Books 16 - 18

16. California Screaming by Doug Guinan - Funny, trashy, light but not dumb - a simply good "junk food" read. Yes, the book gives away its underlying theme by having one character actually say it, "Maybe young gay men are looking for father figures and in doing so, they won't always make the best relationship choices". Ignore the attempt to provide deeper meaning and just go along for the ride in Hollywood where a broke but beautiful (even by their artificially high standards) guy hooks up with a very big deal player; a sweet and lonely guy falls deep into the muscle queen swamp, and some people actually manage to grow up and act like adults.

17. Duma Key by Stephen King, audiobook read by John Slattery - First, the negative. Stephen King still suffers from what I call SKS, a malady I named for him because he was the first author that I saw it in. It is Stephen King Syndrome, and it could be cured by an editor standing up to a successful author and saying "You're not being paid by the word! Every thought does not belong on the page. Cut the crap!" JK Rowling went through a bout in the middle of her series, imo. So yes, Duma Key is much longer than it needs to be. Phone calls and emails are quoted verbatim when they add nothing to the story. Characters make oh-so-clever pop culture references to show King's cleverness, not the character's. The horror part of the story is played out repetitively to the point it's just not scary anymore. So, in short, TOO LONG!
But the good? Nobody writes about the creative process like King does. Read his "In Writing" and you'll be a better writer for the effort. Read any of the many interviews he's done about what he goes through to produce a book, and you'll understand, it's not magic, it's work - hard, disciplined, sometimes heartbreaking work. But you do it if it calls to you, because to not do it makes life unbearable. In Duma Key, the story centers on a man who's been in a terrible construction accident and must build himself a new life. King uses his experience of recovering from a car accident to take the reader into the mind of someone who barely knows himself anymore. As a form of self-therapy, the man moves to a new local and takes up painting (or does painting take him up? It is a ghost story, after all!). Through out the story, there are chapters titled "How To Draw A Picture" , and they are the short course from Stephen King on how to sit down and put that idea that's in your head down on paper, whether it be in words or in pictures. Those are the chapters that kept me listening to this book at the times when I really did not care who or what was the monstrous muse that haunted Duma Key. Well, that and John Slattery's perfect-for-this-story voice.

18.Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette - On the surface, this is the melodramatic love story of a boytoy and the woman who turned him out. But go deeper, and you see that the characters are going through a lot more than simply growing old - they're all growing up, a condition brought on not only by nature but also by post WWI Paris. Cheri was raised to be an ornament, something his mother, lover, and finally wife could be proud to call her own. What all these women failed to see was that while they moved forward in life, he wanted nothing more than to hold on to what he had - even if it didn't exist anymore. It's that realization, that all things change and that he was incapable of changing with them, that changed my opinion an whether Cheri was a weak coward or a tragic victim.


Books 14 - 15

14.In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan - This is the follow-up to Pollans's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, attempting to answer the question a lot of readers had after that first book - "What should I eat?" Pollan's simple answer is on the cover of this book, as well as leading off the introduction: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple advice, explained in detail over the course of the rest of this rather short but loaded with footnotes and references book. The bulk of the book deals with Nutritionalism - the science/religion that tells us something new every day about what to eat and what not to eat, often canceling out what we had been told years and sometimes even only months before, the end result of making the process of nourishing ourselves far more complicated than it needs to be. Pollan shows how the US government tried and failed massively to help Americans choose a healthier diet in the 60s and 70s and how it's not even trying any more. He covers the history of nutritional science as it relates to health, pointing out the reversals that come as science unlocks more secrets and taking that as evidence that we probably don't know very much at all about why what we eat affects our health. It's that core theme of the book that has me questioning what Pollan is saying - if scientists don't know, what's he basing his theories on? Common sense for the most part, fine, but some suggestions, such as "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" seems to jump to the conclusion that all new things are probably bad things. It's still a very good book about what's going wrong with the Western Diet, but I wouldn't call it a manifesto.

15. The Rotter's Club by Jonathan Coe - A funny, sad, romantic, historical, and always entertaining coming of age novel about the lives of four young men in 1970's Birmingham England. As an American, I'm sure I'm missing some of the major story line about labour and some of the minor pop culture points, but I understood enough to know that the characters are complicated and interesting and very, very human. I was glad to know there's a sequel, because when this book ended I wasn't ready to say good bye to these guys or their families.