Friday, July 2, 2010

Well, Edisto Beach has had my full attention the last two weeks. Beach reading at full tilt. The choices came a little haphazardly. I'd been lagging on getting to John Hart's latest book The Last Child. I had a medical book I accidentally started in the bookstore, so I downloaded it to my Kindle and knocked that out. Then there was a Jodi Picoult novel because her stories are best read on Edisto Island under full sun with all day reserved for the inevitable reading frenzy that follows any time you begin a Picoult book. Irresistable, too, was Chris Cleave's small novel Little Bee--a back cover so tantalizing in its lure that I had it bought and in the bag before I was even sure what the damn thing was about. (Note: it delivered big-time). But the real goal for this year's reading had to do with David Foster Wallace. I was in New York last month and saw the press on David Lipsky's book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself--the five day road trip he took with Wallace back in 1996 when Infinite Jest was lighting up the book world. This took all of a day and a half to digest. And then I was on to the big one: all 1069 pages of Infinite Jest, it's 300+ endnotes included. I'm about 400 pages in and still going with exuberance.

Here's the skinny:

The Last Child by John Hart:

My good friend delivers with his best novel yet. I saw him in June, and he told me he'd feel lucky if he ever wrote a book this good. I think he was right about the book being good; I also think he'll continue to grow as a writer, too. Thoroughly enjoyed this story. He's the thinking man's thriller writer.

Just Trying to Save a Few Lives Here by Pamela Grim:

I made the mistake of starting this book in the bookstore. I read about 50 pages standing in the medical aisle, and then had to have it. The book is a memoir about her experiences working for Doctors Without Borders in Africa, as well as the crazy episodes here in the states working in the emergency room--where simply ANYTHING can happen. I read these books with particular interest since I spent the better part of my high school and college career working in an Atlanta E.R.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult:

After reading Wally Lamb's novel The Hour I First Believed, which dealt with the Columbine shootings, this novel was of particular interest. This involves the trial of a kid who shoots and kills 10 kids at his high school, and in typical Picoult fashion, she gives us unresistable characters and an unresistable plot. Damn her! I always want to find her books pedestrian, senseless brain candy, and romance-y. Sure there are moments of these things, but the woman can flat-out write. The research and fascinating facts, turns, and character reversals require control and skill--something I bow to in Picoult's bag of writer tools. I read to the last page, turned the cover, and handed it over to my wife. She read it faster than I did.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

This might be my favorite book of the year. The story involves a lonely black girl from Nigeria and her search for the woman who saved her life once on a lonely beach. The story is absolutely riveting, the voice and writing acumen startling. I did not know Cleave's work (he's a British journalist with two novels), and I will most definitely seek out his first book. This guy's skills are razor sharp, and his storytelling ability top drawer.

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky:

Welcome to the universe of David Foster Wallace. Wallace committed suicide in 2008, and the world is starting to coalesce around the idea that he was supremely special and perhaps the most talented writer of his generation. Someone said he was the first writer to grow up in the information age, and then die in it--a writer whose life work was to grasp it, comment on it, and understand it. Lipsky's book reads like a transcript of the five days he spent interviewing Wallace for a Rolling Stone profile that Lipsky's editor killed before its writing. The conversations show Wallace's elliptical, genius mind as well as all the insecurities, peccadilloes, and fascinations. I couldn't stop reading. This guy absolutely lights me up. I'm knee deep in Infinite Jest and already feel like this is a life-changer for me as a person, a thinker, a writer, etc.

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