Reviews

The Best American Nonrequired Reading: 2011

Best American NonRequired ReadingForget the bland title, the latest Best American Nonrequired Reading presents a fresh, amusing, and wide-ranging compendium of last year's best nonfiction and fiction.

It's not just the writing that is fresh but the kinds of content that editor Dave Eggers chose to include are both imaginative and often cutting edge including such categories as: Best American Band Names, Best American Ominous Place Names, Best American Call of Duty Handles, Best Wikileaks Revelations, and Best American Commune Names. The reader senses not only a vibrant sense of humor (see Best American Categories that Got Cut) but someone behind the scenes who is curious, wide-reading, and always eager to learn something new. Also, someone with a great sense of humor.

When god was a Rabbit

This debut novel by Sarah Winman, a British actress, is decidedly quirky, unusual and fresh. It's also tremendously well-written and involving, and captures as few novels do, the actual feelings and experiences of childhood. The title absolutely pulled me in. Don't for a moment think it's a metaphor. No way. Little Elly, the narrator, receives a Belgian hare for Christmas and, in a family of nonbelievers, what could be more logical than naming her pet god (lower case, of course)?

When her school hosts a Christmas pageant, Elly receives audition instructions from her gay thespian aunt. The little girl secures a role but not Mary, Joseph, or the Baby Jesus. No, instead Elly plays the blind innkeeper. Unfortunately, in a horrible fiasco, she knocks over another child and sends him to the hospital.

Elly has a best friend named Jenny Penny. Her mom is a single parent with lots of visiting boyfriends. Because she has a drinking problem, Jenny joins Elly's kind but eccentric family.

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

Recently I decided to read a mystery that was either nominated for or won an Edgar Award. I chose The Lock Artist, 2010 Best Novel winner, because it sounded interesting. I was not disappointed. The story is narrated by Mike, a "boxman"- someone who can open any lock without a key whether it's on a safe, a door, a window or a padlock. We know this talent has landed him in prison at the age of 18 and that from there he writes his life story. We also know Mike is known as "Miracle Boy" because he survived a family tragedy that is hinted at throughout the book. This tragedy rendered him unable to speak, which brings an interesting facet to the tale. When he falls in love he is only able to communicate with the object of his desire through his other talent- drawing. The Lock Artist is not just one mystery, but many within the life of Mike- which job finally landed him in prison, what happened to the girl he loves, who is the dangerous and mysterious man who employs him, what happened to him as a child? Each chapter jumps to a different point in time in Mike's life with many ending as cliffhangers.

Man Booker Prize

Julian Barnes was awarded the Man Booker prize this week for his recent short novel, The Sense of an Ending. Reviews of the book include key words like "compelling", "memorable" and "dexterously crafted".
Barnes is well known in Britain, and has made the Booker short list three times in the past. He was the front runner going into the final days of the Booker, a prize awarded to British authors and authors from the Commonwealth. Usually considered one of the more prestigious literary awards, the Booker prize wasn't without it's own controversy this year. Critics complained that the short list was less literary in an effort to be more accessible and reward popular titles.
Can a book be accessible and popular while also being literary? Color me intrigued - I've just added this to my to-read list.

22 Britannia Road

Many novels dwell on the horrors of war, but few deal with the dislocation and tremendous adjustments that occur afterwards. Amanda Hodgkinson's wise debut novel does exactly that for a Polish family separated during World War ll and later reunited in England.

A year before Poland was invaded, Silvana, a movie projectionist, and Janusz, a country boy meet and marry. They have a son Aurek. War comes and Janusz is called to defend his country. Before even reaching his unit, German bombs halt Janusz's train and he is injured during his first battle. He watches as an old woman herding her sheep is shot down.

After the planes disappear, the young Polish soldier decides that he must care for these animals and give this old woman a proper burial. Meanwhile Silvana takes Aurek to the city but as the Germans invade it, she is separated from her son. A woman helps her to reclaim him. Later, a German tries to rape her in an abandoned apartment that she has taken over in search of food and shelter. She and Aurek flee to the woods where they spend the next three or four years.

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