Sunday, March 29, 2009

Book Review: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

I had to check to make sure The Plot Against America was fiction. Perhaps that makes me gullible. I think that makes it a really good novel.

There's a reason Philip Roth has won the Pulitzer. He’s a great story-teller, and everyone should read his books.

New York Times’ Paul Berman does a much better job extolling the wonder of this book, so I’ll leave the rest of the praise for him. What I can say is that this novel is terrific, but it’s a real struggle for me to finish it.

It's long-winded, sort of like your grandpa (my dziadek) is telling me a story about his life, except it’s much better because it’s a story—and you can't tell. You get lost in the words and, before you know it, night has come and you’re still reading.

Set at the beginning of the Second Great World War, it's the story about a Jewish family from a tiny suburb of Newark, New Jersey. There are a vast number of characters, and they do not all stay in the story. They come and go as transiently as the members of your own circle of family and friends. Yet the story is told in a singular voice, that of the youngest son.

Through his eyes, I watched Charles Lindbergh, the first pilot to complete a solo flight from New York City to Paris, France, become a politician. And as quickly as that, he becomes the president of the United States. But Lindy has an agenda—he is in league with Nazi Germany and it terrifies the Newark Jews.

Slowly, but surely, we watch the United States descend into a chaos that chills the bone, even though you know it’s not real. Roth uses his words to make you think it’s real; not just a story, he teaches you about the time period.

For instance, The Plot Against America introduced me to the historical meaning of a party line—having to be on a phone line with several people on it at the same time because you can't afford to have your own private line.

This book is chilling because it makes you wonder if it really happened (or could have happened). Berman says it best, “The novel is sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous, and, at the same time, creepily plausible.”

This is one I’m recommending to everyone.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursdays: Worst Best Book

Booking Through Thursdays asks:

What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous. I read this when I was about twenty I think, so maybe I didn’t like it because I could no longer relate to Alice. Or maybe I just didn’t like the way she was portrayed? I don’t know. My friend TJ absolutely loves this book. In fact, I read her copy of it.

Normally I like things that have a tinge of mystery around them. I’m fascinated by celebrity deaths, mysterious disappearances, etc. But even that didn’t help this book. The story was just flimsy. She starts off as a pot-smoker and turns into a full-on drug addict? I think it’s just a scary story meant to keep kids on the straight and narrow. Which is fine, but it’s not a very good story.

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I know…this is supposed to be The Book. Countless people consider this as their book. But I just didn’t understand it. I couldn’t relate to this upper middle-class snotty kid who has no interest in doing anything and holds everything in disdain. The kid needs a good smack.

I guess it doesn’t help that I didn’t read this as part of my high school English curriculum. I read it by myself because I was told by everyone—including TJ—that this was The Book. I guess I needed that extra education to really appreciate the book. Reading it alone just made me mad at Holden!

George W. Bush Writing His Memoirs

He didn’t want to come to Canada first when he was in office, but yesterday George W. Bush gave his first speech post-retirement in Calgary, Alberta. Figures he chooses the oil sands first.

Anyhoodle, don’t mind my political grumblings. I reserve those for the other blog.

As is expected, Bush is in the midst of writing his memoirs. Unlike previous presidents, though, he plans to focus on twelve key decisions in his life. Topics he plans on discussing include the juicy ones: 9/11, Katrina, Afghanistan and Iraq.

As much as I hate to admit it, I want to read this book. I’m not expecting much, though.

The book is set to be published in 2010 under Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House.

Link via Book Ninja

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yann Martel Sends Stephen Harper a Book Every Two Weeks

I think (mostly) everyone has read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi by now. I read it several years ago, in my first class of university. I was enchanted by Martel’s fable of an Indian boy’s journey across the ocean in a lifeboat with a tiger.

Because I closely associate the book with my first magical year in university (when everyone was fresh and all the doors had something behind them!), my eyes brighten whenever I hear mention of Mr. Martel.

Last week I was delighted to find a new project Mr. Martel is working on called What is Stephen Harper Reading?

For non-Canadians, Stephen Harper is our prime minister. Our commander-in-charge, if you will, although he looks more like a sleepy accountant than the head of our state. No matter, though.

Mr. Martel vows “to send [Mr. Harper] every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness.” The author reasons that, while the PM is no doubt insanely busy (if he wasn’t, I think we would seriously question his ability AS a leader), he must have moments of stillness. Mr. Martel hopes that these books will be the very things to fill the stillness with. He is committed to showing Mr. Harper that the arts are worth taking time for.

