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Purity: A Novel
Purity: A Novel
by Jonathan Franzen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.29
237 used & new from $2.63

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When you read Franzen, you just have to accept ..., September 20, 2015
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This review is from: Purity: A Novel (Hardcover)
When you read Franzen, you just have to accept that you’re signing up for some soapboxing: there are always going to be a handful of Grand Themes to be writ large, with plenty of moments where the narration is unmistakably the author’s voice. Franzen has unequivocally accepted the role of novelist as “public moralist” (Google the New York magazine article), and he’s carrying this blazing torch unmistakably in Purity. Prose style is dialed back while his canvas expands, moving in a purposely disjointed way from Oakland to East Germany to Bolivia and Denver, focusing deeply on a particular setting or character for dozens and dozens of pages and then yanking you in a different direction entirely.

It’s sometimes exhausting, but it’s absolutely worth it. The key Grand Theme here is information: who owns it, how the possession of it can bring a power both liberating and destructive, how an authentic modern sense of identity is inextricably bound to—if not overshadowed by—its digital counterpart. To me, what makes it all kind of thrilling is the way Franzen does dialogue and third person close; it’s hard to think of many other writers who are using these devices so profoundly. His characters are just as fully three-dimensional as the Lamberts and the Berglunds in The Corrections and Freedom, sometimes maddeningly so. But to see the complexity of their humanity as they navigate a truly disturbing world—to feel vulnerable, deliberate with themselves, get angry, act completely irrationally, commit a crime, repress a longing, lust for someone, feel wildly hopeful, fall in love—is why this kind of fiction is beyond worth the price of admission. Franzen can write stories that feel increasingly rare: Purity makes a lot of claims, but it makes those claims with a beating heart.


The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
by Jeff Hobbs
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.36
226 used & new from $0.85

44 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important and beautiful book, September 23, 2014
This is a devastating portrayal of poverty that’s inevitably sad but also the celebration of a remarkable life that we would never have known about had Jeff Hobbs not offered Robert Peace’s story to us. Rob’s ability to play dual persona of Newark ghetto native and drug dealer along with Yale graduate is a haunting and humbling thing to read about, yet it behooves serious thinking about race and class and mobility in a country where those things aren’t as easily navigated as we’d like to believe (and even to say that after reading this book feels like an enormous understatement). The New York Times Book Review says it perfectly:

“[Hobbs] asks the consummate American question: Is it possible to reinvent yourself, to sculpture your own destiny? . . . That one man can contain such contradictions makes for an astonishing, tragic story. In Hobbs’s hands, though, it becomes something more: an interrogation of our national creed of self-invention....The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace deserves a turn in the nation’s pulpit from which it can beg us to see the third world America in our midst.”
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2014 12:33 PM PDT


Red Sparrow: A Novel
Red Sparrow: A Novel
by Jason Matthews
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.99
210 used & new from $0.01

66 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read--even if you're not an avid reader of spy thrillers, June 5, 2013
This review is from: Red Sparrow: A Novel (Hardcover)
Red Sparrow is a phenomenal read. Before this novel, I'd never read a proper spy thriller in the vein of John LeCarre, but I know now what I've been missing. The plot is intricate--but not too intricate that you ever feel lost, and its turns and fully-developed characters inevitably plant movie-quality images in your head as you read. (After a heated auction, the eventual film will be in the hands of the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Schindler's List, Moneyball, and Gangs of New York.) There's plenty of spycraft, thanks to Matthews' 33 years in the CIA, and not a single double-cross, brush pass, or canary trap feels inauthentic. Highly, highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 5, 2013 5:08 PM PDT


On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes
On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes
by Alexandra Horowitz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.25
150 used & new from $0.01

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and mind-expanding, January 25, 2013
At first glance, you might think that this book's premise is a bit of a stretch. But in taking walks with experts in sociology and geology, a physician, a sound designer, and even the artist Maira Kalman, Horowitz brings a sense of wonder to the simple act of observation and perception. She gives cognitive science a good name--and more importantly, she makes it fun.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 30, 2014 1:49 PM PDT


Thank You for the Light
Thank You for the Light
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected gem, November 29, 2012
How satisfying, after so many years, to see this spare but great short story from Fitzgerald. Think of it as the literary equivalent of a shot of espresso--it certainly had me wanting to go back and re-read his other stories too.


