Christie Burke's Infinite Booklist

American Gods July 20, 2010

Filed under: fantasy,for grownups,guys — Christie @ 10:17 am
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American Gods (cover)Gaiman, Neil.  American Gods. HarperCollins, 2001.

This novel is dense and deeply rooted, involving stories of old gods (literally ancient, old-world gods from a variety of cultures) transplanted to America by immigrants and gradually forgotten as people assimilated to American culture and created new, slicker, faster gods for themselves.

Shadow is the person who connects the old gods with each other.  A convict out on parole, he hooks up with Wednesday (Wodin) and gets involved with the brewing battle between the old gods and the new.  Eventually Shadow learns that things are not what they seem – but despite having been deceived, he finds that his world is richer for the experience.

I love the way Gaiman develops his characters – they’re complicated people, even when they aren’t people at all.  Each mythological figure in American Gods has a personality and a history.  This book is vivid and richly imagined, with a final plot twist that shows that even the gods are bound to be faithful to their own stories.


changing my focus June 10, 2010

Filed under: for grownups — Christie @ 9:28 pm
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As of today, this blog isn’t any longer a YA blog exclusively.  Generally, my YA reading takes place amid a flurry of working with actual teenagers, and so the writing doesn’t get done.  But I’ve noticed that I literally read more books than I can remember – and so I want to start chronicling what I do read, just so I have a record.  I’m going to try keeping up with my woefully-neglected LibraryThing account, too, and see which system works better for me.

I just finished Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History (Riverhead/Penguin, 2009) and enjoyed it quite a bit.  Yagoda is a journalism professor at the University of Delaware and has written a number of books on syntax and style, as well as some biographical and autobiographical items of his own.  I wasn’t entirely sure, when I picked this title up at my local library, whether I would like it or not.  It turned out to be a really readable text – not just a catalog of notable memoirs through the ages (from Robinson Crusoe to Running With Scissors), but an analysis of credibility (and what provides that credibility) and the appeal of this genre.

Admittedly, I am a word geek.  I love books and history and good stories, but I am also fascinated by what makes language work and what exactly people mean when they say the things they do.  I get all fired up when good writers start to talk about good writing.  Memoir seems to be the precise intersection of all those interests.  I enjoyed it, but I do think it’s a little esoteric (and I would never have gone looking for it); your mileage may vary.


The Lacuna January 20, 2010

Kingsolver, Barbara.  The LacunaThe Lacuna, cover image via HarperCollins, 2009.

I’ll tell you what the jacket says this book is about: “Harrison Shepherd finds precarious shelter but no sense of home on his thrilling odyssey.  Life is whatever he learns from housekeepers who put him to work in the kitchen, errands he runs in the streets, and one fateful day, by mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. … With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist – and of art itself.”  And that’s, you know, sort of true.  It is vivid, and the characters are more or less real people… but this book just didn’t grab me like some of Kingsolver’s others have.  I’ve read Animal Dreams a dozen times because it speaks to me so loudly about where home is and who family turns out to be and why our hearts sometimes get broken.

I wish I could say I loved this book.  Barbara Kingsolver is one of my very favorite authors, and I was excited when I heard she had a new book coming out this past fall.  The thing is, I think she writes two kinds of novels.  There’s a Prodigal Summer/Animal Dreams kind of book, where the protagonist is living a more-or-less current kind of life with a great story in it, and there’s a Poisonwood Bible kind of book, which is more historical fiction and based in social awareness.  This book is more in that second vein.  I know a lot of people loved The Poisonwood Bible — I liked it quite a bit myself, until it stopped being about Ada and started being about Congo — and I think it’s important and interesting for books like that to be in the world, but it isn’t my favorite kind of reading and I have to confess that I didn’t finish The Lacuna.  Bad, bad Christie.

So… my verdict here is that Kingsolver’s latest is well written and high quality, but not the book for me.  If you liked Poisonwood Bible, you should give this one a try.  If you didn’t, you should give it a try anyway, because you never know.