Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lit review

Marcelo in the Real World is high-calibre, genre-transcending YA fiction in the vein of John Green's best work. Marcelo has an Aspberger's-like condition that makes it difficult for him to interpret the nuances of conversational speech and also manifests in the ability to hear music that no one else can hear. Marcelo's dad, who has never believed that Marcelo has a condition, makes a deal with him that if Marcelo spends the summer working in his dad's law firm, he'll be able to finish out his high school career at the special-needs school he has been attending. When Marcelo enters the "real world" he comes up against the sad, complicated, morally ambiguous choices that come along with it, and has to navigate his way through the "real world" while maintaining his sense of self. The book is fantastic mainly because it represents the unique voice of Marcelo without speaking down to the reader or demeaning the character - and Marcelo is a great character. Funny, smart, empathetic. For any English teachers - this would be a great addition to the curriculum and I think there's a lot that you could pull from the book to make it work for a few grade levels.

Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw is a collection of essays of food and the world of cooks. The Bourdain of 2010 is a lot more traveled, less bitter, and more moneyed than the Bourdain of Kitchen Confidential fame. With the fame, he's toned down the roiling machismo and hyperbole (some) of Kitchen Confidential and I devoured this collection of essays gluttonously - because few people write for cooks. This book is for cooks. The essay on David Chang, Bourdain's "Heroes and Villains" chapter, it's all for those who have known the sweet kiss of the salamander's heat and who have donned the checkered pants. The collection can be a little insider-y and name-checky, but that's just how he rolls now, and he makes a point of acknowledging his luck. His writing is on point, better now that there's less vitriol and his position is gentler and less about the adversarial dick-measuring contest.

Matched is being touted as the next Hunger Games - because everyone (read: publishers) are all desperate for the next Hunger Games. I liked it, but didn't love it. The novel takes place in a near-future America where all your agency, including who you will marry, your job, and how and when you die, are controlled by "officials." The protagonist, who is somewhat passive and lack's Katniss Everdeen's grit, finds herself matched to her lifelong best friend, until a blip in the system matches her accidentally with this strange boy, setting off a series of events that results in her growing realization that having EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE CONTROLLED IS KINDA FUXZ0RED. Like I said, the main character is kind of passive and annoying and her brain-fuxz0redness is kind of annoying, but it was still pretty good reading and I'm intrigued enough to want to know where it's going (it's going to be a 3-part series).

Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. This "novel," made up of individual chapters following a different character in a loosely connected web of relationships, is a deeply affecting work that exhibits both Egan's considerable writing chops and works as an elegiac, wistful, incisive snapshot of our times. It's difficult to describe - it reminds me of some of the best television writing around now - similar to Treme where you're dropped into a moment in a person's life that is about them navigating that moment but also stands in for where they've been and where they're going. It's not surprising that HBO picked it up to turn into a series - it's perfect for that treatment. The book follows people navigating the music industry in the late 70s into the next millenium - it's about being young, messed up, and growing into an older, differently messed up iteration of your younger self, with new responsibilities and decisions and regrets and small triumphs. I really loved this book and can't recommend it enough.

Getting ready for the cottage is nearly breaking me - but tomorrow SMckay is coming over to go swimming and brunching with me and the Big Yam so I'm super-pumped to go on cottage prep hiatus for that.


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