Thursday, May 31, 2007

Point to Point Navigation: a Memoir, 1964 to 2006
Palimpsest: a Memoir

by Gore Vidal

Unless you already have some familiarity with Gore Vidal, don't read Point to Point Navigation until you've read Palimpsest, which covers the earlier part of his life. Even having read the earlier memoir, as well as some of his fiction and essays, I still found this latest book a bit erratic and at times full-on confusing. (Give the guy a break, he's getting pretty old.) Anyone who enjoys reading memoirs will enjoy Palimpsest, but P to P is probably only going to appeal to hardcore Vidal-ophiles.

I read Palimpsest ages ago, at a time when I had zero interest in nonfiction. I really only picked it up because it had a picture of G.V.'s extremely handsome boarding-school boyfriend. Turns out Vidal's life is a fascinating mix of politics, old money, and show business. It helps, too, that he has a very sharp wit and isn't shy about speaking his mind. He was also, in his own way, a gay rights pioneer: he wasn't an activist, and he didn't "come out" publicly the way the famous do these days; he simply always was, unapologetically, who he was, one facet of which happened to be that he's gay.

Other books by Vidal that I've read include Myra Breckenridge and The Smithsonian Institution, both trashy-fun fiction (the latter actually has a paperback edition with a romance-style cover); I also read a collection of his essays, Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta. I wanna read more of his fiction, but there's so much other stuff to read too. Sigh.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Effect of Living Backwards

by Heidi Julavits

Although I read it maybe five years ago, this is a book I frequently recommend — in part because it's frequently on the shelf in my library, unlike a lot of other titles I'd like to recommend. Plus it's just a really interesting, weird book with flavors of Douglas Coupland and Haruki Murakami, and even a little Tom Clancy.

What does that get you? Surreal... familial... terrorism... with laughs. Two sisters who hate each other are on a hijacked plane, where they start competing for the romantic attention of their blind captor. Doesn't sound like the kind of story that's capable of providing insight into the human condition, does it? And yet somehow it works, but it's difficult to explain; you just have to trust me. The convoluted plot and psychological screw-turning are kind of reminiscent of an M.C. Escher drawing: there's that quality of convincing realism at war with the subtle (but obvious once you see it) impossibility of it all.

Still not sounding like much of a recommendation? What can I say, it's a tough sell. Best for adventurous readers and risk-takers.