Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom

Angela Hallstrom’s debut novel, Bound on Earth, is worth reading.

I know as much about defining a good novel as Potter Stewart knew about defining pornography: I can’t do it but I know it when I see it. And I see it in Hallstrom’s book. The characters are real. The situations are real. The emotions are real. She has done a better job of creating “real” than most authors I have read (notice I didn’t say “most LDS authors”). She gets us into the minds of a five year old, a middle-aged man, a young zealot, and many more characters in only a few paragraphs. And she gets it right. The story of the Palmer family–normal middle-class Mormons–emerges through chapters told from the points of view of different players. They seem real, and I liked them. There are also many great observations here about Mormon culture–including the killer line that “till death do you part” is “what Mormon girls hear when they fail.”

Which is not to say that the book is perfect: the last scene reminds me of everything that I don’t like about LDS fiction as Hallstrom gives in to the saccharine send-off. Also, it reads as if it were a collection of pre-existing essays that she [barely] strung together. (I’m not sure whether this is in fact the case–but since various chapters won awards as independent works it may have been–I’m just noting that the chapters feel only loosely connected.)

But . . . but . . . compared to my other forays into LDS fiction (and I skim a lot of review copies that don’t end up getting reviewed because I’m queasy and weary after five pages), this is a gem.

Cross-posted from Times and Seasons.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

For once I wasn't disappointed with the ending of a novel. This isn't the best book I've ever read, but it was enjoyable. And did I mention that I didn't hate the ending?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock

You just wouldn't think that a book about goat testicle transplants would be that good. You'd be wrong. This may be the most bizarre book I have ever read, but also one of the most interesting. Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year-History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin

I loved this book--it is one of the best-written "science for the layperson" titles that I have come across. I had feelings of awe and reverence as he described the imprint of evolution on human bodies and our commonalities with other animals. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America by Susan Faludi

This was a great read. (Except for the historical survey at the end, which seemed tacked on.) I admit that making fun of the media's "lifestyle reporting" (i.e., reporting of trends) is no harder than shooting fish in a barrel, but this was still a great book. Her focus on gender issues in media reporting about 9/11 was particularly interesting.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Airframe by Michael Crichton

If you need some mind candy, this is an excellent choice.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body by Jennifer Ackerman

Tons of fun--full of fascinating research results about the oddities of the human body, with an emphasis on the body's timing systems.

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan

I thought I'd love this--I adored Omnivore's Dilemma and I liked In Defense of Food. And the topic is certainly intriguing. But the content was a mishmash of unrelated topics (with, admittedly, some interesting tidbits) and seemed to meander.

The Illuminator by Brenda Rickman Vantrease

I love historical novels set in the middle ages. But as I find often to be the case with novels for me, I loved the book but hated the ending.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Contract with the Earth by Newt Gingrich

I listened to this with my husband over several weeks. I was really pleased to see environmentalism championed as a conservative principle and to see environmental solutions based on those principles. But there seemed to be a lot of filler in this book ("we need to work to achieve consensus blah blah blah") but the basic idea was good.

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

I really enjoyed this because I like thinking about constitutional law. Even tho the book felt a little gossipy at times. (OK, I kind of liked that, too.)

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