And a few more

I read a lot of fiction this week, oddly enough. I kept picking up and putting down non-fiction. I tried to read Terri Cheney’s Manic and just couldn’t do it. I suspect I have hit a wall with white-lady-situational-memoir (so for now, it’s those and overly-precocious-younguns-novels that I’m not able to read).

33. The Punch: A Novel by Noah Hawley (Chronicle, June 2008). This is not normally my sort of book (I am absolutely sick of anything that seems to be a young-white-literary-man novel), but I picked it up because I liked the cover, and then took it home because Mary Roach blurbed it. But it ended up being so delightful that I think I will probably read it again some time. First of all, it’s very funny, and has some clever satire, but in that lovely warmhearted Walter Kirn sort of a way. But also, it’s a lot deeper than you’d assume from the back cover, in terms of some great metanarrative writing. You know what’s coming the whole time, but Hawley plays with narrative so deftly that you keep watching the trains just to see them crash. Plus, you’ve got to love a book in which one of the main characters is an accidental bigamist who you still, somehow, like more than his brother. I suspect this will be a Booksense pick. I suppose I should nominate it (which I still have never done. Bad bookseller!)

34. The Mercy Rule: A Novel by Perri Klass (Houghton Mifflin, July 2008). Another novel that skewers deftly but with great heart. Narrator Lucy is a pediatrician who works primarily with at-risk foster children/children who are on the verge of being foster children. The book goes between her experiences as a child, her experiences at work, and her experiences out of work, which include dealing with her children’s private school, her academic husband, and figuring out her son, who is probably autistic to some extent. Some beautiful writing about parenthood and marriage. One of the things I liked best was that any number of improbable things happen in the book, but they don’t seem improbable until you start to tell people about the book. I wish this was out already, because I tried to sell it to somebody yesterday. I will definitely be giving this to a family member who is a pediatrician, but its appeal is much wider than that. It’s in the same vein as Jodi Picoult and I think will appeal to the same fans, but without all the unsolvable moral dilemmas and crying for the last third of the book.

35. The Fold: A Novel by An Na (G. P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Young Readers, April 2008). This is about a girl whose aunt is pretty much forcing her into getting eyelid surgery in order to have more Caucasian-looking eyes. Na does a good job of talking about all the issues that surround such a decision, especially in Joyce’s more traditional Korean family and church community. The writing felt a bit forced to me; the book is definitely more plot- than character-driven, and some of the characters feel more like stand-ins for particular points of view than people. But I liked it overall, and think it will be well-liked by teen girls as well.

36. The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by M. Gigi Durham (Overlook, May 2008). Just read this today. I was very, very impressed by this book. Durham does an incredible job of writing intelligently and fairly about a subject that, as she notes, tends to send most people running to one of two camps: anti-sex (who think girls shouldn’t be taught about or thinking about sex at all) or pro-sex (who equate sexualization with empowerment). In addition, Durham doesn’t just neatly discuss the myths that propel the sexualization of young girls, she also provides a virtual toolbox for people who work with/parent young girls to fight back. She’s not kidding with the “what we can do about it.” I’d say a good third of the book is dedicated to specific examples at the end of each chapter of how to combat sexualization, plus a boatload of resources. As such, I’d love to get this book in the hands of every teacher, doctor, and parent in the country. Durham doesn’t want young girls to be nuns–she recognizes that all humans are sexual, and that sexual development is normal–but she does want media and corporations to stop exploiting that development for monetary gain. She also writes very compellingly about the affect that First World advertising and culture has on the sexualization of young girls across the globe, especially with regards to sexual trafficking. I really can’t recommend this one highly enough; this is the sort of book that could be a great catalyst for positive change in this country if enough people started putting into practice even a quarter of her suggestions.

And for a closer, how about this interesting article on the fate of the semicolon in France? The whole thing is interesting, but the best bits are at the end, when they report the feelings of a dozen or so authors on the semicolon.


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