"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Man of Two Worlds

TITLE: Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics
AUTHOR: Julius Schwartz

The late Julius Schwartz's memoir is a breezy tour of science fiction fandom, including Schwartz's role in birthing the first SF fanzine and his involvement in the first cons, including the first WorldCon. He covers his career as an agent for a Who's Who of SFF writers, including Ray Bradbury, then his career switch to editing over at DC Comics. I knew some of the stories, but not nearly all, and though fairly lightweight as memoirs go, this is a quick, fun read.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Emotionally Weird

TITLE:  Emotionally Weird
AUTHOR: Kate Atkinson

This is a book of stories: The stories we tell ourselves. The stories we tell each other. The stories we create to entertain. I think this is the last of Atkinson's novels, so far, that I hadn't yet read, and I wonder what I would've thought about it had I read it before her more recent efforts. She has a way with words, especially metaphors and similes, both on full display here. And it feels, to me, like a precursor for her more complex storytelling of Life After Life (which for some reason I didn't review here -- at least, I can't find a review for it here), which explored alternate versions of reality.

The stories here are the ones Effie and her mother, Nora (who isn't her mother), tell while holed up in a creaky old house on a remote island off the coast of Scotland in the 1970s. Effie is telling the story of her recent college exploits, while Nora reluctantly tells of their family history. There are other stories, too, including the mystery novel Effie is writing, as well as excerpts from books being written by other characters, both professors and fellow students. 

Effie's story provides the backbone of the book, and the chance to rewrite reality when Nora doesn't like some detail, or when Effie feels like embellishing something. But at its essence, the truth of Effie's story is only what Effie can provide via her limited perspective, the richer story revealed as Nora's story, and more, are woven into Effie's. Thankfully, the use of multiple fonts makes this sufficiently easy to follow. I hope I don't have a long wait for Atkinson's next novel.


Tuesday, April 05, 2022

The Boys

TITLE: The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family
AUTHOR: Ron Howard and Clint Howard

As celebrity memoirs go, this is fairly tame. No big scandals, no tell-all about other celebrities. Aside from Clint's addictions, (he's now sober), this is just a simple, sweet story about a family of working actors. Both Ron and Clint started acting when they were very young, their careers for a while eclipsing their father's. 

The book covers the years when their parents met and fell in love, through The Boys' acting and growing up in Hollywood, to the beginning of Ron's directing career. The structure of the book works really well, with alternating views of the authors, including asides/interruptions by the other, giving the feeling of sitting with the two of them as they tell their story. What resonated most for me is that other than being in show biz, the Howard family was normal and relatable. The book is a delight.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Searcher

TITLE: The Searcher
AUTHOR: Tana French

Tana French is a good writer, and while I prefer, so far, her Dublin Murder Squad books to her standalone novels (just two, so far), her prose makes all her books compelling reads.

This is not really a mystery, though the plot revolves around a missing teenage boy in rural Ireland. Retired Chicago cop Cal Hooper bought a house he'd seen on the internet, a real fixer-upper located near sheep farms and a nearby village. He sees the move as a way to get over his divorce and to put the job behind him, but when a thirteen-year-old kid pushes him to investigate his older brother's disappearance, he reluctantly takes on the investigation. As he starts casually questioning the locals, he begins to expose secrets and dangers he didn't bargain for.

Anyone looking for an intricate mystery will be disappointed, given the investigation is more plot device to peel back the facades of Cal's new neighbors as well as leading Cal to face some truths of his own life. In fact, the investigation doesn't start until a hundred or so pages in, as Cal settles into his new life. French skillfully builds tension while evoking a sense of place. The characters seemed so real that I hated saying goodbye to them. My only quibble is that Cal, a southerner who spent decades working in Chicago, didn't seem fully American, but that's a tiny quibble about a very readable book.


Sunday, February 27, 2022

Moonglow

TITLE: Moonglow
AUTHOR: Michael Chabon

Supposedly, in 1989, Chabon spent a week visiting his dying grandfather and the stories the older man imparted about his life inspired this book. This is a wonderful book, and much as I wanted, as I was reading it, to believe it all basically happened, Chabon has called this a work of fiction. The events might have sprung from Chabon's imagination, but the emotions resonate as universal truths about family, love, and self.

I found myself thinking a lot about my father, born a decade after the "grandfather" of the novel. My father, a space buff like the "grandfather," also served during World War II and also kept his feelings close to him. There were many moments in the book that brought forth a memory of my own, from a simple dinner of salami and eggs to "The Whip," a mobile amusement park ride in a truck. I'm not a reader who seeks to identify with characters and situations, but when it creeps up on me, it's an added pleasure. 

And by the end of the book, as implausible as much of it seemed, I wanted it to all be real. Whatever sparks of reality inspired this decades-spanning story doesn't really matter. Chabon is an amazing storyteller and this is an amazing book.