Friday, July 30, 2010

Not Same Time Next Year.....

One Day by David Nicholls

I loved this book! Funny, sentimental, and a little heart-breaking too. Dexter and Emma, who met on the night of graduation from University, spend a memorable night together and from there, we meet up with them every year on the exact same day of July, sometimes individually, sometimes together, for the next two decades. This is not quite a beach read in that it's not as 'fluffy' as some of them out there. It's a book on missed chances, on a long-lasting friendship between two very different people, on how complicated life can be, and a lot of 'what-ifs'. (And it's British so you'll be picturing a young Hugh Grant as Dex.) Men...this one is not for you but if the women out there are looking for something lighter with a lot of heart, here it is. I promise is not sappy at all. The writer is too clever to cross into that sort of territory. And as my sister Sally said, (Yes, Sally. I told you I was going to quote you in here.) "I wish I hadn't read it so that I can read it now."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bad Books Happen

If you're dumb like me and decide to read books when you see they're set in the town you went to college in then you'll probably end up reading dumb books like this one.

Breakfast on Pluto

Poor pitiable phallus-burdened Patrick Pussy Braden. Abandoned bastard son of an altar girl and the town priest. Left at the doorstep of another (though lovely) woman. Pussy Braden grew up different. Pussy Braden did not want to participate in football. Pussy Braden wanted to put on lipstick and dresses. But she looked quite good, I must say!

I have never been an Irishman. Nor an Irishwoman. And I have never joined London's Picadilly Circus as a prostitute in search of my true Mammy. So I don't know firsthand what any of that is like. But McCabe, through Braden, makes me feel as though I do. Pussy Braden is a very tragic figure. Yet she is filled with so much hope. Her story is uncomfortably heartwarming that way.

This is a book I should probably read again. The lyrical quality to it makes some of the passages tough to digest on the first go-round. But now that I know what to expect I would expect a second reading to be even more enjoyable.

This book is okay

Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett). I think this was the sixth time I’ve read this book. Which is weird, because I don’t really enjoy it very much.

The story is something like this: the Anti-Christ is accidentally born to a middle-class British family, and a low-level Angel and a low-level Demon realize they are fond of Earth and try to stop the Apocalypse. And a few other things.

The style is interesting. Terry Pratchett writes jokey Hitchhiker-style fantasy novels, which exist in an obscure, manic reality he made up. Neil Gaiman writes dark, Biblically infused adventure stories that regularly traverse dreams and Heaven. They’re good friends in real life, and they seem to fit together well.

I think this is the last time I’ll read it. The first few times I finished the book, I found myself wanting more, like I’d missed something. It was both interesting and unsatisfying, the way the flavor of Coca-Cola leaves the drinker thirsty. As I re-read it through the years, I discovered that part of the emptiness I felt had to do with the humor, which contained British references and subtext that I didn’t understand. I guess I assumed, subconsciously, that if I figured out all the jokes, the book would magically become more interesting. I have now narrowed it down, and I believe there is only one joke in the entire book I do not yet understand.

I don’t know why he calls his car “Dick Turpin.”

The point is, now I understand what’s going on completely enough to say with confidence: I don’t really enjoy this book very much.

Some people do. Some people are fanatical about it. Read it, and maybe you’ll discover you’re one of them. At the moment, I’m knee deep in another Gaiman novel, and it is much better. I won’t recommend it here, because I’m going to recommend it in just a minute.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver

I really wanted to like this book. I had read Shriver's "We Need To Talk About Kevin" when it came out and compulsively devoured the whole story but, with this one, I had to force myself to finish. I can't stand a preachy book and that's exactly what I encountered here. It's as if the author decided that she'd like the reader to know everything she's learned about health care, rare cancers, botched surgeries, childhood terminal diseases, weak educational systems, corporate greed, tax rip-offs, and on and on and on and on until you just want to scream "Shut UP", quit your whining, I can't take this overloaded lecturing for another minute! Annoying!!!!" But, I forged ahead and encountered a totally different book towards the end, not that it was much better, but at least it was a bearable ending, although a little bit 'tidy'. Come to think of it, I'd go so far as to say that Lionel Shriver might be a tad anti-American...but who am I to judge? Skip this one.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Or "Book #25! Halfway There! Take It Away, John!"

