Spooner

Had to let this one simmer in my brain pan for a few days, mulling over its greatness. Glorious writing, sometimes laugh out loud inducing.
Spooner might be the only twin I’ve ever liked; could this be because his twin died during birth?
Images that stick with me:
* Spooner as a young’un peeing in the neighbor’s house accidentally after going over for a piece of the forbidden cheese, loving the thrill of getting away with it, going back and deliberately peeing in his shoes and putting them in the fridge.
* Jaquith’s mule dead and exploding in the fire at the mill; the stench returning to Spooner at odd dreadful moments the remainder of his life.
* Spooner getting his ass kicked, teeth knocked out, then going back for Round 2 with reinforcements in the shape of Stanley the prizefighter and various of their friends.
* Calmer’s introduction as a promising naval officer whose botched attempt at a funeral at sea for a Congressman leads to his dismissal (the coffin didn’t sink, so he gave the command to fire at the vessel)
* Calmer ripping his palms off to try and save the neighbor’s grandson after his jacked up van falls on him. This, after the neighbor erects a fence deep on Spooner’s property.
What I didn’t like:
* Winds down towards the end. Why are the last 100 pages of a book always so damned hard to write/read? I didn’t enjoy much of the story as it takes place on the island, Spooner a successful writer cozily ensconced in his cottage with guesthouse, the neighbor’s gay grandson and lover harassing his daughter and threatening to kill the cat, Calmer gone senile and come to live with them, drinking beer and shooting the rifle in the air with helmet on to see if the bullet can land on his head.

El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City

John Ross has been “embedded” in his Mexico City hotel room for 25 years, reporting from the front lines of class warfare and failed democracy experiments among the Chilangos. This is Ross’s love letter to the city, chock full of history and personal recollections. From Zapata to Carlos Slim to Subcommandante Marcos to Porfirio Díaz, and droplets of his neighbors’ stories sprinkled in for local color.
The city, or el Monstruo, is alive, being smothered in its own smog layer, shaken violently in massive earthquakes, and the focus of dissent for hundreds of years.
Whodunnit? peppers the pages as Ross wonders who was responsible for various murders along the political trail. Mexico had several stolen elections in recent history, 1988 and 2006.
Among other things I did not know (too many to count with this book), I learned that Plumed Serpent by DH Lawrence was inspired by Mexico City. Queuing that one up next…
Bonus points to John Ross for having an awesome domain name:
http://www.johnross-rebeljournalist.com

The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy

I am officially not a Raj Patel fan. He bored me with Stuffed and Starved. I lost an hour of my life to skimming his latest, The Value of Nothing.
My discontent stems only from his writing style; he does a great job bringing in the heavy hitters from the past, Mills, Keynes, Rousseau, Hobbes, Marx, etc. I begin to chafe when he opens a chapter with an Oscar Wilde quote (which I liked), only to reprint the exact quote within the text a paragraph later. (The quote, for the record, “Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”) He also feels it necessary to give background explanation on Gregor Samsa (of Metamorphosis fame) assuming we’ve never heard of it, when simply referencing the work would suffice.
Whew. With that off my chest, I did enjoy learning a few bits, namely:
* Chile has been able to successfully bring back commercial fishing of the commons by entrusting each group along the coast to tend to the health of its area.
* Participatory budgeting in Brazil is successful because it allows people to shape the outcome

So Long, See You Tomorrow

I gobbled this one up in one fell swoop, taking a break to paint my kitchen, but finishing up today in the sun-drenched glory that is my newly-yellow room. As I was painting, I remembered part of the book where Maxwell describes life as a shipwreck, you jettison stuff along the way, and how the 10 year old Cletus did not want to tell the narrator about his shipwreck, e.g. life.
Beautifully written, the story of two sharecropping farmers, one of whom kills the other after an affair with his wife, told from both characters’ perspectives but mostly through the eyes of the narrator, who pieces the story together from microfische news stories and first person accounts.
***
Reco’d by the Green Apple dude at Krista’s birthday party

Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater

The Times’ food critic reveals his lifelong struggle with chronic overeating and being obsessed by food and weight. A quick read, and an interesting glimpse into battles with weight– small portions, serious exercise being the happy ending he employs. Good pacing– the book starts with his time in Rome as a papal reporter for the Times, getting the call to be a food critic, and fills us in on the details of his struggles up to that point. The last section details his time as a critic, with disguises, and the lengths restaurants will go to in order to discover when he is eating there.

Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector

I tried valiantly to finish this biography of the Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, but when I was still warily opening its pages after 150 pages, I gave up. Some interesting bits on her early life, born in the Ukraine as a cure for her syphallitic mother (raped by Russian soliders during the pogroms), she never set foot on the ground (was always carried), and thus felt Brazil to be her rightful homeland.
Bits of Brazilian history, the political reign of Vargas, her marriage to a diplomat while being in love with a gay writer. I wish it the bio had focused more on her life, and less on trying to fit in a deconstruction of her work, especially because I have yet to read anything by her.