Month: February 2013

Book 10 of 52: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

After the downward slide that was Book 9 of 52, I wanted something that would lighten my reading mood, especially since I’d be taking that book on vacation.

Despite looking like a fun road trip type book, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novelby Jonathan Evisonwas another downer, though in a well-written, touching way.

The book is about Benjamin Benjamin (yes, really), who has just about hit rock bottom. It’s not too much of a spoiler to give away that his two children died in an accident – that’s revealed early in the book, but how they died is told through flashbacks with that final, horrible scene coming toward the end of the book.

After the accident, his wife leaves him. The novel starts years later when he is living in a crappy apartment and starts working as a caregiver, helping Trev, a 19-year-old with muscular distrophy for $9 an hour (he had been the one to stay at home with the kids, so his resume is light). His wife wants him to sign the divorce papers. He’s deep in debt. He can’t […]

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Book 9 of 52: The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson

I ordered The Lost Weekendby Charles Jackson after Vanity Fair published a feature on Jackson in March, and how his life changed after the novel was optioned into a movie in 1945 (it won best picture Oscar in 1946).

The Vanity Fair piece isn’t online. It’s they’re typical “look at this old crazy thing that happened in Hollywood” type piece (which isn’t a bad thing), but here’s what you need to know for this review: the novel is largely biographical and like the main character Don, Jackson was an aspiring writer and alcoholic. The book chronicles five days of Don’s binge drinking. It’s not an easy read, not only because of the absolute sadness and terror of Don’s inner thoughts while working through a five day drinking binge, but because there is very little action or even dialogue with other people.

Most of the book is a running internal monologue of Don rationalizing his need to drink, rationalizing borrowing money he can’t return to get a drink, then dropping into deep despair, all while sliding through flash backs that gradually give the reader an idea of how he became a […]

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Book 8 of 52: Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap

I picked up Rosie Shaap’s Drinking with Men: A Memoirafter reading an excerpt from the book published in the New York Time Magazine, where she’s the “Drink” columnist. The book had promise: the essay was snappy, interesting, and about a topic I know a little bit about.

But buying up a memoir based on an excerpt is always a risk. Could what attracted me to the essay be sustained by the author throughout a full memoir?

Unfortunately, in this case, no.

The book is supposed to be a recounting of an unapologetic drinker and all the bars at which she’s been a regular. Instead, it’s a memoir lite shoved around the contrived outline of “this is the bar I was at when this happened,” whether she was in college, post 9/11, in Montreal (which, if I talk about poor use of adjective phrases for a moment, doesn’t need to be referred to as “the sophisticated Canadian city”) or pages upon pages about how she became a soccer fan.

Beyond the first two chapters, where she became a tarot card reader to bum beers on the Metro-North New Haven Line, and then dropped […]

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Marking a book DNF

DNF is an acronym used in running to indicate when a runner Did Not Finish a race. When Ryan Hall pulled out of the Olympic Marathon, for example, his performance was referred to as a DNF.

Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches tweeted that about a DNF review, and it turns out it’s a category on her site. I think the term works well for books, too, so I’m going to use it here.

The timing of her post was apt as I was considering marking a book that I thought I’d enjoy as a DNF. It’s a summer beach read set mostly in Avalon, N.J., a town that I write about often. It’s endorsed by a favorite author. But the writing is so flat, and the characters so bland, that I’ve wanted to chuck it across the room.

Usually I’ll nix a bad book before the end of the first chapter, but I’m stopping here at page 87. Why so far in? Because I wanted to give it a chance. Local book! Good endorsement! It has to turn around soon, right?

No, not for me at least.

Sometimes bad books are worth reviewing. I gave a negative review to Curtis Sittenfeld’s second book, The […]

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Book 7 of 52: Casino by Nicholas Pileggi

This review is a case of reading a book that’s already been widely praised, made into a widely praised movie. Because what else can I say about Casino that hasn’t already been said?

So I’ll be brief: it’s a really great read, told largely with chunks of direct quotes from the players involved. It’s a great telling of the way Las Vegas used to be: when the mob ran the show, and how it all fell apart. The book’s almost 30 years and still riveting. I got a copy for $.99. Well worth the buck.

On a side note, did you know that Nicholas Pielggi was Nora Ephron’s husband? He was the last of three, and was married to her when he died last year. She based the Steve Martin character My Blue Heaven on Henry Hill, Jr., who was the center of Pileggi’s Wiseguy, which became the movie Goodfellas. And I’ll never pass up an opportunity to post a clip from My Blue Heaven.


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