‘The Shack’ is a slam dunk in the Crap Bucket, isn’t it?

shack.jpgSeveral years ago I tried to read Wm. Paul Young’s bizarre religious tract “The Shack” because, well, everyone was doing it. I got through about a third of it, realized it was crap and returned it to the friend who had loaned it to me saying something noncommittal and politic like, “I just couldn’t get into it.”

Fast forward to last month when someone in my new book club chose “The Shack” as our first book. I nearly dropped out. But being a good team member (something that is almost never recognized, much less rewarded anymore) and I found myself irritatedly skimming this book I had written off years ago.

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Surprise! A grump called Ron liked ‘A Man Called Ove’

ove.jpgOne day, following what must have been a prolonged harangue from me about the injustices of the world, my wife tossed a book at me and said: “You should read this, you’re in danger of becoming a grumpy old man.”

“A Man Called Ove,” is a book I’d heard about for years and had pegged it as a favorite of women’s book clubs. Her friend, not much of a reader, had loved it, as had many people I know whose tastes never stray off the bestseller lists

On the cover, above a cartoon-like drawing of the back of a man, presumably Ove, and a cat on the top of a hill, is a quote from a People magazine review: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.”

“You’re the one who should read this: It’ll make you appreciate me more.” It was a remark that kind of hung in the air.

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A ‘Bridge’ too long from a favorite writer

sighs.jpegRichard Russo has long been a favorite of mine, but I notice I have not read one of his books since I started this blog. Odd.

That could be because his books, like those by John Irving and Pat Conroy are marathons that I’m not always willing to tackle.

I lump the Russo, Irving and Conroy together because they are sort of cut from similar cloth, though Irving’s is special order and Conroy’s is taffeta. Russo’s cloth is denim. It’s dirty and worn, which makes it feel loved, but it can be worn too long.

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In England, during WWII, ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven’

brave.jpegSeveral years ago a friend of mine breathlessly begged me to read a novel she had just finished. “I’m not going to tell you what it’s about except to say you have to read it.”

So I picked up “Little Bee” by Chris Cleve. Here’s the quote from the flap inside the dust cover: “We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t. And it’s what happens afterward that is most important. Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.” A little too clever, but, OK, they had me.

Then I started reading this tedious, untidy novel peopled with stupid characters I didn’t care about entangled in a plot that had little point. It’s memorable to me only in that I wished I had stopped reading after the dust cover, as it was the most interesting aspect of the book.

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‘Fortunes’ explores the Chinese experience in America

fortunes.jpgI picked up Peter Ho Davies’ “The Fortunes” because I had read a brief review that said it was a fictionalized account of one of an event that stunned me at the time and has stayed with me over the years.

In 1982, the year I graduated from high school and not all that far from where I lived, a young man named Vincent Chin was beaten to death outside a strip club in a Detroit suburb by two autoworkers. The men were upset, so the story went, that they were out of work because of the surge in sales of Japanese-made cars. They took out their anger on Chin, who was at the club celebrating his bachelor party. Chin, though, was Chinese, making his death that much more senseless.

The Chin case is just one of four sections of “The Fortunes” that examines the experience of Chinese in the United States. It’s a history tarred with racism that is rarely acknowledged. Davies’ fascinating novel shines a bold, unblinking light on the experience and left me thinking.

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Mma Ramotswe: Still revealing the mysteries of a happy life

precious and grace.jpegI have written many times about Alexander McCall Smith and how he has charmed his way into my list of favorite authors.

In “Precious and Grace,” the 17th(!) novel in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Smith takes a stray dog, a naive friend of Mma Ramotswe who unwittingly becomes part of a pyramid scheme, and a Woman of the Year contest (no, neither Precious Ramotswe nor Grace Makutsi are nominees) to paint a picture of a gentle world where everything comes out right. This being a mystery series, however, there is a case of a woman who returns to Botswana to reconnect with her past. She hires the agency to locate her old nanny, a woman she only knew as Rosie some 30 years before, with only a blurry, faded photograph to help.

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In a nutshell, Ian McEwan is one of the best

nutshell.jpgI was relieved to discover, through the Google, that Ian McEwan is only 68. He’s been a part of my consciousness for so long, that I thought he was much older. That had me worried. The idea of a year without a new book by this guy might be too much to bear.

McEwan is one of my favorite writers. Of his 17 works of fiction, I’ve read all but three (“First Love, Last Rites,” “In Between the Sheets” and “Black Dogs”). I have also read three screenplays he wrote early in his career that are fascinating and bizarre. At least one of these works was pulled from a scheduled air date at the last minute, as I understand it, because the censors didn’t know what the hell to make of them. I guess they though there must have been something immoral in the works if they couldn’t understand them.

Most of his works left me marveling at the craft or the story, usually both. I often reread sections, because where he takes us is surprising. Sometimes, truth be told, because I had no idea what point he was making until I worked through it a few times.

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