Monday, August 29, 2011

2030 by Albert Brooks
St Martin's Press, 375 pages.

It's too bad that the late Michael Crichton never got to write 2030, because in his hands it might have been a great book. Crichton was a genius at marrying an epic cast of characters with complicated exposition, all wrapped into a tense dramatic scenario - look at The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park or more recently, Next. Next (reviewed elsewhere) is perhaps the closest ancestor to 2030, as both take on clinical tones to discuss the not-so-distant future. But Next ends up being far more sinister in its implications. In the hands of filmmaker Albert Brooks, 2030 actually comes across as rather benign. Perhaps it's because the author's cinematic instincts are so much more honed then his literary ones: 2030 is dialogue heavy and the narration is short, brief and always to the point. Major events - earthquakes, deaths, China buying Los Angeles - all happen in the blink of an eye without any real attention paid to the drama of the moment. The entire novel reads like a treatment for a film that never got written.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Various Positions
by Martha Schabas, Doubleday. 361 pages.

Being a former theatre school brat, I couldn't help but be drawn to Various Positions, an affecting first novel by Martha Schabas that deals with adolescence, broken homes and the fact that when you're dealing with the artistic world, the "rules do not apply". This, at least, is the conclusion reached by Georgia Slade, Ms. Schabas' engrossing main character, who is accepted to the Royal Toronto Ballet Academy and promptly begins both an artistic and sexual awakening. A bit of Black Swan meets Fame, Various Positions took me back to my own days in dance school and successfully captured the tense student rivalry and unfortunate eating disorders that are the undercurrent of any artistic training. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

by Tina Fey, Reagan Arthur Books. 275 pages.

Like Kristi Koruna, the object of a ten year crush that lasted until I was 18, Tina Fey always manages to prompt a series of sweaty palms, giddiness and a complete inability to articulate my own thoughts. In Ms. Fey's case, however, this is a purely artistic crush. I usually respond to an episode of 30 Rock with the same sweaty-palmed uncertainty that happened whenever Kristi Koruna walked into the room: in other words, if my life was a summer camp social (and sometimes I think it is) Tina Fey's work is the girl I want to dance with to Stairway to Heaven. I probably won't ever get asked to write an episode of 30 Rock (mostly because I'd just screw it up), so I suspect that writing about Bossypants is as close as I'll ever come to dancing with Ms. Fey's talent.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Robert Todd Lincoln: A Man in His Own Right
by John S. Goff
University of Oklahoma Press, 286 Pages. 

You know you're a history geek when you're reading a book about Robert Todd Lincoln - especially one written by John S. Goff. Written in 1968, this is a polite  look at a statesman who most people know nothing about, a fact as true now as it was forty years ago. A millionaire businessman of the Progressive era, Lincoln also did his duty in American politics, serving first as Secretary of War and then as Minister to England. He was associated with three assassinated Presidents at the time they were shot, a distinction that led him to say of his many White House invitations: "If only they knew, they wouldn't want me there." His name was bandied about in several Presidential races and, as Special Counsel for the Pullman Palace Car Company, he may or may not have been influential in putting down the famed Pullman strike of 1894. Oh, and he was the son of Abraham Lincoln. Can't forget that - especially since no one else did.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Memory of All That:
George Gershwin, Kay Swift and my Family's Legacy of Infidelities
by Katharine Weber
Crown Publishers, 270 pages.

An unusual memoir penned by novelist Katharine Weber, The Memory of All That is essentially two books in one: the first concerns Mrs. Weber's relationship with her enigmatic father, the inimitible Sydney Kaufman who disappeared from the house for months at a time, worked in the movies, was either loved or reviled by his contemporaries and has a FBI file that corresponds with the career of J. Edgar Hoover. The other is largely an anecdotal biography of Mrs. Weber's grandmother, Kay Swift, who is remembered either as the first woman to have a musical on Broadway or George Gershwin's longtime paramour (sadly few people, I've found, seem to remember her as both). Despite my own Gershwin-mania, it's the novel's first half that made for a much more invigorating read; although of academic interest, the second half was less focused. For a hundred pages, Mrs. Weber fights an intriguing battle to understand her peculiar father; but she was so close to her grandmother and much of the second half is, to use Kay Swift's own word, mumpsy.