In case you didn’t know, I’m too lazy (and sucky) to write full book reviews so I do these quick little six word ones, inspired by SMITH magazine’s six word memoirs. I also call out the ones I consider must-reads. Without further ado, here are the books I’ve read in the last six months.
- Fathermucker, by Greg Olear. Mr. Mom meets Ulysses, but better.
- An American Demon, by Jack Grisham. Strange – repentant sociopath or good actor?
- Confederacy of the Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Farcical romp in the Big Easy.
- Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, by Kris D’Agostino. Moving family drama makes Westchester interesting.
- The Lexicographer’s Dilemma, by Jack Lynch. Grammar rules are arbitrary. Descriptivism rules!
- The Cove, by Ron Rash. Heart-rending beauty in WWI Appalachia.
- Truth Like the Sun, by Jim Lynch. Mr. Seattle’s skeletons in the closet.
- Moby-Duck, by Donovan Hohn. So good, I collected the words.
- The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. Harry Potter grown-up, fucked up.
Greg Olear’s Fathermucker was the first book I read this year, and I was blown away. On the surface it seems like a simple plot: a day in the life of a stay-at-home dad. But like Ulysses it’s far more complex (yet not incomprehensible), as well as moving and funny. It was one of those books I felt like kissing after I was done.
Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D’Agostino is a little like The Corrections, but with much more heart. I didn’t so much love The Corrections as admire it. But with Sleepy Hollow, it was pure love. I read the book months ago but I still have clear images of most of the characters: the hapless narrator, the autistic kid he helps at the school where he works, the ill father, the troubled younger sister.
The Lexicographer’s Dilemma is a delight for any word nerd. The book gives a comprehensive overview of the history of the English language, from a time where there was no consistency in spelling or grammar, to the Latinizing of English, to modern-day neologisms. It was very interesting to see that a lot of grammar rules are arbitrary and were decided on the whim of some guy. For instance, John Dryden rather randomly decided that sentences shouldn’t end in a preposition, so that English would seem less “barbaric” and more like Latin, and so now old-school purists think the same.
The Cove was another surprise. It starts off quiet: an Appalachian town during World War I, a lonely outcast girl, a stranger with a flute. But Ron Rash subtly and skillfully brings all the elements together, and what happens is at once inevitable, surprising, and heart-breaking.
Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them not only has the longest subtitle I’ve seen in a long time but also reminded me David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction: fascinating, informative, entertaining, and very funny. It’s an example of the very best nonfiction. There’s what it’s about – seeking out these rubber ducks and other bath toys – and what’s it’s really about: the author’s external and internal journeys.
How good is The Magicians? The moment I finished it, I bought the sequel in e-book format although I prefer print. I won’t even say anything more about it. You must experience it for yourself. Just remember my snarky six word review: Harry Potter, grown-up, fucked up.