June 20, 2010

I’ve written in the past about memoir/autobiography by people who weren’t writers but that you could tell were really writers: Emily Carr and Rubin Carter are two that strike me.

I’m almost finished with my 7th TBR book (I’m ahead after months stuck on #5!), Gene Kranz’s memoir about his time at NASA, Failure is Not An Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Kranz is not one of those writers. It’s not compelling because of the writing. It’s an incredibly compelling story, and anyone who likes learning about this history will find it very enjoyable. It’s very precise, and correct, and detailed, “tough and competent”, as he said, all the things that allowed early NASA to pull off what they did. But he’s not a writer.

Next TBR: I think it’s time to tackle either Ibsen or Lawrence, while I’m ahead. Maybe Ibsen, I feel like reading plays.

I’m borrowing a documentary from a friend and I loved this comment:

“We played at CBGB’s because there wasn’t any place to play.”

And this:

“I want to come backstage…will they beat me up?”

And this:

“All of a sudden girls were paying attention to him. Girls that weren’t…on medication.”

Lost Boys

June 5, 2010

When I told my friend that, if she ever wanted, she could borrow Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I said that Foer “is one of that generation of intellectual, virtuosic lost boys, like David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers”.

But I think I’ve found my favourite. Safran Foer’s work, in this novel, is just as smart as what I’ve read of Foster Wallace, and just as emotionally true as Eggers’.

The main lost boy in the novel is Oskar Schell, a precocious 9-year-old from Manhattan, whose imaginative ideas and strange habits are linked to the loss of his father on Sept. 11, 2001 (inventing a birdseed shirt so birds will safely carry any falling person to the ground; playing his tambourine whenever he goes anywhere to give himself courage and company). Oskar takes on a task he thinks he was set by his father, to find the lock that fits a key that was in his father’s things.

Along the way, as well as coming to know Oskar’s finely rendered character, we find out about his grandparents and their lives before and after the bombing of Dresden, and the losses that punctuate the lives of the other people Oskar meets. But the community of these people through Oskar’s involvement in their lives and the humour with which Safran Foer tells this poignant story make it a hopeful, still truthful, one.

I wasn’t ready for Ibsen, Machiavelli or Lawrence after finishing Extremely Loud…, so my 7th TBR book is Gene Kranz’ memoir of his time at NASA Mission Control (covering the early days of manned space flight, the triumphant Apollo 11, the heroism of Apollo 13, and the winding down of Apollo).