Never Let Me Go

Devoured this story in a cross country flight. This was my first taste of Ishiguro, I was lured into the work by the seductive display at the Mission branch library. Easy, facile writing style; excellent use of foreshadowing or clue dropping or seeding of the story. I imagine it to be extremely difficult to write a story set in a “current” setting with a couple crucial details changed without sounding hokey, but he pulls it off.
The story is written from Kathy H.’s perspective, as a carer and future donor. The story revolves around the golden age growing up at Hailsham with Ruth & Tommy. The children were clones, thus bred to donate organs and to care for those who were undergoing organ donation prior to “completing” (e.g. dying). They are encouraged at Hailsham to explore their art, to compete to see whose work gets chosen by Madame for the mythical “Gallery”. This is a coming-of-age story, with a twist. Kathy & Tommy always have a connection, yet Tommy & Ruth end up as a couple. Years later, Ruth reveals her worst action was to keep them apart when they were clearly meant for each other.
The title comes from a song on Kathy’s cassette tape long lost (all lost items end up in Norfolk) then rediscovered in a 2nd hand shop by Tommy & Kathy in Norfolk during the road trip with Ruth, Chrissie & Rodney to find Ruth’s “possible” (e.g. possible model for her cloning).

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Advice for authors

Nineteen tidbits of advice for aspiring authors from marketing guru Seth Godin. Sad to note that 58% of adults don’t read another book after high school. And this is my favorite piece of advice:
“Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people. Bookstores, in general, are really lousy businesses. They are often where books go to die. While some readers will discover your book in a store, it’s way more likely they will discover the book before they get to the store, and the store is just there hoping to have the right book for the right person at the time she wants it. If the match isn’t made, no sale.”

A conspiracy of paper

Historical fiction is tricky, but Liss pulls a rabbit out of a hat on this 18th century tale on the beginnings of the stock exchange in London. Spun as a memoir by one Benjamin Weaver (nee Lienzo), ex boxing champ of England then turned thief catcher/detective, it takes place in the early 1700s and traces the seemingly unrelated murders of two men (Ben’s father and Sir Balfour), while luring Ben back to his Jewish roots in Dukes Place. Liss does well to insert historical details (riots, rotting flesh, Bevis Marks synagogue*, coffeehouses, fear of national debt) along with dialogue that doesn’t drag with old timey speech and dialect.
*Special note on Bevis Marks–I visited London during the weekend when historical buildings were opened to the public and was able to visit the synagogue. Over 300 years old and still in use, with a tiny courtyard and intricately detailed decor, I sat within meditating on life and other sundries and had an overwhelming sense of spiritual currents flowing through me. That experience will stay with me although it now smacks of bland new-age nonsense.
Recommended by The Max

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Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants

It is my biggest fear that I will try to write a fantastically funny book re: me, and end up with a wispy, lame-ish, mediocre work like this one. Jill was a writer on HBO’s Six Feet Under, and took it upon herself to explain her life via this book. Yawn. As much as I appreciate the ladies who write, it saddens me to read an entire book that’s supposed to be funny without once smiling.
Skip it.

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Apex Hides The Hurt

Colson is back on track with this book– back to the level of The Intuitionist. I am thoroughly enjoying the playful nature of the subject matter– a nomenclature consultant is hired to rename a town. The musings on names is delightful. I am also struck by the description of people who are “other”– because the main character is black, whenever he encounters other black characters, they are simply described as “man” or “woman”; but when encountering whites, it’s “white man” and “white girl.” I like it. It reminds me that 99% of every other book is written in the other vein. And it reminds me of how my parents describe people– I’ve always been struck by their insistence to clarify that someone was a black guy, versus just being a guy. Hopefully this is a generational tic that will devolve out of use.
***
Now finished, I am well pleased with the entire story. The question of Freedom vs. New Preospera vs. Winthrop for the town, and the ultimate choice by the consultant (Struggle). His limp. His amputated toe b/c Apex really did hide the hurt as his toe got more and more infected. I like the way Colson teases out the story, parses out piece after piece, mentioning the narrator’s “precondition”, “incident”, even the considered names for the town. Lucky (new founder) vs. Albie (Winthrop old founder) vs. Regina (mayor). Muttonchops the bartender & the housekeeper who wages war on the consultant’s hotel room. The fact the nomenclature consultant remains nameless throughout.

