Thursday, August 17, 2006

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

This is the most amazinng book of my summer reading. Special Topics in Calamity Physics was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review last Sunday, but it was already on my pile of new books waiting to be read. I started it immediately and couldn't put it down. It I could teach AP English from this book alone - I would. The Table of Contents is set up as a Core Curriculum and lists titles of classic works of literature that are the chapter titles for the story of a high school senior named Blue Van Meer. She lives with her father, her mother is deceased, who moves her all over the country as he takes various teaching jobs. Although they average three addresses per year, he promises he will not move her during her senior year, and so she meets a band of misfit students who include Blue in their weekly dinners with their teacher, Hannah Schneider. Two thirds of the way through, the novel becomes a mystery. It ends with a Final Exam section for the reader. Pessl's "documentation" of sources makes the book a very literary read. The website is a gem, too -

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blue Angel by Francine Prose

This novel is set on an idyllic college campus where a previously highly moralled Creative Writing professor meets a young student in one of his workshops who lures him into a murky romantic relationship. I was reminded of Jane Smiley's Moo while reading this darkly comic satire of higher education. Particularly enjoyable were the chapters from the student writers' works that Prose includes.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

JPod by Douglas Coupland

This is a laugh-out-loud funny book about pod mates at a computer game company whose last names all begin with the letter J. Their office antics reminded me of the movie Office Space, but Coupland's writing style is what gives the book a freshness. Every few pages or so are random lists, such as all of the three letter words that are allowable in Scrabble plus one that is not. It makes for a fun read and a pretty clear window into office behavior. Check out the very cool website for this book -

Friday, August 04, 2006

Red Weather by Pauls Toutonghi

This book showed up in many summer publications as a new novel of interest. Main character Yuri Balodis is just a typical high school student trying to survive adolescence and the craziness of his immigrant parents. Then he meets Hannah Graham, daughter of a socialist activist, who is everything his parents wouldn't want for him in a girlfriend. Yuri begins sneaking out at night to peddle the activist paper with Hannah and things start to heat up. Much of the humor in this book comes from the twisted grammar of Yuri's father, who is trying to raise his son to be a good American. I've read reviews that call Red Weather a Latvian-American Catcher in the Rye.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Changed Man by Francine Prose

After reading an excerpt in The Atlantic from a soon to be release book of essays titled Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them, I started on a Prose kick to finish out my summer reading. A Changed Man is the story of a young, tattoed neo-Nazi named Vincent Nolan who walks into the office of a brotherhood organization run by a Holocaust survivor and volunteers to have his life changed through their organization. He becomes an unlikely poster child for tolerance and hope, but not without some humorous twists.