About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

2 at one blow!

Wow, it's been a while -- polished off 2 books today. Yep, finished one I'd been working on most of the week, and started and finished another. Who says I don't still have it?
  • 7. The English Major, by Jim Harrison. Gentle, lyrical novel about aging, change, and contemporary America -- at least that's what I think it's about. (Half the reason I waited so long to start a book blog is that I'm afraid I Just Won't Get what Good Books are supposed to be about ... I'll miss the point, reveal myself to be hopelessly lowbrow, and so on. Horrors.) Anyway, I really liked this one, although the subject matter would usually bore and annoy me. Interesting to read it right on the heels of Keillor's Liberty, as the two have a good deal in common. The English Major is the first-person story of Cliff, a 60-year-old Michigan farmer and former schoolteacher who, after his wife divorces him for an old high school flame and takes most of their assets, sets off on a mission to drive through all 50 U.S. states, renaming the state birds and discarding the pieces of an old U.S. jigsaw puzzle as he goes. Along the way, he crosses paths with an insatiable, free-spirited 40-something former student; an old friend who's become a snake farmer in AZ; and his movie-industry bigwig son. Yes, it's a road novel, and from this brief synopsis, it may sound like it should be a comedy, but it's not, really. The voice and protagonist feel very much like something out of Lake Wobegon, though less over-the-top and somewhat less meandering (which is not to say they don't meander at all) ... but while Liberty is about a man's search for freedom, passion, etc. in a world that's changed little over the years, The English Major is about a man's search for self and meaning in a world where nothing's stayed the same. Read it not for the plot, but for the language and characterization and musings on life and love. 4 out of 5 bookmarks.
  • 8. Blonde Roots, by Bernardine Evaristo. Fresh, compelling novel of slavery, with a twist. The twist -- I'm not giving anything away here, as it's written on the back-cover blurb and in the New York Times review that first brought the book to my attention -- is that black Africans are the masters, and Europeans their slaves. The novel is the story of Doris, daughter of an English serf who's kidnapped and sold into slavery. While the black masters-white slaves universe gives rise to a number of pointed but funny reversals -- for example, "Aphrika" is known as the sunny continent, while "Europa" is known as the grey continent, and slave women who want to make themselves attractive to the masters rub ochre into their skins so as to appear darker -- they're subtle, and scattered here and there, rather than in your face on every page. This isn't just another slavery novel with a gimmick; it would be provocative and compelling and sad even without the twist. Well worth reading. 4 out of 5 bookmarks.
Next up (probably; I just hit the public library today, so I've got quite a selection): The School on Heart's Content Road, by Carolyn Chute.

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