Saturday, July 31, 2010

And Now For A Moment of Truth

A friend of mine sent me this by email. It's probably all over the internet, but it's too good not to use.

Life can be summarized in 4 bottles....

S**t!!! we're on #3!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Report: "Generosity" by Richard Powers

Generosity: An EnhancementGenerosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those rare books to which I award more than five stars. It is a tour de force by the smartest man I know. Powers has almost created his own genre, an in-depth exploration of neurological puzzles in a way that is very understandable and readable by a lay audience.

In Generosity, Powers explores the extent to which emotions are controlled by genes. A young woman from Algeria is in Chicago, taking a night class in writing and entrances the teacher and the class with her constantly sunny outlook on life despite hardships that would cause normal people to despair. Eventually her genome is mapped by an entrepreneurial scientist who claims to have isolated a "happiness" gene. Who this person is turns out to be way more complicated than her genes, and Powers does a great job of explaining the nature/nurture duality of all of us.

For someone not used to post-modernist literature, Powers's style might take some getting used to. He inserts himself, as the author, into the book, repeatedly reminding the reader that this is a story that Powers is making up, as he goes. Powers starts the book by sketching the writing instructor stating right up front that "I picture him in the . . . " later saying, "The blank page is patient, and meaning can wait. I watch until he solidifies." At another point, describing a lunch between the instructor and a psychologist who becomes his girlfriend, Powers comments, "Over date pudding, she tells him about negativity bias. I'm not really sure if she tells him this over date pudding, of course, or even if she tells him at this lunch at all. But she tells him at some point, early on. That much is nonfiction: no creation necessary." At another point he writes, "And, by a minor coincidence I don't know how to handle any other way, Candace Weld reads the Time article. . . ."

Although I don't usually like an author to act all authorly in his writing, I don't find Powers's playing around with the third wall as irritating as I might in a lesser writer. Or maybe I'm just prejudiced. In any event, read this book. Even if you're irritated at the tricks, you won't be bored.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Report: Anne Tyler Does It Again with "Noah's Compass"

Noah's CompassNoah's Compass by Anne Tyler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a typical Anne Tyler book in that it is full of quirky characters and it is written flawlessly. The thing I like best about Tyler is her respect for the intelligence of her readers. She does not spell everything out for you, but lets you figure out what is going on and what is motivating her characters by her descriptions of what they do. She does not overdo details by dwelling on non-essentials but knows exactly what to describe to give the reader a feel for what is going on. If you like Anne Tyler, you will love this book.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book Report: "Goodbye, Columbus," by Philip Roth

Philip Roth: Novels and Stories 1959-1962: Goodbye, Columbus & Five Short Stories / Letting Go (Library of America) Philip Roth: Novels and Stories 1959-1962: Goodbye, Columbus & Five Short Stories / Letting Go by Philip Roth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am a Philip Roth fan, although not an uncritical one.  I don't know anyone who depicts the richness of Jewish life in America with such warmth and humor but fearlessness.  I wish Amish/Mennonites had someone writing who was half as good.

This book is Roth's first one, published in 1959, and winning The National Book Award. I picked this book up at the library, thinking that Goodbye, Columbus, would probably be pretty much like the movie but not having seen the movie in many years I was ready for a repeat of the story.  I won't say the book is nothing like the movie, but significant details are changed.  In the book, the young man doesn't have an affair with the mother -- they never can stand each other, and he doesn't get the advice at the end to go into plastics. (Later Update:  As Anonymous Wendy points out below, I confused Goodbye, Columbus with The Graduate, which has nothing to do with Philip Roth. The only similarity is that Richard Benjamin kind of looks like Dustin Hoffman.)

The other five short stories in the book are the equal of or better than Goodbye, Columbus.  The Conversion of the Jews, is about a young boy who questions Jewish dogma, arguing that if God is all-powerful there could have been a virgin birth as preached by some Christians.  He gets in trouble with the rabbi and winds up forcing the conversion of his entire synagogue to Christianity.  Many Jewish Americans were highly offended by the story, while critics loved it.

The other stories in the book are Defender of the Faith,  Epstein, You Can't Tell A Man By The Song He Sings, and Eli, The Fanatic.  I won't take the time to detail all of them, but generally they follow the same themes as the first two I have mentioned.

If your only knowledge of Philip Roth is the scandal caused by Portnoy's Complaint, when it was published (it wouldn't raise many eyebrows now,) then you owe it to yourself to read some of his other works.  You will feel enriched.