Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bookworm's progress report #3

I'm happy to say that it looks like I'll be achieving my goal to finish my New York Times reading list before the year is over. I've made good headway since my last progress report, and I only have 3 more books to go (4 if you count Hamlet, which I need to read to prep myself for Updike's Gertrude and Claudius).

Quick looks at the 3 novels I finished in the last month:

The Book Against God is not as controversial as the title sounds. It's not really a book against God, it's a story about a man who's writing a book against God. Trouble is, his father is a vicar, and has no clue his son is an atheist. There is a certain comic feel to this novel by James Wood, thanks to the pathetic nature of the main character and the pompously erudite yet blithely ignorant first-person narrative, but primarily the content is philosophical, and unfortunately most of the arguments and symbolism just went over my head. Strangely enough, although this novel is one of the New York Times' best books of 2003, I came across a New York Times review that criticized it as "
flawed by pretentiousness, top-heavy with ''meaning,'' wobbly in tone, hobbled, ultimately, by a failure to bring off the grand message it seeks to deliver". That pretty much sums up what I thought about the book, and leaves me wondering why the Times put it on their best books list at all.

Maybe it's because I'm not a middle-aged American man, but I couldn't muster up any sympathy for the protagonist in Preston Falls, who undergoes a midlife crisis in spectacularly destructive fashion, involving drugs, guns, rock n' roll, and home improvement. If I were his beleaguered and long-suffering wife, I wouldn't have put up with all his crap, especially the seeming lack of concern for his family's welfare. It's no wonder their children are such annoying little brats. Perhaps this was author David Gates's point, precisely, to portray, if not parody, a typical American family's dysfunctional behavior, likable or otherwise. However, I just didn't like his book very much.

Now White Teeth I did like, and it is the kind of book I'd love to be able to write someday: a funny, poignant, painfully honest and truthful look at the loves, losses and lives of an ethnic minority family living in a country and culture not their own. In this case, the ethnicities involved are Bangladeshi and Jamaican, and the country is England. The ending was a bit unsatisfying, but overall it was an engaging read, with memorable, quirky characters and crazy but believable plot twists. I definitely agree with all the critical acclaim heaped on this debut novel by young writer Zadie Smith, who like fellow celebrated debutante Marisha Pessl, gives me severe writer envy.

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While I'm on the subject of books, I'd like to promote the site Shelfari, which I think my fellow bookworms out there would like. It lets you "build" a shelf of books, so that your network can see what books you own, are reading, or would like to buy. You can also read reviews of your books, and post your own reviews. I've inserted my reading list bookshelf in my blog's sidebar, a neat little addition to keep my faithful bloghounds updated on what I'm currently reading. Check out Shelfari yourself, and add me to your network so we can share our shelves.


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