Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Life and Fate

by Vasily Grossman

Long story short, this is the World War II version of War and Peace. It's a sweeping narrative following the fortunes — personal, political, military — of an extended family during the battle for Stalingrad (though most of them aren't actually in Stalingrad at the time); it's 870 pages, plus eight pages of character names (not even including the many nicknames Russians use).

It's also a really fantastic book, well worth reading. Special interest in Russian lit is not required, but it would help. Also not for the faint-hearted; you'll be mired in the tragedy of war, the tragedy of the human condition, the tragedy — and tragic ironies — of post-revolutionary Russia. (An example of the latter: "The soul of wartime Stalingrad was freedom. ... Here, ten years later, was constructed a vast dam, one of the largest hydro-electric power stations in the world — the product of the forced labour of thousands of prisoners.")

On top of all that tragedy, I found other reasons to almost cry. (I seem to be almost crying more often as I get older. I get all verklempt every time I think about Jimmy Carter.) This book is about a war in the '40s, was written in the '50s and published in the U.S. in the '80s, and the world is still effed up in the same exact ways. I know I shouldn't find that surprising, yet somehow it's devastating. Won't we ever learn?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cassandra French's Finishing School for Boys

by Eric Garcia

This is one that I read ages ago, and I've selected it as my first "blast from the past" review because it's also one of the suggestions I came up with the other day when a patron asked for fun, light reading and for the first time I ACTUALLY USED MY BLOG AS A READERS ADVISORY TOOL!!!!!!!

Anyway, it's absolute fluff — and absolutely delicious. It's a bonbon of a book in which our protagonist, frustrated with dating and disappointed yet again by a man, refuses to roll over and take it like a woman. Instead she ties him up in her basement and begins training him to become a better man, the kind of man a modern young(-ish) woman would be proud to date, perhaps even marry. As you might imagine, hilarity ensues.

It's chick lit — written by a man. It's a beach book — although I cannot condone reading in the presence of large amounts of sand and/or water.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Dear Myself

by Eiki Eiki

What a disappointment. A great idea that didn't deliver. Teenage boy loses two years of memories (car accident gave him amnesia, but when the amnesia went away he forgot what happened during the years he had amnesia) and has to come to terms with the gay relationship he began during the amnesia years, with the help of his precocious younger sister and a letter (hence the title) that he wrote to himself before regaining/losing his memory. Not really cute or sweet, not sexy, and I read the whole thing in about half and hour.