Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Island of the Day Before

The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco  515 pp.

This is a historical novel full of the oddities and quirks that tend to populate Eco's works. It takes place in 1643 and an Italian nobleman, Roberto della Griva is the only survivor of a South Pacific shipwreck. After floating on a plank he runs into an abandoned ship, the Daphne, anchored near a small island. Roberto cannot get to the island because he is unable to swim and there is no lifeboat on board the ship. The ship seems deserted although there is plentiful food and water, live chickens and other animals, and plants growing on board. Soon he realizes he is not alone but it takes him awhile to find the other ship's resident, an old Jesuit. Amidst Roberto's reminiscences and dreams of events of his past, there is a story of the Daphne's journey to attempt measuring the elusive longitude. The priest convinces Roberto that they are stranded on what we now call the International Date Line with the island on the other side of the line. The author's pondering at the end on the possible ways Roberto's papers with the story were recovered are interesting and somewhat amusing -- Captain Bligh is included in one of them. In my opinion this isn't Eco's best work, but it isn't his worst by far.

Monday, April 24, 2017

There is no good card for this

There is no good card for this... / Kelsey Crowe & Emily McDowell, 260 pgs.

For those of us who suffer from "foot in mouth" disease, this book lays out how to avoid saying the wrong thing or saying nothing.  Most of us are born with empathy but we sometimes struggle to reveal it to people who are suffering.  A lot of good guidelines and tips.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lincoln in the bardo

Lincoln in the bardo / George Saunders, 341 pgs.

A stunning book of grief and love, the basic story follows the death of Willie, Abraham and Mary Lincoln's son.  Willie has been interred but his spirit is confused about what he should do now.  He would like to go home.  We know of this due to all the other spirits inhabiting the bardo. They have many back stories and quirks that are revealed through their conversation and interactions with each other and Lincoln, who visits his son's final resting place.

I listened to the audio version of this book.  With a full cast of 166 and music by Jeff Tweedy, it adds to the story immeasurably.

Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart by William Boyd  512 pp.

This pseudo-autobiography of the fictional Logan Gonzago Mountstuart is written in the form of journals kept throughout his life. Mountstuart is an Englishman born in Uruguay to an English father and Uruguayan mother. His parents returned to England so that he could receive a "proper British education." Mountstuart leads an somewhat interesting life of serendipity, surviving Oxford with a mediocre degree, writing a few well-received books, serving in Naval Intelligence in WWII, dealing in fine art, and basically wandering from one thing to another with varying degrees of success. Throughout it all he drinks too much, womanizes, suffers personal tragedies, and really has no concept of money and much of the world around him. The only thing that kept me reading was my admiration of how well it is written. Mountstuart is a character you love to hate but Boyd's writing compels you to keep reading.

The hate u give

The hate u give / Angie Thomas, 444 pgs.

Star Carter is sixteen and living in two worlds.  Her family lives in Garden Heights aka, the ghetto, but she attends a high rent prep school.  She is aware of the dual nature of her existence and essentially becomes two people depending on her current location.  All is going well until she runs into her childhood friend Khalil at a party and they leave together.  They get pulled over by the cops and Khalil ends up dead.  Part of Star dies that night too.  She doesn't want her prep school friends to know about her status as "the witness" but doesn't want to betray her memory of Khalil.  She struggles mightily but finds her way.  I listened to the audio version of this book, loving every minute of the great Bhani Turpin's voice and inflection.  A compelling book that gives a needed perspective.

Friday, April 21, 2017


Nevertheless / Alec Baldwin, 290 pgs.

A memoir from the outspoken actor who is best known for his role on 30 Rock, Baldwin takes the usual tact of telling about his childhood, his family, and his life before fame.  He talks about being a young actor, an addict and eventually a married man and father.  He tells some little tales about many people he has worked with, some of them complementary, some not so much.  He talks about his marriages, his kids, and his causes.

I listened to the audio book which is read by the author.  It did not grab me like I hoped it would.  Baldwin often seems to take the tone of someone who is talking to an audience with a low IQ.

Recommended for fans only.

The Commitment

The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family by Dan Savage  291 pp.

Dan Savage, author of the syndicated column "Savage Love", takes on gay marriage in this memoir from the days when only a couple states had that option. His mother wants him to get married. His boyfriend of ten years, Terry, doesn't want to marry because it is "acting like straight people" and would rather get tattoos showing their commitment. Their adopted son says that two men can't get married but he will come to a reception if there is cake. Various other family members have an assortment of ideas on the subject. The result is a ridiculously over priced reception (especially for ten years ago when this was written) to celebrate Dan & Terry's tenth anniversary. There will be cake (and arguments about cake) . . . and maybe a marriage.

The assistants

The Assistants / Camille Perri, 282 pgs.

Tina is media titan Roberts' assistant.  She does a great job and takes care of all the details.  One day, due to an error, she gets an expense check that should be returned to the company.  Instead, she pays of her student loan.  Not long after, Emily, the assistant up in accounting who approves expense reports confronts her.  Emily won't turn her in if they can do the same to pay off HER loans.  As more people find out what is up, they want in on the scheme.  Even though things are going along just fine, Tina starts dating Kevin, a do-gooder who believes she is working on developing a non-profit to help women with their student loan debt...not far from the truth, really.  As predicted, eventually there is a blow up and things get real.  Will Tina find her spine and fight back or will the loyal assistant be the "good girl."  Highly entertaining!

Fables 14 & 15

Fables: Witches [vol. 14] by Bill Willingham, et al, 192 pages
Fables: Rose Red [vol. 15] by Bill Willingham, et al, 256 pages

These two volumes are, in my opinion, the best part of the Mr. Dark story arc. Witches finds the magical inhabitants of Fabletown's 13th floor coming up with a scheme to take down the shadowy bad guy (Frau Totenkinder, of course, has to do it her own way). Rose Red focuses on the backstory of its titular character, giving a VERY different interpretation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but adding a level of depth to a character that has spent way too much time wallowing in despair in recent volumes. Really, I just love these particular characters, and it's great to see them in the spotlight here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl: the Taming of the Shrew Retold / Anne Tyler, 237 pp.

I have never read Taming of the Shrew or seen any of its spinoffs (Kiss Me Kate), but I enjoyed this small story, set where most (or all?) of Anne Tyler is set, in Baltimore among very ordinary people.  Kate is a rough-around-the-edges preschool teacher, at 30 still living with her professor father and sister.  When her father enthusiastically introduces her to his research assistant, Russian Pyotr, a valued scientist with visa problems,  Kate suspects a plot is at work.  If the outcome is predictable, it is fun getting there, and the characters are sweet and true, if a bit thinly sketched.  I enjoyed the audio, read by Kirsten Potter, who created a spot-on voice for Kate.  And if  Pyotr sounded an awful lot like Borat, it didn't distract much.