Thursday, February 28, 2008


James Frey's not-necessarily-factual memoir, A Million Little Pieces, is a gritty, gripping tale of his drug rehab. He provides a window into a life that is as foreign to most of us as Mars, and his recovery is nothing short of miraculous, but he does not do it alone. As in Eat, Pray, Love, sometimes the people he meets are more fascinating than the protagonist. Of course, he had some help in almost destroying himself, too, but his is not the voice of a victim at all, and his culpability helps make this book special. He assumes full responsibility for the disaster that is his life and refuses to blame his family or his genetics, although both obviously play some role in his addiction. He also refuses to give himself up to a higher power, as required by AA. It's an amazing journey, and his words echo his experiences with their mind-numbing repetition. Particularly enlightening is his constant need for more, more, more, and in the absence of drugs or alcohol, this applies to food, which his body isn't able to digest at first. Don't let the writing style dissuade you from reading an engrossing story that grabs you and doesn't let go.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

THE BRETHREN by John Grisham

The Brethren is another guilty pleasure from John Grisham. Three judges in prison, known as, you guessed it, "the Brethren," have come up with a seemingly perfect extortion scheme, and they're the most likeable characters in the book. What's wrong with this picture? At some level, I guess I admired their resourcefulness. The book is all about money and power, and the character development is nil. The Brethren's biggest vulnerability is their alcoholic attorney who shuffles their correspondence. Will he betray them and make off with their loot? Who's going to win out—the Brethren or their high-profile victim whose ethics are really no better than theirs, and he lacks their charisma. And, best of all, was Grisham prescient in foreseeing events that occurred after his book came out in 2000?

Monday, February 18, 2008


Days of the Endless Corvette by Man Martin is a nice blend of magic, homespun wisdom, and laugh-out-loud anecdotes. Earl Mulvaney is a man of few words and an extraordinary car mechanic. The term "Endless Corvette" refers to his theory that entire cars can be spawned from the leftover parts of other cars—in this case, a '53 Corvette. His saintly and unassuming nature wins over more than one detractor, and you'll wish that you had a friend like Earl. Actually, you'll wish that you'd known many of the characters in this book, or maybe you have. My personal favorite is Jimmy, Earl's boss, who doesn't believe in God but has no problem believing Earl's theory. In fact, he adds one of his own about cars having evolved from fish, fins and all. He's also the source of many of the hilarious irreverent anecdotes. I'll never forget the one about evolution and turning the other cheek. In some ways, this book reminded me of Daniel Wallace's Big Fish in that it rings true in many ways, particularly the outcome of Earl's romance, amid all the enchantment of a tall tale.

Friday, February 8, 2008


Anne Tyler's books are usually full of quirky characters, but those of Back When We Were Grownups are not as quirky as most. Rebecca is having a belated mid-life crisis in her fifties and laments that she is not leading her "true" life. Anchoring an extended family that includes stepchildren and even a live-in centenarian uncle-in-law (OK, he's quirky—and funny, too), she is an introvert masquerading as an extrovert. To regain her former intellectual self, she reconnects with her childhood sweetheart Will, now a professor, whose heart she broke when she wed another man. It's obvious that her husband Joe, who died six years into their marriage, put her life on a path that has been much fuller than it would have been with Will. Rebecca is a truly lovable matriarch, with her poor fashion choices and her knack for drawing out the best in people, particularly those who are stubbornly withdrawn. I may have to add this to my "favorite books" list.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

THE NOTEBOOK by Nicholas Sparks

The Notebook was my first Nicholas Sparks novel, and I wanted to read it before seeing the movie. It will probably be my last. The story was very sappy, and the writing was uninspired. If I'm in the mood for a quick, mindless read, I much prefer Janet Evanovich. The Notebook did have one redeeming feature, however, and that was the description of how Noah copes with his wife's dementia. Instead of burdening and frustrating her with the facts of a life she doesn't remember, he just spends time with her as a friend. On her good days, he reads to her a notebook that tells the story of how they got together but tells her that it happened to someone else. On especially good days, she realizes that it's about her and him. I don’t know if this approach really works with Alzheimer's patients, but it seemed reasonable to me.