Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"What is the What?" A Pseudoreview

One of the reasons for joining this challenge was to force me to finish books I may have otherwise written off before reaching the final page. Typically, if a book does not hold my attention, I move on to the next item on the bookshelf without a second thought. So, when "What is the What?" started to bore me, my theory began being tested.

After recently finishing, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" in three days, I imagined I could plow through Egger's novel in under a week. Within the first two hundred pages, I was bored to tears. Several other used books arrived in the mail that were calling my name. I was insistent however, that if I was going to submit a review, I should at least finish the book.

Here I sit, nearly a week later, and as a result of my effort to finish the novel my time spent reading has been reduced to nothing at all. I have scarcely finish 10 more pages since last week, and my guilty conscience has preventing me from beginning other books.

Of the novel, I will say little. It is probably unfair to critique without bothering to get past the halfway mark. That alone should give a fairly complete review of the book from my perspective. I am curious however, if others reading this blog tend to push through a book when you know you are not enjoying it, or do you pull the plug and move on? What is the breaking point for you? When is the earliest you've called it quits, or do you always solider on?

Monday, January 14, 2008

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," 10/10

Never has a family history been so utterly engrossing. Junot Diaz's debut novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," chronicles several generations of a Dominican American family, from the mystical Santa Domingo to the ghetto of North Jersey. Enter our hero, Oscar- the sci-fi obsessed, overweight, heir to the family history, whom even in adulthood never quite escapes teen angst.
The title of the novel is slightly misleading- as Oscar may be the most sympathetic character of the novel- but cannot accurately be considered it's center. The story skips between various branches of a family tree as they experience the trials and tribulations of everything from a violent authoritarian regime to the difficulties in getting a modern masterpiece (supposedly) of science fiction literature published.
Diaz's mouthpiece and narrator is Oscar's alter-ego and walking Dominican stereotype, Yunior. Yunior's ability to be embedded in the families affairs is only surpassed by his surprising knowledge of their history. The clearly intelligent, womanizing and pop culture obsessed spinner of our story manages to become a secondary hero. Although only a minor character in the narrative, the insights gained into his character through the narrative create a deeper familiarity that ingratiates him to the reader.
The crux of the story and it's driving force lies not within the plot itself, however, but in the hypnotic pull of Diaz's prose. Diaz's unique blend of surprisingly coherent Spanglish combines elements of the profane and poetic with aplomb. All Diaz's backgrounds and elements combine to form an astonishingly beautiful patchwork. While it might be understandable for a rookie novelist to approach such a tall order with trepidation, this work resounds with confidence. "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," serves as nothing less than Diaz assuming his rightful position as an accepted master of his craft.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Notable Books Challenge

Apparently there is a blogging/reading subculture revolving around reading challenges. These blogs are characterized by participants entering many challenges at once and endeavoring to read more books than any reasonable individual would deem healthy. In other words.. count me in!
The particular challenge that caught my eye is the Notable Books Challenge hosted by Wendy. Last year this contest revolved around the New York Times notable books, but has been expanded to include other sources. In the interest of not becoming a completely degenerate bookworm, I will limited myself to the 2007 NYT list. The books I am penciling into my schedule are as follows:

1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
2. Then We Came to an End by Joshua Ferris
3. Falling Man by Don DeLillo
4. Out Stealing Horses by Per Patterson
5. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
6. Exit Ghost by Philip Roth
7. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

and either all or some or none of the following:
8. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta
9. Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
10. What is What by David Eggers

The titles are arranged in the order of likelihood that I will read them. The Nine.. was added to include a nonfiction title. Philip Roth's novel would be higher on my list, but I have been trying to read this pseudo-series in chronological order. Perhaps I can make an exception for the challenge. I made add or remove a couple selections based on reviews that all the other participants submit. Looking forward to see what everyone thinks of these and all the other notable books of '07.

