Saturday, January 17, 2009

Devils, Tigers and Cedar...Oh, my!

Thanks to all who gave suggestions for Bookquest 2009, a.k.a. my attempt to read 50 titles by Dec 31st.

Dearest Carey* suggested I create a profile on LibraryThing to keep track of my titles. I did, but am happy to hear tips on how to best utilize the thing.

This week I received a pleasant reminder from someone I've never met in person that to be on target with my goal, this week I should have wrapped up my third title. I have! (Food poisoning can be good for that.) Here's a quick look:

"Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson was killer. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) Larson, a former Journal scribe, tells the story of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Love! Murder! Ambition! But the footnotes are the most amazing part of this book. As a journalist, I look at the amount of research Larson did to put together this true story and my head spins. It fits my long-held belief that the best stories are, as they say, stranger than fiction. Especially recommended for: Chicagoans, history buffs and fans of crime lit that isn't literary garbage.

"The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga won the Man Booker this year and has crazy amounts of buzz about it. I read it in one sitting at a coffee shop on a rainy afternoon (is there a better way to read?) and found myself hating the narrator in the first 50 pages, then realizing that was exactly what makes Adiga a good storyteller. "White Tiger" is scathing commentary of the caste system in India and does for that world what Richard Wright's "Native Son" did for race relations in the U.S. in the 20th century. I actually crashed a book club discussion of this at McNally-Jackson Booksellers and was surprised by how different the interpretations of the narrator were. I won't give away any more! I know next to nothing about contemporary Indian literature and I'd offer up this title to others like me. But I think anyone who likes a good read would dig it.

"Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson has been sitting on my shelf for years and I have no memory of how it got there. At moments, this was a little sappy for my taste, but I did end up missing my train once because I got so sucked into it. "Snow" is a murder mystery/ love story that takes place on an island north of Puget Sound. But like "White Tiger" it ultimately turns out to be about race, specifically the discrimination that Japanese-Americans faced after World War II. Guterson, like Larson, did his homework, or at least I bought the historical context of it. Japanese internment is a topic that has long fascinated me, as I've grown up in the Northwest, where so much of it happened during my parents' lifetimes, yet I seldom heard much about what actually went on. I'd be interested to learn more about Guterson's personal connections to the subject matter and characters. Those love scenes are either the product of experience or one hell of a fiction writer. Or both!

*Carey's awesomeness doesn't end there. He's also the only person I've met who has managed to be resurrected from a layoff. Way to go, CGB!