Suzy Says
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Read ‘Em and Write
February 27th, 2008 by suzy in Uncategorized

I always disliked book reviews when I was at school. To me, deconstruction and analysis of a book, especially by self-centered adolescents, ruined the magic. If you dissect a bird to see how it’s made, it never flies again. Almost every book I was assigned to read and report on in school were thus ruined for me forever, save two, which I can still read with the same awed enjoyment: The Catcher In the Rye and In Cold Blood.

So it’s a little ironic that I have actually volunteered to write book reviews. I’ll put it down to bowing graciously to popular demand, but I’m not going to compare and contrast anything ever again. Just so you know.

Let’s get this party started.

Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking, by Aoibheann (how on earth do you pronounce that one?) Sweeney

Given my fondness for “Catcher”, it may not be surprising that I enjoyed this postmodern coming of age novel, the first by its unpronounceable author. I could say it’s the story of a girl who grows up on an isolated island in Maine with her isolated intellectual father, her mother having died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. I could say it’s the story of this same girl approaching life in New York with na?vet? and charm. It is those things, but it’s also the girl’s discovery of herself and her father. The writing is lyrical, and I found myself turning back to re-read certain passages to experience their singular beauty all over again.

740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building, by Michael Gross

It’s as if the author knew about my love of gossip, especially high society gossip, and my love of fantasy real estate (as pictured in the New York Times) and wrote this book just for me. I revelled in the descriptions of the impossibly luxurious apartments inhabited by Rockefellers and Bouviers and the baroque lives they lived. A delightful break from the reality of living in Oakland, though some of the 740 Park denizens also had trouble paying their bills.

Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave, edited by Ellen Sussman

I found this one a little uneven, to say the least, but what else would you expect from a collection of essays that includes a meditation on the penis? Not to mention Erica Jong’s self-indulgent rant which unfortunately concludes the book. Joyce Maynard’s explanation of why she broke her silence about her youthful affair with JD Salinger was fascinating (I hope she’d be pleased that I sympathize with her despite loving his work) and I was delighted by Ann Hood’s account of making up a cool life to impress a makeover artist, but on the whole, not as fun as you’d think. You’d be better off getting together with your girlfriends, having a few cocktails, and swapping stories. Being bad might be one of the activities that are better to do than to read about.

The Almost Moon, by Alice Sebold

I have to agree with most of the critics who call it a disappointing follow-up to 2002’s best selling “The Lovely Bones”. The magic of the writing in “Bones” is missing in action in this tale of a woman who smothers the elderly mother who has destroyed, literally and figuratively, the lives of those around her. The characters and events are unsympathetic and unbelievable, and it’s hard to believe that the two books were written by the same person. Maybe some people really only have one book in them, and maybe we should be grateful that Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell stopped when they did.

Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis, by Ed Sikov

A breezy recounting of the star’s life by a true fan who keeps it light and witty. I could have done without his constant drooling over Errol Flynn and knowing that Davis was difficult for costume designers to dress due to her refusal to wear underwire bras despite being in extremely desperate need of same (think National Geographic), though. If I have to suffer, you do, too.

Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote

Someone once said “Anyone who says ‘I love Truman Capote’ has never actually met him”, and that may be true. Geniuses and artists are notoriously difficult to live with. But I do love his writing, so it was a treat for me to read all his short pieces all in one place. I just dove right in and didn’t come up for days. If you have never read Capote, this is a great introduction to his art. And if you have…oh, honey, don’t let me commence!

The Sweet Birds of Gorham, by Ann Birstein

Really, Tru? I can’t believe that this slight, unsurprisingly out of print effort was Capote’s favorite book (though I can believe he’d say so as a joke). Supposedly a satire on the world of academe, in which a girl moves to a small town college from the big city and supposedly makes a stir. I remained unmoved. The best thing about it was the cute cover.

Up next:

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, by Dana Thomas

I hope luxury hasn’t really lost its luster. There’d be nothing left to live for.

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