Thursday, July 26, 2018

Rounding Up a Bunch of Recent Reads

Instead of several individual posts, each with its own long review, how about a single post with several short reviews? Is that something you might be interested in? Good, here you go.

Books I'd Whole-Heartedly Recommend

Lost Empress, by Sergio de la Pava — I loved (and was totally in awe of) de la Pava's first novel, A Naked Singularity. With this novel, he came as close to David Foster Wallace as any other writer I've read. His newest novel, and his first from a major publisher, doesn't quite rise to the same level — it's more like DFW-lite. But it's still incredibly smart, mostly entertaining, often laugh-out-loud funny, and is always the case of those writers influenced by DFW, sometimes annoying, infuriating, and just silly, too. And but so, Lost Empress is about a fierce, brilliant woman named Nina Gill who owns an arena league football team and attempts to elevate her team and the league while the NFL is on strike. But the story also includes a huge cast of characters who are all somehow related (in varying degrees of tangentiality) to the Paterson (N.J.) Pork, Nina Gill's team. De la Pava does for football here what Philip Roth did for baseball with The Great American Novel — slapstick sports comedy. But Lost Empress is also a story about how the "have-nots" of society are often overlooked by the "haves." Bring your patience, and read while you're in the right mood to handle this, and you'll definitely find some reward here.

The Comedown, by Rebekah Frumkin — In my mind, the only thing better than a story about one dysfunctional family is a story about TWO dysfunctional families. Two Cleveland families become inextricably intertwined over the course of nearly three decades, first as a result of a violent event one fateful evening and then by subsequently poor choices. Taking on race and addiction, family loyalty and love, Frumkin is an amazingly agile and talented writer. This novel is great, and I'm really excited to see what she does next!

Street of Thieves, by Mathias Enard — This French novel is a bit of a deep cut — recommended by a bookseller at 57th Street Books here in Chicago. But I loved it! It's a coming-of-age story about a Moroccan teenager named Lakhdar who has various adventures around the time of the Arab Spring and the riots against the government in Spain in 2011-2012. The theme of the novel is freedom — Lakhdar feels constantly imprisoned by his circumstances as a young Arab man. If you're looking to expand your reading horizons, I can't recommend this book more highly.

Two Terrific Running Books 

Let Your Mind Run, by Deena Kastor — I already wrote about this briefly in my Top 5 Favorites of 2018 So Far post, but as a few weeks have passed (and I'm now really in the teeth of training for the Chicago Marathon), this book continues to be an inspiration. I use a lot of what she wrote about in this book on each run to stay motivated and productive each time out. It really is one of the better running books I've ever read.

Reborn On The Run, by Catra Corbett — Corbett is a trail ultra-runner who is only the second woman to run 100 100-mile races. Also, she used to be a meth addict! And that's just scratching the surface. From bad relationships to the deaths of her parents, Corbett tells us how running has helped literally save her life. To her, running has become an obsession, but a healthy one. The difference between this obsession and her drug addiction is that she wakes up every morning wanting to lace 'em up. Whereas with an addiction, she did her drugs everyday, but it was joyless. She couldn't stop. This distinction (and the mental health benefits of running) is why there are so many former addicts become ultra-runners. It's a tight-knit, fun-to-read-about community. And Corbett's individual story is amazing! 

Books I Might Skip If I Were You

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer — Huh? This was the Pulitzer winner? It has its moments, and is charming from time to time, but this story of a failing writer who has a sort of mid-life crisis and decides to accept a bunch of invitations all around the world sort of just meanders somewhat pointlessly.

Something In The Water, by Catherine Steadman — Passably entertaining for a summer/beach/plane read, but wholly predictable. And wow, the protagonist and our narrator is a really, really stupid. I mean, so stupid it's throw-the-book-across-the-room frustrating. I yelled at her many times, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" Anyway, so the deal is that a London couple finds a bag of money and diamonds in the water during their honeymoon in Bora Bora. They make a series of increasingly poor and idiotic decisions and of course they end up in serious trouble.


  1. “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”

  2. I'm not more often than not an enthusiast of the bildungsroman, but rather Street of Thieves adds a great deal to the class. The contemporary setting, in Arab Spring, and the quick pace kept me turning the pages, while the dim substance and the pressures of the multi-ethnic, worldwide, multi-dialect character hardship kept me tested and locked in. I likewise truly appreciated the between printed setting of the book, running from Ibn Battuta, to Camus, to Foucault - exceptionally reminiscent.

    No spoiler here, yet I wish the end were not all that clean, and that √Čnard controlled himself from the infrequent "we are all in the city of criminals" portrayal. Those are nits however: well worth perusing.