09 September 2006

The Occasionally Recurring "Reads Brooklyn" Edition

A week or two ago I mentioned that I'd started reading David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, and figured I'd use today's off-day post to report that I finished it a few days ago, and it was a fantastic read. Although his previous novel, Cloud Atlas, had earned him comparisons to Thomas Pynchon in some circles (as noted earlier, it's one of my all-time favorite novels, but I don't quite know if I'd go that far), Black Swan Green is essentially a simple, first-person coming-of-age story that documents a year in the life of dorky British thirteen-year old Jason Taylor in the early 1980s. Clever and often very funny, the novel is divided into thirteen chapters, each a more or less self-contained story covering one month in Jason's life and relating his attempts to make sense of a world which is anything but sensical. Among other things he gets bullied for his stammering, has his first kiss at a Christmas dance, and has a run-in with Gypsies, all of it told in a sweet (but never cloying or sentimental) manner that has particular appeal to those of us who were probably overly sensitive in our junior high school days or who came of age during the Reagan/Thatcher years (or both, of course). Not that anyone reads my blog for literary advice, but I obviously would recommend this one very highly.

Wish I could say the same for Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days, which I finished last night. It looked like a great premise -- three separate but inter-related novellas set in three different time periods, the stories linked together by the figure of Walt Whitman (someone with whom I'll admit to my own ongoing obsession with). But I was disappointed with the execution, and I found a lot of the prose somewhat clunky and even hackneyed, particularly in the third section. That's the one which takes place in the future, but is laced with a surprising number of science fiction clich├ęs (the main character is a robot who longs to be human, another is a member of an alien race of reptilian creatures, and people drive "hoverpods" and talk on "vidphones"). I wanted to like it, I really did, but I kind of felt let down.

In any event, I just started Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. I'm sure that my thoughts on that one will eventually turn up here, too.

I'll be running again tomorrow, and it looks like I'll almost definitely reach the 25% of Brooklyn run mark the following Sunday, precipitating what I think will be a much-deserved (and physically necessary) week-long break. I am so looking forward to that.

Bonus photograph du jour:


Just off of 86th Street

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