Book Review: Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely is the second of Raymond Chandler’s influential
Philip Marlowe crime noir series.

Phillip Marlowe, a sarcastic and often unemployed private detective,
finds himself literally dragged onto the scene of a murder in downtown
Los Angeles. The perp, Moose Malloy, is freshly out of prison and
looking for his lost love, Velma. As Marlowe investigates the various
leads, he gets sweeped up in the crime-ridden heart of the city
including jewel thieves, a psychic, drug houses, offshore gambling and
some beautiful, but mysterious, women.

Chandler’s prose is straightforward and his first-person narration is
rife with sarcasm and wisecracks. As with most mysteries, the
multiple, seemingly unrelated threads of the story come together right
at the end and tie up nicely. Still, Chandler’s stories were among the
first of the genre and set the stage for a multitude of followers,
both literary and cinematic.

Completed: January 21, 2008

Find: In a library or on Amazon

Book Review: Black Hole by Charles Burns

Black Hole by Charles BurnsCharles Burns is known for his striking and disturbing comics, which include Black Hole, originally published as a 12-issue series from 1995 to 2005 and now collected as one graphic novel.

The story is set in Seattle in the 1970s, where a mysterious “bug” is infecting the town’s teenagers and leaving them with often horrific mutations including lizard-like tails, shedding skin and deformed facial features. At a time when most high schoolers are concerned with the weekend’s kegger, the infected students have to deal with daily ridicule and face a life of seclusion. Even worse, the outcasts who live in the woods have been discovering disturbing sculptures and body parts scattered amongst the trees.

Most of the plot features Keith and Chris, biology lab partners, who soon contract the bug and have to deal with the realities of living with its effects. Their stories diverge and intersect until a final shocking event that drives them apart forever. Though the “bug” serves as a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases, the story is more broadly about alienation and the high school experience of experimentation and young love.

Completed: January 18, 2008

Find: in a library or on Amazon 

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakI finally got around to reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak after hearing heaps of praise about it over the last year or so. Set in World War II Germany and narrated by Death, it definitely has its bleak moments, but the overall message is one of hope.

The narrative focuses primarily on Liesel Meminger, who is only nine when she watches her brother die and is left by her mother in the care of the acerbic, but loving Hubermanns. The precocious Liesel comes to enjoy her life in Molching, Germany, forging meaningful and heartfelt relationships with fellow troublemaker Rudy, the mysterious mayor’s wife and Max, the young Jewish man harbored in the Hubermann’s basement.

Using Death as the narrator, Zusak is able to take some liberties with the structure of the narrative, jumping forward and back through time and place to give the reader a broader view of a war-ravaged Europe and a peek into what lies ahead for Liesel.  This makes for a compelling and unique story.

Completed: January 3, 2008

Find: In a library or on Amazon 

2007 Favorites

Here are some things I enjoyed from the past year (in no particular order).

movies
2007 releases:
No Country for Old Men
Juno
Knocked Up
Superbad
Two Days in Paris
Darjeeling Limited
Stardust
Bourne Ultimatum
Harry Potter 5
Once
Waitress
Hot Fuzz

older:
Casablanca
Desk Set
If You Could Only Cook
Pan’s Labyrinth
Metropolitan

books
Devil in the White City
The Man of My Dreams
Prague
Middlesex
Kavalier and Clay
Confederacy of Dunces

YA:
Looking for Alaska
An Abundance of Katherines
Just Listen
This Lullaby
King Dork
Speak
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Twilight
The Book Thief

Graphic Novels:
Fun Home
Persepolis
Maus
Carnet de Voyage

albums
Andrew Bird-Armchair Apocrypha
Animal Collective-Strawberry Jam
Arcade Fire-Neon Bible
The Ark-Prayer for the Weekend
Bishop Allen-Broken String
Beirut-Flying Club Cup and EPs
Feist-The Reminder
Georgie James-Places
Jukebox the Ghost-EP
Kate Nash-Foundations
New Pornographers-Challengers
Of Montreal-Hissing Fauna are you the Destroyer
Spoon-Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Ted Leo/Pharmacists-Living with the Living
Vampire Weekend-EP
Voxtrot-s/t

TV
Flight of the Conchords
30 Rock
Pushing Daisies
Friday Night Lights

Loving: NPR Live Concerts

Sometimes I get sad that I’m not living in DC anymore and don’t get to attend concerts at great venues like 9:30 Club, Black Cat and Rock and Roll Hotel. Luckily NPR has the good will to go out and record some of the best acts that come through the city. Yes, it’s not the same as actually being there and I have many more opportunities to see shows in LA, but they’re free and portable. Some of the latest recordings feature Rilo Kiley, Animal Collective and Bishop Allen, but they have archives back through 2005. I love you Bob Boilen.

Library geekiness

At the College of William and Mary, where I went for undergrad, the library is very near and dear to most students’ hearts. The wonderful tech staff has made a fun web application called Swem Signal, that lets students pinpoint their location in the building and save the url. I’ve seen people use it in AIM away messages to let friends know where they can find them. As the site says, it’s “pretty much the geekiest thing ever,” which is a major endorsement at W&M.