Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Overwhelmed

It's been too long since I've written anything. I'm still reading- of course! I just got a copy of Chatter, by Perrin Ireland, through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. The book came out on October 23 so it's not a pre-pub anymore but I'll have the review by early next week. In the mean time I've put my Bookmooch account on vacation, took it off to get a book I really want to read and got a bunch of new requests that I have to send out.

My problem right now is the way the books are piling up. I have books to read for work, books to read to review, and books I just want to read. Where to begin? After Chatter I want to read The Gathering, the new Man Booker winner, and then Signed, Mata Hari, coming out mid-November. And that's just for the blog in the short term. For work, I have three or four Isaac Bashevis Singer books lined up and Mr. Mani by A.B. Yehoshua; and for me, The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, Gestures by H.S. Bhabra, the rest of the Love Hina manga series, American Born Chinese, a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and others. And then there are those big books- Middlemarch, The Golden Notebook, and (shudder) War and Peace. Those are going to take forever. In the words of Rankin/Bass, "Just put one foot in front of the other..."

Lucky (?) for me, I found out the other day that I'm about to be substantially less employed than I have been. Not unemployed. I haven't been sacked or anything; I've just been re-purposed. I'm done cataloging a medium-sized collection of adult Judaica and I'm going to be working in the Hebrew school children's library starting next week. So I'll have more free time for reading! And a whole new genre to master. Well, one thing you can say about me is that I'm always up for a challenge.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed with all the books sitting next to your chair?

Friday, October 26, 2007

REVIEW: The Sea, by John Banville

The Sea, by John Banville. Published 2006 by Vintage. Literary fiction. Winner of the Man Booker Prize.


John Banville's The Sea won the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and so I had high expectations- not only did I expect it to be an excellent book but I expected to really enjoy it. I don't think it would have stood out for me on the bookshelves had it not been for that perky little gold sticker. You know, yet another novel about some old guy reminiscing about his first crush. Yawn, right? Some of my favorite books have been Booker winners though- my all-time favorite novel, Possession, by A.S. Byatt, won in 1990, and others like The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (no, I didn't like the movie), The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, are books that I treasure. Then there's Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan, 1998's winner, so they're not all golden, but I digress.

I think The Sea is quite polished and accomplished- like the best student in class, it's neat and clean, sits with its hands folded at the front of the room and turns in its excellent work on time but lacks the spark of real genius. The book opens as the narrator, Max, whose wife has just died after an extended illness, moves into the Irish boarding house that was the scene for his first experiences with love and death. One followed quickly upon another one brief summer when he was 11, and it seems fitting to return there now that once again he has experienced the death of a beloved. (Fitting in a literary sense, anyway- I'm not sure a real person would end up back there in any sense but the psychological.) The narrative goes back and forth between three time lines- the childhood summer, his years with his wife Anna, and the present tense, Max's unhappy after-life boarding with the spinstery Miss Vavasour and an enigmatic loner known only as the Colonel.

The tone of The Sea is elegiac, mournful- slow and heavy and the writing is characterized by the same literary artfulness as the premise. Occasionally some violent emotion bursts through the otherwise calm surface and the reader gets a sense of Max's turmoil- his hopelessness and grief and loss. I wish there had been more moments like this, more touching the wound as it were. I know the book is very well-crafted but sometimes it felt over-composed. Perhaps the effect is intentional, meant to contrast with the outbursts and show Max's fragility. Still I found it difficult to connect with Max. He's not really that likable- he wants to appear worldly but his irony and sarcasm (not to mention his alcoholism) undercut his sophistication. He seems to lack affection for his daughter, who he describes as unattractive and unambitious, yet attached to a man he deems unworthy. And his memories of Chloe, the little girl he loved, are detached and don't sound to me like the way an 11 year old would experience first love, although I've never been an 11 year old boy so what do I know. His outbursts, his testiness and his anger, do render him more human, however.

