blaise's book feast

Un amuse bouche de la litterature

Other Ephemera From 2014

Two Thousand Fourteen found me re-reading several books that I’ve read in the past, but I squeezed in several new ones as well.  

Home is the Sailor and Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor by Patrick Taylor. Dr. Taylor writes the Irish Country series, which are light-hearted tales of an older doctor, his younger partner, and the often hilarious undertakings of the villagers of Ballybucklebo, Ireland.  The series spans decades, with several books focusing on Dr. O’Reilly’s early days in practice in the 1930s, and other books detail the development of more modern medicine in the 1960s.  All of the books are great, and you can start anywhere in the series without feeling lost.

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness.  This is the third in a trilogy involving a witch and a vampire (I know, I know), and is the best in the trilogy. This isn’t your average vampire romance though, and Ms. Harkness takes well-researched forays into biology, chemistry, religion and history.  I would recommend starting at the beginning with her first book, A Discovery of Witches, followed by Shadow of Night and then The Book of Life. You’ll be hard pressed to put any of them down.

The Charm School by Nelson Demille.  Mr. Demille is a previous combat veteran who went on to receive a degree in Political Science and History.  His impressive bibliography includes thrilling tales, usually related to a fearless cop or service member.  The Charm School is by far my favorite of his books, which details Intelligence Officer Hollis’s mission to find a secretive KGB training camp outside of Moscow, in the throes of the cold war.  He is assisted by the charming Lisa Rhodes, an embassy attache, and Seth Alevy, a CIA mastermind.  The KGB training site winds up being a camp where American fliers captured by the North Vietnamese are forced to teach KGB officers how to “become” American so that they may infiltrate US neighborhoods, government jobs, etc. to fullfill their goal of anihillating America. Fortunately, through some insane plans from Alevy and Hollis, the Charm School’s days are numbered.  A jaw dropping helicopter scene at the end of the novel still has me thinking about the book.  Demille’s recent and also great books are The Lion and The Panther, which deal with the American Anti-Terrorist Task Force battleing a Middle Eastern Terrorist.

Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins.  This was a re-read for me this year.  I think I read all of his books available at the time, when I was studying abroad in Australia ten years ago. His books are a delight, and I usually describe them as adult fairytales on LSD.  Villa Incognito starts out with an unusual Japanese yarn about a Badger-like “Tanuki” who can shift into human form and seduce young women.  The thick of the book eventually gets back to this unusual beginning, but focuses on three lost airmen who have been running drugs for the past 30 years since their plane crashed in the Vietnam war. I can’t even begin to describe the way that Robbins writes, except to say that its like slowly swarming orbs of electricity in his head at times rocket down to his fingertips and frission the page with unbelievable epithets. My other favorite book of his is Jitterbug Perfume. 

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Americanah

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I was a little late to the party on this one.  Hailed as one of the New York Times Top Ten Books of 2013, an NPR “Great Reads” for 2013, and as a Seattle Times Best Book of 2013, I admired its bold cover in my toppling-over stack of other “must read” books before getting to it.

The story is fearlessly lead by Ifemelu, who leaves Nigeria to begin fellowship studies at Princeton.  She leaves behind her college love, Obinze, in Nigeria, but never stops thinking of him, despite a smattering of American relationships.

On the East Coast, Ifemelu makes astute observations on race in America.  In Ifemelu’s home culture everyone was the same color, and coming into a culture where peoples skin inform their worldviews, is a shock to Ifemelu. She starts collecting a litany of observations from everything about the political implications of braiding African hair, the delicate dance of dating educated white American men, and ultimately forging one’s glorious own path in a world of contradictions and unknowns.

She delivers her observations into the public forum via her wildly popular blog, ‘Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.’.  She meets much acclaim and some discord with the readers of her blog, who also have their own insights into race politics in America.

Though Ifemelu dates American men, her heart has never completely forgotten Obinze, who after misadventures in Britain returned to Nigeria and became a business man with a family, a house and a car. Ifemelu, after many years in America, decides to return to Nigeria and to check in with her old friend Obinze, where they continue their decades long banter about race, religion, and education.

This book is highly worth a read, as in some places it takes the ideals we take for granted and smashes them on their pumpkin-y heads. Eloquent, regal and paradigm changing!

Summer Reads

I know it’s a little late in the season to be issuing a poolside reading list, but I finally had vacation and two lovely weeks to pool/read/beach, repeat.  These three are worth a look.

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The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Posts and their extended family venture off to Mallorca for a two week vacation to bring the family together one last time before Sylvia heads off to college.  Also along for the ride are Franny-the-Matriarch’s cherished gay friend and his husband (both husbands seem similarly miffed about being left out of the inner circle), and older son Bobby and his universally loathed girlfriend.

As secrets arise about the Posts’ past and new infidelities come to light, the Post family has a vacation wrought with tension but somehow held together by the tour de force that is Franny.

Straub’s understated sense of humor and spot-on observations about complex family dynamics make this book a good one to read while on a floaty pool lounger.

 

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Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn

This is one of the best books that I have read this year.  Although I have not read St. Aubyn’s previous works, he is well known for his excellent literature, including “Mother’s Milk” which was short listed for the Man Booker Prize.

This novel is a clever satire on the process of choosing books that are awarded with prestigious prizes.  In this case, it is the fictional “Elysian” prize (probably modeled after the Man Booker Prize).  The five panelists could not be more different from each other; one is a member of parliament, one is a vociferous columnist, one a stage actor, one a former member of the foreign office who writes thrillers, and the last is an actual literary academician.

The panelists put forth their nominations for the prize, and the antics, romantic entanglements and power struggles that ensue are entertaining. Through a mistake, a serious contender of a book fails to get submitted, and instead, an Indian palace cookbook gets submitted and is hailed as the new model of post-modern literature.  To the dismay of The Palace Cookbook’s brooding, entitled nephew who feels as though his plodding novel on the struggles of royal lineage should have been submitted, much fanfare is made of his auntie’s collection of recipes.

Excellent prose, entertaining characters and a great ending make this book a quick read.

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Described by NPR as “a love letter to literature,” this book is certainly a must for voracious readers.  Mr. Fickry, the cantankerous protagonist of the book, owns a bookstore on a small island, and his life experiences a series of unfortunate events, including the death of his wife and the loss of a prized possession.  An unexpected arrival comes to his store and changes his life in unexpected and beautiful ways.  A story of loss, love, literature and transformation. Read it.