Monthly Archives: June 2013

** 1/2 Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris


The essays in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls range from the personal to the political, and from the hilarious to the (occasionally) boring. The special talent of the author is the ability to slide from the personal to the universal and from the funny to the poignant. Not a good book to read in public if you wish to cultivate an image of gravitas…

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* Daddy’s Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark


Twin switching identities, check, arson, check, victims entombed in concrete, check, gold digger girlfriend, check, concussion victim who wakes up at the very perfect moment, check. Too many cliches and coincidences make Daddy’s Gone A Hunting  wholly unbelievable and left me shaking her head and never able to fully enter the story, despite the usual skilled suspense the author creates. Skip this one.

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** The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer


The Interestings…  are not so interesting, at least not for the first 200 pages of the book, during which they obsessively think about themselves, the apparently wonderful coincidence of their friendship, kindled in a magical summer camp while in their teens, and their astonishment at how much things have changed since then (duh!). The story gets much more interesting as they age — perhaps because I’m too old to relate to young’uns — but  only sporadically, with each intensely well observed family life incident drowned in  more dreary self-absorbed trivia. The story is also afflicted  with a surfeit of well-researched, well-described, but rather tedious clichés: the mom’s drug-sharing boyfriend in the 70s, the  tortured gay man in the 80s, the uber-successful artist, and the vicissitudes of NYC real estate. So why two stars? Because the shining moments are superb, including the family woes described above and, especially, the travails of the dad of the Asperger’s kid who simply, with shame, does not love his son.

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*** The 100-Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared had a long and storied life, and escapes his impending birthday party for more outrageous adventures featuring gangs, murders, an elephant, and millions to spend on flying to exotic locales. The tone is reminiscent of both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and lighter-fare Carl Hiaasen and the outrageous adventures are a thorough romp through 20th-century history, a tad over-thorough by the end of the book but if you are looking for a fun book for the summer, this is it.

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** Blush by Harvey Helms

blush: the unbelievably absurd diary of a gay beauty junkie is an often hilarious and occasionally tiresome memoir of a gay man with an overbearing mother who gets a job as a beauty consultant in a department store and despite hostile and dysfunctional  bosses manages to achieve his dream to become the Global Director of Beauty. The best parts are the funny ones, in particular the ones that describe the loopier customers he had to work with over the years, and the poignant ones that give a glimpse of the travails of gay men in the South of a couple of decades ago. I found the astounding politics and jeremiads about the politics of cosmetic companies much less amusing, but the self-deprecating tone and witty patter are fun to read.

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*** The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I was enthralled by The Woman in White, a 19th century novel that reads like a mystery novel and features a forced wedding, a dastardly aristocrat, an illegitimate birth, a kidnapping and internment in a psychiatric asylum, the torching of a church, and  twists and turns until the very end. I just loved it, all 700+ pages of it, for its non-stop action, its clever use multiple narrators, and its  very modern picture of a strong woman character (alongside a conventional, overwhelmed, powerless woman, whom she rescues).

Pick it up for your summer reading. It’s a gem that deserves recognition (and there’s a free version for Kindle users!) I am planning to read Collins’s other books and I am puzzled by why he is not better known.

 

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** A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford

A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story is just that: the memoir of a nanny, one trained at the prestigious Norland Institute and one who went on to take care of over a hundred children over her long career — since she chose to spend many years taking care of newborns, staying just a few weeks or months to help after their births. The personal story is quite interesting: since she graduated from the school during WWII, she started her career in nursery schools set up to take care of the children of evacuees from the London Blitz and women who worked in factories and she gives an unusual account of the behind-the-scenes of the war, a war during which she worked heroically long hours and was singlehandedly responsible for an entire school at the age of 22.

The writer unwisely chose to excerpt a few child-rearing principles at the end of each chapter, which read as either blindingly obvious or repeats of the story itself. I would have preferred a straight-up memoir — but you can always skip them.

 

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