leisure 07.23.04

Summer Reading

We're very glad we asked. A great collection of books from MUG readers (sorry we couldn't include them all).

I recently stumbled across Pattern Recognition by William Gibson on display at the St. Mark's Bookshop, picked it up on a whim, and wasn't able to put it down again. Cayce Pollard, the protagonist, is a "cool hunter" whose allergies to certain trademarks and brands guide her success. Thus, even though much of the story takes place in London and Tokyo, many Manhattanites will recognize her world as our world, making this a fun review of many of the familiar idiosyncrasies of modern urban life. However, Gibson also does a decent job of delving into topics such as the conflux of art and marketing and life for New Yorkers after the fall of the towers such that this is more than just familiar beach fare. Best new novel I've read in a while.

I just finished reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's a stunning literary thriller with a heart-wrenching love story set in a murky, gothic evocation of post-civil-war Barcelona. There are so many threads to this story, and the author manages to weave them all up at the end, producing an exquisite work of art. The translation by Lucia Graves is also quite extraordinary. Highly recommended!

The Other Boleyn Girl, by Phillippa Gregory. A steamy Victorian novel about one of King Henry VIII's mistresses, Mary Boleyn, and his marriage to her sister Anne Boleyn — great beach reading!

Just finished reading The Birth of Venus, a novel by Sarah Dunant. It's a wonderfully written, page-turner about an independent young woman of the Renaissance coming of age as Florence is changing. It's a story of history, art, theology, philosophy, sex, betrayal and mystery. Couldn't put it down.

I just finished The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate. It is a triangle of an African-American scholarship student at an exclusive boys prep school, a male African-American teacher who is ambivalent about being his role model (or anyone's role model) and a female Caucasian English teacher — and the sparks begin. Excellently written and stirs some profound questions.

An amazing book…Neal Stephenson's The Confusion. It's the second book in what's billed as The Baroque Cycle (first one was Quicksilver, the third one comes out this fall). It's massive, rich, brilliant writing combined with fictionalized history. Sex, war, kings, financiers, alchemy, science, court intrigue, I could go on and on. It's multiple stories mixed up in different chapters, following so many people and places and events it's nearly impossible to keep track of (I have no idea how any human could have created such an enormous and complex world), Oh, I forgot…it all takes place in the 17th century. France/Versailles, England, Ireland, all over Europe.

I'm reading The Rescue Season by Bob Drury. It's about a bunch of guys in Alaska who have to rescue mountain climbers who get stranded due to unexpectedly bad weather or simple mistakes, etc. It's fascinating.

The Fundamentals of Play by Caitlin Macy. She expertly captures a slice of WASPiness that is slowly disappearing. If you don't fit into the group she describes, you know someone who does…and the story, along with her eye for detail, makes this a great read. Especially good for anyone who is a few years out of college.

Compelling and powerful and passionate: The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping by Nasdijj. A young Indian boy, adopted by the author…this is non-fiction. The boy has AIDS…and how the father dealt with him, it and today's world. Astonishingly well written and definitely should get some more fans.

We recently got an advance copy of Patrick O'Connell's Refined American Cuisine/The Inn at Little Washington, which we think sets a new standard for so-gorgeous-you're-tempted-to-lick-the-photos cookbooks. It's coming out in a month or so from Bulfinch Press. The endpages of the book feature a four-color photo of a winding country road that makes us long for Virginia, where our dinner at The Inn at Little Washington was the best of [my] life.

Darts of Cupid by Edith Templeton. It is amazing how a series of short stories with recurring themes managed to teach unbelievable lessons about the nature of love. Blunt and smart.

Illegible Address by Denver Butson, a poet who lives in Brooklyn, published by Luquer Street Press. Fabulously imaginative work from a poet with an original voice.

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill. Don't know if this would appeal to a straight audience but it should totally captivate any gay male or any male that has even thought about being gay. Very touching. Rough reading the first 50 pages because of the Irish dialect but once I got used to it I sailed through it.

I'm reading What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. This tale of a British high school teacher who has an affair with her student is extremely dry and hilariously funny. Saw the author read from it last week and she was great.

I can't say enough good things about The Jane Austen Book Club. Even I, who have read Austen but am by no means her biggest fan, found this book accessible and funny and sad and true. It is a great beach read that is smart and entertaining and has a cover you want to eat!

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, a novel that moves from Greece to Detroit, from the 1920s to the present day, from male to female and everything in between, and is a joy to read at every stage and on every page.
Under what alternate reality is the Today show operating today? Top story (and much more in this half hour!)…The disappearance of a pregnant woman and her apparently psycho husband.

Um…historic report from the 9/11 commission? Sweeping reforms recommended? Not sexy enough? How about A Bigger Attack is Probable. (This is the same Today show that wouldn't break into their regular lineup to show Saddam Hussein live in court.)

And Katie Couric's attitude, in her interview with Senator Biden, only reinforced this cluelessness. When she asked Senator Biden what could be done to get Congress working in a bipartisan way on security, Biden replied that it would help if the media covered the story more often, and not just "episodically." Ms. Couric snarled: "Oh, so now it's the media's fault?"

Well, yes, Katie, in part it is. If the Today show and others spent a little more time demanding answers and action from Congress and the administration, and a little less time covering the latest sensational murder case, it would help restore the media's credibility, shot to hell in the run-up to the war and not much improved since.

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