Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Reading Book Review: "Tinkers"

I'm not sure what it is that Pulitzer Prize judges look for in selecting winners, but it doesn't often coincide with popular taste--in fiction, at least. This year's choice, "Tinkers" a gorgeously written short novel by Paul Harding, won't change that.
As for me, I usually love one winner every other year...I thoroughly enjoyed 2008's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Riverhead Books), couldn't get into 2007's winner, The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Alfred A. Knopf), but I adored 2006's choice March by Geraldine Brooks (Viking). The books honored since 1948 are listed here, for those who care.
There's nothing wrong with Tinkers on a technical level--though some teachers might say none of the characters changed or grew noticeably; the writing is superb, but it never moved me, nor did I feel as though I ever got to know any of the characters.
I'm only a couple of chapters into The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I already know I'll like it tremendously. I am beginning to get to know a couple of characters already, and the story is intriguingly convoluted. Some would say that the two books are so different that one should not compare them, but dang it, why else have a blog, if not to state one's opinion?
Most works of "literary fiction" read like assignments from an MFA writing program, and that bothers me--it especially bothers me when those books get all the awards and honors (because those sell books) but I needn't worry about the late Stieg Larsson's trilogy, as the three books are all solid bestsellers.
I do love that "Tinkers" was published by a small independent press, and that he's a debut novelist (he also has an MFA Iowa writers workshop!). Clearly, many people have loved the book, and I am certainly glad to have read it.
A note to those who wonder why I link to Amazon to buy books--if I'm so hot for independent bookstores and libraries, why promote Amazon?
Well, it's simple: I fervently hope you will buy these books from your favorite indie bookstore, or any bookstore, for that matter, but more important is that you actually buy books--from whomever!
Support booksellers and publishers alike, if you can, but without publishers the book business as we know it is dead and gone. Amazon is widely considered the enemy is much that is written about the modern book biz, but they at least pay their bills, and often on time--which is more than I can say for the chain bookstores (due to their intricate, no labyrinthine, billing and returns "process) and many of the indie shops (due to slow-to-stagnant cash flow).
Hasta pronto!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Short Summer Reading List and Some Recommendations

It takes a while for summer to feel like summer in Southern California...And this year the "June Gloom" has lasted well into July, shocking many of the tourists shivering on our beaches. But summer reading lists are always hot, so here goes:
My Short-List of Summer Reading:
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I'm only a couple of chapters into "Tinkers", but the book is beautifully written from page one (guess that's why it won the Pulitzer Prize, huh?). The other two I'm looking forward to on the strength of "popular" acclaim.
Odd to have 3 books on my reading list and not one woman author, but this summer started for me with "The Lacuna" which I'm still touting (along with C.M. Mayo's wonderful "Last Prince of the Mexican Empire.") And of course you know I've been re-reading some Austen this summer, one of my favorite authors.
As usual I'm reading some other classics as well, and I just finished The Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens, which I had never read. It was not his best story, by far, but it's full of strange, wounded, quirky characters who combine to make the whole book memorable. Some of his best "bad guys" are in his "worst" books.
There are some good new books out for young adults, too, and my friend John O'Melveny Woods' "Return to Treasure Island" is one of them. Obviously, it's a sequel to Stevenson's "Treasure Island" and a great deal of fun. The Foreword was written by LeVar Burton, who approached the book with caution, as did I, but was won over completely (well, duh, he wrote the Foreword, right?). Perfect for parents and kids to read together, this swashbuckling adventure story could lead to teenage boys actually wanting to read for fun...The author offers a free download of the original "Treasure Island" and a short prequel called the "Spanish Galleon" on his website, along with videos and puzzles, so there's family fun in the offing!
Another fine book out this summer for a mature Young Adult audience is Gary Winters' The Deer Dancer . I talked about this title before...But there are so few literary books written for this key audience, and even fewer are written about a Latino or Indian protagonist. The book recently won Best Book of the Year in a national contest and the honor is well-deserved.
I'm reading some good manuscripts this summer, too, and I'll expound on them at a later date...It's probably best for me to know when books will actually be coming out before going on and on about them.
hasta pronto!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Arts writing, and the writers life

