Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Books I’ve Read Lately

Running With Scissors & Dry, both by Augusten Burroughs. RWS is an account of Burroughs’ completely screwed up childhood and is at once both haunting and hilarious. There’s some truly disturbing chapters, yet they are fascinating and redeemed by their humor. Dry is Burroughs’ true tale of his battle with alcoholism in the crazy world of New York advertising. His journey towards sobriety is, again, like RWS, harrowing in parts, yet very witty. Both are well worth a read.

On Green Dolphin Street, Charlotte Gray, and Birdsong – all by Sebastian Faulks. These three books are all informed by war, and each is compulsively readable. The best was Birdsong, a treatise on World War I as well as a love story. I was having a hard time reading certain parts of it. Not being as well informed about trench warfare in the Great War as I might have been, I was shocked by his unflinching descriptions. It isn’t an easy or light book, but it is well worth some time.

Knitting in Plain English – Maggie Righetti. All you folks at Starbucks know how consumed I became with knitting so that a knitting primer is on my list should come as no surprise. This woman is practical and funny and cuts right through the crap. If you are at all interested in knitting, this book should be on your shelf.

Virgins of Venice – Mary Laven. This book is about Renaissance convents in Venice, and deftly explores the notion of dumping unwanted, unmarriageable daughters of the nobility into the convent, which was a disaster for both the women and the church which was filled with nuns without a true vocation. As a result of this imprisonment, the nuns began to rebel and the cloisters became rife with intrigue. I picked it up when I was in Venice and started reading it there. Mary Laven is a Cambridge professor and this is a scholarly work, but highly readable. It’s got an underlying feminist twist to it as well, which I found compelling.

The Murder of Helen Jewett - Patricia Cline Cohen. Good detective piece about the real
life murder of a prostitute in early 1800’s New York. It’s a good social history of the city in its early days. Sex and murder, two of my favorite themes! Not for everyone’s tastes, but those of you with, shall we say, more prurient interests might enjoy this.

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold. This spooky book was so compelling that I picked it up one morning and stop reading it until I had finished that evening. It’s a coming of age story, but a tragic one. It’s about loss and mourning and though unrelentingly sad, is transcendent too. It was a gripping read. Worth a day on the couch! Sebold’s memoir Lucky, a dark story about the author’s rape at age 18 is on the next pile of books I plan to plow through!

What Was She Thinking: Notes On A Scandal – Zoe Heller. Run, do not walk, to the library and get this one, a great read on a teacher in her forties having a dalliance with her 15 year old student. Told through the eyes of a friend of the offending teacher, this book has got it all. The friend is a bitter, lonely spinster who becomes obsessed with the teacher, a bohemian, upper class beauty whose life is a tangled weave. I loved this book on many levels.

Hitler’s Niece – Ron Hansen. A truly mesmerizing novel that explores Hitler’s true life relationship with his niece, Geli Raubal, who ultimately killed herself (or did she?), during a turbulent relationship with the dictator. For me, this book was fascinating on several levels, not the least of which that it is set in Munich, and many of the scenes take place in our neighborhood, Schwabing, through which Hitler cut a deep path during his inauspicious early beginnings as well as on his rise to power as the Fuhrer.

Against All Enemies: America’s War on Terror – Richard Clarke. Clarke’s take on the Bush administration’s bungling of the war on terror as well as their obsession with Saddam Hussein. Clarke worked for Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2, and paints a really compelling picture of how our country, somewhat unwittingly, allowed an organization like Al-Qaeda to grow and flourish. He saves his most scathing observations for W though. W comes off as vastly incompetent as well as downright scary. I am not sure what I think about this book, as in some ways it seems very opportunistic. However, whatever you think of Clarke, the picture he paints of the chaos and panic at the highest levels of government on the morning of September 11th is riveting. Worth a read


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