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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Books I Read: September - October 2010


The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This is an excellent book. It was on everybody's "Best of" lists for 2009, but I never considered reading it because it wasn't in my genre. And to be honest, it sounded a little Gone With the Wind for me. But my mom had it and liked it, so I borrowed it.

What book is is females with no junky romance (well, a little), no weak women, and lots of Bechdel test successes.  This is a book about black housemaids in the 1950's in the south and their white women employers. The novel takes it from multiple perspectives, and there are good and bad guys, and not everyone wins. There are so many different relationships, but the funny thing is that, despite a clear line between boss and employer, there's never a clear line between who needs who. That's a terribly interesting paradigm, one that's rarely explored, and it's great to read a story about it.

This was the best book I read these past two months, and it's interesting that it's from a debut author, made so many best of and bestseller lists. To be honest though, I don't think her sophomore effort is going to be as good because 1) that's traditional and 2) a lot of The Help was based on her own experiences. So either she's going to write more about black maids and be called unoriginal, or shove something out the door and be called poor quality.  These are the hard things about being an author.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (unfinished)

I don't know why this book is so popular. I read a hundred pages and stopped because it was so boring. I kept asking "when does the story start? When do we get to the inciting incident?" I stopped because I had so many other books I wanted to read, and I do not want to read books that are popular or critically acclaimed just for the sake of saying I read a popular or critically acclaimed book.

There's no story here, it's just people having conversations about what happened before. From what I read, one-third of it was financial explanation, one-third was family history, and one-third was narrative regarding the other two-thirds. All of it was exposition and all of it wasn't worth my time.

Plus the fact that I'd already been soured on Let Me In--Swedish people are long-winded. I'll learn a lesson from the vampire book and wait for the movie.


Feed by Mira Grant

It's either one zombie or one apocalypse novel per quarter for me. And not because I have to, but because I want to. What drew me to this one was that this is a story of what happens after Zoe, Louis, Francis, and Bill get picked up by the helicopter and carried off to safety. After World War Z is over. It answers the eternal question of "what happens next".

What happens next is a lot of medical paranoia. But rightly so, as a single zombie can infect a building full of people faster than you can say "George Romero". People live in tight-knitted communities, and can only enter buildings by continuous infection checks (virus-scanners, retina scans, cognitive tests).

The other part of the story is about journalism. And not just any journalism--blog journalism. See, when the zombies broke, the mass media dropped the ball because zombies are kid stuff. Meanwhile the Internet takes this shit seriously, since most of them have zombie contingency plans, and rose up as legit because they didn't have any big business telling them what to report. A brother-sister news team goes out to follow a candidate's run for president. Along the way, they uncover a bad news bears conspiracy to assassinate said presidential hopeful, using biological weapons (guess which ones) that have some pretty horrible consequences.

This a pretty good book, maybe the second best I read these two months. But my biggest problem with it was that there weren't enough zombies. The zombies only showed up during sporadic action sequences. I was expecting more of a David Wellington style book where zombies take a front-and-center. Whereas in this book, they act as a macguffin for "medical horror epidemic". This is the first in a trilogy, but I can't really see myself finishing the series. I feel that all the story I wanted to know was told in this one. I liked the characters enough to dive into their world once, but not for a second time.


The Witches by Roald Dahl

A re-read of a classic. I sped through it. I still say the movie does just a good a job as Dahl does in this version, if not better. The movie has some things the book needed (like better pacing, visuals), but the book has things that the movie needed (non-Disney-fied ending, tangents that Dahl is famous for). Fortunately, it's easy to enjoy both.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

My wife picked this one for our college friends book club. It's about a boy with a never-really-described disorder, but it seems to be some sort of autism or Asperger's Syndrome or both. The kicker is that it's written from first-person perspective, so you get to see all Rain Man's wacky insights, like how he numbers his chapters in prime numbers, and that he has a bad day if he sees four red cars, and that he wants everyone in the world to die so he can be alone. But in a good way. I like this book because I think it provides a terrific insight on what it is like to be a "savant", with the reality of information overload and inability to socialize.

What bothers me is that the author throws up his hands when it comes to claiming the protagonist's disability (there's a touching scene in the book where the main character equates himself with someone's need for glasses). Ge claims he knows very little about the conditions the main character has and is "thoroughly irritated" that the book cover uses these terms, as he knows nothing about autism and did no research about it for the book. Despite the author blurb saying that he worked with autistic individuals. So I don't know whether this is an accurate portrayal, or something that seems to hit the mark because people "say" it does.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

A re-read. If you want, you can read my original review here. I rarely re-read books, but I wanted to refresh myself on the world in anticipation of book 2 and 3. The first time it was so good, I read it kinda fast. It's just as good the second time, and I think it was a good thing I re-read it, because there were quite a few things I forgot (like Avoxes and Mockingjays). Now the problem is getting the time to actually read book 2 and 3.
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