Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I have a stack of notes about books waiting to be reviewed. The problem? After a (sad and very short amount of) time, I simply can't remember sufficient details to give a book proper service for a full review. Rather than let those notes go to waste and fail to mention a book some of you might enjoy, I gathered them up, threw in the towel on full reviews, and wrote some down and dirty thoughts on  a few titles. My $.02, as it were. Here are a few books I've read (somewhat) recently and my gut reactions about them:

10:04  by Ben Lerner

I'm not sure I could have fully reviewed this one even if I'd had time. Wowza. It's funny. It's weird. It's interesting. After that, I'm not sure what it is. The narrator is an author who has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart defect. He's trying to write his second book against an advance, and has been asked by his best friend to donate sperm so she can have a baby. Against the backdrop of NY politics and dangerous weather, our protagonist winds his way through life while contemplating alternate times. Yeah, there's a bit of a time-shifting element. Someone please read this so you can explain it to me. I did learn about Christian Marclay's fascinating 24-hour movie, The Clock, which is made up of clips from movies portraying every minute of every hour in the day, like a clock. It sounds fascinating, you can read more about it here.

Just Add Water: A Surfing Savant's Journey with Asperger's by Clay Marzo and Robert Yehling

My interest in this book (coming out July 14, 2015 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was from two fronts: surfing and the "Blue Mind" concept you'll be familiar with if you read my review of Blue Mind from yesterday. Clay Marzo is a young man who epitomizes the impact water can have on an individual. Eventually diagnosed with Asperger's, from a young age Clay had trouble with school, friendships, focus, organization, and so many other things many of us take for granted. But when it comes to the water and surfing, he's a genius. Even as a toddler, he showed a crazy proficiency for reading the water, even more so than those who had been surfing for decades. He has become a successful professional in the sport, which has, in turn, helped him in other areas of his life. This book was interesting reading, a bit more memoir and mind/heart-based than science-based.

The Given World by Marian Palaia

In 1968, when Riley is 13, her beloved brother Mick goes missing while serving in Vietnam. His loss shapes her life, making her wary of all attachments. After the war impacts her life again at sixteen, she leaves Montana for California, beginning a journey to make some sense of her existence; a journey that ultimately leads her to Saigon in order to find answers about Mick. I loved the early portion of Given World, which describes Riley as a young girl and establishes her strong connection to Mick. I enjoyed the rest of the book, but felt I lost the connection to it after Mick's disappearance. It's a good story, well-written, and the cast of supporting characters, both rescuers and rescued, is nicely done. In the end, it just didn't strike the chords with me I anticipated it might based on how strong I felt out of the gate.  

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

I would have missed this gem entirely if I (1) wasn't prone to pick up books based solely on their cover and (2) didn't give audiobooks another try. I saw this title while perusing my library's available audio selections. While I have seen and enjoyed Cumming's work, I'm no superfan. But something about this cover, both text and photo, compelled me to listen, along with the fact that narration is performed by Cumming himself. This bravely personal and startlingly honest story was a superb listen, and I highly recommend it whether you read it or pick the audio version.

Cumming's family history, which he finally spoke out about when preparing to be profiled on the BBC show Who Do You Think You Are? is both compelling and painful. Told in chapters alternating between 2010 and Cumming's childhood, the book is about Cumming's self-described "genealogical maelstrom." Cumming speaks with grace about his abusive father and their resultant estrangement of more than 16 years, ending at the time of, and in part due to, the BBC special. But Cumming's extended family is also the source of secrets and mystery. This memoir is achingly personal with some dark, dark moments, but it's heartening to see how Cumming has come through the other side.

Marking passages on audio is a pain in the ass, but this book was so beautiful and heartfelt I marked many and then went through the tedious process of transcribing them by hand. Here are two, related but from different portions of the book, that I found quite powerful (forgive me if I've not punctuated exactly as the text may be punctuated):

It wasn't just a haircut, it was now my physical shortcomings as a laborer, my inability to perform the tasks he gave me every weekend and many evenings. Tasks I was unable to perform because I was 12. But mostly because he wanted me to fail at them so he could hit me. You see, I understood my father. I'd learned from a very young age to interpret the tone of every word he uttered, his body language, the energy he brought into a room. It has not been pleasant as an adult to realize that dealing with my father's violence was the beginning of my studies of acting.
* * *
I have had more hair styles than most men of my age have had hot dinners. It doesn't take a genius to work out that I have so enjoyed changing the color, length and look of my follicles over the years has something to do with reclaiming the power my father took from me, in this regard as well as many others, as a child.

Just writing these passages down and looking at the others I transcribed has me wanting to revisit this book, either through audio or tree book. So very, very good; I highly recommend it if you're at all interested in memoirs in general or Alan Cumming specifically. I know I'm worlds more interested in him now than I was previously; he's become a multi-layered personality to me, much more than just another actor on the screen.

Gathering Prey by John Sandford

I have a hard time reviewing series books, especially those I've been reading for years. There's just so much history there, personally and story-wise. This is the twenty-fifth entry in the Lucas Davenport series, and it finds Lucas at an all-time state of discouragement with the powers-that-be. The main story arc revolves around a murderous group led by a no-good named Pilate, who come to the attention of Lucas via his adopted daughter Letty. Letty meets two "travelers" (hobo-like itinerants) while away at Stanford. When one of the duo goes missing, the other contacts Letty for help and it's soon apparent there's more amiss than one traveler gone missing. If that's not enough, the book is filled with Juggalo conventions. Although all the secondary characters make appearances (Del Capslock, Jenkins and Shrake, even That Fuckin' Flowers), I missed each of them having a larger role. Gathering Prey is pretty much the Lucas and Letty show. and I ended up being ok with that. Although I've always liked Letty, I took to her increased involvement in Lucas's work more than I thought I would. Overall, this was a satisfying chapter in the series and foreshadows what might be some significant change coming in Lucas' life.

That's it for this week. I hope you've found at least one nugget here to interest you. If you've read any of these, I'd certainly love to hear your $.02 about it/them, especially that nutty 10:04.


shainareads said...

Ooh, 10:04 has been on my "someday" list for a while now. I'd be happy to check it out and be your "wtf just happened?" buddy. :)

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

Oh, bless you. I sped through the first half (a bit wtf?, but interesting), then the second half kinda lost me, ended up unsure what I just read. It's short, if that helps. :) (Are "wtf just happened" buddies a thing? I would like to hire one full-time.)

shainareads said...

For $10/hr, I'll give you all the outrage and confusion you can handle.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

If money were no object, I would totally have someone to read along with me. And stand in lines.

Pop Culture Nerd said...

I'm glad you did this. I should do the same. I have a stack with eleventy nine thousand books that I've been meaning to write reviews for, even if they're short ones. At this point, if I hope to write about them at all, they might have to be two-word reviews.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

Thanks, E. And yes, you should. I struggled with it, as you know, but ended up glad I did it. No pressure to write about things I don't remember well, and yet I can share my thoughts and get feedback (and get rid of a backlog). Or explanations. Shaina is now going to read 10:04 and explain it to me. Score! I know we talk about books we don't review, but I'm sure people would want to know what you think even if you don't write a full review.

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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