Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

A novel which actually reads like a series of interrelated short stories.  It tells the tale of life in the newsroom of an English language international newspaper based in Rome, particularly in its dying days in 2007.  Each chapter focuses on a different employee and ends with a separate short section about the paper's founding and development.  The book's strength is in its description of numerous eccentric characters, their personal lives and their relationships with each other.  I particularly liked the chapter in which the paper's CFO is forced to sit next to an employee she's just been responsible for firing on a flight from Rome to Atlanta - and the revenge he ultimately exacts.  Many of the characters were unsympathetic - not kind to their peers, failing in their ambitions (or succeeding in them at the expense of others), or cheating on their spouses.  But I did have a soft spot for the obituary writer whose family is impacted by an unexplained accident and the naive student who thinks he's up for a stringer role in Cairo but is really just being used by those around him.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Librarians' Strike is Cramping My Style

Toronto librarians have been on strike for a week and I'm starting to feel at a loss.  If it goes on much longer I'll have to buy books!  This week I've read a guide book about Barcelona for an upcoming visit there.  Useful but not too scintillating.  I also read a guide to retirement by one of the women in my book club ("For the First Time" by Sylvia Solomon).  She actually started out by blogging about her own experiences with retiring about 3 years ago and it evolved into this book which she self published in February.  She deals with the psychological and emotional aspects of retirement rather than the financial side and has some very interesting views on the topic.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

I can't remember who recommended this book (probably the NY Times) but it was quite good.  It deals with the aftermath of the death of a newborn after only 57 hours.  The perspective changes from the mother to the father, the 13 year old son, the 10 year old daughter, a 23 year old daughter of the father from a college relationship and, somewhat mysteriously, a 19 year old misfit who bumps into the family and has just lost his own father.  The time frame also switches from the present to a year ago, when the baby died, and contains one segment about 8 years prior which is the only other time the stepsister spent any time with the family.  The character development and the revelation of the secrets of the various family members is really well executed.  The sadness of the children which for a long time goes unnoticed by the parents as they grieve is particularly poignant.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stephen King On Writing

In one of my LinkedIn writers' groups, this book was one of the most frequently recommended handbooks for writers.  While I found the casual, conversational style somewhat annoying, it was interesting to see how similar the advice of a popular novelist is to that of the more literary writers whose advice I've read more often.  It was also encouraging - King came from lower, middle class (white trash) roots and received dozens of rejections before he sold a novel.  He started selling stories to comic books and "men's" magazines.  He also believes reading a lot is essential to becoming a good writer, which makes all my pleasure reading feel like necessary background research.  The book also contains some interesting biographical information, including an account of the near fatal car accident he suffered in 1999 while in the middle of writing this book.  However, I wouldn't read it unless you're interested in the writing techniques which is the main focus.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

A very short book (129 pages) beginning with the immigration of young women from Japan to the US in the early 1900s and ending with their "resettlement" during World War II.  The book is written in an unusual, almost impersonal, style.  Though much of it is in the first person perspective it does not introduce us to any particular character, many characters are never named, but tells the story of dozens of women, their husbands, and their white employers and neighbours.  The prose is almost poetry like in style which makes it a really easy read and though the style is impersonal it's impossible not to sympathize with the myriad of characters whose names you don't even know.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

One Day

I'd run out of reading material so picked up this "chick lit".  It was light in some ways, but depressing in others - all those missed opportunities just because the characters were afraid to tell each other the truth!  Not a terrible read when there was nothing else around though.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts

A non-fiction account by Erik Larson of the experiences of the US ambassador to Nazi Germany in the early 1930s.  He pieced the book together based on diaries of Ambassador Dodd, his daughter Martha, and many of the others they encountered, including the first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.  It was really interesting to read about the rise of Hitler from the perspective of people who did not know what was coming next, and in particular, to see the reluctance of the US government and foreign service to become involved in another country's "internal affairs".  Though seemingly appalled by the treatment of Jews, Ambassador Dodd worked hard to convince Jewish leaders in the US to tone down their criticism so as not to offend the German government and make things worse.  My main criticism is there were many characters and it was hard to remember who was who though I suppose they all figured in the Dodds' lives, and thus the story would not be realistic without mentioning them.  The book was also a bit dry at times, but I still found it worth the read.