Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Booklist 2004 - Part 2

6. The Alchemist
by Paulo Coleho

This book literally just fell into my hands one day, which I took as a sign that I should read it; and I am glad that I did. The Alchemist is a “fable about following your dream” but it is so much more than just the words of the many who’ve read this timeless classic can articulate. This story, though distinct in it’s ultimate lesson, lends itself to be interpreted by the journey of its reader, which makes it unique in that it is both the same, yet different for each who reads it.

I have fallen in love with this story of the young shepherd Santiago and his all too familiar thoughts, feelings, and dreams. Spiritually uplifting, yet challenging to those who dare put themselves in young Santiago’s place during his beautiful quest. If I only had to recommend one book this year, this would be the one.

7. The Mask
by Dean Koontz

This is one of Koontz’ older works originally published in 1981 under the pseudonym Owen West. I don’t actually remember a lot about this one since I read it back in February; which may not be such a good sign. I do remember it having some interestingly suspenseful moments but what comes back to me most of all is that I remember thinking it would make a much better premise for a screenplay than a novel.

Both “Dragon Tears” and “From the Corner of His Eye” are other Koontz titles that come to mind that I enjoyed thoroughly though I can’t help but want to take on the project of adapting The Mask into a screenplay.

8. Don’t Know Much About History
by Kenneth C. Davis

I remember actually fearing the fact that I had to take World History I and II in order to get my college degree and intentionally didn’t register for those classes hoping that somehow the curriculum would change just in time. Ultimately, I waited until the last possible semester and of course, had to take both due to the unfortunate circumstance that I had no incriminating evidence on the administrative staff who could have waived me from these important classes. I was fortunate as well to have two great professors who taught me a lot about how to understand and learn about history.

Nearly twenty years later, I have this deep urge to re-study American history so that I don’t feel like an ass if my daughter were to ask me questions that I had no clue as to how to answer. Don’t know much about history is an appropriate title for this book because it actually details the way things actually happened as opposed to the slick, “produced” fables of the classic textbooks of my youth. A well written, well told story that covers more than 500 years of American history in an easy to read, easy to understand, thought provoking, often opinionated, tome. Anyone with an open mind and the desire to learn about the fascinating facts of American History and have a grater understanding of the need for historical record will find this to be a treasure.

9. The Lost Continent
by Bill Bryson

Reminiscing of his younger days growing up in Des Moines, Iowa and his frugal father’s idea of a vacation; that is, R O A D T R I P. Oh, but not just any road trip, apparently Bryson’s dad had a knack for finding peculiar places across the Midwestern United States and beyond.

Witty, sarcastic, nostalgic, often unusual, and just plain funny, this book provided cover to cover enjoyment and chock full of classic, memorable quotes (such as "I will say this, however--and it's a strange, strange thing--the teenaged daughters of these fat women are always utterly delectable ... I don't know what it is that happens to them, but it must be awful to marry one of those nubile cuties knowing that there is a time bomb ticking away in her that will at some unknown date make her bloat out into something huge and grotesque, presumably all of a sudden and without much notice, like a self-inflating raft from which the pin has been yanked."). Here, Bryson takes us to the type of places that people don’t usually visit intentionally. I simply love this man’s sense of humor, and writing.

10. Jack & Jill
by James Patterson

In this third book in the Alex Cross series Patterson shines as a storyteller with plenty of fast-paced action told in short, easy-to-read chapters that make it very difficult to put down.

One of the unique angles in the Alex Cross series is the depth to which we learn of the Cross household. Two young children and his ageless grandmother help to intensify the complexity of the Cross character as he splits his overwhelming dedication to his family and his work.

11. All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
by Michael Patrick Macdonald

A memoir of his youth, and growing up in the projects of South Boston, Macdonald tells his story of brotherhood and neighborhood from a place where organized crime, racism, drugs, and street gangs are in constant battle with family, friendship and the American dream.

I selected this book to read because it was used as part of the “One Book” project at the community college where I work. Though raw and powerful at times, I found myself questioning the integrity of the stories and the moral character of the Macdonald family. In all fairness, I know nothing of the time and place discussed in the book, but the storytelling was so over the top at times, I couldn’t tell if it was impassioned, or just bad, over the top writing. I also found it hard to feel bad (and yes, I felt like the author was looking for that) when they really just could have left if it was as awful as described.

One of the more unusual “characters’ in the book was Mrs. Macdonald, the author’s mother. I seem to recall hearing that in the eyes of a child, a mother can do no wrong. In the case of this family though, the children really had to have been completely blind, deaf, and flat out stupid. Though dedicated to seeing to her children’s needs, this woman…I really don’t want to be disrespectful of someone’s mother, so let me just say, she got around. I really felt this book was a complete waste of time but in all fairness to my own ignorance, for those who were a part of those days in South Boston, you may choose to venture through these pages just to see if it’s what you remember.

12. I’m a Stranger Here Myself
by Bill Bryson

When Bryson returned to live in America (after two decades in England), he was asked to write a (I think it was weekly) column for a newspaper. After a hysterical introduction telling us how he just couldn’t take on this task at this time, he somehow gets “suckered” into the job and begins to tell stories of the rediscovery of his homeland. Very short chapters that seemingly equate to individual columns tell sometimes compelling, always hilarious stories. On average, this book provides at least one laugh per page. If you like to laugh, get this book.

13. Jewish as a Second Language
by Molly Katz

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I often joke that I am 100% Italian-American (my ethnic descent) and 50% Jewish. Not only does Brooklyn have a high concentration of Jewish people, but many different sects within the Jewish religion and culture. I found this book to be a funny look back at the cultural nuances I was witness to by someone who actually can explain the meaning of them, and make me laugh as well.

Another similarly funny book that I read a few years back is called “How to Talk Jewish” by comedian Jackie Mason. In How to Talk Jewish, Mason explores the language and vocabulary rooted in Yiddish, from literal to interpretive translations all told in his familiar comic voice.

That's all for this time. Until next time, May God Bless You All!


Jill said...

I love the Alchemist. It is one of my favorite books to give as a gift. I read it at a time when I was pretty unsettled in my life, and Coelho's description of the connection b/t the wind and the boy and of what love is brought some clarity to my situation. Great book!

jennifer said...

I kvetch in Yiddish ALL the time. In fact, Yiddish is a second language to me. I'll have to check that book out though. Sounds interesting.