Friday night's "community forum" at Warwick's Books in La Jolla was a surprising and revealing evening.
Surprising because:
1.) About 300 people cared enough to come spend about 3 hours (seats were mostly all gone by 7pm and we didn't break up till 9:30, with everyone standing around inside until much later) talking about the arts and about arts coverage and the future of newspaper writing...
2.) Most people seemed more concerned about Bob Pincus' job than about the future of Arts writing in general...
3.) No one threw anything or even cursed...
Revealing because:
1.) The new editor of THE daily paper here (the San Diego Union-Tribune), Jeff Light, was willing to say he'd consider working with a "coalition of partners" to try to find a new and creative way to keep Arts critic Robert Pincus writing about our local arts scene--though not in his paper.
2.) No one mentioned Books Editor Art Salm (except in passing) though his being "let go" a couple years ago was the beginning of the end for local book coverage...By which I don't mean coverage of local books--which never happened much and happens less now--but local events about, and reviews of, "national" books.
3.) No one much supported KPBS arts producer/reporter/blogger Angela Carone's suggestion that we look forward--to new concepts of, and new paradigms in arts coverage--instead of backward to the way things used to be. (Nor did anyone clap when I suggested that lack-luster, unengaged arts "consumers" share some blame for losing arts coverage.)
For those who like Facebook, Warwick's was posting some snippets of the discussion on their FB fan page.
Anyway, it was a very good event, on balance, and I'm very glad I went. If nothing else, it's nice to hear raised (but civil) voices, speaking passionately about big ideas in a bookstore, these days. Warwick's is a good venue, too, as well as one of the last of the indie stores here in SD County.
My take is that we need to make the discussion about books and writing and all the arts, as passionate as the discussion about what NBA team LeBron James was going to play for next...Or the discussion about local politics!
Let's do it...I'm trying to do my part in a small way here. Maybe you are doing yours by spreading the word about what you are digging reading/seeing/hearing; that is an important part of the new culture; check out Seth Godin on the importance of the "new sorting."
Also very cool and inspiring this week--a new podcast with my friend C.M. Mayo, on "The Writing Life"...Listen to it here.
Hasta pronto!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Fourth of July, Patriotism, Borders and Books

Another holiday that bugs me? Not really...Though I'm not much of a flag-waver. I always think of a comic riff done by Eddie Izzard (the funniest and smartest comedian on the planet, find him on DVD) on colonization, where the British Empire takes over a country, claiming it simply because the current occupants had no flag. "Where's your flag? We have a flag."
Reading about the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase this morning over coffee...We started taking out some maps of the Southwest U.S. and comparing Mexico's current and former borders with the U.S. It certainly gives support to the current claim of many Mexicans living in what is now the U.S.: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!" I'm fascinated by the history of the dynamic few years of shifting borders, as far back as the Louisiana Purchase (1803), but especially from the 1846 war between the U.S. and Mexico through the Gadsden Purchase (1854).
Boring, you may say, but think what an impact these few years had upon this entire continent. Not to mention the long-term effect on world affairs. And perusing those old borders certainly throws an interesting light on the current "fight" (if one can call such desultory efforts a battle) for and against immigration reform.
So, yes, the 4th of July: our founding fathers voted to become independent of Britain back in 1776 (not really on the 4th, but that's neither here nor there, for those who care here's the wiki page) but since that "freedom" didn't extend to slaves or women, there wasn't much freedom to go around. Now, of course, we go around the globe, importing our special brand of "freedom and democracy" to all and sundry--whether they like it or not. All while waving the "Grand old Flag" of these United States. And on July 4th, we all say hooray...Mostly.
For those who are intrigued by the current efforts of San Diego's Arts and literature community to Reinstate Robert Pincus at the San Diego Union, visit the Campaign to Reintstate Bob Pincus blog, with links to the Facebook page, articles, The Warwick's bookstore event, and more.