By about page 75 or so of Still Alice (the fictional story of a well-respected Harvard professor being diagnosed with and slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's disease), I was HATING it. And I mean hating. I was thinking all kinds of snarky things like "Is 'Lisa Genova' really the pen name for somebody's seventh grade English class?!" I snarkly texted my sister "Geez, where's my best selling novel?!" That second one was a little bit arrogant in addition to being snarky. But you get the point. It was a generally arrogant snark-fest of a literary experience. I'm not proud of it, but it happened. Finally, when I could take no more, I thought "Who IS this woman?!" and I flipped to the author's bio on the inside flap. And, my friends, I am here to tell you that the truth makes all things clear.

Lisa Genova, a first-time novelist, holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association.

Well, that certainly changed things. Once I adjusted the lens through which I was reading this novel, I enjoyed it considerably more. It's certainly not a fine piece of literature by any means. Instead, Genova is using the medium of fiction literature to reach out and expand our understanding of both the scientific and human aspects of Alzheimer's. And to that end she was successful.

The book is full of information thinly veiled as natural dialogue. For example, one of Alice's friends says to her "Do you know about the Dementia Advocacy and Support Network International? Go to their website: It's a wonderful site for people like us in early stages and with early-onset to talk, vent, get support, and share information." It gets a little bit tedious in that way that educationally based art often does, but knowing that it is educationally-driven helps make the tediousness more forgivable. I can imagine this novel being extremely comforting to someone who has been affected by Alzheimer's.

It's hard to get past the first-time-novelist-y-ness of it. The characters are very two-dimensional, and all of them talk exactly alike. The metaphors are heavy-handed, and the literary devices Genova employs in her storytelling are inconsistent throughout the novel. Still, the story of a woman losing her memory was quite heartbreaking, and did stir up awareness and empathy, which was undoubtedly Genova's primary goal.

Although Still Alice was certainly not without merits, I feel like I would get a lot more out of reading a non-fiction account of a similar story. I am impatient with fiction when I know that there are true stories out there that would be just as compelling, if not more so.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Or "Pass The Damn Ham"

I finished all my new books and grabbed this one off the shelf as a tried-and-true-I-know-I'll-love-it-book to read in the interim before I can go back to the library. As I began it again, I realized (much to my embarrassment) that I had not actually read To Kill A Mockingbird cover to cover since high school, when it was required reading. I had read it several times prior to Berit Lindboe's ninth grade English class, but must not have ever made it all the way through again because all of my post-it notes from age 14 were still in place.

I spent most of this time rereading To Kill A Mockingbird trying to keep the tears out of my eyes enough to still actually be able to see the print clearly. I remember that I loved it deeply from the first time I read it, and I remember the movie really vividly, but for some reason this book really snuck up on me this time, sucker punching me in all the most wonderful ways. We've all read it before, so there's no need to over-explain. I'll just say do yourself a favor and read it again. And also that the moment of Reverend Sykes saying "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'." is, in my estimation, one of the most perfect moments in all of literary history.

My sister and I had a big talk about this novel last night. Well, not so much about the novel itself, but about our personal experiences relating to the novel. They are all surprisingly clear - we both remember the minute details of our surroundings the first time we read it and the subsequent readings, which elements we related the most to at which stages in our lives. And that seems to be pretty much the norm for everyone who has read To Kill A Mockingbird. Ultimately, Macy and I landed on this: When all is said and done, if you really dig down, is anyone's favorite book not To Kill a Mockingbird?

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Or "Wait, You Have A PhD?!?"

Apologies in advance for yet another rant about self-righteous and arrogant authors. I'd love to see the Steph(v)ens face off against ol' Babs here and see who comes out on top. My money's on Babs, and I find some comfort in knowing that she has a month of experience as a cleaning lady to help her keep that trophy nice and shiny.

Nickel and Dimed (subtitled On (Not) Getting By In America) claims to be an undercover expose on what life as a minimum-wage earner is like. I was excited to read it, excited to learn a little bit more about how it all works (or doesn't work), and excited for Ehrenreich's undercover Nancy Drewery to empower and give voice to these low-wage workers. Maybe there would be a dab of larger social context a la Fast Food Nation, some stories about what happens when Wal-Mart workers try to unionize, or the specifics of how the housing market works for the working poor, hey, maybe even provide some insight as to resources where people can find or provide help!

