Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne

Title: The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey
Author: Lawrence Osborne
Themes: travel, alcoholism
Rating: **1/2

Plot: From "Drinking alcohol: a beloved tradition, a dangerous addiction, even “a sickness of the soul” (as once described by a group of young Muslim men in Bali). In his wide-ranging travels, Lawrence Osborne—a veritable connoisseur himself—has witnessed opposing views of alcohol across cultures worldwide, compelling him to wonder: is drinking alcohol a sign of civilization and sanity, or the very reverse? Where do societies and their treatment of alcohol fall on the spectrum between indulgence and restraint?

These questions launch the author on an audacious journey, from the Middle East, where drinking is prohibited, to the West, w

An immersing, controversial, and often irreverent travel narrative, The Wet and the Dry offers provocative, sometimes unsettling insights into the deeply embedded conflicts between East and West, and the surprising influence of drinking on the contemporary world today."
here it is an important—yet perhaps very often a ruinous—part of everyday life. Beginning in the bar of a luxury hotel in Milan, Osborne then ventures to the Hezbollah-threatened vineyards of Lebanon; a landmark pub in London; the dangerous drinking dens on the Malaysian border; the only brewery in the alcohol-hostile country of Pakistan; and Oman, where he faces the absurd challenge of finding a bottle of champagne on New Year’s Eve.  Amid his travels, Osborne unravels the stories of alcoholism in his own family, and reflects on ramifications of alcohol consumption in his own life.

My Thoughts: Osborne's short memoir on Drinking, predominately in the Middle East and North Africa, is rather rambling but full of interesting historical and societal facts. I enjoyed the sporadic inclusions of alcohol-in-history that Osborne peppers through his travels through the Middle East-searching for illegal alcohol.

Osborne relates his own alcoholism, although the reader is never quite sure how he truly feels about it. Even as he describes the deaths of loved ones who abused alcohol, he never quite connects it to his own alcoholism. He admits that Islamic countries have valid reasons for creating "dry" states, but cannot quite escape the lure of drunkenness...for even a single day apparently. As another reviewer says, it is very morally ambiguous. He seems to worship alcohol, and this is some feeble attempt to praise it's benefits against Islamic practices.

While I found this meandering memoir rather entertaining most of the time, and the "non-fiction/historical" facts absolutely fascinating; I must admit I found the "memoir"-ish parts rather boring and sometimes downright condescending (pg. 32 comes to mind). I think Osborne would make a wonderful writer of social/historical texts, but in this tome I found him self-indulgent, condescending, and plain unpleasant. I have no qualms with alcohol, but the way he glorifies the drunken state rubbed me the wrong way.

Osborne, Lawrence. The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker's Journey. New York: Crown, 2013.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Andrew's Brain by E. L. Doctorow

Title: Andrew's Brain
Author: E. L. Doctorow
Themes: memory, relative reality, stream of consciousness, love, responsibility, sanity
Rating: ***

Plot: From "This brilliant new novel by an American master, the author of Ragtime, The Book of Daniel, Billy Bathgate, and The March, takes us on a radical trip into the mind of a man who, more than once in his life, has been the inadvertent agent of disaster.

Speaking from an unknown place and to an unknown interlocutor, Andrew is thinking, Andrew is talking, Andrew is telling the story of his life, his loves, and the tragedies that have led him to this place and point in time. And as he confesses, peeling back the layers of his strange story, we are led to question what we know about truth and memory, brain and mind, personality and fate, about one another and ourselves. Written with psychological depth and great lyrical precision, this suspenseful and groundbreaking novel delivers a voice for our times—funny, probing, skeptical, mischievous, profound."

My Thoughts: Doctorow gives us a bit of a puzzling tale in Andrew's Brain. This is essentially a monologue between Andrew (who sometimes refers to himself in third person) and what the reader eventually assumes is a mandated therapist. How and why Andrew ended up in this conversation is never explicitly fact very little is explicitly stated, or linearly stated. This is a rambling story from a troubled man who provides his stream of consciousness. Andrew "The Pretender" seems to bring disaster with him, which provides some interesting anecdotes but leaves the reader wondering what the novel was all about come the concluding paragraph.

