Monthly Archives: May 2011

Once More onto the Beach, Dear Friends!

I know it hardly seems possible with the unceasing rain we’ve got but summer, I am told, is coming – and with it, beach books.

Many of us are loath to lug hardcover books with us on summer travels, but here is one that will repay its schleppage in full:

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller.

Written by the author of the popular memoir, Don\’t Let\’s Go to the Dogs Tonight Cocktail Hour is certainly not one of those my-childhood-was-horrifying-please-feel-free-to-gape-in-wonder-and-revulsion kinds of family recollections. It is, above all, wonderfully funny. Fuller’s mother (a central figure in Dogs) is portrayed with warmth and understanding, and her courage and wit are borne forth in her daughter’s wry, deft style.

Part of an Anglo-African family that disdained the capers of the Happy Valley Set,* Nicola Fuller led an extraordinary life by any measure. As a newlywed, she fell in love with equatorial East Africa. With her husband, she weathered family tragedy and civil war. Somehow, through the grace of forgiveness and good humor and the “liquid equatorial light” that so captivates the Fullers, this family –broken time and time again—repairs and reinvents itself and comes to enjoy a time of peace: a cocktail hour under the tree of forgetfulness.

The only bad thing about this book? It doesn’t come out until August, so we will have to save it for Labor Day, rather than Memorial Day Weekend reading. On the plus side, if your personal beach-time is spent on the East Coast of the U.S., the water will be nicely warm by then. All the rest of my Beach Books are available now.

Portably in Paperback:

Angelology, by Danielle Trussoni   –A beach book if there ever was one. Adventure, ancient secrets, intrigue, drama, the supernatural: Think The DaVinci Code, but with angels. Or read what I had to say about it when it came out in hardcover here.

Russian Winter, by Daphne Kalotay is a glittering saga that starts in Stalin’s Russia and ends up in one of New York’s most prestigious auction houses. It’s big and thick, so if you can only tote one book beachward, this is a good choice: Fast off the block and chock full of details that will draw you in. Now (hooray!) in paperback. You can read more (recycle, reuse…) here. And: it comes with discussion questions if you want to use it as a book club pick  -and-  it is also available in large print.

Arcadia Falls, by Carol Goodman is a good old gothic-type ride. It’s set in Upstate New York at a tony boarding school, home both to artistic young people and old and sinister mysteries. Can the new professor untangle the antique knots of deception in time to save her daughter from something about Arcadia that seems bent on murder?

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes received critical acclaim when it first came out. Now available in (a big) paperback edition, this gripping and sensitive story of a Marine Lieutenant and his company dropped into the mountain jungle of Vietnam like so much cargo was written by a veteran over the course of 30 years. It spent 16 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List for a reason.

 Not New, But Notable:

The Samurai\’s Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama is as delicate and deliberately plotted as a classical Japanese garden. Meditative in tone but richly sensual, this story starts with a young Chinese man recuperating from TB in a Japanese seaside town, and goes on to explore the strange history of local lives which intersect his — lives sculpted ultimately into unexpected beauty like the graceful, twisted pines of the coast.

*If you don’t know about the “Happy Valley Set” of (roughly) 1920s – 1940s Kenya & Uganda, here’s an uncharitable synopsis:   Rich white people carried on with each others’ spouses and let everybody know about it, all the while drinking too much, abusing various pharmaceuticals, playing polo, wearing eccentric clothing, attempting to keep wild animals as pets and driving hell-for-leather about the countryside, whining about how terribly bored they were. Sometimes they got murdered – surprisingly, only by each other. Because some of them were titled, the whole world was interested. Except the actual Kenyans & Ugandans who, sensibly, did not care much one way or the other.

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Sex and Robots

I have two new books to tell you about. One is Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson. It comes out in June. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m a fan of speculative fiction (A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Difference Engine, The Windup Girl), but usually, things with “-opocalypse” in the title just don’t speak to me.

Robopocalypse is a fast-paced, smart thriller. It’s good fun and very, very hard to put down. Run out and grab a copy this June. And if you’ve got a quirky graduate to buy for: This is it. You will be “The Cool Relative who got me This Awesome Book.” Engineering student? Perfect. Reads the Onion? Wrap this puppy up. But honestly, everyone will be hooked. I’m thinking it will be The Book of the Summer. A guilty pleasure? Yes, in the exact same way that Clancy and Grisham were, at the top of their game.

The jacket promotion on my reader’s copy tells me that Stephen Spielberg is supposed to be making a movie of the novel in 2013. It will probably make a great film. If you’re a fifteen year old boy. It’s not a short book, so I envision it reduced to loud and incessant Transformer-like effects. I will go see it, and (thanks to my old college roommate and her fondness for high-volume hair metal) will probably sleep soundly through the second half.  A girl can dream though…  And since movies, as a rule, need bear no relation to the book they are named for, I wish for this closing scene:

Humphrey Bogart turns to his unlikely automaton companion and watches as the machine tosses a can of Vichy Brand Motor Oil into the wastebasket. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” says Bogie, as they stroll down the runway into the Moroccan night.

Sex with Presidents

Larry Flint and Harvard professor David Eisenbach have recently published One Nation Under Sex, a look at how the sex lives of the powerful have molded American politics and history. Did you know they think Lincoln was gay? Yeah, that’s an old one. And except for the feather it ought to put in the caps of everybody who fights the good fight for gay rights, I really don’t care. Tom & Sally sittin’ in a tree is pretty much yesterday’s news too, but I did not know so much about James Buchanan before.

It’s an interesting book. Because most of the people in it are dead, it was less salacious than I expected, and also more put-down-able. Still, a worthy read. And the last chapter makes it an important one, in a nation which has tended in recent years to think that who somebody sleeps with is more important that who they call airstrikes on.

I’m never sure how I feel about Larry Flint. As a full-on Freedom of Speech geek, I kind of like him. As a girl… meh. I’ve got nothing against the young women who pose for things like Hustler. Good for them; they are making money. And I guess that the fellas who purchase the mag are paying their wage, but really? It just kind of perpetuates this weird disconnect between what guys are led to think goes on inside women’s heads and what really does. What goes on in guys’ heads? No idea. Ask Lincoln.

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