The Stolen Chalice: A Novel
The Stolen Chalice: A Novel
by Kitty Pilgrim
Edition: Hardcover
91 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific summer thriller, June 26, 2012
This is the perfect book to take with you on vacation...a fantastic, page-turning escape into the world of international art theft and terrorism, from New York to Venice and Edinburgh to Egypt. This is only Kitty Pilgrim's second novel (after The Explorer's Code) but I'm looking forward to seeing what her imagination gives us next!


Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
by Ben Fountain
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.05
137 used & new from $0.27

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely brilliant., May 21, 2012
Genuinely one of the best novels I've read in years. Ben Fountain's writing is so miraculously good that you can't help but page through large swaths of it in slack-jawed amazement. It's been six years since Ben gave us Brief Encounters with Che Guevara (still one of my favorite story collections), and it's been well worth the wait. I wanted to write a long review here, because the novel's worthy of so much meaty discussion--how sharply (and often hilariously) it grapples with the absurdities of war, politics, pop culture, sports, religion, and youth--but the simplest thing I can say is that to not read it would be to deprive yourself of an incredible experience. It's the kind of novel that makes you say, "Hell yes. This is why I read fiction."


The Descendants: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)
The Descendants: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)
by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.42
341 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly great, February 2, 2012
Is The Descendants a 5-star book in a drop-whatever-you're-doing, it's-gonna-blow-your-mind kind of way? Not quite. But it's absolutely a 5 star book in that it's wry and assured and hilarious and also genuinely moving, and that it deserves the biggest possible audience. Thankfully the film is bringing people to the book now.

Hemmings fashions the motherlode of crossroads for Matt King: he discovers his wife was cheating on him after a boating accident sends her into an irreversible coma; he finds he doesn't really know his two young daughters, the older of whom was a drug user and has now been thrust back into his life along with an apparently thickheaded teen who may or may not be her boyfriend; and on behalf of his extended family, he's burdened with the decision of whether to sell off the land that's been in his family since the days of his royal Hawaiian ancestors. Listening to Matt's completely convincing voice, you can't judge him for his total uncertainty of how to navigate this harsh new reality; ultimately he decides to track down his wife's lover, and this is where the drama really unfolds. In the end, Hemmings' gift to readers is to create a sympathetic portrait of a man on the brink of both unimaginable grief and the alarming freedom of a great restart on life--one he didn't know was possible until tragedy struck.


French Lessons: A Novel
French Lessons: A Novel
by Ellen Sussman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.66
233 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel to escape into, July 5, 2011
Probably the best way to enjoy French Lessons is to approach it as what it really is: a quick and fun summer read. While Sussman's characters do feel sketched out as opposed to finely drawn, we still get a sense of what makes them tick, their idiosyncrasies, and the shape of the crises they're in, within just a few pages. The fact that this is done with such economy gives the book a great intimacy and immediacy. Plus, if you've spent any time in Paris (or even if you haven't), you'll find yourself pining for more when you turn the last page. Great novel!


Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews
Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews
by Christian Lander
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.42
201 used & new from $0.01

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just as good as Stuff White People Like, if not better (look for the line drawings!), November 24, 2010
As a follow-up to Stuff White People Like, Whiter Shades of Pale is absolutely no less hilarious. This time Lander's focus is more on the geography of whiteness, mainly with 24 dead-on, absolutely brilliant line drawings that depict the prototypical white person from each city/region with callouts of the accessories and icons that make them so...Caucasian. (Seattle guy drinking coffee: "NOT Starbucks. This is some next generation coffee that you can't even begin to understand right now.") The entries, most of which have never been published on the blog before, are equal parts deadpan humor and freakish accuracy. Anthony Bourdain, British slang, products made by people named Tom, promising to learn a new language, not vaccinating children, Christopher Guest movies, and of course, ugly sweater parties. Just to name a few.

There have always been plenty of detractors out there who take Lander's satire too seriously and miss the entire point. Yes, you could call this cultural criticism--but it's way more fun than that. The enjoyment of his books comes from reading his entries on messenger bags or heirloom tomatoes or punctuality and thinking to yourself (with a smirk on your face) that you've been nailed. You're guilty as charged.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 19, 2011 4:33 PM PST


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