Friday, September 28, 2012

in one person

This is my third (only!) John Irving novel. I have two others sitting at home* that I'll get to at some point, but I read The Hotel New Hampshire a couple of years ago, and The World According to Garp back the college days.What I liked about both of those is what Irving didn't say in his writing, as much as what he did say. That didn't seem as tangible in this novel, but that isn't a fault. The writing here is more casual and jumped around in time in order to tell the story the way his narrator would.

In One Person is told in the first person, and it traces the narrator's life story, from a small, private high school in '50s Vermont, to the present day. Irving writes the story from the protagonist's point of view, and it appears that he uses the writing style that he has assigned to this character, who is a writer. I get this impression because, as usual, Irving has done a wonderful job of fleshing out his characters, so that after just a few chapters, I felt as if I knew them, if only through the stories told to me by a good friend, about his own family. The narrator tells his story in a kind of free association style one might use to tell a story at a party.

Irving is still writing about dysfunctional families, and while this family isn't nearly as dysfunctional as the families in Garp or Hotel New Hampshire, they certainly have their challenges. This story is focused on the narrator, and what it was like growing up as a bisexual man in Vermont in the '50s, in New York during the sexual revolution in the '60s and the rise of the Gay Rights movement in the '70s,  and the AIDS epidemic in the '80s.

As usual, Irving doesn't shy away from tricky, complex and often times marginalized human relationships in his story-telling. In fact they intrigue him, and he examines them so closely that we as readers can't fail to find common ground and a shared humanity with his characters. In One Person is touching, funny, outrageous, incredible, and fun to read.

Read this book.

* The Cider House Rules & A Widow for One Year

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

nothings sacred

Has anyone noticed a bug on Blogger with apostrophes? Its seems to be fine in the body of the text, but not so good in titles; titles of entries, titles of comments, even abbreviated text that shows up in widgets like recent comments. So that's why the title of this post doesn't have an apostrophe in it. and its not capitalized either, but that's a style choice, baby The title of the book is actually Nothing's Sacred, by Lewis Black.

I'm sure you've seen Black, going off on some politician on stage at a comedy club, or in one of his TV specials or appearances. He's the guy with glasses, graying brown hair who looks like he's about to have a stroke if he doesn't calm down. Lewis Black gets excited; with the pointing, and the grimacing, and the teeth gritting. This angst comes through in his writing as well; a review quote on the back cover summed it up: Jon Stewart said Black could even yell in his writing. Its true, you can almost hear him spitting with disdain and incredulity as you read.

What was surprising about the book was the autobiographical structure. I was expecting a book of Black's humor--which I got--but learning about how he grew up, and what made him the man he is was interesting as well as funny.

I read the paperback version which I understand is slightly different from the hardcover in that it contains 'bonus material.' In the new introduction to the introduction, Black seems to be at a loss for what else to write about, and says as much, giving me the impression that the whole book was a bit of a mystery to him. I have this impression that someone (a publicist, an agent, whomever) suggested that he write a book and Black said, Sure! and then didn't know where to start. I guess what I'm saying is: Maybe the memoir theme was a surprise to Black as well.

As anecdotal humor is Lewis Black's forte, his use of an anecdotal chapter is the structure that supports his book. Each chapter is just a few pages long, in which Black relates an anecdote or an observation about the world, especially this country, our politicians, his school masters, his family or the people he grew up with. I laughed both with and at Lewis Black from the time he was old enough to masturbate, until now. in fact, I get the impression he hasn't given up on the self-love

Black may have cobbled this together, like the script to an extra-long HBO special, but it reads funny from beginning to end. I bet the audiobook is even funnier. Black has written three books; you can check them out on his site.

Thanks to Steve for the book loan!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I said I wasn't going to do it. I told myself over and over: don't read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series until all the books are published. But I broke down and read A Game of Thrones. Now I'm stuck with everyone else, waiting for the 6th and 7th (reportedly the last two) to be published. According to rumor and based on what Martin has said, the last two could be huge, and may (based on publishing history) be broken into two or more volumes each. Then again, Martin may find that he just can't get it all jammed in there, and have to write some more. sigh

After the dryness of the few most recent books I've read,* I really needed a fun, page-turner, and I got it with A Game of Thrones. Thrones is written from a wandering POV of the many different characters that drive the plot. This story has a richness in the subtle sub-plots, intrigues, politics, wars, history and vague fantastic hints, but is at its base, a character driven narrative.

And the characters are abundant! Each chapter is named for a character and they move the story forward from their unique view of what is happening around them. Innocent, high-minded, sneaking, noble, craven, honorable, infighting, self-aggrandizing, naive, damaged, driven,and just plain nuts are some of the points of view we're treated to as readers, and Martin holds it together very tightly. This was a very fast read for a long(ish) book.**

I haven't seen the HBO series, but I hear tell that it follows along with the book pretty well. There are obviously other books in the saga, and I'm not sure if the television show incorporates storylines from the other books or not.

This story was fun, well written, engaging, lush with detail, with a tangy funk that reminds me that I'm definitely not reading Tolkien. So yeah, I'll go out and get the others, but maybe not right away, and maybe, just maybe, Martin will catch up to me before I find myself going crazy, waiting for the next installment like so many others.

Read this book.

* Really! Scroll down if you haven't checked in in a while. The last bunch of books has been a dryyyy run, baby.

** 808 pages, and another dozen or so pages of appendix listing the various family trees that spawned the many characters in the story.