Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Week of September 3, 2012

Each week I read between 3-6 books. I don’t have time to write meaningful reviews of each, but I also don’t want to let that reading mojo go neglected. Who knows which recommendation of mine might save you a couple of dozen dollars, or encourage you to spend them? Hence this feature, “Buy, Borrow, Bypass,” in which I talk about my previous week’s reading and which books fit into which categories. They won’t always do so neatly, either!

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens (Twelve Books): On December 15,2011, Christopher Hitchens died of esophogeal cancer, a malady that he had detailed painstakingly and often in pain, through essays in Vanity Fair magazine. Few readers could say that they always agreed with “Hitch’s” startling views, the surest thing to nonpartisan any American writer (he became a U.S. citizen in 2007) has ever achieved. His Stoic (the capital “s” is deliberate) approach to chronicling his death foretold allowed him to reach back across from “the land of malady” to the land of the living he loved so well and teach us all a few things about the one border each of us must eventually cross.

VERDICT: Buy–and maybe a few copies, to share with friends in need


NW by Zadie Smith (The Penguin Press): Caveat lector: This is not an easy, lazy read, although it is certainly a rich, spicy, and fulfilling one. Smith’s fourth novel, her first in seven years, takes place in the Northwest or “NW” of London, in which she and many other multiracial children of recent immigrants grew up, but this is not White Teeth redux. Smith ventures into dangerous territory here about upward mobility, down-and-dirty libidos, and the zebra-crossing (light, dark, light, dark) that is adult life. A large portion of the story is told in micro-chapters, really lists and paragraphs–and it works. It just damn well works.

VERDICT: Buy. Do not lend!


Motherland by Amy Sohn (Simon & Schuster): We’re back to Park Slope, the scene of Sohn’s previous Prospect Park West. We’re also back to several of that book’s key characters, including often-substance-addled famous actor Melora Leigh, her ex-husband Stuart Ashby (who is also the unsuspecting father of Rebecca’s ginger-haired new baby Benjamin), and so on and so on and la di la la la. “The Slope” has its own weed (“Park Dope”), its own see-and-be-seen coffee shop (Connecticut Muffin), and its own sexual mores (never have so many given it up so easily, or maybe it’s just because they don’t have to worry about cars being seen in driveways). Like Connecticut Muffin’s coffee, this one’s a tepid brew of middle-aged parents behaving very, very badly. I’d like to see Sohn write about the Slope tweens instead.

VERDICT: Borrow. It’s trashily entertaining.


Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz (Knopf): I’ll admit to a deep bias here, because I have loved Julia Child for so long I cannot remember how my adoration began. However, my bias towards reading this book doesn’t really matter, since Bob Spitz (The Beatles) delivers a first-rate biography, no warmed-over sauce spooned cross yesterday’s roast here. You may think you know all of the details of Child’s life, but he has not just unearthed new information–he uses it to explain the phenomenon that young Julia McWilliams from Pasadena became once she’d found both her passion of cooking and her medium of television.

VERDICT: Buy or borrow, but do read.



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