This time, still in Mumbai, Aravind Adiga tackles the great Indian passion that is cricket. Selection Day focuses on two talented brothers and their rival and friend who, unlike them, comes from a privileged background. The story also stars their obsessed father, who has trouble relinquishing his overbearing iron grip on his sons to their coach, a love interest, and multiple intermediaries in the cricket world, all expecting a little black money from the deals.
There are some wonderful observations of sibling rivalry, the seven kinds of Jain truths, and how decisions that are good for the family may not be so good for the individual — but too many pages describing the second day of cricket matches with 256 runs did me in.
After a very traditional upbringing and young motherhood, the author’s mother left her old life behind, abducted her youngest child (really!), and started a hectic life of travels through California, several South American countries, and eventually Colorado, leading a bohemian lifestyle and for long periods of time leaving her two older children, young teenagers, to fend for themselves. The book, Rebel Mother: My Childhood Chasing the Revolution, manages to both depict the unhinged and destructive aspects of the mother’s choices while hanging on to a deep love and concern for her. It’s heartbreaking to read that the author as a young child feels he needs to tell a family judge that he wants to live with his mother because she’s the one who needs the most help. He does not tell the judge about his rationale, and the judge does not listen to him…
The Barrowfields is the story of a young man who grows up in a small Appalachian town with an ambitious but depressed father who disappears midway through, causing the man to flee, but then return. It’s a pretty standard coming-of-age story but well written and with wonderful secondary characters, especially the younger sister, so it manages to stay with you.
Always a Bridesmaid (for Hire): Stories on Growing Up, Looking for Love, and Walking Down the Aisle for Complete Strangers start with the humorous description of the author’s realization that she is a very good bridesmaid and she might be able to sell her services. And she does! After a lark of a Craigslist message and a whirlwind of media interviews, she has herself a business. If the book stopped there, it would be hilarious. As the chapters drone on and we hear about the adventures of inebriated groomsmen, missing bridesmaid dresses, and, saddest of all, the brides who pretend that their for-hire bridesmaid is not for hire, it’s decidedly less entertaining.
You might cleverly deduce from the subtitle of Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future that this is a doom-and-gloom book. I did not, and I regret my oversight. The author does a great job showing that relying on just a handful of the most productive crops is a recipe for disaster as pests and diseases can wipe out entire species. But he does so in the most apocalyptic manner, which weakens the argument, I think. For instance, he could just say that United Fruit planned the Guatemalan railroads to be as useful as possible to transport bananas, rather than as useless as possible to the people of Guatemala. The latter may be a consequence of the former, let’s not exaggerate.
In the same vein, it’s clear we need seed banks, and scientists that are not on the payroll of agribusiness companies. But more inspiring stories (about the survival of the Leningrad seed collection during the WWII siege, for instance) and fewer doomsday descriptions would carry the message forward just as effectively.
Written by a biology professor, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History is divided between the non-human world, where cannibalism is common and marvelously varied, and the human world, where we, as usual, have complicated the practice with all kinds of cultural and religious practices and taboos. I much enjoyed the first half, which leaps deftly from sharks eating their siblings inside their mothers’ oviducts to amphibians that consume the mothers’ oviduct lining using their special spoon-shaped teeth (yikes). It took me a while to appreciate the human stories, but the author investigates the Donner party (and gives us a lovely hand drawing of a beautiful Ponderosa pine supposed to be the tree where George Donner lived his last days), the fearsome original fairy tales in which ogres ate many young children (whitewashed by Disney), gruesome stories of the siege of Leningrad (do not use your imagination), and his memorable adventures eating placenta (does not taste like chicken).
Great book. Try not to read it in public, at least if you are reading a hard copy!
I’m going to say that Thing We Have In Common is a mystery, since it contains a crime, and a serious one, the disappearance of a teenager, but the focus is on one of her classmates, a fat, friendless, and bullied classmate who is fascinated by the popular girl and convinced that a mysterious man is watching her and may bring her harm. The action is mostly in the girl’s mind, with short interactions with her mother and stepfather — and eventually the police. The peculiar logic of teenagers is perfectly captured, all the way to the disturbing, unsettled ending.