Friday, March 31, 2006

Rainy Day Reading Recommendations

During our recent rainy days I’ve had ample opportunity to catch up on my reading, and I though I’d share a few of my discoveries with you.

My favorite books are the ones that transport me to new places or different times or introduce me to new people and experiences. That's what each of these four books do.

Fiction

Intuition by Allegra Goodman

In her latest book, Allegra explores the dynamics of a group of hungry post-docs, careful, plodding researchers, complacent technicians, and fame-starved scientists all working together in a biology research laboratory in the shadow (literally) of Harvard. The plot evolved rapidly and kept me in suspense, but I think the book’s main strength is its rich and intricately developed characters. Though I had no particular interest in reading about laboratory life when I began the book, by the time I finished it I felt as though I’d been immersed in today’s scientific research culture and as though I understand people who previously seemed foreign and impenetrable. Now that is the sign of a good writer, one who makes you enjoy reading about something you’re not even interested in.

Tip: Keep your dictionary handy for this one! Allegra is a vocabulary goddess.


Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In the opening pages the narrator, a ninety year old man explains that he will present the story of his life through the memories of his relationships women, or the lack thereof. It’s an enjoyable book, each page revealing a new facet of the story and punctuated by Gabo’s colorful language and descriptions. His fanciful words and unique turns of phrase are a delight to encounter, but in the end I feel let down by this narrator who doesn’t provide the richness I expect from Garcia Marquez. By the end of the book I’ve certainly learned something about the story teller, his long life, and his struggle for love, but I haven’t been transported to his land or time or actually met any of the people that he so vaguely introduces. And the story on its own, without the abundance of this context, is interesting but not compelling.

By contrast Garcia Marquez’s first installment of a three part memoir Living to Tell the Tale is hauntingly real. Though I read it over a year ago I still reflect in wonder at many of his adventures. My memory of them is as bright and clear as if I were actually there, and Gabo seems a person I have actually met. My advice: read the memoir not the novel.


The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

This is a thought provoking book centered around the stories of love and loss of two very different families in present day Bombay. Two grandmothers separated by education, income and caste, one the other’s servant, and yet friends, struggle to make their way through life, each with her own shame and her own burdens. This book explores the complexities of relationships between servant and mistress, husband and wife, children and parents, wife and in-laws in modern Indian culture. Though parts of the story strain credibility and though the writing tends toward prosaic, the subject and the questions it inspires are intrinsically intriguing. Thrity’s book gives us a fascinating glimpse inside India and a colorful tapestry on which to view the human condition.


Non-Fiction

Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games by Edward Castronova

Excellent book. Review coming soon!


Dear Readers - please tell me some of your favorites. I desperately need a new book to read!

5 comments:

jen said...

"By contrast..." (contract)

I just picked up ZZ Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere again last night. Apparently my brain was 'elsewhere' last year when I tried it the first time because last night I couldn't convince myself to turn out the light and set it down even though I had 7 am duty today. When I started it last year after you sent it to me, I never got into it like I did yesterday.

Mel said...

My sister gave me Jodi Picoult's "My Sister's Keeper" for Christmas. Anna is an allogeneic match for her sister Kate, conceived so she can provide stem cells, bone marrow etc when her sister needs it. I've not started it yet, but it comes highly recommended from friends.

Mel said...

Oh, can you send some of your rain over here. Today Thames Water have put in place a hosepipe ban; which means that if I have a swimming pool (yeah like they are common place in my neigbourhood) I can top it up, but I'm at risk of a £1000 fine for using my hosepipe to water the garden. I know.... it's only April 3rd!!! They keep threatening us with standpipes in the street. OK, rant over :-)

JB said...

In one rainy day, you can make it all the way through "From the mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler". If you have two rainy days, I recommend "Ender's game" whether you've read it before or not.

KK said...

Is that the sci-fi book you were always trying to get me to read? ;-)