January 26, 2011

Book Report, Vol. 3.

It's been a while since I did a Book Report, and I had a lot of time to read this fall/winter, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites with you.  I am super excited to have time for pleasure reading again after the bar so make sure you leave your suggestions for me in the comments as well.

*All images via Amazon.

1. Room by Emma Donoghue: Room is narrated by Jack, a five-year old who lives in an 11 x 11 foot room with his Ma - both of whom are held captive by Old Nick the man who kidnapped her when she was 19.  Ma realizes that she and Jack cannot continue to live in this world, and formulates a plan to escape.  The whole premise of the book is incredibly disturbing, especially given its parallels to the Jaycee Dugard story (news of which broke around the time the book came out), but the relationship between Ma and Jack is so sweet and hopeful, and the story is incredibly creative and well-written that I didn't want to stop reading.

2. Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandarsekaran:  I decided to read this after J and I watched "The Green Zone".  As usual, the book is so much better than the movie.  The author was formerly the Washington Post's bureau chief in Baghdad, and the book focuses on his time living in the Green Zone during viceroyship of L. Paul Bremmer from May 2003 to June 2004.  To say that he characterizes Bremmer's tenure as total disaster is an understatement.  I was stunned and angered to learn of many of missteps made by the Bremmer/Bush CPA, but this book really filled a gap in my knowledge about America's role in Iraq and what went wrong.   And it is to Chandarsekaran's great credit that he manages to tell this story with a complete lack of partiality and judgment.  It's a book anyone with an interest in politics can read, regardless of what side of the aisle you're on.

3.  The Confession by John Grisham:  This novel is set in 2007 a few days before the execution of Donte Drumm, an African-American football star, convicted in Texas of the murder of a white high cheerleader whose body has never been found.  Keith Schroeder, a Kansas pastor, receives a visit from Travis Boyette, a creepy, dying sex offender who confesses to the crime.  As Drumm's time and options run out, Schroder tries to convince Boyette to go public with his confession and to reveal the location of the body.  While it is a good story, and sadly, a fairly accurate portrait of the criminal justice system in our country, it's not my favorite Grisham work and has a pretty predictable ending.  If you're an ardent supporter of the death penalty, this one isn't for you, but then you probably already know not to read Grisham anyway.

4. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin:  First of all, yes, it is written by that Steve Martin.  And second of all, this was my favorite of the bunch.  It is the story of Lacey Yeager, a beautiful young art dealer working for Soetheby's in the late '90s boom years before 9/11.  Her story is interconnected with that of her friend Daniel, the narrator, an art writer working in New York at the same time.  I found it interesting that I didn't particularly like either Daniel or Lacey, who is completely amoral, and yet I didn't want to put this book down.  You don't need to know anything about art to get into it, and actually, Martin includes mini tutorials on several paintings that play a key role in the action.  (He is also a well-known art collector.)  I was reading on my Kindle, but I can imagine this would be even cooler with a hard copy because the reproductions are apparently really good quality.  

5. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff:  I picked this book because I liked the idea of reading a biography of a woman written by a woman.  I really knew very little about Cleopatra except that she was involved with both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, and as it turns out, there's a lot more to her story than that.  She was an incredibly smart and powerful woman who ruled over one of Egypt's most peaceful and successful periods.  While I did enjoy learning more about her, I wouldn't exactly call this book a page turner.  It's definitely one that you can put down and come back to a chapter at a time.

6. The Sherlockian by Graham Moore: This novel alternates between two different eras, 1890s/1900s and 2010, and it is loosely based on real life events.  In 1900, the story follows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as he engages in a little sleuthing of his own and attempts to find a serial killer for The Scotland Yard.  The years covered in these chapters are known as "The Great Hiatus," i.e. the seven years in which there were no new Holmes stories.  In 2010, the story follows Harold White, the newest inductee into The Baker Street Irregulars, an elite group of Holmes scholars and enthusiasts.  A prominent Holmes scholar has been murdered just after he announced his discovery of Conan Doyle's long lost diary, which covers the crucial months of 1900 before Conan Doyle resurrects Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Harold discovers his body, which means that Harold must solve the case, of course.  I'm not a Sherlock Holmes fan, but I really liked this book, and I didn't feel that I was missing anything by not being familiar with the subject matter already.  If you like mysteries, definitely give this a try.

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