We know early on that his memories of the house itself aren't accurate so it's possible his other memories are equally distorted. Later we find out that there were some adult goings-on in the household that his childish perception missed entirely, and we find out one important fact in particular at the end, to do with the identity of a character who would otherwise have faded into the background. I have to say that I really wish I had known this thing at the beginning; holding back this little fact struck me as parsimonious. I mean, I know it's meant again to underscore the overall artistry of the novel but it wasn't really that crucial, not some 180 spin, just a little twist, like a quarter of a turn, and I think I would have enjoyed the book more had I just known. When the realization hits, though, it crashes down hard, and that moment- a casual, throw-away remark- was for me the most dramatic of the entire book.

Overall, I think The Sea is certainly deserving of the recognition it has received from the Man Booker committee and is definitely a worthy, meaty, literary read, if you're into that kind of thing. It's one of those books that I appreciated but didn't really like. Oh well.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

BookNook: Christian Science, by Mark Twain

Can I review a book if I didn't finish it? Cause I think I'm going to stop where I am with Christian Science but I do want to talk about it a little. I want thank everyone who voted in the poll; I appreciate that there are actually a few people out there who read my blog!

I came across Mark Twain's screed against the Christian Science religion and its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, one day while I was doing some volunteer cataloging at the Congregational Library in Boston. The Congregational Library is a small research library run by the headquarters of the Congregationalist Church; it's located in a beautiful space in a historic neighborhood, steps away from the Massachusetts State House. So I was cataloging some books in their small collection on the Christian Science religion when I took the next book in my stack, opened it up and saw that Mark Twain was the author. Huh? Mark Twain? Naturally I was intrigued.

I read the first couple of chapters and laughed so much my supervisor came out of her office to ask me if I was okay. Yeah, I'm okay, just enjoying my job way more than I should! Later on I found a used paperback copy and picked up again after you all voted for the book. The beginning of the book tells a fictional first person account of a man injured in a bizarre accident in Europe, who is ministered to by a visiting Christian Science lady. She tells him that his injuries and his pain are imaginary and that he will be cured as soon as he can accept that fact. The narrator tries to take her advice but finds his outwardly jutting bones do not oblige. And so begins a very strong, biting, sarcastic and angry invective.

In his day Twain was very threatened by the rise of the Christian Science church. H felt that it was a sinister force, growing at an exponential rate and would inevitably take over the country. He therefore takes care to attack everything he can about the religion and especially its founder and her writings, which he finds amateurish, contradictory and puzzling. Obviously, the big takeover he predicted didn't happen, so with over a hundred years of hindsight his book seems not just dated but almost silly. For this reason I found myself getting bored, and I decided not to finish it. I thought, okay, Mark Twain has lots of material with which to attack Mary Baker Eddy. Got it.

So what then? Is the book merely a curiousity or does it have something to teach us? I started writing this review thinking I would palm it off as a historical artifact but that's the interesting thing about writing- sometimes it takes you somewhere you didn't expect. In a sense the book is just an artifact and curiousity, an example of Mark Twain's pithy prose, if you're into that kind of thing. And on that level it's interesting enough.

I think it's something more. It's also a reminder to always scrutinize, always question, always look beneath the surface. Maybe Christian Science didn't turn out to be the threat to American society that Twain feared, but maybe there's something going out there now, today, and we all need to remember to ask questions and never take anything for granted. Maybe we should be out there, finding what scares us and sounding the alarm. Couldn't hurt to try. Okay, so not very deep. But still a good point.

Monday, October 22, 2007

REVIEW: You Can Run But You Can't Hide by Duane "Dog" Chapman

Published: 2007. Click on the cover to buy from your local Booksense-affiliated independent bookseller.

