Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Report: Good Advice For All Children

Please Look After MomPlease Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little book of fiction is by an acclaimed Korean author, but it is the first of her books to be translated into English. It tells the story of a poor uneducated woman in a little village who sacrifices herself for her family and, unknown to her family, to others. She is unappreciated until she disappears on a visit to Seoul. I liked the book because of the insight it gives into Korean life and culture and the plot is interesting. It is confusing at points because the point of view is constantly changing among the different family members, without identifying who is speaking other than context. Also, everything is in the second person, even when the person is speaking in the first person. I don't know if that is a translation error, or if that is how it was intended to be written. Our daughter-in-law gave this book to us, but when I asked her how true to Korean life it actually is, she confessed that she hasn't read it. All I can say is it seems to be an accurate depiction.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Report: A Book For All Tastes

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you think you don't like nonfiction, then you haven't read "The Devil in the White City." It's hard to imagine that a book about the World's Fair in Chicago, known as the Columbian Exposition in 1893 could be a page-turner, but this one is.

The book weaves together the story of the Exposition with that of a serial killer who killed hundreds of young women during the time of the Fair. All of it is based on original sources. Larson looked at the actual paper on which the assassin of Chicago's mayor at the time wrote a note expressing his delusions, and saw how hard were the indentations on the paper from his pencil. He uses trial transcripts, as well as other primary sources for his material.

In all fairness, Larson does some imaginative recreation of dialogue, but he does it so skillfully and seamlessly that it works. This is a book that everyone will enjoy. You got your history, you got your mystery, you got your romance, you got your heartbreak. It's even got pictures. Above all, the author knows how to tell a good tale. What more could any reader want?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Report: John Jeremiah Sullivan Is Not David Foster Wallace Despite Having Three Names

PulpheadPulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is no doubt that Sullivan is a good writer, but he suffered from extravagant praise, in my opinion. I had to have this book of essays for Christmas after The New Yorker compared his writing to that of David Foster Wallace. He is no David Foster Wallace. Not even close.

"Upon This Rock," the author's account of attending a three-day Christian rock music festival is the strongest piece, reminiscent of Wallace's famous account of attending the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, but not matching it. Sullivan's essays about searching out old blues singers and visiting Bob Marley's mentor, Bunny Wailer, just become plain tedious if you're not a blues or reggae devotee. This is a little-above average book, but not nearly masterpiece quality.

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