Wednesday, June 28, 2006


by Daniel Handler

This book was a pleasure to read. Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) is a virtuoso of the English language, and he has an imagination to match his verbal talent. The story includes distorted current events, magic realism, interwoven plot lines — but Tom Clancy fans beware: this is not a plot-driven novel!

It's a love story, really, and as such isn't about what so much as how. It's written conceptual art, and it wouldn't have worked if it were written by someone with less flair. The author describes love by example, usually by saying "this is like love" rather than "love is like..."; it reminded me of a lyric by Stephin Merritt: "Love is like a bottle of gin / but a bottle of gin is not like love."

There really isn't much else to say. It's fun, interesting, absorbing, and I laughed out loud at least five times. If you read for pleasure (as opposed to preoccupation), this book is for you.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Closing of the Western Mind: the rise of faith and the fall of reason

by Charles Freeman

Based on what I've written on this blog so far, you might think I only read fluff, with the occasional "serious" novel. Well, it's true that until two years ago I didn't read nonfiction unless I had to — and I haven't had to since I graduated college in 1995. (Am I seriously that old?) After my nonfiction awakening, however, I've gotten so in touch with my inner nerd that I've actually created booklists for people who want to read popular science.

That said, The Closing of the Western Mind is a bit, shall we say, dry. Terribly interesting, of course, but dryer than a day-old scone. I'd only recommend this book if you're fascinated by the early history of the Christian church(es) and/or the fall of the Roman Empire, or if you have insomnia.

I had imagined the book would be a bit more philosophical, or even more science-y. (The brain is the realm of reason, after all, and the intersection of metaphysics and neuroscience is fertile ground these days.) And, to be honest, as an atheist (and recovering Catholic) I had hoped the author would be more critical of the notion of faith.

What the author does instead — and does very well — is to catalog the social and political changes that shaped both the late Roman Empire and the early Christian church; to demonstrate how the disintegration of the former interacted with the consolidation of the latter; and, most importantly, to detail the evolution and enforcement of church doctrine and the consequent creation of the idea of faith: in a nutshell, the elements of doctrine were culled from so many sources, filtered through so many differing interpretations, and subject to so many non-religious influences (Roman politics, barbarian invasions, personal rivalries among bishops, &c.), and were therefore riddled with so many contradictions that at some point someone had to say "Believe it because I said so!"

So, OK, it is a pretty damning history of "faith" after all, if you manage to read the whole book, and as long as you aren't prone to see the invisible hand of god guiding everything all along. I guess next I'll have to read The End of Faith: religion, terror, and the future of reason.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Play Boy Blues, vol. 1

by Shiuko Kano

This book comes with an "Explicit Content: Parental Advisory" warning, and boy did it ever! Graphic sexual content, not to mention gay sex, not to mention prostitution, not to mention incest-in-law (step-brothers) — YEE-HAW!

No way can I describe it any better than this, from the cover of the book:

Selling one's body at Japan's most popular Host Club comes naturally for Junsuke Ake. In fact, he is the club's top performer (and earner!) and is easily the most popular Host with the female clientele. However, his lover, a former Host named Shinobu Hishiya, has forsaken the wild club lifestyle in favor of his new job as a construction worker. Together, they share wild days and passionate nights, making love whenever, wherever, and however they want. But when jealousy and male pride enter the picture, their blissful, sexy relationship may not be able to handle the strain. ... Also includes a sexy bonus feature!

I've finally gotten over my fear of graphic novels. I used to find the images overwhelming, especially when they didn't just go square to square to square the way comic strips do. (Ack! What box do I read next?!) As you can imagine, reading manga was even more challenging, because the illustrators are very creative with the shapes of the panels, but mostly because YOU HAVE TO READ IT BACKWARDS! If you know Japanese or Hebrew, you'll be familiar with the concept, but it can be a bit disorienting for the rest of us. Know what's even more confusing? Trying to read it left to right; it doesn't make any sense.

Actually, it didn't take very long to adapt to reading in the other direction. My complaint that remains is that you have to turn the pages a lot because there's just dialog and sort-of stage directions, so unless you linger over the illustrations (which you might do, depending on what's happening, especially in an erotic book like this one) you turn the page every 30 seconds.

Now I'm hooked, I'm reading more manga and other graphic novels, and I'm distressed by the fact that the library hasn't yet purchased Play Boy Blues 2.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Departure Lounge

by Chad Taylor

What is it about New Zealand? Why so dark and moody? (For that matter, why so many movies about lesbians?) A former co-worker, who lived awhile in N.Z., told me the weather there is remarkably similar to the weather here in western Oregon — which begs the question: why isn't anyone comparing the Chad Taylor to Portland's own master of moody, Chuck Palahniuk? (The cover copy does mention: Raymond Chandler, Anne Rice, Jean-Paul Sartre, Nick Cave, Russell Banks, Paul Auster, and Ross MacDonald — none of which comparisons ring true for me, beyond the basic noirishness.)

I think what's up with the comparisons is that someone wants this book to be a Mystery (as opposed to regular old fiction); the word "mystery" also pops up several times in the blurbs, as does "thriller." While I will cop to the fact that there is a mystery of sorts driving some of the action, it's actually a stale mystery that, however much it haunts and motivates the central characters, never gets solved and doesn't need to — in fact, were the mystery to be solved, this story could not be told.

I'd call it more of a psycho-drama, which of course makes me want to say it's "taut" (because that's what one says about such things), but in fact it's rather languid and murky and decidedly not a thriller. We delve pretty deeply into one character's mind, only to realize we've just scratched the surface: the book's leitmotif is the significance of absence: everyone can see what's there, but what's not there is where it's at.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Girls, Girls, Girls

The Black Book: diary of a teenage stud, vol. 1

by Jonah Black

Since this is only the third entry in my reading journal, you probably haven't caught on yet: I love teen fiction — especially about love — the sexier the better! When I was a teen myself, I used to sneak into my sister's room and secretly borrow her Sweet Valley High books and stay up all night reading them. (I preferred bad girl Jess to goody-goody Elizabeth.) Now that I'm all growed up and work in a library, I have access to a lot more, and I've become particularly fond of teen romantic fiction from the point of view of the boy.

After only a few pages, I was hooked on the Black Book series. The eponymous protagonist slips back and forth between reality and imagination in a way that I found very appealing (and very verisimilitudinous — yes, it's a word), but a colleague who also reads a lot of teen fiction was turned off by it. Mimicking that duality, it's unclear whether "Jonah" is a real teen author or someone's pen name — sort of the book equivalent of a mockumentary. (Artifiction?)

The series begins with and centers around Jonah's mystery-shrouded (and rumor-inspiring) return to Florida from a private boarding school in Pennsylvania. Next comes romantic intrigue, plus a bit of friendly and family drama. It ends after only a few tantalizingly meager clues about the central plot, unstable fixes for a couple of the subplots, and a sucker punch finale that made me yell out loud.

A quick, fun read with a likable narrator/protagonist; I'll definitely read the rest of the series.

Update 08/09/06:
I recently read the second volume, Stop, Don't Stop, and it's awesome! I could have — I wanted to — read it one sitting if I'd had that much time all at once.

Update 12/18/06:
I've finally read all four of the books. The series is good all the way through. Too bad it's over.