Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (CBR6 #17)

 

 

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I am a fan of David Sedaris’s view of the world. I have read every book he has written, starting with Me Talk Pretty One Day shortly after its publication in 2000 and as I am want to do, I then began working immediately through his catalogue. And I have loved them. But something is happening, and I do not know if it’s me, or if it’s him, or if perhaps we are just in a rough spot in our relationship. I laughed fewer times while reading Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls than with any other David Sedaris work I’ve encountered. And there were parts that I, in fact, hated.

It feels like blasphemy to say so.

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

A guy walks into a bar car and…

From here the story could take many turns. When the guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will both delight you with twists of humor and intelligence and leave you deeply moved.

Sedaris remembers his father’s dinnertime attire (shirtsleeves and underpants), his first colonoscopy (remarkably pleasant), and the time he considered buying the skeleton of a murdered Pygmy. The common thread? Sedaris masterfully turns each essay into a love story: how it feels to be in a relationship where one loves and is loved over many years, what it means to be part of a family, and how it’s possible, through all of life’s absurdities, to grow to love oneself.

With LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS, David Sedaris shows once again why he is widely considered the “the funniest writer in America” (O, the Oprah Magazine).

Ok, so here’s where I think it lost me – I didn’t get the idea that each of the main essays was intended to be rumination about love or that love was meant to be the common link. It just wasn’t clear to me. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but here we are. I missed that main thrust which left me feeling adrift in the book as I went from chapter to chapter.

The other big piece of the unhappy puzzle is this – there are things inside the book described as the “etc”. In the Author’s Note Sedaris explains that he has included pieces designed to be utilized by students he has met over the years who participate in Forensics, where students take published short stories, edit them to a predetermined length, and recite them competitively. I hated all of them. I didn’t find them amusing, and I couldn’t imagine listening to a teenager perform them. I should’ve just skipped them, but my completionistic nature wouldn’t let me.

So, what’s my final verdict? I don’t know. Probably read if you are a diehard Sedaris fan, but I don’t know that this is the best place to jump in.

Or it could just be me.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (CBR6 #16)

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“There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.” (288).

It’s hard to know what to make of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It’s a quest, it’s a mystery, it’s one man finding himself, and it’s the coalescing of a group of friends. It’s all this and more. Clocking in at fewer than 300 pages, Robin Sloan manages to craft an epic adventure for his protagonist and his merry band of players.

And it’s simply delightful.

The story is based on Clay Jannon a San Francisco based web-design lackey who finds himself out of work when the small company he works for goes under and in turn starts working at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It only takes a few days working at the store for Clay to discover that the store is more curious than either its name or his slightly odd boss. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they borrow large, obscure volumes from the way back shelves. Bored and looking to practice his programming skills for his eventual escape from clerkdom, Clay maps the behavior of the customers which only uncovers more questions.

At this point Clay starts on a quest to understand the data. While set, at least in part, in a bookstore, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is more the story of the digital future, the art of printed books, and data visualization. To say much more would give the plot away, but it’s worth the read so I won’t spoil it.

Quibbles about this book are limited to the following: that the supporting cast is not well developed. Everyone has the ‘thing’ they are useful for, but we don’t really learn more about them. Clay tends to say he cares about Mr. Penumbra without truly demonstrating it, and there is a reference to an all-museum database which took me out of the narrative because I know no such thing exists and the ease of it made me jealous of the fictional reality in which it does exist. But that’s a museum professional specific complaint.

My only real regret about this book is not reading it in one sitting.

“…I prefer bookstores…” (270).

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

The Age of Miracles (CBR6 #15)

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“…as if he knew even then that there existed under everything a universal grief” (227).

I suppose that The Age of Miracles can be viewed as a dystopian novel. In it our narrator, Julia, tells us about the year she turned 12 and the Earth’s turning slowed down, eventually leading to weeks of daylight and weeks of darkness. It can also be said that this is a sad book, about the dying and destruction of our world. These things are true, but somehow Karen Thompson Walker prevents the novel from being as unbearably sad as the description might have you believe.

Julia tells us the story as reminiscence, as a woman in her twenties looking back more than a decade to her own childhood to recount the year that her entire world changed. This is the story of her memories of the year the slowing happened, when minutes and hours were added to the Earth’s rotation. We see the events through the microcosm of a young girl’s memory and in so we are limited in scope, we hear from her only hints of what is happening outside of her town in California. Others might view this as a drawback, but ultimately it’s for the story’s benefit that we are limited to less than a dozen characters. By being of limited scope we are able to focus in on the various effects the slowing has on different types of people, and how that compounds in the life of Julia.

The story, at its core, is a cross-hatch of a coming of age tale for Julia, and also the coming of the end of the world. As she struggles with the changes in friendships, being attracted to boys, the changes of her own body we also see the change in the physical environment, how people cope (or don’t) with the ever lengthening days, and what happens as people cling to survival in a world that seems bent on their destruction. Which, to many of us, is exactly what middle school felt like.

Probably my only complaint about the structure of the story is that so much time is spent in the early part of the school year/slowing. We spend nearly half the book going from September to December, and then the second half seemingly racing through January to September. I would’ve liked to spend more time in the second six months of the first year of the slowing but in order to build the world of the story; I can understand why Ms. Walker chose to focus on the first six. While the science of this dystopian sci-fi might not be plausible, it is still an intriguing story that will stick with you and make you think about how you would survive in a world like Julia’s. I whole-heartedly suggest this book to everyone. The writing is evocative and delicious while Julia’s story is intimate and engaging.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

No One Else Can Have You (CBR6 #14)

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I picked this one up based on the recommendation of Caitlin’s review of it for the Cannonballread. No One Else Can Have You is centered around 16 year old Kippy Bushman, and told to us by her in first person narration. It is also a YA read and Ms. Hale’s first novel.