But, alas. No such luck. Instead, we get 300 pages about how Good Old Barbara has a PhD (Even smart people get tired working 80 hour weeks!), is more physically fit than most of her working class contemporaries (Even skinny people get tired working 80 hour weeks!), and - in a fit of complete non sequitur- doesn't believe in God. Yup, you read it right! In a book supposedly devoted to illuminating the failures of minimum wage, Good Old Barbara attends a religious service just for fun one night, and spends page after page essentially ridiculing the experience. Let those pages be a metaphor for the rest of the book: Ehrenreich does not attempt to climb into the skin of the people whose lives she is temporarily living. Instead, she descends into the culture and graciously bestows her wisdom, unasked and uninvited (which - for someone who was so insistent that we understand her atheism - sounds quite a lot like the work of a bad missionary, if you ask me).

She lets us know that she would NEVER use a cleaning service because it is so degrading (except twice, when it was TOTALLY justified), makes sure to slip in any time she helps her co-workers out with food or housing, and spends a significant chunk of the last chapter patting herself on the back for a job well done. If she spent half as much time describing the work conditions, the lives of her co-workers, how the system in our country allows for these kinds of shortcomings and then what we can do about those shortcomings as she spends praising herself and complaining about how tired she was and how she was afraid her laptop would be stolen out of her apartment, Nickel and Dimed might have been worth reading.

Upon finishing the book, I found myself wondering how much money she made off it, and how much of that money she donated to organizations designed to assist the low-wage workers that she claims to so deeply understand.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Or "Better Than Freakonomics."

There were some interesting parallels between Freakonomics and The Tipping Point, having read them in a kind of accidental sequence. Specifically, they addressed some of the exact same phenomena (i.e. the sudden drop in crime rates in New York City in the mid 1990s), but in a more general sense both books are nestled happily in the world of anecdotal science. Both should be taken with a block of salt, but at the end of the day I loathed almost every moment of Freakonomics and had one hell of a good time reading The Tipping Point.

The difference between enjoyment and loathing boils down to this: The narrative voice of the Steven/Stephen duo was self-important, arrogant, and (by their own admission) didn't build up toward anything. Gladwell, on the other hand, is endearing, sensitive, and entirely relatable. His whole approach comes more from the "I'm a curious guy and isn't this cool?!" side of things, rather than "I am an expert and I am here to bless you ignorant groundlings with my knowledge. You may kiss the hem of my garment" side of things. That difference in attitude made all the difference to me as a reader. With the Steph(v)ens, I had my Skeptical Hat on and petulantly second-guessed every arrogant word they wrote, whereas with Our Pal Malcolm I bopped right along with the This American Life-ish non-scientific inquiry into social phenomena, and was much more ready to forgive his editorial stretchings to unite some loosely related ideas because, ultimately, the ideas he is positing are super interesting to think about.

Two more notes about this humble curiosity vs. arrogance thing, and then I'll stop beating that dead horse. The Steph(v)ens approach the people in their studies with an air of judgmental condescension, whereas Our Pal Malcolm tends to elaborate on the person's best qualities - how kind and open and engaging they are. His genuine love of his research and the people he meets along the way is contagious, and makes the material all the more engaging by hitting us on that human level. And secondly, if I have not made my point clear enough and you'd like a little illustration for yourself, look no further than the afterwards of both of these books. The Steph(v)ens leave us with a self-indulgent Q&A, in which they provide marginally informational but mostly smart ass answers to readers' questions (One of the Steph(v)en's answers to the "What is your favorite book?" question, was the Twilight series, which was also a huge blow to their credibility in my eyes, but I guess that's just my own judgmental condescension). Ol' M.G., on the other hand, writes a follow-up addressing the emails and comments he has received from readers since The Tipping Point's initial publication, and even rethinks some of his initial theories and examples based on his readers' insights.

Furthermore, Gladwell is great at building all of his research into a "What Now?" Unlike the Steph(v)ens, who want us to be dazzled with the information at hand whether or not it amounts to anything in the practical world, Gladwell makes his ideas seem relevant and applicable to our lives, even in just a casual way. And, when all is said and done, that's much more interesting to take in.

Reading The Tipping Point feels a little bit like sitting next to someone really interesting at a dinner party. And, as Mikey Lampl can attest to, that Malcolm Gladwell has a voice as mellow and soothing as the ocean waves, so if you imagine him reading it aloud to you, all the better.

I would also

Like to say that i have been computer access challenged so I will be back blogging soon!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Triumphant Return of Reggie

There come's a time in every young man's life when he must answer the question "Who am I?" And to answer such a question, he oft must ask "From whence came I?" That question, my friends, has brought me back to this blog. After spending nine months licking my wounds in iniquity after my defeat by the unstoppable juggernaut known only as "ANDY," I have returned. I won't bore you with full reviews of some of this year's books, so here are my one-word reviews of my year thus far:

1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace - Epic
2. American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis - Gross
3. Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson - Heroiny
4. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - Hilarious
5. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders - Bizarre
6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick - Prophetic
7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Saddest
8. The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh - Rainbows
9. Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver - meh

Progress has been a bit lax this year. but I'm kicking it into high gear! great to be back, dudes!

Monday, July 19, 2010


Just about everything I have ever wanted to know about the Big Bang theory is in this book. And, thank goodness, it is readable! Much like The Code Book, also by Simon Singh, this book focuses on individuals to tell the story of complex scientific progress. We see Einstein as vulnerable, Hubble as a Hollywood Hero, and some guy named Gamow who loves to play funny tricks on the scientific community. But mainly I can now explain how the Big Bang theory accounts for our universe's history. Until next week when I will inevitably forget.

The only thing I can say is that Singh definitely pushes his Big Bang agenda (well it is the title of the book) and very sternly refutes other theories throughout the book. So if you're into God or something, be prepared to be shot down by the science that Singh brings to the pages.

Well, he has me convinced. Not that I ever knew anything different.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Part Two.

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Well, I have finally finished this book. I know several members of this blog have read this one too so I won't need to get into details. Let me just say that I thought I'd never finish it. Not that it wasn't a page-turner, not that it didn't hold my attention, not that I wasn't anxious to find out how Lisbeth Salander would exact revenge on those who had wronged her in the past, not that I wasn't sailing through the last part of the book to discover what happens, but I'm just as anxious to pick up some of the other novels I've been saving and now I can! Finally! I can understand all the hooplah over this book series but I don't think I'll be rushing to read the 3rd one anytime soon....if ever. Even so, it was entertaining.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wouldn't it be nice..................

.........if we could comment on each other's posts so often that we drown out those pesty spammers? Now, I know you're all humming the Beach Boys song and I'm sorry for that but don't I have a point?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Oh Boy The Cycle Repeats...

Or "Procrastination Strikes Again."

Here's the thing. I love this blog. I love it. I check it every day. I consult it for ideas about books and authors and marvel at the constantly intelligent and amusing things my fellow bloggers have to say.


I get so very stressed out about posting! What if I am not as intelligent and amusing as my blogging counterparts?! Will the internet judge me for my taste in literature, most of which seems to center around food and impetuous teenaged heroines?! Will I type a review, only to second guess and regret each and every word of it mere hours later?!


I do nothing. I fall behind on the posting, which stresses me out, which causes me to fall more behind on the posting. Then I read at a slower pace, which gets me behind on the fifty books goal, which stresses me out more and fills me with feelings of inadequacy blah blah blah and so then I don't read as much and fall even more behind.


I shall briefly catch myself up on my posts, clean the proverbial slate, and rock and roll all the way to fifty (Babysitter's Club counts, right?!).

Taming of the Shrew
by William Shakespeare

I read this for a class. I took a Shakespeare class (and oh boy let me tell you me performing a monologue in an acting class was almost as anxiety-inducing as the trek to 50 books) , and the speech picked for me was Kate's final monologue in this ol' gem. Perhaps we have all read it, or at least seen Ten Things I Hate About You*, but I have to say I think it gets a bad rap about being all misogynistic and stuff. I mean, I'm not Neil LaBute or anything, but I stand by my argument that Shrew is not, in fact, an anti-woman play. Anti-bitches, yes, but aren't we all?

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

I am embarrassed to say that I had never read this one before. Somehow it slipped underneath that high-school-required-reading radar. But I sure am glad I read it now. Margaret Atwood is the best, right? We can all agree on that. The be st. So that, combined with the fact that it seems the only fiction I enjoy reading these days is of the dystopic future ilk, made this one a huge winner. A note about dystopian futures: I used to HATE such novels. And I mean hate. And then, all of a sudden, within this last year they're all I want to read. What's that about? Have I gotten so cynical? Is my worldview so bleak? Am I, in my adulthood, seeking out literature to balance and perhaps quell the more grating, Pollyanna-esque aspects of my personality? Riddle me that, world. I don't claim to have the answers for this shift from hating to guzzling, but it has certainly planted some seeds of inquiry into the Ritchey psyche. But back to the book. I wish I had read it as part of a class or book club or something, because I am just ITCHIN' to discuss this one. Hey, other nerds out there, let's grab some coffee and discuss feminist theory!

The Lost City of Z
by David Gr

The Amazon! Maggots burrowing into the skin! Victorian-era exploration! Snakes that make your eyeballs bleed if they bite you! This non-fiction, nerdtacular page-turner is definitely worth a read. It's quick and gripping and generally delightful. Here is the best recommendation I can give this book: I was curled up reading on the couch at my boyfriend's apartment, and I said "Hey Peter! I think you'd really like this book!" And he said "Oh, yeah?" And then later when I was doing something else (most likely sleeping or eating ice cream), he started reading it. Then he couldn't put it down, which was a problem because neither could I (unless I was sleeping or eating ice cream). Then the custody battles began. Let me keep it while you go to work. No I get bored at work and want to read it. But you had it yesterday. And on and on. Ultimately we both got to finish the book, to both of our delight, and now we can have all kinds of exciting conversations about how to best build a tent in an Amazon downpour. Read the book and you can too! I would, however, recommend hiding it from your loved ones until you finish, so as to avoid snatching.


by Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner

Yikes. Overrated. And I found much of the information to be dubious. And presented in a way that made it less interesting than it otherwise might have been. Any fans out there, please share with my why this is such a big hit? There's even a sequel coming out called SuperFreakonomics (it's super-freaky), but let me tell ya I will not be rushin' out to get that one at the ol' midnight release party, no sir. In its defense, I did read it in a day and a half, so if you are looking for a book to read that requires little to no mental effort on your part - the kind of book you could read while perhaps learning Latin via audiobook or cooking a six course meal - this is the one. The best part about it is a cover. I mean, the apple that looks like an orange slice inside? That's pretty cool.

Now, comment away, Asian spammers!!

I have not actually ever seen Ten Things I Hate About You. It just seemed like the kind of hip, relatable, pop culture reference that this post needed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This is a long post about two books I liked :-)

Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson). I can’t believe this book exists. In a good way. The closest thing I can compare this book to is actually being inside the internet. It’s as if Stephenson has built a virtual model of the real world, but he built it entirely out of cultural references and sensory stimulation. Part of the opening paragraph:

“His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachnofiber weave like a wren hitting a patio door, but excess perspiration wafts through it like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest. Where his body has bony extremities, the suit has sintered armorgel: feels like gritty jello, protects like a stack of telephone books.”

(I read this to my mom, and she pointed out all the Americana in there: wren + patio door + napalm + the ideal of perspiration wafting through your clothes + jello + telephone books.)

So Stephenson writes in this virtual world, this imaginary alternate present, where so many of our fears and dreams are realized. Fears like, the world is a soulless collection of corporate franchises. Dreams like, I wish I was the greatest swordfighter in the world. And then he creates a plot out of these fears and dreams which could only really exist in this amazing internet world.

Downsides: the characters are kind of without downsides. They make mistakes, but the mistakes are of a technical or logical, rather than a human, nature.

The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss). I like fantasy novels. I like them a lot. I like magical worlds, and wizards and dragons. I think the only thing that would have made Braveheart more awesome is if Legolas was in it (j/k) (I SAID J/K! PUT DOWN THE SWORD!!!). I knew I would like this book before I started it because it’s a fantasy novel, and because it’s got two more books in the series coming out soon, and the next one has more pages in it than this one did.

Wikipedia says that Patrick Rothfuss dropped out of college to write a single massive fantasy novel, which has been chopped into three parts and is being edited and expanded, and tossed to readers (me) like meat to starving wolves. This idea is very charming to me, because I have harbored a dream of writing such a novel for my entire life.

It does read a little bit like someone who loves the fantasy world, and who followed his heart to create a fantasy novel. The story is awesome in scope, it follows its ideas way past prudence, and, at times, the writing clearly displays the author’s opinion about the book’s events, saying things like “He was a bank teller, and like most bank tellers, he had no imagination.” This awkward boldness tends to be his greatest asset. He’s unsure where to stop, and his willingness to keep going forces him to come up with some very interesting stuff.

By the same token, I think the author’s inexperience beleaguers the novel. The book is having a hard time building a believable internal logic – a set of rules implicit or explicit that govern what can happen in the world. To me, this is the crucible of good fantasy. The Lord of the Rings famously introduced not only characters, but races and languages and separate cultural traditions and codes of honor, all of which hung together and were based on an elaborate fictional history that standardized power levels throughout Middle Earth. In short, it had both depth and balance.

Rothfuss has given himself a particularly difficult challenge in this regard by creating the smartest, most wizardly adept, most musically talented, best looking etc. etc. character in the history of this world. On a practical level, it’s very difficult for him to keep doing things that seem as brilliant as he’s purported to be. And when he does outsmart everyone, it’s hard to keep the other characters from looking dumb, or the task looking too easy to solve.

My main critique of the book is also what is most exciting about it. It’s way, way too ambitious--and I'm glad it's this way. As a fantasy buff, I dream of a fantasy novel that can fulfill the massive expectations of its readers’ imaginations, readers already sated on trilogies and cycles of the best fantasy minds. Rothfuss throws a lot of balls in the air—which is cool—and in all the whorls and offshoots in his story, he demonstrates great skill at following each path absolutely as far as it can take him, whether it discovers darkness or fear or joy or brings harm to his characters. I’m hoping for the best on his next two books, which I will buy the day they are released.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


So sometimes I do those little cryptoquip puzzles in the paper and one time many years ago I took a class on using strange mathematics to crack ciphers, but, for me, those activities are of no practicality. For the figures in this book, the ability to grasp those activities are of extreme importance.

It's pretty neat to read about how something seemingly obscure had quite a heavy hand in shaping world history. Maybe some of the statements about how mathematicians - not soldiers - were truly responsible for the outcomes of both World Wars were a bit exaggerated, but WHAT THE HEY?, it could be true for all I know and, at the very least, it's DRAMA! Nevertheless, this book was extremely intriguing both for its historical presentation and its information on the evolution of secret communications.

Plus, how can you not love a book that provides such unintentional gems as this one: "Cocks recalls: 'From start to finish, it took me no more than half an hour. I was quite pleased with myself. I thought, 'Ooh, that's nice. I've been given a problem, and I've solved it!'"


Les Folles de Brooklyn

This book was not my favorite, but it was okay. And that pretty much sums it up for me. Just okay.

The premise - self-loathing ex-family man on the tail end of his life goes to isolate himself and live alone until he wastes away - is interesting. The characters have unique traits and redeeming qualities and are for the most part likable. Sometimes even worthy of sympathy. But, for me, this book never really picked up any steam. I enjoyed reading it, but the whole experience was mostly ho-hum. And I got the feeling that the book was written in much the same emotion.

The book is slightly reminiscent of a John Irving novel for its heavy basis on unusual characters and twisted family dramas, but the ironies that make Irving stories so compelling were too forced in this one. At every ironic twist in this story, Auster felt the need to take a sentence to remind the reader of what just happened. I took it as Auster giving himself congratulatory pats on the back after each clever twist. This I did not like and had a hard time looking over.

I think this book was written pretty far down the line in Auster's library. It was my first one of his novels, and I enjoyed it enough to give him a second chance. I have enough faith that his other books do away with the back-patting and let the story - not the author - paint the picture for you.