Friday, December 30, 2011

Book thirty-four: Girl Hunter by Georgia Pellegrini

I'll admit it; I read Georgia Pellegrini's Girl Hunter because my niece Maggie is one of my soul mates.  From the time she was born, I've know that she was someone different; someone who would surprise me and the rest of the world.  She's a girl who's been hunting for years now.  And unlike Pellegrini, Maggie (who just recently turned 18) started hunting as a girl, not as a woman. I've been mesmerized by Maggie's fearless approach to life, particularly when it comes to hunting and killing large game animals and then butchering those animals to provide food.  Just this past Christmas, I ate venison hunted, killed, and butchered by Maggie.  Don't go thinking she's some butch-dyke lesbian.  No, she's still a silly, funny teen-aged girl.

With all that, how could I not read a book called Girl Hunter.  Pellegrini is a women who worked on Wall Street.  But decided that wasn't her destination.  So she became a chef.  As a restaurant worker, her chef boss sent her to butcher turkeys.  The experience encouraged her to get closer to the reality of being an omnivore.  So she decided to take up hunting.  This book is a memoir of her game-killing experiences.

I liked Girl Hunter more than I expected to.  Pellegrini is a capable writer who creates surprising tension as she takes you on adventures that involve killing. My pulse often quickened as she took me on her hunting adventures.  I'm uncomfortable with killing creatures.  I don't expect to start killing anything other than the occasional spider or mosquito anytime soon.  But after reading this book I feel guilty about that fact.  Pellegrini makes you realize that most of us are in denial about the food we eat.  Her exciting personal stories (and the recipes that follow each chapter) ask us to be more thoughtful about the animals we eat.

I won't be hunting anytime soon.  But I will think more about what I'm eating and what went into making it so easily available to me. And I'll certainly have greater respect for people like Georgia and Maggie who embrace what it takes to eat animals.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book thirty-three: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

I find myself in that uncomfortable postion of having recommended a book to my book club and then not really liking the book myself.  The novel in question; Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf.  Looking back on suggesting this book, I can see where I may have gone wrong.  I don't particularly like books about werewolves, vampires, and/or zombies even though such books seem to be all the rage.  But this novel had the book world all excited for it's literary finesse and brilliant story telling.  I believed the hype even though I'm not sure werewolves, vampires, and literary are words that should find themselves in the same sentence.

Here's the premise of the story: As far as Jake, the novel's protagonist is aware, he's the last werewolf on earth. And after living a couple of centuries, Jake may be ready to cash it all in.  The world's werewolf hunters have him in their sites and he may be too tired and too depressed to put up a fight.  But things change and Jake finds himself once again vested in life. I don't want to give too much more of the story away, but there's a sexy woman involved.

The Last Werewolf features some impressive writing.  Often, the novel reads with a dark, gothic flare; There's a victorian sensibility but it's written with such freshness that there's no mistaking this as anything other than a 21st Century tale.  This is a book that builds on the traditions of writers like Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, even Edgar Allen Poe.  Duncan also uses some clever shifts in voice that foreshadow the ending, creating an impending sense of doom that grows more intense as the book moves toward its climax.

Even with all that fancy writing, The Last Werewolf left me cold. I often found myself bored by the long, contemplative passages.  It's too bad.  Because when the action kicks in, The Last Werewolf offers some heart-pounding excitement.  Hopefully, the members of my book club liked it better than I did.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book thirty-two: Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

The first I heard of Chuck Palahniuk's latest book Damned was while listening to the NPR Books podcast.  The reviewer pitched this as a young adult book by the author of decidedly un-young-adult titles like Fight Club and Choke.  That's why I'm not surprised that I found this book less than appropriate for most younger readers.

The book opens with a riff on the title/opening line of another supposed young adult novel, Judy Blume's 1970 novel Are You There God, It' Me Madison?  In Palahniuk's take, "God" is switched to "Satan." That's because  the Madison in this story has died and now find herself in hell.

Damned is at its best when it embraces the absurdity of the situation.  Palahniuk's subversive sense of humor left me laughing out loud.  In particular, I loved Madison's relationship with her hollywood A-lister parents who constantly adopt babies from foreign countries and have an environmental concern that is largely a publicity stunt.   That bitter humor is a wicked reminder that teenagers are really funny and fun to be around, particularly when they're pointing out the stupidiy of an older generation.

On the flip side, the angst and drama so popular with the high school set are at least as wickedly annoying.  It's easy to get tired of the teen mentality in this book.

