Some Books I've Read in the Last Five Months
Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons
All the amateur book reviewers on Amazon throw this one under the bus, but I loved it. In I Am Charlotte Simmons, Wolfe trains his unflinching eye on modern American college campus life and systematically dissects it piece by piece. The titular character is an uber-sheltered good girl from a hermetically insulated mountain town, whose prodigious academic achievements have landed her a scholarship to the fictional Dupont University, a prestigious Ivy League school in Pennsylvania. The novel describes Simmons' culture shock as she finds herself suddenly ensconced in a collegiate den of iniquity.
Critics moan that Wolfe's snow-white heroine is unrealistic and that his pop culture references are off by a decade. I think the former critique is a bit cynical and the latter is trivial. I personally thought his portrayal of the current trust fund generation was spot on, and absolutely hilarious. But of course Wolfe skewers everyone in sight, and no one is safe from his scathing satire, not even the virtuous Simmons. I tore through this rather lengthy novel in a week.
Jizzy Pearl, Unhappy Endings
Jizzy Pearl was (or is) the lead singer of Los Angeles sleaze-metal band Love/Hate and he's a surprisingly good writer. I befriended him on Myspace recently and he sent me a copy of this, his latest book -- a collection of stories, rants and autobiographical ruminations told wearily but with great humor from the perspective of a musician doomed to a scratch-and-tear existence in the seamy underbelly of LA. The copy is loaded with grammar and punctuation errors and was obviously printed on a super low budget but the book was thoroughly enjoyable for all of that, and often flat-out hilarious. It was really cool of him to send me the book -- thanks, Jizzy!
John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick
I've read a ton of Updike and somehow up until now I never got to The Witches of Eastwick, even though, thanks to the movie, it's maybe his best-known novel. Witches has a juicy storyline -- Updike's three main characters are a triumverate of divorced witches in a small New England town whose "cone of power" is suddenly disrupted when a strange man moves in, bringing with him some rather formidable powers of his own.
But as always with Updike, it's hard to breeze through the story when you're constantly stopping to re-read the beautiful metaphors and dazzling descriptions that fill each and every page. The first sentence of the book reads,
"And oh yes," Jane Smart said in her hasty yet purposeful way; each s seemed the black tip of a just-extinguished match held in playful hurt, as children do, against the skin."
Adam Haslett, You Are Not a Stranger Here
A collection of haunting, delicately-told short stories by Pulitzer Prize finalist Adam Haslett. The author describes his flawed, almost ghostly characters with clean, spare, graceful prose and great empathy. He writes with an incredible amount of control and the stories pack quite an emotional wallop. Thanks to Jessica for recommending this one.
C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra
Thanks to my dad for sending me these. I've still go one more to go (That Hideous Strength) before finishing C.S. Lewis's so-called "space trilogy." So what do I think so far? Well, the sci-fi aspect of Lewis's storytelling is awesome. His descriptions of Venus and Mars -- and their inhabitants -- is richly, imaginatively evocative but rooted in a certain dutiful sense of scientific accuracy, which lends the stories a good deal of credibility and realism. His characters are drawn somewhat roughly although it's easy enough to get behind the protagonist, Ransom.
But the moral/theological/philosophical agenda of the story, although not exactly preachy, wore me out a bit. I have to admit that I skipped a big chunk of the final speech in Perelandra. Sorry! I did the same thing in Rand's Atlas Shrugged -- damn that long-winded John Galt!
Henry Rollins, Solipsist
I'm more a fan of Rollins' tour journals than of his poetry or, in this case, collected fragments of hyper-subjective existentialism (wait, was that redundant?). Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Solipsist, which was written while Rollins was living in New York City in the early 90s, apparently just heartbroken over a failed romance and/or still haunted and devastated by the murder of his best friend Joe Cole. It is an intense read, to say the least. Sometimes it's impenetrable. But I always enjoy Rollins' stark, unflinching honesty and occasional blasts of razor-edged humor.
Ok, I need some new book recommendations, so bring 'em on!