Friday, August 28, 2009

A Funny Name and an Excellent Story

Well, crap. I just wrote a whole, long beautiful review of this and it DISAPPEARED. For no apparent reason. I'm mad and sad at the same time. But I'll try to recreate to the best of my ability...

This is an incredible book. And I don't mean, "incredible for a comic book." While it is a graphic novel, Asterios Polyp is a better book than 80% of the prose books I've ever read in my life.

It's a fairly simple story when boiled down to its basics. A man, our hero Asterios, has a broken heart, and it's really his own fault. So he's depressed and miserable. Then he goes through some mental and spiritual rejuvenation in a small town where he happens to get off the bus. And then he goes and tries to get back his girl.

The genius of the book is in its construction. Everything is laid out in dualities. The book uses two main colors, as you can see from the cover image. The story is told in segments alternating between the present and the past. The narrator is not Asterios himself, but his twin brother Ignazio - who died at birth. And there is imbedded in the story some literal discussion of duality in architecture and design, in art, in science, in human nature, in the universe. Layered on top of all of this duality is the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, acted out in the persons of Asterios and his love, Hana, and also making a literal appearance in the story when Hana becomes involved in an actual production of Orpheus, the musical. Add to all of this some insights into the nature of architecture and design, told in a story constructed in an architectural manner and through artwork that is the epitome of good design, and you have a pretty complexly constructed book.

That brings me to the art. The very colors used in each scene are weighted with meaning. In a book where even the colors have such significance, you can guess how important the rest of the artwork is. It's very modern - in a late-'50s/early-'60s kind of way - and very focused on high design. The lines used to draw the characters are frequently used to give the reader insight into their personalities, even when they are minor characters. I have never read a book where the art was so important to understanding the moods, personalities, even souls of the characters.

This book was just amazing. It touched my heart; it made me think; it made me laugh; it made me slow down and study the art; it's stayed with me for weeks. I want to read it at least 10 more times in my life. And I'd highly recommend anyone else do the same. I'd give it 6 of 5 stars if that were possible.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Love a Character I Love to Hate!

Man oh man. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did. I thought it would be just another mediocre chick lit book - which is honestly about the level of brain power I wanted to expend - and it didn't disappoint me in being an easy read. But it was so much more clever and well-written than I generally expect from the chick lit genre.

First a description (from Like the legendary London Bridge, Diana Lively has been transplanted from England to the Arizona desert. Trained as an architect and top in her class, she makes dollhouses. Widowed at a young age, she distrusted people who were kind to her, and married Ted, the one man who wasn't. Maybe it's a good thing that Diana Lively's life is suddenly out of her control. A brash American billionaire wants to put up a King Arthur Theme Park smack in the middle of the Arizona desert. With dollar signs dancing in its head, Oxford University is only too happy to send Ted Lively, their resident Arthurian expert, to consult on the project. There, in the most unlikely place, in the most surprising ways, Diana is about to discover that the happiness she thought was lost forever can shower down on her again, can flood her dry life like a lake in the desert, and make it bloom. Oh, and Ted. Ted is about to discover that there is justice in the world...

I felt so much for Diana. I couldn't identify with her necessarily - I don't have kids, haven't given everything up for my kids, didn't lose my first husband and love of my life, didn't marry a douchebag as a second husband. But I felt her SPIRIT in there, and I was just rooting for her the whole time to come out and be herself! And her son, Humphrey - man was I cheering for that kid. He was really, honestly too good to be true, but I loved him anyway.

And then there was Ted, her jackass husband. It was so much fun to HATE him. He was a character written expressly to BE hated, and Curran makes it so much fun to do so. I have rarely had a better time watching such carefully laid evil plans unravel...

So, again - easy on the brain, fast to get through, totally chick lit, but a higher quality than what you might expect. And such a good time to read. 5 stars for this one just because I had a blast reading it!

Hypocrite on a Book Blog

Bad blogger! Bad, bad!! I am so far behind on reviews - I have at least four more books to review after this one, maybe five. I might get through two tonight...maybe.

I'll kick it off with my book club's August selection, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman. This is a reasonably amusing and entertaining memoir - there were moments that had me clutching my gut with laughter. Unfortunately, there were also moments that had my eyes rolling over some of her preteen and teen antics.

I did enjoy reading about her bucking against her hippie upraising. Her parents are quite the individuals... I died over the guy who threw out his back trying to do the stupid "how many hippies can we fit in a VW Bug" stunt, and the whole chapter about her mom trying to force the entire family to learn meditation was awesome. Her reflections on anti-racism being pushed down her and her classmates throats when she lived in an extremely multicultural neighborhood was interesting. But DEAR GOD. The chapters on her high school years were PAINFUL. She was selfish and an idiot. As we all were as teenagers. She had nothing meaningful to contribute to the world from that part of her life, IMHO.

After she gets out of college, though, and gets her first journalism job for a Jewish newspaper, the story picks up again. I love love love LOVED the chapter about how she writes a piece about gay and lesbian rabbis, trying to push the buttons of her conservative readership and do something interesting to her at the same time, and then starts getting calls. From Jewish mothers. Who want her to date their daughters. Because she seems like a good Jewish girl, just perfect for their good Jewish girls. And she doesn't know how to tell them that she's actually straight. HA! And then her wedding planning chapter, from which the book takes its name, was a bit of a let down for me. It elicited a kind of a DUH reaction from me.

So, good, then blah, then really good, then meh. That's how I feel about the book. 3.5 of 5 stars, maybe up to a 4 if you really like memoirs (as I do).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The. Best. Site. EVER.

DUDES. I know it's been a long time since I've posted. I have three books I need to review for you, and I'll get to them soon, I promise. But I absolutely could not delay sharing this website with you: It is, clearly, the best website of all time.

You sign up, FOR FREE. You verify your account, and then you add books you want to sample to your "shelf." Every day, this website, this beautiful, awesome, lovely website, sends you the first chapter of the book. FOR FREE.

If you ask me why this is awesome, I am going to ask you why you bother calling yourself a reader. I have, as I'm sure you have, been disappointed by more than one book in my life. I've gotten all excited and geared up to read what I think will be a fantastic story, only to hate the writing style or feel the characters are flat or the pace is too slow or some combination of these and many other problems. I will admit that reading the first chapter is not always a fair assessment of how you'll feel about a book at the end, but it definitely gives you an idea of whether you're excited enough to buy it or if you just want to check it out of the library or just wait until your friend who buys every book offers to loan it to you...or just never read it at all, period. With hundreds of books on my wishlist, the ability to narrow it down to what will really grab me is much desired.

Plus, don't you just love it when an author you love has the first chapter of their next serial book in the back of the book you're reading? I love that! This is like having that for lots and lots and lots of books. They don't have every book ever. I searched for some titles that did not pop up in the search results. But they have LOTS. And if you don't have books on your shelf, they'll send you a link to their book of the day. Generally, I find all of this to be awesome.