A Day for New Cigars

Friday found me back in the cigar store in search of new delights. Despite not having a complete shopping list, Criollo's were definitely at the forefront of my mind as I set foot in the humidor. After enjoying the Criollo Toro so much, re-upping these was priority one. Finding other medium to full bodied cigars was priority two. First things first. Over to the Los Blancos to grab another Toro and a Double Corona.
Here is where things got a little more difficult. Recently, I have been focusing on lighter cigars, finding that the fuller ones were a little beyond my scope still. With the increased frequency of my smoking however, a taste for the full bodied guys is slowly returning. The Criollo had been a little stronger than what I was accostomed to, convincing me that it was time for a step up in strength. Luckily, the owners of Shades of Havana are always equipped to give some quality recommendations.
He was smoking a Rocky Patel and recommended I might be wise to try the same. The Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Toro seemed like an excellent place to start. In order to get a real feel for a brand, smoking one cigar seemed inadequate. The Patel Olde World Reserve had definite appeal. Although probably stronger than the other selections in my humidor, I knew this was the one. Four new cigars in hand, some familiar, some new, a good and smoke filled weekend is close at hand.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Not a La Flor at all... a La Gloria Cubana

After setting out this morning to smoke the La Flor Dominicana this morning, I was in for a surprise, the La Flor was a La Gloria Cubana! I am not sure how I got it in my head that a La Flor was waiting, but I cannot say I was disappointed to find the La Gloria. Last evening I received a delivery from Amazon consisting of a couple Neil Gaiman graphic novels (which I am completely unfamiliar with, but look forward to) and the widely acclaimed and endlessly hyped, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," by Junot Diaz. After a couple cups of tea this morning I decided no better time for a smoke and a read than 9:30am, and set out to my porch. The cigar (I'll have to admit I do not know which specific type it was, as I did not even realize which brand it was) started well, with a nice even draw and a leathery type of flavor. After the previous days debacle with the Los Blancos Maduro, it was relieving to have such a smooth smoke. It was enjoyable throughout, but it was definitely a one dimensional cigar. Without any real depth in the flavor, the La Gloria was enjoyable, but not particularly memorable. The book on the other hand, had me from the first page. Anytime a novel is a near universal critical success, it is worth approaching with a touch of trepidation. Too many times hopes of discovering the great American novel have been dashed when a critical and public success turns out to be a mediocre and disappointing read. Such was not to be the case with Junot Diaz's sophomore effort. Although only a couple hundred pages in, the novel thus far has proven to be a gem. Within a couple more days of frenetic reading, no doubt a final review will be posted here. At the moment I will say only this in addition, preliminary indications are all positive.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Los Blancos Criollo... Too Good??

Perhaps the Criollo is the problem.
Sitting down for my second Los Blancos in as many days, I was hoping for a repeat performance. The Criollo I had yesterday was a near perfect smoke. The draw was smooth and easy, the aroma was perfect, and I was reminded exactly why I love smoking these guys so much. Today's Los Blanco Maduro might have been setup to fail from the beginning. The cigar started out with a really tight draw, I had to work diligently just to get it going. Although it loosened up a little as it went, I was fighting for smoke right down to the bitter end. The flavor profile of the cigar remains a bit of a mystery. Typically I fall into a nice rythm with a cigar and begin to really enjoy it's style, but it was not meant to be today. It left a rough taste in my mouth from fighting with it so much. It is only a matter of time before I am back to the cigar store (Shades of Havana; Peoria, AZ) for a few more Criollo's. If it ain't broke...

An End to American Gods

Today brought the end to "American Gods," accompanied by a Los Blancos Maduro. With two things to touch upon, I will start with the novel. "American Gods" proved to be an excellent read. This being my first encounter with Gaiman's work, he did not disappoint. The novel is wonderfully imaginative, with each progressive setting and character more inventive than the last. Absurd elements of american culture become fond memories, while mysterious and magical characters become ironically- deeply human. Although the embedded stories about minor characters become tedious at times, the novel remains engaging throughout. This will not be my last encounter with Mr. Gaiman and I look forward to exploring some of his work in other mediums.