Buy, Borrow, Bypass: April 14, 2014

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

an-unnecessary-womanI know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but come on! Look at that cover. It is lovely. And it is a sham! On the surface, An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine is so far up my alley I’d totally let it park in my garage. It’s the story of a single old lady, living in Beirut, Lebanon, who loves nothing more than to spend time with her precious books.

Sadly, this one earns a sad trombone. The writing is lovely. Aaliya is pretty interesting, and if she had something to do besides wax philosophic about her life and name-drop a crapton of male authors (many of whom I’d never heard of because my reading habits are shamefully American-centric), this book would have been grand. The last thirty or so pages are fantastic. They are so fantastic that it makes you kind of bitter that you waded through the lovely albeit boring first 300 pages.

Verdict: Bypass, unless lovely writing without any sort of forward-moving plot really gets your motor running.

Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross

here-we-are-nowAre you so sick of hearing about Kurt Cobain & Nirvana lately that you could puke? I’m sorry. Between the 20th anniversary of Cobain’s death and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, it’s like 1993 all over again. And much like 1993, I can’t help but roll my eyes every time someone goes on about the genius of Kurt Cobain. Enough already!

There’s a lot of that in Cross’ book about the lasting impact of the Nirvana lead singer who died at the age of twenty-seven. Cross gives credit to Cobain for every one of the trends that marked the early- to mid-90s, from grunge “fashion” to the enduring popularity of Converse Chuck Taylor’s to social justice — Kurt is responsible for it all, apparently.

Barf.

And yet. . . Cross is a fabulous writer (he helped pen the much beloved Heart memoir), and when he writes about what it was like to be there in Seattle in the 90s as all this happened this book is aces. When he’s making tenuous claims on Kurt Cobain being the savior of rock and roll it’s whatever is the opposite of aces. Still, even when I hated this book I really loved arguing with this book.

Verdict: Borrow, this isn’t one you need in the permanent collection.

Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken

Thunderstruck Elizabeth McCrackenDo you ever fall so hard for an author’s work that you begin to wonder whether you should warn people that maybe you aren’t the most objective when it comes to said authors work because oh my god you love her so much and why haven’t you read The Giant’s House eighty-eight times already and then also all the other things she’s ever written and clearly you are living your life wrong if you don’t remedy this situation promptly?

Yeah, me too.

In Thunderstruck & Other Stories McCracken writes about the ghosts that haunt us. Sometimes the ghosts are real. Sometimes the ghosts are merely things left behind. Sometimes the ghosts are who we thought we were. All the times the stories are top notch taking you through small, emotional journeys through significant moments in the character’s lives. The title story, “Thunderstruck,” is one of those that reminds me why I love short stories so much. In it a family flees to Paris hoping new scenery will help curtail their pre-teen daughter’s risky behavior. Things don’t go according to plan. This story will wreck you and rebuild you in all the great ways that literature does that to readers.

Verdict: Buy, but you have to wait until April 22 when it’s released. Mark your calendars now.

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