Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer of Reading

So much of that has been done lately that I would be too embarrassed to post a comprehensive list up here lest it be apparent that I'm not doing enough writing (ahem).

But some of the books I've read lately really deserve comment, so here goes.

The first time I noticed Towelhead by Alicia Erian was many years ago when I saw a review of it in Vogue. It had actually been reviewed by everyone and their grandmother back then as it seems this little book about a shy, withdrawn 13-year-old sent by her not-all-there Irish mother to live with her cold, old-fashioned and borderline abusive Lebanese dad was subject to a lot of hoopla when it came out. I read the review, told myself I'd buy the book, and then promptly forgot about the whole business until I happened upon it a few years later in an adorable indie shop in Vegas (had a hilarious conversation with the lovely elderly owner of that shop...I think I was her only customer that day and even she seemed surprised that in a town where everyone comes for the slots and a dose of designer shopping, I was spending time in a bookstore). As with every other time I walk into a bookstore, I have a hard time walking out with just one or two books, and Towelhead lost the battle against an autographed hardcover of Isabel Allende's Zorro. Then, a few years after that, I noticed the paperback version of this book and finally bought it. It languished in my To Be Read pile until finally, last month, Marie Claire recommended the movie version of the book, coming out this August (watch the trailer here). I couldn't put the book down. It has the appeal of slowing down to stare at a train wreck, albeit a funny (at times) train wreck. But when it's not funny, it's heartbreaking and horrific and perverse, and you'd probably stop reading if not for the feeling that Erian's thin tome, although wrong in some details of authenticity, rings like something that might happen more often than we'd think in a world where adults are often more lost than their kids. Read it, but be prepared to be disturbed.

Then there was This Charming Man by Marian Keyes. Marian is one of the very few authors with massive commercial appeal who is allowed to meander for pages and pages of character and setting detail (and I don't mean description) with the aim of advancing the resonance of her novels rather than the plot. The plot always ties together in beautiful, intricate, and highly intelligent ways at the end, but in the hands of lesser writers, the readership might not have stuck around for 600+ pages rich with detail and character development. This one is her most ambitious yet - touches Irish politics but only insofar as they affect a very tangible, very real issue that's probably close to a lot of women's hearts (though if more men cared about it, maybe it wouldn't happen so much). Read it only if you have A LOT of spare time on your hands because you won't put it down until you've made it through all 680-odd pages.

The last book I devoured was Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez's Dirty Girls on Top. I've been waiting on this one for a few years now, so I obviously couldn't resist buying it hardcover even though I'm trying very hard to cut back on hardcovers (besides the price issue, they don't fit in half my handbags). As much as I liked it (and I did). I was sad to see that the author had poured all her character development into the original Dirty Girls and left the sequel a little thin. It was nonetheless as sexy as the title suggests, funny, fast-paced, and engrossing, so far better than a lot of fiction I've read in general, but I thought her first one was a masterpiece - difficult to surpass. Caution: if you've never read the first one, you might find the cast unsympathetic and hard to relate to, so you should really pick up Dirty Girls Social Club for the full experience.

Up next: DeNiro's Game by fellow Lebanese-Montreal-Canadian debut author Rawi Hage. I'm not sure how much of a splash this novel is making in the States right now but up here, it's HUGE. Won all kinds of awards, and recounts some of the worst days of the Lebanese civil war but in a supposedly fresh, original way. Stay tuned.


Marilyn Brant said...

Because I saw her link on your blog ages ago, I checked out Alisa V-R's site and, earlier this summer, bought a copy of The Dirty Girls Social Club :). Haven't started it yet (like most of us writers, I have a towering TBR pile), but everything I've read about her and her work indicate I'm going to love this novel...

Looking forward to seeing you in SF!

Marilyn Brant said...

Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed seeing you again this past week, Nadine. I kept thinking we'd get more time to chat, though, which didn't happen. Next year, I want to steal you away for coffee or margaritas for an hour, okay?!
P.S. Can't wait to begin reading Cutting Loose :).

Nadine said...

I can't believe we didn't get a chance to have a proper chat either! With so much to talk about!! But that's the story of the Nationals every year... Must be much more organized next year... Nonetheless, it was so great to catch up in person, even if it was for such a short time!