His dedication is amazing. He has already sent 50 books and they aren’t limited to just Canada either—Ernest Hemingway, Michael Ignatieff, Paul McCartney, Jorges Luis Borges…these are just a few of the authors Mr. Martel has mailed to Mr. Harper.

I wonder if it’s worth it. The author boasts exactly one response from Mr. Harper’s office, sent after the first book (by Leo Tolstoy) was received. I really want to believe Mr. Harper does “expand his stillness” with these wonderful presents from Mr. Martel, but a part of me is unconvinced. After all, I hear the PM’s a busy guy.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Book Review: Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes

Ah ha, success! I have FINALLY read a graphic novel from my list! No need for applause, gentle reader. I’m merely performing the bare minimum required of me. Given that I took up the lofty mantle of Major level participation (twelve books), I’m not doing a very good job in this challenge.

I blame society.

Anyway! The first graphic novel to get crossed off is Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes. I’ve read a lot of his work and when I found this FREE online graphic novel, I was happy to add it to the list. Not only is it a quick read, but it’s awesome, just like all of Clowes’ print books.

Clowes’ writes and draws the mundane in a delightfully weird fashion. From the snobby outsider Enid Coleslaw in Ghost World to the thoughtful pick-up artist David Boring, Clowes’ characters are unique in that they don’t strive to be anything more than regular people.

In Mister Wonderful we meet Marshall, a middle-aged divorced guy waiting for his blind date in a café. The graphic novel runs twenty chapters long and spans the course of his date with Natalie and the morning after.

See? Clowes writes the mundane, but manages to make it interesting! The dialogue is snappy and modern and the pictures are typical Clowes—colourful crosshatched image of regular people. The difference is that onscreen they are vibrant. The colours really pop. While I’m not a fan of reading regular books on the computer, Mister Wonderful is easy on the eyes.

Clowes is also a master at making the image fit with the words. For instance, when Natalie discloses to Marshall that her last relationship fell apart after she told her boyfriend she wanted a baby. Her boyfriend’s reaction was a derisive laugh. Clowes draws this laugh, filling Natalie’s apartment with the big block letters HAHA. The laughter haunts her.

Great graphic novel by a stellar writer and artist. I highly recommend Mister Wonderful. It doesn’t take long to read, and it’s a great introduction to Clowes’ work if you’ve never read anything else by him. One thing to note if you plan on reading this, the New York Times posted the conclusion first for some odd reason. Skip the first link and go straight to chapter one. Unfortunately, I read the conclusion first so I had a sense of where the story was going.

Rating: Four stars

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blogging Schedule

Wow, maintaining a daily blog is hard stuff. I’m not giving up yet, though. I love to read and I love to blog, so I don’t see how these two can’t happen together.

Starting next Monday I’m going to blog based on a schedule. I think this will help tamp down the terror I feel each time I think about the Punnery. Terror felt largely because I can’t think of what to post. Sure, I have lots of content, it just needs to be organized.

So here is my upcoming schedule. This is subject to change at a whim, but don’t worry. You’ll know when I change things up.


Author spotlights—news, reviews, possible interviews (fingers crossed!) and everything else about authors, both old and new.


Book reviews—I started this blog as a book review and damnit if it’s not going to continue being a book review blog!


Publishing news—anything related to the book industry: social media, publishing houses, industry speculation, etcetera, etcetera.


Booking Through Thursdays—while I’m not a fan of memes, BTT consistently puts out great questions about your personal reading habits and I love answering them.


Blog carinval—links to notable book reviews that I’ve read in the past week.

It’s pretty bare bones, but this is the ideal amount of content I would like to publish on this blog. I don’t want to get too ambitious for fear of burning myself out or simply overwhelming myself with work. However, I still want to put forth some effort into this because I enjoy it and I think it will improve with time. Hopefully you’ll come along for the journey!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Book Review: Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

Dear Internet,

How do I convey my utmost respect for the beguiling Lady Julia Grey series ? My words simply spill out exhorbitantly when I attempt this endeavour, and the verbiage is enfused with such hyperbole that you'll think I've gone off on a bender or something.

And that is my attempt at trying to write like Deanna Raybourn. It simply can't be done.

Darling, darling, darling Deanna Raybourn. Thank you for saving my faith in romance novels. Twilight didn't do it. Neither did The Time-Traveller's Wife, The Notebook, nor anything by Debbie Macomber (Sorry Debs).

With that first electric kiss in the shadows of a gypsy camp, you made my heart sing. I was so taken, I had to text a friend.

The last time I was so moved by a book, I was sitting on my mother's couch, weeping over a bespeckled Catholic school boy.

Just go out and find Silent on the Moor. It's on-sale March 1 and it makes me smile so. (But don't forget to read the first two!)


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