on September 10, 2009
Pretentious. It was obviously a male writing a female protagonist, because she came off slightly empty, flat. This was a vanity piece written for the author to tell us that Judaism is an exclusionary religion and why that's bad. All the Hollywood name-dropping was irritating and didn't really serve a purpose. The book club meetings were more like lectures where the protagonist spouted regurgitations of literary opinion mined straight out of the pages of the New Yorker. The story was secondary to the author pushing his intellectual agenda, and it showed. The writer can turn a pretty phrase, I'll give him that. But when the phrases are superfluous to the story, then it's like he's just showing off. This is probably one of the WORST novels I've read, and I'm including straight-to-paperback genre fiction in that pool.
on February 8, 2010
I love good food and I love good books. Not the kind of food that is fast and mass produced but the earthy, ethnic real nourishment that feeds both my body and soul. I guess the same could be said for the written word. It needs to nourish me. Chandler Burr's recent creation is an exotic change for my reading appetite. It is unusual, not a shake and bake or hamburger helper quick fix, but a mid east combination of flavors with many spices that leaves me tasting recipies with ordinary rice and vejetables and knowing they are not what I have ever had before. They are complex. The book You or Someone Like You is a mosaic. It presents conundrums, difficult complex issues that do not give up their secrets to the ordinary palate. I sat reading, not terribly crazy about the beginning of my meal/read but understanding the main course was not presenting itself yet. The central theme's of this book are dilemmas that left me questions to ponder long after the final page was read. I like a good read. I like to stimulate my mind with issues that are important in the world today. I like this book and I hope you or someone like you reads it soon!
on December 3, 2010
From the first page, heaven. Reading Chandler Burr calls your intellect and education and values to attention. Offputting? He means it to be so. Then he rewards the remaining audience with a million-pixel-snapshot of one issue in one marriage in one specific culture at one specific time, a story that bursts beyond its borders brilliantly, as all great stories do.
on June 10, 2009
I've long been a fan of Chandler Burr's nonfiction, so I was curious when I saw that his next book was a novel. Would it be as charming and incisive and broad-ranging as his earlier books? The answer is resoundingly yes. His yearning for human connection as well as his prodigious erudition are in full view, making this what I think of as the perfect read: intelligent but not stuffy, wry and acerbic but not cruel. Highly recommended.
We got a whole lot going on in this novel, folks. Mid-life crisis, sexual coming-out, riffs on Hollywood elitism (with some jabs to New York City elitism thrown in as well), religious-identity crisis,and intense family turmoil over the lot. For the reader, it's sorta like swatting "in-coming"; you never know what's coming next.
The parents in the story - Anne and Howard Rosenbaum - are living the Hollywood dream. Howard is a big-time studio exec, brought to Hollywood from NYC in the '70's to give a little class to movies, what with his PH.D in English lit. Howard met Anne, nee Hammersmith, in the same Columbia University graduate program. She's half-British, half-American, and all Christian.
They fall in love and marry, and incur virtually no acceptance from Howard's religious family, except perhaps from his younger brother, Stuart. After many years of fertility problems, they finally have a son - Sam - who in the story has just turned 17 and is in his last year of high school.
Sam's a doll and the love of his parents' lives. He looks like Anne in his coloring (causing Howard to love him all the more), but is like Howard in his character. Howard and Anne ascend the Hollywood ladder and become more and more successful. Howard at his work and Anne at being...well, Anne. She likes to read the classics at home and spends most of her time reading or taking care of the house and raising Sam. She's respected by Howard's colleagues as being bright and...a reader, (therefore, an "intellectual"). (Howard's got sorta the same rap, though he shows his "toughness" by screaming at actors and directors when he needs to.)
Anne is asked to start a "reading group", not a book club, by a few of Howard's friends and it soon blossoms into a Hollywood "happening". Move over Kaballah, here comes Anne Rosenbaum's Reading Group, the newest "in thing".
Anyway, half of Hollywood (or so it seems) join the reading groups. Burr doesn't stint in giving real names of Hollywood players, either. But, while all this is going on, trouble lurks, waiting to show itself after Sam's trip to Israel on his Spring Break. He finds himself in an ultra-Orthodox kibbutz and, after being accepted because of his name, is thrown out by the head rabbi after his non-Jewish status (at least by Orthodox standards) is revealed by a fellow guest from the States. Unhappy - and who wouldn't be? - Sam returns to Los Angeles, where this woeful tale turns poor Howard into a wreck. Big-time mid-life crisis time for Howard. Did he do wrong in not marrying a Jewish woman? Should he have raised his only child with more religious beliefs than those gained by reading Bible stories? Is his life in Hollywood a joke?
And then the biggie. Sam declares he's gay. For a father who has so bonded and identified with his son, Howard's left with the angst which often occurs when a child comes out. Oh, and other stuff is going on, too. Car wrecks, studio in-fighting, etc, which touch on the on-going story line. Howard leaves Anne for a really intense Orthodox life, which really messes up everybody's view of the previously golden Rosenbaum family.
However, it all comes together - sorta - in the end. Everybody's more or less happy and pictures continue to come out the Hollywood pipeline. Careers are established, careers go down the drain. I just wish I could have kicked the butts of about half the characters and say, "stop obsessing".
on June 9, 2009
So Chandler Burr is not only a polymath who deftly handles everything from biology to economics to scent to chemistry to lame fashion trends in non-fiction (A Separate Creation, in which he presents the science that shows sexual orientation is mostly nature, not nurture; and The Emperor of Scent, where he explains in an accessible way the two competing scientific explanations for how we smell, and The Perfect Scent, where he delightfully tours readers through a the development of a new smell by a classic French brand, Hermes, and a classic American brand, Sara Jessica Parker), AND manages to deliver hilarious and remarkably synaesthetic perfume reviews on a regular basis for the NY Times, but he ALSO writes about Big Ideas in a Serious and yet Entertaining way. Allow me to observe the vast ambition of of You or Someone Like You: it simultaneously walks us through a love affair between two smartypants East Coast Ivy League literary types, one Jew and one WASP (neither avoiding nor suffering under cliche) transports these bold Lovers of Language to LA (are you counting the layers of literary labor lying there?) where their sheer intellectual merit enables them to teach high (Shakespeare at UCLA) and low (inspiring commercial-viability obsessed powerplayer tinseltowners to READ, one of the hilarious running gags of the book, and then make cinema from the great books they read together in a delightful bookclub, in a...garden...), and obytheway rather than fictionalizing the book club and its hangers-on, Burr goes ahead and names names, real Hollywood names, with enchanting dialogue (that he has artfully crafted) as though he actually was in their Senior Seminar on Moby Dick, Pygmalion, the Brontes, etc etc., and knows how they think, and on top of this delightful play with the status of cultural icons and value on the coasts of the U S of A, he layers on a marriage's near-dissolution under the pressure of whether their offspring is a Jew. Our heroes (and they are heroes) struggle through the Big Question of what matters: Love, Tribe, Blood, Ideas, our capacity to change, honoring or escaping the weight of our own history. It is a treat to read something that -- while entertaining and inventive -- not only assumes you know the first thing about everything, but pretty much demands that you understand a good bit of the religious and intellectual history that makes for a meaningful contemporary American life. Burr is a very bright guy with a sharp mind and embedded in this most serious story is a critical argument about identity and our capacity to choose, and the consequences of those choices.