Quick Reviews

I don’t seem to be able to find much time to write substantive reviews of all I’ve read, but I do want to put a few words to each book for my memory’s sake. That is much of the reason I started blogging in the first place. Here are some fast and dirty thoughts about a stack recent books:

  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
I listened to the audiobook version of this and found it absolutely gripping. Listening to a book often slows down my processing and allows me to reflect on structure, and I think this was a particularly good book to do that with. There is no question from the start of the books about who did the murdering and who was murdered–but how exactly did it go down and why? These points don’t come together until about three-quarters of the way through when we have really solid portraits of all involved. I believe Capote is to be credited/blamed with our pop culture fascination with the killer’s mind. He sold it so well.

5/5, library audiobook

The Overstory by Richard Powers

I loved, loved this book. It starts with a series of short-story-like chapters, each establishing a character and his or her background. In each chapter/story there is a tree: a chestnut, mulberry, redwood, ash, beech, oak. Then Powers expands the structure. He takes the last of the characters, a college student who accidentally electrocutes herself but comes back from this near-death experience with a sense of a mission that propels her out of college, on the road where she meets another of the characters….and slowly all are knitted together in an overarching story about a group of people’s quest to save the forests. What’s remarkable about this book is not only the way Powers connects each of these characters and their stories together into a meaningful plot, but also the way he smoothly integrates research and science on trees, forests, and other species. This book could have come off as a fragmentary, cheesy eco-novel, but instead it becomes  a symphony that makes you weep for the beauty of the forests and weep for our ignorant, casual destruction of such riches for such mostly shallow purposes.

5/5, library copy

Goodbye to a River by John Graves

John Graves heard in the late 50s that plans were underfoot to put 13 dams on a single 250 mile stretch of the Brazos river in West Texas, an area of the country he had a nostalgic attachment to.  So he decided to take a meandering canoe trip down the then still-wild stretch of the river. He wrote this memoir about it. He interlaces observations about the natural world, the weather, hunting, and his traveling companion, a dog, with anecdotes about the history in this stretch of river which was once a hot spot for clashes between westward pushing pioneers and the native population, particularly the formidable Comanche. Along with these tales are stories about homesteader rivalries and character descriptions of some of the old-timers and oddballs he meets on the river. I really liked Graves’ awareness, even back in 1960, of all the natural glory that was being lost and wasted both by the dam proposals and increased human activity in general. But some of the anecdotes were more tedious than illuminating, and he used way too many ellipses, which really affected how I read the memoir. This book got a lot of attention in its day, and I believe only 3 or so of the dam projects were actually built as a result.

3/5, personal copy

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

I have been curious about this book for so long and honestly, I don’t know what the fuss is. Would someone please explain? It’s a book about privileged  people who don’t do very much besides drink and vacillate between delight and disapproval of each other, religion, love, and change. Could it be all the vague–or even bold–suggestions of homosexuality of many of the characters that have garnered such praises? I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t find it as brilliant as I expected either. I wonder if I’d listened to this narrated by a really great voice actor if I’d have appreciated it more. I read this one as part of my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge books.

3/5, personal copy

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I was fascinated by this multigenerational story of Korean immigrants to Japan, before, during, and after the war, who end up carving out a successful business niche in Japanese society running pachinko parlors. Before starting, I knew a bit about how poorly Koreans have been treated by the Japanese. Even after generations, most descendants of Korean-born immigrants still have to renew their papers to stay in Japan, their country of birth and cultural identification. This book gave me characters and a story to hang this general knowledge on, even if it was fiction. It was a very different take on Japan than I’d ever read. Highly recommend this if you enjoy family sagas, immigrant stories, and stories set in Japan.

5/5, personal copy

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