Similar Reads: White Noise by Don Delillo, Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Doctorow, E. L. Andrew's Brain. New York: Random House, 2014.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To X Person
This week's Top Ten is a list of books I would recommend to...a type of person of my choosing! So here are ten books I would recommend to lovers of magical realism....which I have been loving for a few years now.

According to wikipedia: "Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.[1] Although it is most commonly used as a literary genre, magic realism also applies to film and the visual arts."

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
2. Galore by Michael Crummey
3. Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
4. A Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol Oates
5. Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
6. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
7. Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Monday, November 18, 2013

Galore by Michael Crummey

Title: Galore
Author: Michael Crummey
Themes: generational epic, love, family, poverty, small community relationships
Rating: ****

Plot: From "Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book, Caribbean & Canada and the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award; Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Book Award, and the Winterset Award

When a whale beaches itself on the shore of the remote coastal town of Paradise Deep, the last thing any of the townspeople expect to find inside it is a man, silent and reeking of fish, but remarkably alive. The discovery of this mysterious person, soon christened Judah, sets the town scrambling for answers as its most prominent citizens weigh in on whether he is man or beast, blessing or curse, miracle or demon.

Though Judah is a shocking addition, the town of Paradise Deep is already full of unusual characters. King-me Sellers, self-appointed patriarch, has it in for an inscrutable woman known only as Devine’s Widow, with whom he has a decades-old feud. Her granddaughter, Mary Tryphena, is just a child when Judah washes ashore, but finds herself tied to him all her life in ways she never expects. Galore is the story of the saga that develops between these families, full of bitterness and love, spanning two centuries.
With Paradise Deep, award-winning novelist Michael Crummey imagines a realm where the line between the everyday and the otherworldly is impossible to discern. Sprawling and intimate, stark and fantastical, Galore is a novel about the power of stories to shape and sustain us."

My Thoughts: I love the rather "tall tale"-ish feel of this generational epic, which spans from the early 19th century to World War I. It can border on the surreal while still offering a gritty and realistic portrayal of a hard-scrabble "frontier" fishing village in Newfoundland. Struggles between religious denominations, families, and employers/employees highlight the very real struggles of the people in Paradise Deep. Some may be off-put by the lack of linear plot or main character, but Galore is still a compelling read and I highly recommend it.

Similar Reads: A Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol Oates, Ice Land by Betsy Tobin, Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Crummey, Michael. Galore. New York: Other Press, 2011.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne

Title: The Forgiven
Author: Lawrence Osborne
Themes: responsibility, forgiveness, colonization, "the Other"
Rating: ***

Plot: (from In this haunting novel, journalist and novelist Lawrence Osborne explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of Moroccan Muslims and Western visitors who converge on a luxurious desert villa for a decadent weekend-long party.     
     David and Jo Henniger, a doctor and a children's book author, in search of an escape from their less than happy lives in London, accept an invitation to attend a bacchanal at their old friends' home, deep in the Moroccan desert. But as a groggy David navigates the dark desert roads, two young men spring from the roadside, the car swerves...and one boy is left dead.
     When David and Jo arrive at the party, the Moroccan staff, already disgusted by the rich, hedonistic foreigners in their midst, soon learn of David's unforgivable act. Then the boy's irate Berber father appears, and events begin to spin beyond anyone's control.
     With spare, evocative prose, searing eroticism, and a gift for the unexpected, Osborne memorably portrays the privileged guests wrestling with their secrets amid the remoteness and beauty of the desert landscape. He gradually reveals the jolting backstory of the young man who was killed and leaves David’s fate in the balance as the novel builds to a shattering conclusion.

