Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem's new novel Dissident Gardens went on sale this week. It's my favorite Lethem book since Motherless Brooklyn, his most autobiographical work, and a literary novel that sits in one of my personal sweet spots (from the Depression to the Red Scare, with the rise and fall of the Communist Party in the US--love it). Here are ten reasons why you should read this book.

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Dissident Gardens

  1. It has a killer opening sentence: "Quit fucking black cops or get booted from the Communist Party." Well that's an attention grabber. I mean, Gianna says similar words to me everyday, but it's a line worthy of note in a novel. Who's delivering the message, and who's receiving it? How is a black cop connected to a Communist woman? This opening line is so great that the venerable New York Times printed the f bomb without astericks. Boom.
  2. The cover. You can judge this book by it. 
  3. One of the main characters, Rose, is the cranky lady in your neighborhood who screams at the kiddies, but instead of screaming because they trample the flowers, she screams at them for not adopting her extreme leftist politics.
  4. Rose's husband was too much of a pushover to hang with her. So she sleeps with the black cop and helps raise his son. Let's face it: Rose cannot and will not just let things lie. Sort of like Gianna.
  5. Miriam, her daughter, rebels by becoming a Beatnik/hippie type. Rose may or may not shove Miriam's head in an oven within the first chapter or so.
  6. Right. Jonathan Lethem is working his way through every neighborhood in New York. He's the quintessential New York writer of this generation.
  7. Also, Lethem based Rose on his granny, who really was a big ol' commie. Let's spend a moment picturing J. Edgar Hoover examining pictures of little Johnny in his grammy's file. (Eh...maybe not. That's creepy.)
  8. Lethem works some magic with this novel, so while on the one hand you get an epic family saga, on the other you get a framework for connecting radical political thought in the United States, from the Communist Party to the Beatniks to the hippies to the Quakers to the university academics.
  9. It's a good story too.
  10. Could this book win a Pulitzer Prize? Yes. Yes it could.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Best Book of the Year So Far: Michael McCarthy

How can a film with running
in it ever be boring?
Well this is posting is very awkward. Michael, a bookseller at BookPeople decided to become my mortal enemy by not loving the film, Frances Ha. After his scathing Facebook review referred to it as,“boring,” I couldn’t bring myself to even look in his direction. We haven’t spoken in six months! Well, I mean we haven’t spoken with the exception of me asking him what his favorite book of the year has been so far (or anytime I see him at the store, or if he answers the phone when I call).  Anyway, his choice sounds boring!! Not really, I am a pretty big Willett fan. 

Here is Michael McCarthy’s pick for best book of the year so far:

2013 has brought many gifts to the reading fanatic. My favorite so far is "Amy Falls Down" by Jincy Willett. Like most of Willett's work it is hilarious and wise. There's an undercurrent of sadness, too. The plot is simple - Novelist Amy Gallup lives with her dog, teaches a writing class, and keeps her engagement with the outside world to a minimum. Then she falls down and hits her head while working in her garden. A local writer interviews her while she's still suffering from the effects of hitting her head so hard, and her loopy responses to the idiotic questions she's being asked are quoted verbatim in the article. The article attracts a lot of attention and completely changes her life. All sorts of stuff happens and I've forgotten some of it so it looks like I'll have to read this delightful book again.