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Sunday, November 30, 2008

What I'm Reading: November 2008

This month I will write about four of the book I read, a dystopian science fiction, historical fiction, women's lives, and another book in one of my favorite cozy mystery series.

I finally read Australian Max Barry's 2003 classic satire on consumerism and the Americanization of the world, Jennifer Government. This is a classic dystopian imagining of the future where the world is split up into the "American" countries and all others. The government is very weak; companies are in charge of everything. The lead character works for the government, hence her name. Her daughter goes to a Mattel run public school. The plot hinges around a marketing plan by John Nike (he works for Nike), which involves killing customers to create more buzz about a popular shoe. Things spiral and John hatches a plan to literally take over the world, and only Jennifer can stop him.

There is much humor, satire and pure entertainment in this novel. It is not a readalike for works like Orwell's 1984 which is much denser and more preachy than Barry's novel. That is not to disparage what Barry does in his novels or on his very popular website. His works are entertaining and thought-provoking with a young sensibility that appeals to generations X, Y, and Z. While overall, I enjoyed this novel and would continue to suggest it to others, I do agree with the customer reviews that felt the ending was a bit lackluster, but the middle makes up for it.

There are many authors who share Barry's humor, eye for satire, and youthful sensibility. Most notably, I would like to point out Max Brooks' political satire/zombie novel World War Z. Also anything by Cory Doctorow would appeal to fans of Jennifer Government; try the YA novel Little Brother or his adult story collection, Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present. Another author whose work would appeal to Barry fans is Chuck Palahniuk. He is most famous for Fight Club, but really any of his novels would work as a readalike here. Finally, Alan Moore's graphic novels V for Vendetta or The Watchmen are also good bets.

In terms of Nonfiction readalikes, there are many books about global capitalism and American corporations. Three of the most popular to get you started are, The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy by Noreena Hertz, Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America by Jack Beatty and the best seller by Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

I also read another historical fiction by Peter Hamil this month, Forever. This is another book which came off of the bottom of my to-read list (2003), and like Jennifer Government above, I am quite happy that I finally got to it. Forever begins in Ireland in 1741 with the story of the Celtic O'Connor family and moves to New York City as Cormac, the now orphaned son of the family, has followed his father's murderer to seek revenge. On the way, Cormac befriends Kongo, an African slave. Once he is established in NYC, Cormac becomes involved in the African and Irish fight for equality over taking the city, culminating in a huge rebellion. It turns out Kongo is a shaman and he grants Cormac immortality in payment for his true friendship. This immortality has caveats (he can never leave the island of Manhattan) and Cormac is told how to complete his journey and pass into the spirit world in the future. The story then follows Cormac through key points in NYC history up until the days immediately after 9/11. This is a sweeping epic history of NYC, a lyrical story with a large magical realism component, and a love story all rolled into one novel. Please note, however, this novel has a completely open ending, which may or may not matter to you as a reader.

Like most Hamill books, Forever is as much about New York City as it is about the characters he creates. In fact, click here to read my post about North River. Besides the readalikes listed there, I would add Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale, another popular Celtic Fantasy novel with a New York setting written by a proven storyteller. Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days would also be a good readalike, both for setting and the fantasy elements. If you want a book about the NYC area in the revolutionary period, you could also try Brookland by Emily Barton.

In terms of Nonfiction, click here to run a search of books about the history of New York City, there are many ranging from coffee table books, to narrative histories. Ditto for Irish history. Click here to run a search for those titles.

The Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch is also a work of magical realism, but without the historical setting of Hamill's work. Scotch's book caught my eye while I reading reviews; I had not read a chick-lit in a while and the plot summary intrigued me. Here are the details: Jillian is a stay-at-home-mom in Westchester, NY and a former advertising executive. She is experiencing dissatisfaction with her life, her marriage, and her "job." Upon hearing that the boyfriend she left to marry her husband was finally getting married himself, Jillian starts to think of what her life would have been if she had taken a different path. And then, while receiving a massage, Jillian is transported back 7 years, to have a second chance at her life. What follows is a heart-warming, bittersweet, and ultimately redemptive story about the choices modern women have, the sacrifices that come with loving someone, and a look at what is truly important in life.

Although, The Time of My Life tackles some serious issues, it is firmly grounded in the chick-lit subgenre of women's lives and relationships stories. For a similar work, but with a bit more sophistication and depth, try The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. If you liked Scotch's mommy issue take on chick-lit, you would probably enjoy the works of Jennifer Weiner (try Goodnight Nobody for similar themes). There is also Ayelet Waldman's Mommy Track Mysteries series.

Nonfiction titles that might be of interest would include Time Travel in Einstein's Universe: The Physical Possibilities of Travel Through Time by J. Richard Gott, This Is How We Do It: The Working Mothers' Manifesto by Carol Evans, and Where Did I Go?: The Personal Chronicle of a Sahm (Stay at Home Mom), as she shares her fulfilling, frustrating and often comical journey from Womanhood to Motherhood by B. Wylde.

Finally, I read the latest installment in Ian Sansom's bookmobile mysteries this month, The Book Stops Here. Click here to read my other postings about this series and to see readalikes. I think I liked this title the best in the series so far because we finally get to see Israel back in London and interacting with his mother, who it appears will be coming back to Ireland with him and joining the series. Anyway, it was a great, light, escapist read, and I will continue to suggest this cozy mystery series to all fans of public libraries everywhere.


sarah pekkanen said...

Thanks for the great recommendations. I just read Time of My Life and enjoyed it -- it reminded me of Emily Giffin's style.

Becky said...

You are not alone in comparing it to Emily Griffin, I saw a customer comment on Amazon that said the same thing.