Tag Archives: writers

Bucky Fucking Dent by David Duchovny

BFD

So, David Duchovny’s first book (Holy Cow, which I haven’t reviewed because…well, why?)  was amusing, and I listened to him read it on audio so my inner fangirl enjoyed it. But this is a real book, and I enjoyed it even more. Duchovny, a novelist – who knew?

On the surface, it’s about a man who has squandered most of his opportunities and could be dismissed as a total loser. But if you read for just a few pages, you get hooked. By the end, you’ll realize the story is really about love. Love of family, of friends, of lovers – it covers them all, and when you finish the book you’re glad a) that you probably aren’t as fucked up as the protagonist and b) he finally got to express his love to the people he should have.

It’s not a happy book – people get together, break up for dumb reasons, lose other people they love, lie to each other, and make many poor life choices. You know, like life. And if you like baseball, there’s the added element of the whole thing playing out against the backdrop of the 1978 playoffs to spice things up for you. For an unremarkable hitter, Bucky Dent sure ruined a whole lot of people’s lives (including our protagonist’s) with one, stupidly lucky home run at the exact wrong moment. Of course, if you’re a Yankees fan, you probably see this the other way. But that’s life, too.

 

The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell

kevinP

Ever choose a book to read based only on its cover? This was one of those. I was shelving holds and came across this adorable little boy (look at that outfit!) and wanted to read his story, even though I had never heard of Kevin Powell and had no idea why I should. Now that I’ve finished the book, I can tell you that the reason to read this book is that he’s a human, and he has something to say, and he is in a constant process of learning from his own mistakes, which makes him interesting.

Anyway, now I know who Kevin Powell is (I can’t believe I didn’t, but then I went through a period in my life where I didn’t watch TV, listen to new music, or read magazines much). He is a writer, a political organizer, a reality TV star, and a (so far) failed state congressional candidate. Most famously, he wrote for Vibe magazine and was one of the first people to write about Tupac Shakur. But the details of his life (which reads like a who’s who of American pop culture at times – this guy knows everybody) are less important than the insight he provides into a generation of African-American men who were steered strongly by their parents to get a good education and a better life, but simultaneously pulled away from that goal by circumstance, random choices, and the culture of their schools/ neighborhoods. Powell’s life story reminded me somewhat of both Wes Moores (The Other Wes Moore – reviewed earlier) – each of these men wanted badly to succeed, but each was constantly tempted down other paths or manipulated by systems in our society that many people don’t even see. For all of those people out there who don’t think that society is skewed to discriminate against people of color and poor people of all colors, this book (and The Other Wes Moore) will make it obvious that poor young people of color suffer a great deal more than their white, middle-class counterparts when a setback occurs. One poor choice, one bad grade, one random accident that a more affluent young person could overcome easily can completely derail a young person who has no safety net.

Warning: you might not actually like Kevin Powell at a few points. He is learning to manage his anger, and learning to let down his guard a little, but there’s no denying that for most of the book he is a very angry, defensive man who doesn’t like himself very much. He has some definite misogynistic leanings, and doesn’t like white people very much either. But what redeems him is that he knows these things about himself, and he’s working on it.  You can’t ask for more than that.

 

I Was a Child: A Memoir by Bruce Eric Kaplan

i was

You may not think you know who Bruce Eric Kaplan is, but once you see the illustrations and know that he goes by his initials (and if you ever read The New Yorker just for the comics), you’ll recognize him.

The book is a series of tiny snippets of Kaplan’s childhood, a sort of prose version of his trademark single-panel cartoons. The story is loosely arranged, hopping around chronologically so that I was never quite sure how old he was supposed to be at any given moment, but that was part of the book’s charm. It was like having someone tell you about his life in snippets of conversation, so that maybe you don’t know the whole life story in perfect order, but you have a feel for what made him who he is.

Anyway, if you like cartoons, if you like memoirs, if you like stories about people who grew up Generation X in America, you might like it. I think the moments of recognition were the best reason that I enjoyed the book – often, Kaplan starts or ends a passage with “I always thought” or “I wondered why” or “I felt like”… and I realized reading those passages that I’d thought/wondered/felt the exact same thing. The best parts are when he finishes one of those passage with “…and I still do.”

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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I didn’t expect to like this book, but so many people at work were reading it that when an audio copy turned up on the Bestseller shelf, I decided to give it a whirl. (I was between audiobooks, and growing a wee bit tired of the Stuff You Missed in History podcast. Which is excellent, usually, but one can only listen to so much history and I’ve been overindulging. But I digress. But wait, isn’t that what parentheses are FOR?)