As I've written before, I'm a fan of the Dog. I watch the show, I admire the 'do, and I decided to read the book. The show, which follows Duane "Dog" Chapman through his days as a professional bounty hunter, is both serious and campy, showcasing Dog's talents as a bounty hunter as well as his (and his wife Beth's) considerable personal charisma. You Can Run But You Can't Hide, his autobiography, is a lot like the show. One minute, he's telling you some heartfelt anecdote about connecting with God; the next, he's describing the love of his life as "rack-tastic." Who could ask for more?

The book covers his life from childhood to the present day, as he confronts fame, spiritual growth and strides and setbacks in his fifties. The theme running throughout the book is redemption- redemption from a past that includes a first-degree murder conviction and bouts of drug use as well as chaotic relationships and a professional reputation as a loose cannon. The hunt for convicted serial rapist Andrew Luster is presented as the defining event of his career, the really big success that made him famous and earned him the respect of his peers and of the public. The two most important people in his adult life, his mother and his wife and partner Beth, are portrayed with absolute love and reverence throughout, Dog's ever-present appreciation of Beth's physical attributes not withstanding. And that stuff is just his way of showing he cares.

I had fun reading Dog's book. I think it would appeal to a lot of people- reluctant readers, fans of pop-culture, and people interested in born-again Christianity. The writing is never the point in a book like this but he tells his life story well, with emotion and humor. It's raw and personal and honest. I felt for him in his struggles with drugs, crime and abuse. The chapters on the Luster hunt were riveting. There were no big surprises- not even Dog's candid admission that he's "vain". No! Not you, Goldilocks! But it was fun. Knowing how successful he's become, it's gratifying to see him overcome his challenges with grace and gratitude and live to do a lot of good in this world. God bless you, Dog.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Just for fun

I took this from my friends' list on LiveJournal.

Book Meme!

bold; what you have read,
· italicize what you started but couldn't finish,
· and strike through what you couldn't stand.
The numbers after each one are the number of LibraryThing users who used the unread tag for that book.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (150)
Anna Karenina (133)
Crime and punishment (121)
Catch-22 (117)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (115)
Wuthering Heights (110)
The Silmarillion (104)
Life of Pi : a novel (95)
The Name of the Rose (91)
Don Quixote (92)
Moby Dick (87)
Ulysses (85)
Madame Bovary (83)
The Odyssey (83)
Pride and Prejudice (83)
Jane Eyre (80)
A Tale of Two Cities (80)
The Brothers Karamazov (80)
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies (80)
War and Peace (79)
Vanity Fair (75)
The Time Traveler's Wife (74)
The Iliad (73)
Emma (73)
The Blind Assassin (74)
The Kite Runner (72)
Mrs. Dalloway (71)
Great Expectations (70)
American Gods (68)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (68)
Atlas Shrugged (68)
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books (67)
Memoirs of a Geisha (66)
Middlesex (66)
Quicksilver (66)
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West (65)
The Canterbury tales (64)
The Historian : a novel (63)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (63)
Love In the Time of Cholera (63)
Brave New World (61)
The Fountainhead (62)
Foucault's Pendulum (62)
Middlemarch (62)
Frankenstein (59)
The Count of Monte Cristo (59)
Dracula (60)
A Clockwork Orange (59)
Anansi Boys (59)
The once and future king (57)
The Grapes of Wrath (57)
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel (58)
1984 (57)
Angels & Demons (57)
The Inferno (57)
The Satanic Verses (56)
Sense and Sensibility (55)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (55)
Mansfield Park (55)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (55)
To the Lighthouse (55)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (54)
Oliver Twist (54)
Gulliver's Travels (53)
Les misérables (53)
The Corrections (54)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (53)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (52)
Dune (51)
The Prince (51)
The Sound and the Fury (52)
Angela's Ashes : a memoir (51)
The God of Small Things (52)
A People's History of the United States : 1492-present (52)
Cryptonomicon (50)
Neverwhere (50)
A Confederacy of Dunces (50)
A Short History of Nearly Everything (50)
Dubliners (51)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (50)
Beloved (50)
Slaughterhouse-Five (49)
The Scarlet Letter (48)
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (48)
The Mists of Avalon (47)
Oryx and Crake : a novel (48)
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed (48)
Cloud Atlas (48)
The Confusion (47)
Lolita (46)
Persuasion (46)
Northanger abbey (46)
The Catcher in the Rye (46)
On the Road (46)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (46)
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything (45)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values (45)
The Aeneid (45)
Watership Down (44)
Gravity's rainbow (44)
The Hobbit (44)
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences (45)
White teeth (45)
Treasure Island (44)
David Copperfield (45)
The Three Musketeers (44)

