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At the moment, I fear I am a bit behind schedule on the reading goal.  Initially,  I thought the move to Texas was going to be beneficial in that respect, but I’m not getting as much reading down as I thought.  I’d love to say it’s because I’m busting my ass trying to learn the new job so I set myself up for future success; however, I have a feeling it has more to do with the digital cable subscription that I suddenly have access to.  It’s too bad that I’ve already read The Shawshank Redemption and The Stand, otherwise I could create a new “Books on Video” category and take some credit.  Unfortunately, I think that’s cheating…

In other news, I read Le Petit Prince yesterday and loved every single illustrated page of it (them picture books make for easy reading).  I’m not sure how many people outside of high school French students have actually read this book, but I wholeheartedly recommend it.

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I just finished reading White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, 2009’s Man Booker Prize winner.

This narrative, chronicled over seven nights, tells the mesmerizing story of how Balram Halwai, a former Indian servent from one of the lowest castes, came to be a success in life.   This novel is thoroughly depressing; the description of modern India and the abject poverty that permeates its culture cannot be overlooked or glossed over, however, a continuous stream of dark comedy also runs through the text, providing an excellent foil to the descriptions of destitution, political corruption, and economic injustice.

I thought this was an excellent book- especially for a debut novel.  Obviously, I wasn’t the only one since it won the Booker Prize.   In so many ways, this book defies description.  Rarely have I read a book that angered me, entertained me, depressed me, fixated me, and also made me thankful to be born where running water is the rule and not an exception.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize, and unlike The Hours, by Michael Cunningham (the last Pulitzer Prize winner I read), this book did not suck.  Quite the opposite.  In fact, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s been eleven years since Diaz’s first (and only) book Drown, a collection of short stories, hit the shelves.  However, from the first page of Oscar Wao, it is apparent that Diaz has not lost his unique voice, and his ability to captivate his audience has not suffered from over a decade of disuse.

Our title character, Oscar, is a 300+ pound nerd who has such little game with the ladies that it embarrasses his Dominican family.  His great aspiration in life is to become the Dominican equivalent of J.R.R Tolkien, Stephen King, and Robert Heinlein rolled into one.  When he’s not striking out with las chicas, he spends his time writing, watching cartoons, and playing fantasy role playing games.  This is also the multi-generational story of his Dominican family, and the “curse” that has hounded them for the past half-century.

I’m not sure what Diaz has been doing for the past eleven years, though I’m fairly positive that the majority of the time was not spent reading Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.   From page one of Oscar Wao, and throughout the entire book, the dialogue is peppered with Spanish words and Dominican slang (In case you have not been lucky enough to read Strunk and White’s seminal little book, the usage of foreign language is either #1 or #2 on their list of things to avoid while writing).  Some, particularly those whose only exposure to Spanish has been by telenovella, will find this distracting, if not frustrating.  I thought it added a certain amount of authenticity to the dialogue and helped me get more into the story and the characters.  Still, even I will admit that glossary of terms would have been helpful.

Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed, but which others might have been annoyed by, if they even caught the references at all, was the repeated usage of science-fiction and fantasy themes as metaphors.  Oscar is the consummate nerd- loves apanimation, role playing games, and science-fiction pulp stories, so I thought it fitting, not to mention refreshing, to see references made to Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Starwars, and Lord of the Rings.  Of course, if you’ve had no exposure to realm of sci-fi and fantasy, the scope and meaning of those metaphors would have been lost on you.

If you know no Spanish and think science-fiction and fantasy are for losers, you probably will not understand half of this book, yet you may develop a little bit of sympathy for the consummate Dungeons and Dragons nerd.

 

Another excellent short story collection from the world’s most popular author.  In a later post, perhaps I’ll defend Stephen King against those who feel he’s a hack, but for now I don’t want to take anything away from Just After Sunset.

This collection of short stories and one novella is as versatile as anything he has ever done.  While there is never a doubt that you are reading a “Stephen King” story, the themes of this collection run the gamut from fantasy to horror to psychological realism.

One thing that I’ve always admired about King, and it’s on display again in this collection, is that despite the sheer breadth of his work, his writing is sharp and nuanced enough to create characters and situations that stand out from his other work.  The Dave Matthews Band “all my songs kind of sound the same” effect has never been a problem for Stephen King.

If you have never read Stephen King before, this collection would not be a bad place to start.  Of course, if you are someone who sleeps with the lights on or has obsessive compulsive tendencies (like me); I would recommend skipping the story “N”.  You just might find yourself becoming all too familiar with what sunrise looks like…

 

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