I should have hated this book. It’s a mass of clichés – crotchety depressed widower hermit adopts an abandoned baby, meets a plucky younger woman and is forced to join the human race again, and in the process enlists and transforms his entire town (Silas Marner, anyone?) – but it’s still a good story, and the literary references (the main character is a bookstore owner and reading snob) make it worth reading. It’s like a love story for books, and an anthem for what librarians call “reader’s advisory” and booksellers call “hand selling”, which is essentially the art of matching up readers with books they will enjoy. As a person who really believes that there is a book for every reader and a reader for every book (well, except maybe Moby Dick or Ulysses, which no one should ever be forced to endure), I found it thoroughly charming. As a lover of most of the same books that A.J. loves, I was tickled every time he managed to talk his customers into reading something I myself might recommend to them (at one point he gets the police chief to read one of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, and the police chief LIKES IT).

Oh, and on the side you get some other subplots – A.J.’s rare copy of Tamerlane (which he was hoping to sell to finance his retirement) is stolen near the beginning of the story, and it takes until the end of the novel to figure out who took it. The parentage of A.J.’s adopted daughter Maya, abandoned in the bookstore by her suicidal mother, is likewise revealed along the way. Throughout the novel, A.J writes notes to his daughter (mostly book recommendations), which are especially heartbreaking when you find out why he’s been writing them to her.

The best part of this story is the community the author creates. After you are done reading it, you will miss the people you have met on Alice Island, and want to go and visit Island Books to see what’s new on the shelves.

Delicious by Ruth Reichl

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Well, I for one am convinced: Ruth Reichl can write fiction. I have read 2 of her memoirs and enjoyed them immensely, but wasn’t sure how she would shake out as a novelist – until now.

The story: Billie Breslin drops out of college in California and takes a poorly-paid job as an assistant to the editor of the food magazine Delicious in New York City. We know from the beginning that her departure from college and her move away from her family is a reaction to some sort of traumatic family event, but Billie is a very private person and we only learn bit by bit from her conversations with others what that event was and how it connects with her cooking-induced panic attacks.

Billie has an incredible palate, and can identify all of the ingredients in a dish just by tasting a few bites. We learn that she and her older sister Genie had a cake business together as children, but that they stopped baking when they went to college. Billie refuses to say more on this subject, and now refuses to cook at all. Billie is convinced that her sister is perfect – the prettiest, the smartest, the best at everything, and that she is just the kid sister sidekick – but she doesn’t seem to resent this role. She writes emails to her sister throughout the novel saying how much she loves and misses her, but refuses all invitations from her aunt and her father to visit home.

Billie’s amazing palate lands her a side job at a local store run by the Fontanari family, who have never had an employee from outside their family and practically adopt her. She gets her big break at the magazine when she is allowed to write an article about Fontanari’s, and then, just as she is getting other writing assignments, disaster strikes. Delicious is shut down, and only Billie is retained as an employee, to answer letters and honor the Delicious Recipe Guarantee. Alone in an deserted office, Billie toils on, lonely – until a coworker, Sammy, returns from his travels to clean his office and discovers a secret room in the locked library. In it, they find some letters written to James Beard by a young girl throughout World War II. The letters spark an obsession, and Billie (with Sammy’s help) hunts them down one after the other. Why were the letters hidden in the secret room? Who was the mysterious librarian who left the cryptic clues in the card catalog to find them, and why? What happened to the letter writer and her missing-in-action father? While Billie and Sammy solve these mysteries, we meet more members of Billie’s family, watch Billie fall in love with a fellow foodie and finally piece together what caused her to leave her family and move east.

This book had all of the things I loved from Reichl’s nonfiction: rich, evocative descriptions of food that make you want whatever it is (even if you don’t like that particular food), rhapsodic odes to life in New York City, and spot-on characterizations of quirky, creative people who are obsessively in love with their work. I think I gained 5 pounds just reading it, and now I crave a trip to Manhattan so badly I might sell an organ to get there. If you like Reichl’s nonfiction, give it a try. If you like those sorts of novels that let you figure out what’s going on by dangling hints in your path, you’ll like it. Librarians, of course, will love it for the coded, bizarre subject headings dreamed up by the mysterious librarian to catalog the letters. This librarian was NOT seeking to save the time of the user, or to make the information easily accessible! But that’s what makes it fun.