I can't figure out how to do a strike-through but just for the record I hated- and I mean hated- The Time Traveler's Wife. And yes I know I am the only one who feels this way. So what?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's up!

Okay, I couldn't wait.

If you're interested, it's at AYearofWarandPeace.blogspot.com. It'll be a while before I dig in to the book but I set up the blog today in any case.

War and Peace

No, this isn't a review! But you can still click on the cover if you want to buy War and Peace from your local Booksense-affiliated independent bookseller.

The new translation of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is hot off the presses and I just picked up my copy this morning. Okay, that's stage one. Stage two.... Stage three- Profit! Haha just kidding.

Stage Two is reading it. Now, I have a few Big Books hanging around, but I've been hesitating to read them because it means I would have nothing to write about for a while. Like, War and Peace would take me awhile, you know? And I really want to keep this blog going strong.

So I've been looking it over, and this is what I think. Taking a page from Imp Reader (if that's okay!) I'll read it in stages, along with other things, and blog about it as I read it in another blog, tentatively titled A Year of War and Peace. I'll give myself 2008 to get through it, pacing myself- five parts, give-or-take 300 pages each- and I think it will be doable. I'll make an announcement when the second blog goes up and when I start. So for now it's business as usual. But come January 1- Ready, Set, Read!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Book News

Congratulations to Anne Enright, just-announced winner of this year's Man Booker Prize for her book The Gathering.

To learn more about the Man Booker, a very prestigious award given annually, go to their website.

REVIEW: Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

Published: 2006
Click on the cover to buy from your local Booksense-affiliated independent bookseller.

A short story about a village contained in a purse. A house where possessions and body parts become haunted. Intermarriage among the living and the dead. A supernatural soap opera within a soap opera. Magic for Beginners isn't a typical read for me.

I first heard of Kelly Link at this year's American Library Association conference, at a session on emerging young writers. The speaker likened her work to that of Neil Gaiman, a fantasy writer I don't know well. I try to follow up on conferences by reading because I think it's important for me professionally and because I love to learn. So when I got home I picked up a copy of Magic for Beginners, not quite knowing what to expect.

Magic for Beginners is Link's second volume of short stories. I liked it. I didn't love it, but I liked it. The stories are creative, original and unusual. They are set mostly in the here-and-now, in recognizable cities and suburbs and don't require a lot of exposition to get started. One story is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, another in a convenience store, and another in a nameless, generic suburb. When they're not set in the real world, Link sketches the setting economically, using familiar tropes (like witches) to get the reader started. Into every setting Link's premises swirl together elements of reality and fantasy so seamlessly the reader can almost take it for granted. Well of course there is an opening to the zombie world right outside that store, you think as you read "The Hortlak"; obviously. Her slightly blase tone makes it easy to be seduced.

But be careful, because beneath that matter-of-fact surface there's something more going on. Metaphor, for example. Is the story about the lost handbag containing Grandma's village really a story about searching for lost heritage? And what about that not-quite-neutral third-person narrator who pops up again and again? In the story "The Great Divorce," a living man is divorcing his dead wife. Near the end of the story (and I'm not giving anything away here), the narrator says, "Even as I've been telling you this story, I haven't described things exactly as they went on. I haven't been honest about the dead people in this story, about how the dead carry on." What? The narrator's abrupt intrusion shocked me out of my readerly complacency. On one hand, this admission of bias raises the specter of racism in how the dead are portrayed; on the other hand, the narrator is asking the reader a deeper question about the very purpose of writing, or of reading. Why tell this story this way if it's a lie? Why read it? Of course it's fiction so there is no "truth" anyway, so how does it undermine the very endeavor of reading and writing when a narrator in a fictional story admits that he/she's lying? Or does it?

