Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some nice reading this week

Finished up a book this week that took almost a month to complete and also read two others. With classes having started up again, I may not be as prolific a reader so we'll see what the weeks ahead hold.

The long book was the best. I was not familiar with T.C. Boyle until I read How to Read Novels Like a Professor. Having read Boyle I have to wonder how I never heard of him. I've never read anyone who puts together words as well as he. I liken his writing to that of Michael Chabon in that he uses a wide variety of words and is incredibly descriptive. But where Chabon usually has me running for a dictionary, Boyle doesn't use the fifteen-cent words. As a result, it's just beautiful writing.

The Women is a novel about Frank Lloyd Wright and his four wives. The story is told by a Japanese man who apprenticed with Wright. It's like a biography of Wright told through the eyes of each of his wives. The book starts with the most recent wife and ends with the first wife so the end of each section overlaps with the beginning of the previous one. It's quite an interesting way to tell a tale, both through the semi-outsider narrator and the chronological overlaps.

Typically I hate historical fiction. I love non-fiction and don't like people taking liberties with "fact". That's the case here and one of the reasons I couldn't rank this book higher. I don't know how much of this is real. Part of that is my fault for not knowing more about Wright. But that is why I would read a non-fiction book, to find out more about him. Nonetheless, as long as I don't try to talk about Wright at a cocktail party, it doesn't really matter too much and the choice of Wright as the subject is a good one. He is familiar enough to make him a good selection for the center of the novel.

My other quarrel with this book is the length. I hesitated reading it because it was in excess of 450 pages. Given Boyle's writing style, there's no way to shorten it. For it's length, I never was left bored or feeling like a section should have been omitted. Everything was there for a reason and everything fit. It's just a well-done book. When I think about it, the word crafted comes to mind. To call this a well-written book doesn't do it enough justice. I'll read Boyle again, maybe this fall when I can hopefully commit some time to another one of his books.

My other two books involved returns of one sort or another. The Learners is in our system now and I requested it. I did not enjoy it near as much as I did The Cheese Monkeys. It was much darker. The main character has graduated from college and goes to work for an ad agency in New Haven, Connecticut. There's more graphic design lessons but it seems more forced. Probably the most interesting aspect of the book is the accurate portrayal of Dr. Stanley Milgram's "obedience" experiments. That was pretty fascinating and is an interesting depiction of the form/content aspects that make up the core of the design concepts in the book. The book was just too dark for my tastes, though, especially after The Cheese Monkeys.

It got me thinking, though. I have a hard time coming up with a second book by an author whom I have read immediately after a first book where the second book lived up to the first. I think I should let time pass before diving in.

The last book I read was a re-read with a purpose. Cork Boat is a book by a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton which is about a lifelong quest by the author to build a boat made out of wine corks. I wanted to read it for inspiration and also because I knew it was a quick read which I could knock out in a day or two. It's a great story. As a young lad, Pollack, the author, collects corks with the dream of one day building a boat. He grows up, enters the workforce, becomes disenchanted and burned out, and decides to try and make the boat a reality.

One of the things I enjoy most about it is that Pollack has a tremendous support system. The amount of people who help him along the way is vast and it's nice to see someone with that kind of support for their project, especially given how out of the ordinary it is. I definitely recommend it for anyone who has a dream that has been on hold.

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