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Fluke

Who knew the true story of Warren Harding’s presidency could be so sad and interesting? Warren went from being an aw-shucks editor of the Marion, Ohio newspaper to being maneuvered into office (first Senator of Ohio, then President) by Harry Daugherty, the conniving and scandal-inviting grafter. The question of Harding’s black ancestry is raised more than once (and denied). Once Harding is President, he takes his responsibilities seriously, and begins learning about the world and its ills, arguing for civil rights, labor laws, global disarmament. His theme is very much discouraged by the old guard, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, the perpetual presidential-office seeker. Harding’s friends begin taking advantage of their newfound privileges immediately, transferring the Teapot Dome oil reserves from the Navy to the Dept of the Interior, where rights are handed over to a civilian in exchange for $250k. There is also scandal involving bribe-taking for booze makers during prohibition, and a Veteran’s Hospital graft scheme.
Throughout the story, the events are recreated by one Nan Britton, Harding’s young lover from his hometown of Marion. She describes stalking him from an early age, contributing a poem to the paper, bicycling by his house, spying on him in his offices. In her twenties, she follows him to Washington where he has just been elected Senator. Right before Harding embarks on the journey across the country (where he will end up dying in San Francisco), Nan becomes pregnant.
The author notes that in 1931 Nan Britton published a best-seller, “The President’s Daughter,” telling about her life with Harding and doing her best to salvage his reputation. Royalties from the book opened a home for unwed mothers. Her book contains quotations from several of his speeches, including this from a July 21, 1923 speech shortly before his death: “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask– what may I do for my country?”
Harding seems the forgotten predecessor of People’s Presidents such as Kennedy and Clinton.
Recommended by Old Bean

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Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever

Winners of the worst analogies in a high school essay, gleaned from a WaPost contest. Including:
“John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.”
“From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and “Jeopardy” comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.”

The Sparrow

It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten tangled up in a plot and been loathe to put down the book. The Sparrow has a story that you have to ease into, to get comfortable with the idea of Jesuits and space travel. But once you’re there, you’re in. Emilio Sandoz, the linguist, finds himself the butt of a cosmic joke as he’s been sent around the world to learn languages and then dump all his knowledge into an AI program. The tale takes 8 brave souls to Alpha Centauri in search of the Singers. Years later, Emilio comes back alone, wrecked. It is a story of a man’s quest for god and his challenges of the faith.
The title reference comes 7 pages from the end. “Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine,” Vincenzo Guiliani said quietly. ” ‘Not one sparrow can fall to the groud without your Father knowing about it.’ ” “But the sparrow still falls,” Felipe said.

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Ghostwritten

Collection of short stories looked tantalizing from the distance, since it appeared to be a sort of travelogue winding its way from Japan, Hong Kong, etc. Instead, Mitchell creates distinct short stories with the age old trick of including characters from the previous story into the current story. And so each story is related to the other in some nondescript way. Writing is almost above average, but the cutesy inclusion of other characters ruined it for me. Couldn’t get past the 3rd story.

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The wind-up bird chronicle

Dreamlike tale of a recently unemployed man whose cat runs away, then his wife runs away, then has mysterious events begin happening to him. Naughty phone calls from phantom women who float into and out of his dream, the 16 year old neighbor who tans and watches for cats and does wig surveys, naming the cat after his brother in law who becomes a famous politician at the heart of the story. Mystical powers of comprehension and psychic healing. Blue mark on his face after sitting at the bottom of the abandoned well for several days and passing through the wall. Beating the guitar-case carrying man with a bat. Tales of Manchuria, skinning the spy alive. The bequest of an empty box. Meeting Cinnamon & Nutmeg and having clients come to the hanging house.
Overall pretty amazing read.

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