Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A.J. Jacobs, The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment

You know how a band you love will make a couple great albums and then you'll be waiting for a new one and instead they'll release an EP of six songs, which is pretty darn good but really is just makes you want another album?

This book is like that. A.J. Jacobs published two winners in a row, first reading the encyclopedia from cover to cover and then reading and following the dictates of the Bible. How do you top that? Apparently you don't; you start doing month-long experiments with your life instead of year-long ones. Whether he's trying out online dating as a woman, living by the code of George Washington, outsourcing his life to India, being "radically honest," or obeying everything his wife Julie says, Jacobs is always witty and observant and trenchant in his commentary on what his experiment has taught him. If you like Jacobs, you'll like this.

But I'm sorry, Julie: I want another big book. I hope A.J. thinks of something to do that doesn't completely turn your life upside down!

This is an Amazon review, available here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City

Lots of laughs, some great lines, but...
But. That's the word I keep coming to as I try to describe this book. But it doesn't make sense, in the end. But the names of the characters are too clever by half. But I'm not sure if this is a 9/11 parable, a twitchy love letter to Manhattan, or a paranoid fantasy written while stoned. But if you want to read Lethem, there are so many other, better books you could choose than this one.

But...should you read this one? I'm not sure. If you do you'll want to put it down after 50 pages, and no one would blame you. It does get better, somehow; the longer you're trapped in Lethem's bizarro-world version of Manhattan the more it all starts to make sense: the eagles chasing the mayor's fixer into the arms of a woman dubbed the Hawkman, the three-legged dog with her own apartment, the doomed space station trapped by Chinese mines, the sculptures of empty space, the gray fog over the city, the snow in August. And then the final chapters roll around, and you feel like finally, you get it, only to turn the final pages and ask yourself: Was he the dupe? Or was I? Much as I want someone to discuss that question with, now that I've finished reading, I don't know if I can recommend subjecting yourself to the same thing.

This is an Amazon Vine review, available here.