- Now Reading: Playing with the Grown-Ups – Sophie Dahl
- Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven – Susan Jane Gilman
- Lowboy – John Wray
- This is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper
- Now Reading: The Next 100 Years – George Friedman
- The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver
- The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood
- The 100 Best Books of the Decade
- Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger
- The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work – Alain de Botton
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I really liked this book. It felt like sort of a hybrid of a novel and travel writing, and the fact that it took place in 1986 added another interesting twist. These were the days where you had to keep in touch by exchanging addresses and people could come meet you at the airport gate.
The book is non-fiction and centers on Gilman and her friend backpacking through a still very closed society China. There’s a bit of a dark twist which I won’t give away, and the second half of the book is definitely hard to put down (I stayed up until 3am to finish it).
This book had a bit of hype surrounding it with some reviewers even going so far as to call it The Catcher in the Rye for the modern age. I read Catcher in the Rye ages ago and remember liking it, but I think it’s a far superior book to this.
The basic plot is that a paranoid schizophrenic boy runs away on the New York subway, and his mother and a detective try and find him. I think the basic problem is that none of these characters are really very likable at all. I suppose it may provide a bit of insight into how a schizophrenic’s mind works, but that’s about it. There’s also a lot of allusions by the mother to some sinister thing that she’s hiding, and I wasn’t all that blown away by the twist when it finally came out.
One last thing that irritated me is I could not figure out when this was set. It doesn’t really make a difference because it’s not like there are flying cars or anything, but every time there’s a reference to the year or someone’s age, it seemed to point to a different date. Maybe it’s just supposed to be part of the schizophrenic thinking, I don’t know.
Basically, if you’re in the mood for this sort of book read The Catcher in the Rye instead.
With Jonathan Tropper you know what you’re going to get to a certain extent: a readable witty story with a male protagonist who has usually suffered the death of a loved one and some romantic failings who is then reunited with an old flame and then fixes things with his family. I don’t mind the relative predictability of the books though since they are mostly very good.
This one has gotten pretty good reviews overall, but I don’t think it’s as good as his middle three books: How to Talk to a Widower, Everything Changes, and The Book of Joe. His first book, Plan B was really bad – don’t read that.
Tropper’s books are great for a holiday or beach read, somewhere where you want something readable but not completely mindless and he’s really good at creating engaging characters. Definitely recommended if you like Nick Horby and those sorts of books.
Phew, I’m not going to lie: this book was a bit of a mission. Even though it’s only about 250 pages (some with pictures of maps) it took a disproportionately long time to get through. It was interesting though, just a tad on the academic side.
That said, if you’re passionate about international relations and the future, then this is the book for you. I don’t own the copy I read but I wish I did since it would be a good one to keep and look back on in 20 years to see how his predictions are playing out.
About those predictions. Basically there with be lasers in space, the militarization of the moon, a third world war with Turkey and Japan taking on the US and Poland, a collapse in Russia, and a rise of Mexican power. There, now you don’t have to read it anyway!
Another author of a favourite (The Poisonwood Bible) with a lot to live up to, and Kingsolver did it well. The Lacuna follows the story of Harrison Shepard, through his time in Mexico and the US through the 1930’s-1950’s. Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Trotsky all make appearances as well as many significant cultural and political events of the time.
It’s definitely an interesting story and I feel like I learned a lot from it. She captures really well the feeling of patriotism during WWII through to paranoia from communism in the following years. It isn’t the easiest read, I had to force myself to focus at times, but it’s worth it in the end.
Read The Poisonwood Bible as well if you haven’t already.
Although this is a stand alone story more than a sequel, Oryx and Crake and some other characters from that novel actually make an appearance in The Year of the Flood. Unfortunately I read Oryx and Crake about five years ago, so I can’t remember it too well, just that I liked it.
This book focuses on sometime in the not too distant future with The Gardeners (a sort of eco-focused religious group) and the post ‘waterless flood’ world. Atwood has a great imagination and her vision of the post apocalyptic, genetically modified future is fascinating.
I seem to be on a future themed trip lately (The Next 100 Years may actually not be a bad companion to this). I definitely recommend this, and if you haven’t read Oryx and Crake, read that too.