Kippy’s best friend has just died. More specifically, she was murdered. It is the first murder that anyone in Friendship, WI (population 688) can remember. The town is in shut down mode until the suspected killer is apprehended. The problem for Kippy is that she doesn’t believe that the person accused of the crime is actually the culprit. In fact, between her best friend Ruth’s diary and some rudimentary detective work Kippy is able to clear the suspect (Ruth’s cheating boyfriend) and start looking into new suspects. Unlike the local police who are too excited to have the crime tied up with a nice bow on the town’s local miscreant. What follows is the story of Kippy finding out who her friends are, and who aren’t and what really happened to the best friend she lost too soon.

There are plenty of things that worked for me in No One Else Can Have You. Kippy’s widower father Dom is a treasure of a character. Complex and interesting with the kind of heart anyone could wish for their own parent. There’s also a very realistic examination of just how tough we can all be on our best friends, particularly when we are teenage girls. It is also fantastic at mining the depths of not completely understanding attraction, and who likes whom more. And that fabulous cover art. Bravo to whomever designed it; I want to wear that sweater.

But, there are many things which didn’t work for me as well. And I really felt that they detracted significantly from my enjoyment of the book. First, Ms. Hale covers a lot of the ground several times. Kippy’s antagonists antagonize in the same way. Over and over again. Kippy uses the same petulant tone consistently. It also takes nearly a hundred pages (of 380) for the story to get going, and in the last 80 it makes a serious change in tone.

Give it a read if you like YA first person protagonists and murder mysteries. If any of these things annoy you, stay away.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

An Abundance of Katherines (CBR6 #13)

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I finished this book last weekend, and keep meaning to write the review but I think the fact that it escaped me for nearly 5 days says a lot about my reading experience. But let’s start at the beginning.

Back for the CBR4 I read The Fault in Our Stars and like most of the other Cannonballers, I loved it. So, I decided to see what else this John Green fellow had written. Being me I needed to start back at the beginning so last year I read Looking for Alaska and while it was quite enjoyable, it was no TFiOS. But that’s to be expected from an author’s first novel. That’s why I started at the beginning of Green’s oeuvre, to give myself proper expectations by reading the author’s works in order; I would hopefully be able to trace his writing trajectory.

So, when I went into this year’s John Green read, An Abundance of Katherines I was expecting another quite to very good book. And, honestly, it was just okay. I gave it a three star rating over on Goodreads, but really its closer to a 2.5, and it only gets the extra 0.5 because of Hassan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

An Abundance of Katherines is the story of Colin Singleton and the 19* girls named Katherine he has dated in his short 18 years. But it isn’t. It’s the story of his breakup with K19 and the emotional aftereffects of said breakup. But it isn’t that either. It’s the story of Colin coming to terms with being a child prodigy who isn’t going to be a genius. But it’s not entirely that either.  It’s the story of the road trip that he and his best (and only) friend Hassan take to help get Colin over the break-up/prodigy problem and Hassan’s untethered lifestyle in the post high school pre-college place he finds himself.  And it’s a little this, but the road trip doesn’t last very long. What we find the story to be about is Colin getting over himself and perhaps finally falling for a girl not named Katherine.

I had some issues with the story, mostly in how Green decided to lay out the storytelling. The present we are spending with Colin is interspersed with his remembrances of the Katherines and his obsession with figuring out a mathematical equation that will allow him to predict the outcome of any romantic relationship. It cuts in and out and is generally unsatisfactory because instead of easily flowing from present experience into past recollection it instead is a rough cut nearly every time.  Colin is also a tough character to root for and his incessant anagramming and various other prodigy ticks got in the way of connecting to the character. But perhaps my biggest gripe is that we don’t ‘meet’ the legion of Katherines until near the very end and it’s such a stretch to get 19* in that I feel the book would’ve been better if there had been only 9 or 10 Katherines. That’s still abundance, I promise.

Okay, let’s talk about what I liked. Hassan. And Lindsey. And the Oldsters in Gutshot. What Green always has going for him is that he can craft great characters. Colin is a well-rounded character even if he’s not a great protagonist, but the supporting cast in An Abundance of Katherines is what kept me moving through the book and not ignoring it for other titles. Hassan’s busting of Colin, as only a true friend would do, were some of my favorite parts. Those and the footnotes.

Yes, I said footnotes. Since we are dealing with a protagonist who is a prodigy there are things he knows that the common reader won’t. So we get footnotes to explain the conversations happening in other languages and the math. And the history factoids, etc. And those I LOVED. I’ve seen some reviews saying they couldn’t be bothered with the math bits, and to me that’s just lazy. The footnotes explain the math the way a non-math person would need them explained and it gave insight into how it fit into the book. You don’t need to be able to solve the equation that Colin eventually writes, but the Appendix explains how it was written and how it works and it was just plain interesting.

To recap – I’d say read this first in your John Green reading and not quickly after reading his other books.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

*the 19 Katherines thing really annoyed me because there were only 18. He dated one twice. AND Colin was counting girls who he’d had relationships with which lasted mere hours. Now, I understand that middle school and high school kids tend to do this kind of thing, but it felt like such a stretch to get to the magical K-19 which I swear Green was basing off the story of the Russian submarine that it felt unnecessary and distracting. Really Colin of the no friends and bad rapport with your peers, you’ve had 19 girlfriends by age 18? Really? It just didn’t line up with who the character is in the rest of the book. End rant.