I know I said this book might not be appropriate for younger readers,  But just like Judy Blume's novel, I'll bet there are plenty of teens who would relate well to this cautionary tale.  Just know that this book is filled plenty of gruesomeness, violence, sex, drugs, and other assorted vices. So let teenagers read this book at their own risk.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book thirty-one: Busy Monsters by William Giraldi

There's a part of me that thinks I should embrace the "Thumper" rule ("if you can't say anything nice . . . ") when it comes to writing about William Giraldi's novel Busy Monsters.  Because I don't have a lot nice to say.  This is a book that's had the critics a buzz, but it didn't do much to inspire me. Busy Monsters is a tale of Ferris wheels and giant squids; aliens and Sasquatch; swindlers and jail birds.  I guess one can look on the bright side; it's a break from vampires and werewolves.

Told from the standpoint of a blowhard named Charles Homar, Busy Monsters is a strange tale that is just a little too strange for my taste.  But I'm in the minority as I've seen this book show up on a lot of year-end, best books lists.

My least favorite part of the book is the dialogue.  The writer constantly reminds us that "nobody talks like this."  I think he repeatedly tells us this to ensure we know that, while the dialogue is painful, the author intends the dialogue to be painful.  I feel like he's trying to ensure that we know it's his way of being clever. But in the end, it may just come off as proof that no one talks like that.

I guess I'll have to agree to disagree with several of my favorite book critics.  Because I just didn't like Busy Monsters.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Book thirty: Metzger's Dog by Thomas Perry

A few years ago, an NPR story introduced me to a book called Metzger's Dog by Thomas Perry. Alas the book wasn't available for the Kindle.  So I clicked the tell-the-publisher-I'd-like-to-read-this-book button, added it to my wish list, and picked something else to read.

A few months ago, I was cleaning out my wish list and ran into this book again.  And now, it was available for Kindle so I decided to read it.  I'm glad I did.  This book is pure, crime-caper fun complete with crafty criminals, bumbling thugs, and clueless officials.

Metzger's Dog is the story of Chinese Gordon, a two-bit criminal with big ideas.  After learning a large stash of pure cocaine resides at a local university for research purposes, he devised a plan to steal it.  During the heist, he overhears a conversation that leads him to believe there is something valuable in a nearby office.  So he steals the only thing in a locked file cabinet drawer, a pile of papers.

The papers just happen to include information on some sensitive government experiments and soon Ben Porterfield, a friendly CIA agent is involved trying to thwart an international incident. With neither party really knowing what the other is up to, this book creates the perfect balance of wacky adventures and clever fun.

There are a bunch of other characters who make this book delightful including Chinese's sidekicks and his perfectly lovable girlfriend, Margaret.  And maybe my favorite character is Dr. Henry Metzger, Chinese Gordon's indifferent cat and namesake of the book.  In one brilliant moment, after some burglars have nearly stolen from his home, Chinese seals his house to ensure that nothing and no one can enter.  Maddeningly, Dr. Henry Metzger enters and exits at will, no matter what steps Chinese takes to stop the sly cat.

You know those caper films of the 60s and 70s that you can't help but love?  Well, Metzger's dog provides the exact same engaging pleasure.  And with an ending that I can't quite call happy but that delivers a great big bundle of rewarding reading fun, this book is a must read.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Book twenty-nine: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

As regular readers of the Art Lobster know, I love reading books by first-time novelists.  That's one of the reason I decided to read Amor Towles, Rules of Civility.  However, Towles was even more intriguing than most first-time novelists.  He's a Manhattan investment banker who really hasn't written anything other than a few short stories before this book.  And he was born just a year after I was, proving that publishing novels isn't just for the young.  It gives us "writers of a certain age" a bit of hope.

Rules of Civility is a clever story about a whip smart young lady named Katey Kontent trying to make it in late 1930s New York City.  Katey is our guide through the story; it's stunning how convincing a character she is, particularly considering that the writer is a 47-year-old man.

Katey takes on a series of secretarial and writing jobs allowing her to explore the social society and brilliance of New York. This book embraces the culture clash of Charles Dickens.  It captures the glitz and glamour of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  And it delivers the excitement of a Busby Berkley night on the town.

Then there's the dialogue.  The quick, smart, and witty conversations  would be right at home in the most classic of Hollywood films.  The only person I know who writes dialogue this delightful is Armistead Maupin, and you know how I feel about Mr. Maupin.

I loved this book.  The writing is snappy.  The characters are intoxicating.  And the plot is nearly perfect.  Sure, I might like this book because I spent much of junior high and high school wishing I'd been born several decades earlier so I could spend an afternoon in Busby Berkeley's New York or hanging out in Manhattan with Fred and Ginger.  This well-written book offers a literary vibe that helped me live out those dreams. And I had a damn good time! That's why, Rules of Civility is getting the highest honor the Art Lobster can bestow: Five Jeffies.  It's only the second book to achieve such greatness.  This may not be the absolute best book I've read this year, but it is my absolute favorite.