My Thoughts: I admit that I was thinking entirely of L'etranger by Camus when I first picked up this novel. Both address issues of colonization, relationships between the West/Middle East-Africa, murder, and obviously 'the Other.' Unfortunately the characters aren't entirely "fleshed out," and it can sometimes seem as though Osborne is writing about "poor, desperate post-colonial Moroccans" versus "decadent, imperialist Westerners" in a very cliched way. I think this is partly his writing style because the plot really does have a rather epic (morbid, depressing, hopeless) feel; the oppressive desert seems to have a life of its own as constant backdrop to the ridiculously decadent party David is headed to as well as the abject poverty the Moroccans face. However, occasionally Osborne moves away from the archetypes Camus utilized and creates individuals...admittedly not individuals that are very sympathetic, likeable, or "good" but individuals nonetheless. This keeps the novel from venturing too far into cliche or allegory, by making humans out of his characters Osborne has definitely created a more thought provoking story about Western/"Other" relations.

I'm still not sure what to think of The Forgiven, which is good because it forces thought! But it makes for a difficult review. I found the big bash thrown by Richard and Dally to be over-the-top ridiculous, the ease of bribing Moroccan police horrifying, and the ending rather abrupt after such a meandering story (it felt so languid and slow despite all the exciting events unfolding!).

Similar Reads: The Stranger by Albert Camus

Osborne, Lawrence. The Forgiven. London: Hogarth, 2012.

Reading Through June 1

Completed this Week:

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
 The Curse of Chalion was an impulse buy when it was a Kindle Daily Deal one day...a few months ago? I had started it...gotten maybe a chapter in and was dreadfully bored and put off. When I had nothing else to read at work, I started plugging away at it again...and was amazed at how enjoyable it was. This books has interesting, dimensional characters, good (if stereotypical fantasy/medieval European-esque) worldbuilding, and a plot that kept me guessing. Overall, this book is about maneuvering in politics, spiritual power, and loyalty. I would recommend it, and I'm probably going to read more by Bujold.

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan. When a friend loaned me A Casual Vacancy I had serious doubts. I found the book rather forcibly "dark/grisly." With all that said. I enjoyed Rowling's newest novel immensely. Well. Maybe not "enjoyed" because it was terribly depressing; but it was an excellent read and went by very quickly for being just shy of 500 pages! This little examination of a small town after the death of a local Council member is fascinating. It hosts a wide cast of characters ranging in ages, interests, and personalities. The Casual Vacancy isn't about small town politics so much as it's about the everyday wars people wage. Children against adult, rich against poor, etc. I would recommend it.

Scheherazade's Facade edited by Michael M. Jones
I ordered this anthology of short stories of "gender bending, cross-dressing, and transformation" because it contains a new Tanith Lee story. But of course I found them all rather enjoyable. I found it odd that the over whelming theme was of men/boys "transforming" into women. I had expected a wide range of...well...gender-bending antics! I did enjoy the collection; but the stand-out stories were: "The Secret Name of the Prince" by Alma Alexander, "Keeping the World on Course" by Tanith Lee, "Treasure and Maidens" by Sarah Rees Brennan, and "Lady Marmalade's Special Place in Hell" by David Sklar.

Tenterhooks by Ada Leverson
Tenterhooks follows Love's Shadow where we are introduced to Edith and Bruce Ottley; she the perfect wife, and he a completely absurd hypochondriac (and more). This second installment follows a brief affection between Edith and a certain new friend introduced to her and her husband's circle. He is madly in love with Edith, and she is clearly devoted to her husband and two children...come what may. I didn't read this for plot, I read this for the delightful insight into "well off" London in the early 1900s, for the witty banter, and the absurdities of really must read them to understand how ridiculous it is.

The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne

this novel will have it's own review since I received it through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. Look for it!

Belated 2012 Round Up

Books Completed: 130
     Pages: 45,194
     Fiction: 118
     Non-fiction: 12
     The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, I completed 11 books from this series in 2012.
     Zombies Versus Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larabalestier
     Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
     The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James
     The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
     Graceling by Kirstin Cashore
     The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
     The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
     Persuasion by Jane Austen
     Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker