Amongst other things during the month of August, including replenishing my supplies, I read the following four books and have just started The Confederacy of Dunces:
- The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye;
- Netherland: A Novel by Joseph O’Neill;
- De Niro’s Game: A Novel by Rawi Hage;
- When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris.
Here is my very short and quick review of each:
The Radiance of the King, apparently a classic of African literature, was — simply put — strange. Revered for its surprising and unique ending, I read the entire book awaiting, in wonder and hopeful awe, its misterioso culmination. I was more surprised by its lack of of surprise than anything else. Nevertheless, I would recommend Laye’s weird tale regardless. It is definitely interesting to see how an African author — Laye — depicts a foreigner as he enters his own Heart of Darkness.
Next, I read Netherland which I consumed at three sittings. The first was on the train up to New York to spend the weekend with my brother in Brooklyn. The second was on the train back to DC three days later. And the third that evening after arriving in DC. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the novel was perfect for my stay in Brooklyn as it depicted the multicultural and diverse New York communities, both on and below the surface. While I was totally and fully engaged in Netherland while reading it, it almost immediately disappeared from my mind once I had finished it. Furthermore, outside of O’Neill’s descriptions of New York, I couldn’t really care or feel for the marital problems of the protagonist.
I then immediately picked up De Niro’s Game. You have to realize that I always travel with a very small suitcase and desperately needed space to fit as many books as possible. I also got my hands on more books as well, including the aforementioned The Confederacy of Dunces, Tropic of Cancer (it has a naked woman on the cover, so it must be good) and yes, Moby Dick which I have never read. Thus, I was in a reading hurry.
De Nire’s Game was fast paced. Like Netherland, I was totally caught up in the story, reading it in just a few sessions, and then upon completion felt very little for the characters. Nonetheless, I definitely recommend it. It takes place during the Lebanese civil war in East Beirut (on the Christian side) and portrays the harshness of civilian life during the civil war. As I have never lived through a civil war, I can’t say that it was an accurate account, but it was definitely a compelling one. The novel finishes off — and this is not necessarily a criticism — with a Hollywood twist that could very much help turn this book into a full length film.
Finally, I read David Sedaris’ most recent novel, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I have read all of Sedaris’ previous novels and I consider myself a fan. I was looking forward to it for months, but unfortunately, I was mostly disappointed. The first few stories left me asking, “why did he write that, it wasn’t even funny, was it supposed to be funny?” Sedaris, who mostly writes embellished real life stories about his and his family’s lives, seemed like he was running out of material. Once I made it through the book, mainly out of faith and with less enthusiasm than when I started, I did find a few good stories in there, including the one about the old lady who was his neighbor in New York City and his story about quitting smoking in Japan. I do hope, though, that this lack-luster outing is not a sign of the times for Mr. Sedaris.
Now it’s time to get back to the books. Once I finish Confederacy of Dunces, I still have a long list to go until my next trip home.
2 responses to “Books August 2008”
Hey, Eric. I read Netherland and When You Are Engulfed in Flames this summer, too. Just a point of correction: Sedaris doesn’t write novels. He writes essays, which are collected into . . . collections. Essay collections. 🙂 Btw I found Netherland initially very exciting and ultimately disappointing, basically for its lack of depth. It would have made a much bigger impact if he had actually delved into the issues behind the marriage (very interesting to me, if not you) but instead he did what I’ve seen far too often, which is obscure his protagonist in an emotional fog and allow him to be carried along by events. And I agree that When . . . Flames is not as funny or compelling as Sedaris’s earlier work, but it does benefit from repeated readings. I think his work has shifted over time into a more subtle brand of humor, so that while it’s true that he’s running out of topics and ideas, he’s also refining his vision into something more narrow and precise, which occasionally brings me even more joy. The spider essay, in particular, comes to mind. I read it when it appeared in The New Yorker and was mildly amused, but when I read it in the book it struck me as actually quite smart and funny. (April!) At any rate, I recommend The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Hairstyles of the Damned, which while not being your cup of tea (I think) is pretty wonderful for what it is. The Echo Maker is also a really compelling read. And if you haven’t yet read The Line of Beauty, it is a must. I could go on . . . but won’t.
I keep looking at Oscar Wao, but can’t get myself to pick it up. For my next trip home, I will definitely pick up the other ones as well (if I finish my other books first, I will get them on Amazon.uk).
I think the new Sedaris book grew on me. My favorite is still “Me Talk Funny”, but I will give a couple of his stories a re-read.