Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January Reads

So far this month I've read two great books.  I actually had to tell myself yesterday to slow down on the reading because I need to focus on getting some major writing done in the next week or so.  My quarter officially started today but my first packet of work is due next Monday.  Yikes and a half.

I'm also on a really nice, long streak of really good books. I'm feeling lucky to have this full-time assignment to read stuff.  Good things have been coming my way.

A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A little Wikipedia-ing tells me that this book was incredibly well-received.  It won the Pulitzer Prize and many, many other book awards in 2010 and 2011.  When it won the Pulitzer, it was optioned for an HBO series.  Of course I didn't know any of that when I read it, but I heard it mentioned at residency, so I added it to my library list.  I really enjoyed it.  It was different than anything else I've read.

A Visit From The Goon Squad is either a novel or a set of linked short stories.  Egan calls it a novel, but it isn't one in the traditional sense.  Things take place out of time, so you might know what happens to a character at the end of her life but then read a short piece on something she did when she was young.  I liked that, though.  Egan also has this way of using narrative summary to forecast where a character will be twenty or thirty years from the present scene, and it gives the action of the scene a different tone.  Each chapter is told from a different perspective, one even from second person point of view.  As a writer I can still barely wrap my head around that.

The link these characters all have is that they are mostly involved with the music industry.  But this is a novel that travels across decades and continents.  There was a lot here.  If I had to pick one thing I didn't like about it, I would say that I just didn't feel like I got to know the characters as well as in a traditional narrative.  Still, I feel like that was the point.

My recommendation: Definitely read.

The Los Angeles Diaries by James Brown

Once I heard James Brown speak at residency in December, I knew I wanted to read his books.  He had such a refreshing and clear perspective on storytelling (his lecture was on truth in creative nonfiction) and he discussed many of the scenes in this book.  Brown comes from San Jose and moved to Los Angeles as a child.  His mom was an arsonist who served time and then moved Brown and his brother and sister to LA to be child actors.  All three children ended up using and living lives that reflect some major struggles.

I liked that this book was beautifully written but it didn't feel forced.  Brown has a very straightforward, engaging style.  His life is an interesting, sad combination of academia and drug use.  He managed to capture it in a way that didn't seem to glorify his trouble or to make it more glamorous than it actually was.  the book is a quick read.  I read the book in about one day, almost in one sitting.  I'm still trying to read more memoir.  His was a good choice.

My recommendation:  An interesting memoir about Los Angeles, acting, writing for Hollywood, addiction and self-awareness.  If you're looking for a good true story, I'd recommend this one too.

1 comment:

  1. In my writing class, we read a section of 'Goon Squad.' I liked it...will have to try the whole book.