Salinger to read to the end of his daughter's memoir, Dream Catcher.
And I am. So I did.
I liked it. I really did. And here is why:
I believe that if you really want to know someone, you need to either a) speak with the person themself, or b) hear from someone who lived with them. Since J.D. Salnger never wrote an autobiography, Dream Catcher may be the closest we can get to the latter scenario. It's his daughter, speaking.
It does veer into a lot of navel-gazing sort of…. Margaretism -- but seriously now? I think the problem is hereditary! She gets it from her father!
The most idiosyncratic, egocentric person who has probably ever existed.
And one of the greatest authors ever! Go figure!
Dream Catcher is a bit more lengthy than is necessary, if you are looking for straight-up J.D. Salinger info. Because it does digress into [needless?] moments of daughter-ephemera that I am not sure anyone really cares about, but the great thing about this memoir is that you will be able to see those sides of Jerome that I honestly do not think you would see elsewhere. He was a man greatly influenced by his participation as a soldier in WWII, he was a man who carried a life-long penchant for girls decades [and half-a-century] younger than himself -- a man greatly obsessed with privacy and introspection -- and his daughter has told a great tale of all of the above.
This is the kind of guts-raw memoir that any living father, upon reading it [as he did] would immediately adjust his living testament and will long before the last chapter.
It is not an "I-really-liked-my-dad-all-the-time" story.
J.D. Salinger had a few issues.
So did his daughter.
Her argument is that a lot of hers, she lays at his doorstep.
Which, incidentally, [ipso facto] was her own doorstep. We grow up in our parent's homes, do we not?
I enjoyed it -- I tolerated the diversions into Margaretism, to get to know the man himself. 

In the end -- I believe her account.
Holden Caulfield was "well-adjusted" compared to his creator.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Please Excuse Me Whilst I Almost Die

Dear Friends -- Please forgive me for my lack of blogging lately. My extended work time lately is really making me weary. Lethargic. It's all I can do to just read -- which I am trying to keep doing.
But late nights at work and other things [like old age] are taking their toll on me. I'll be back around soon!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

It is a very hard thing to find happiness. Hundreds and thousands of examples exist of how to be miserable, and they are everywhere you look for you to copy. It is easy to be miserable, millions can show you the way. It requires no thought or creativity of your own, just following. To be happy is hard, because no one can show you, it is something you have to work out, create for yourself. No one can give you a model to copy, though many will volunteer, because happiness is not off the rack, one size fits all, it is something each of us has to tailor-make for himself or herself.
-- Margaret Salinger, Dream Catcher: A Memoir --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Splash du Jour: Monday

When people ask what I write about, that's what I tell them: "The drama of human relationships." I'm not even close to running out of material.
-- Joyce Maynard --

Have a great Monday!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Serious Thoughts About Cereal

I've been reading a memoir written by the daughter of J.D. Salinger.
[If you do not know who J.D. Salinger is -- umm, why are you reading Bookpuddle?]
I am a great fan of his stuff.
Even though her book meanders at times into information about herself that admittedly -- I wonder why I should be interested in that -- she does bring it back around to her dad just in time for me to keep reading. 

It's a big book, and it's been taking a while for me to get through it. I may finish it yet this weekend. I have about eight hundred other books in my TBR pile -- and I just added to that pile today at the annual Rockcliffe Park Bookfair.
But enough about me. Let's talk about cereal.
At the end of Ch.22 -- Margaret Salinger notes the difference between the breakfast-making skills of her mother and father. Apparently, dad rocked at making breakfasts.
Mom, not so much.
She goes on and on about how incredible his breakfasts were, how he "cooks eggs perfectly" etc.
I found myself profoundly relating to this guy. Because I take breakfast time seriously -- I really do. I have made many a breakfast for many a guest -- and have never heard a complaint. I've researched and learned the perfect way to "poach" an egg -- and have also perfected the art of "basting" eggs. This gives them the perfect cookedness, without ever having to flip them over.
When it comes to eggs, Margaret has nothing but praise for her dad's breakfasts -- but says of her mother's efforts, "Hers was straight from the English nursery: milky, runny scrambled eggs that we called mucous eggs or snot-on-toast, and Special K, which, in its dry meagreness, made me feel anything but special."
This raises the issue of what happens when you don't have time to fry up a nice batch of unborn chickens.
You eat cereal. At least I do.
And I have to agree with Margaret that Special K is maybe the blandest and basically non-exciting cereal that was ever invented. She's right. It's "meagre".
The question arises, therefore -- "Oh Wise One. What is a more preferable cereal, pray tell?"
The answer to that is easy.
Kellogg's [frigging] Mini-Wheats, in any of their frosted incarnations!
It has GOT to be, without even a doubt, the best quick-o just-add-milk cereal ever invented by mankind. I myself am addicted to Mini-Wheats, whenever there isn't time for a full-out breakfast. They're just incredible, and whoever came up with this idea for a boxed food product to get you though the morning should get a Nobel Prize.
At one point in the history of humanity, there was just those big unwieldy shredded wheat biscuits. 

And prior to that, just like... wheat, waving in the fields to no account whatsoever.
But then some guy said, "I think we can make this stuff spoon-size."
Nobel Prize!


Splash du Jour: Friday

What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
-- Carl Sagan --

Have a great Friday!