Thursday, April 7, 2005

BOOKS: Books I Read - March

A few days late, but anyway, here's March's installment of Books I Read. (January and February editions can be seen here and here respectively. Grand total for March, eight books -- three fiction, two biographies, two essay collections and one book about giant face-eating rats.

"Lost In A Good Book" by Jasper Fforde The second in Fforde's entertaining "Thursday Next" series, about a "literary detective," funny, lighthearted and very literate sci-fi/mystery adventures. A lot of series fantasy fiction doesn't appeal to me, but so far the Next books are great fun. This one's even better than the first, and I look forward to reading the third, currently in my "Stack of Books I Really Must read Soon."

"Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants" by Robert Sullivan Slimy reading, literally, but fascinating stuff about the rats of New York City, where they live and the animal's impact on human history over the years. Not for the weak stomached, but one of those "science made fun" books. Goes on a little long - how much can one read about rats? - but a decent read.

"Amnesia Moon" by Jonathan Lethem One of Lethem's early science-fiction novels, reading like an acid trip. Before he got more polished with books like "Fortress of Solitude," Lethem was good at coming up with incredibly original, strange ideas, but the plots weren't all that tight. A road trip about a man's journey through a post-war wasteland he may have actually created.

"The Life and Death of Andy Warhol" by Victor Bockris After checking out a recent local exhibition of his work, felt like reading a bio of Andy. Bockris does a great job capturing the crazy vibe of post-WWII New York's art scene, exploding into the crazy '60s and hung-over 1970s. It's full of gossip, but also educational and nonjudgmental. Warhol himself comes off as a sad, lonely man, a man who intentionally becomes a void, eaten alive by his own creations.

"Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction" by Sue Townsend I've been reading the Adrian Mole series — fake "diaries" by a pretentious, hypochrondriac and chronically oblivious British lad with delusions of grandeur — since 1984 or so, when the title character was about 13. Now, in this latest book, which my darling wife brought back from New Zealand as it's not out in America yet, Adrian is in his mid-30s, with kids and "accidentally engaged." A lot better than the last book, which tipped the series a little too much into farce, and a nice job of tying in topical events such as the War in Iraq and Tony Blair.

"Hold The Enlightenment" by Tim Cahill (Re-read) Cahill is my favorite travel essay writer, a frequent columnist for "Outside" magazine who manages to combine harrowing adventure tales with humor and self-deprecation. This is his latest collection of essays, another excellent tour around the world, tinted with the author's solemn realization he's getting older. Any book with an essay about hunting for a platypus is OK with me.

"The Partly Cloudy Patriot" by Sarah Vowell Solid book of essays from a disillusioned yet optimistic Democrat, history buff and NPR contributor (also the voice of Violet in "The Incredibles"!). I've heard her compared to David Sedaris but didn't find her quite as funny, although I like her wry tone and ability to combine fervent liberalism and patriotism in a way we don't see too often these days.

"Cary Grant: A Biography" by Marc Eliot Grant is right up there among my top classic Hollywood stars, and I checked out this new bio from the library recently. The man who was born Archie Leach had a fascinating life story, from abandoned orphan to a traveling acrobat to becoming one of the world's biggest movie stars. The author here seems a little fixated on Grant's alleged bisexuality -- he digs into Grant's sharing a house with fellow actor Randolph Scott in the 1940, frequently calling them "lovers" -- yet a dig through the notes in the back show little solid attribution for a lot of this in this otherwise well-researched tome. A few "anonymous" interviews are cited to back it up, which always get this journalist's ire up. Anyway, nitpitcking aside, I'm making it sound like I didn't enjoy the book as much as I did. Admittedly, Grant might well have "played both sides" of the fence, but it's only a part of his story. Eliot does a nice job examining the reasons for Grant's appeal through the decades, and the mystery of how this icon of manhood was rarely ever satisfied in love. Great Hollywood babylon.

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