I enjoyed the opportunity to toy with some larger questions but overall I have admit that Link's laid back tone in some of the stories, like "Stone Animals," about the haunted house, just didn't hold my attention. I wasn't always sure where they were going, or where they ended up. When Link's fine weave of tones and realities worked for me, in stories like "Catskin," "The Faery Handbag" and the title story, the book was something close to magic.



P.S. If you like this style of mixing realism with elements of the fantastical, you might check out some of A.S. Byatt's short stories, particularly those in Elementals and Little Black Book of Stories. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Search Engine Review: Covering Photography

Covering Photography is a search engine I heard about in a recent edition of Research Buzz, a great newsletter that comes out every week. If you don't have a subscription and you're interested in keeping up with the world of search I highly recommend it.

But anyway. Covering Photography covers book covers- the photographs on them, anyway. From the home page:
Covering Photography is a web-based archive and resource for the study of the relationship between the history of photography and book cover design. The images / book covers contained in our database may be accessed via a number of categories including by Photographer, Author, Publisher, Publication Date and Designer.
It's a neat little resource. The home page is illustrated to look like a flattened book cover. It features a keyword search and allows users to browse by photographer, author, publisher, publication date and designer. There's no information on the about page as to the specifics of the scope or coverage, but from browsing I can see that the database covers classic authors like Thomas Hardy, bestsellers like John Grisham, literary highbrows like Margaret Atwood and popular figures like Pamela Anderson. Publication dates range from 1949 to the present although not every date in that range is represented.

Searching by keyword seems a little tricky. I'm not sure how keywords or search terms are assigned to the covers and it took me a few tries to get results. The words that seemed to work best were terms that described the photos rather than terms of images that appear in the photos- "nude" worked well, for example; "cat" did not. Terms that describe the genre of the books worked well also, like "poetry" or "mystery". Keyword searches will also pull results from words in the title. The advanced search allows a user to exclude words and search by phrase, also helpful. Users can also search by phrase in the simple search by enclosing the terms with quotation marks.

If a user browses the results come back as a list of cover photos; if the user is searching by keyword or in advanced mode, results come back as a text-based list of titles. Since the engine is meant as a database of photos, I think it would be neat to present all results by cover photo instead. But as the creator says in the about page, it's a work in progress so maybe that's something we have to look forward to.

Covering Photography is likely a good resource for photography and book professionals; for the average, non-pro bibliophile, it's a fun resource for browsing and time-killing. Go take a look.


Monday, October 15, 2007

REVIEW: Monumental Propaganda by Vladimir Voinovich

Published: 2006. Click on the cover to buy from your local Booksense-affiliated independent bookseller.

Okay, Monumental Propaganda is not hot off the presses. But it was my favorite book of 2006 and I decided to review it on the blog after looking at my LibraryThing account and seeing that only 17 other people on LibraryThing owned this book. 17? Seriously? Monumental Propaganda is a terrific book. Everyone should read it. Why aren't more people reading it?

Probably because they've not heard of it, where is where I come in (I hope!). I picked up Monumental Propaganda last year because I'm always drawn to things Russian and have made a habit over the last few years of reading or rereading one of those Big Book Classics (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pasternak, etc.) every year and thought, hey, a new book. This could be cool.

And cool it was. Actually better than cool. Like I said, it was my favorite book last year. It's a satire, about a Stalinist true-believer named Aglaya Revkina who is having a hard time adjusting to the Khrushchev era, and is shocked and dismayed by the paper-thin allegiances of her Communist brethren. For Aglaya, Stalin was more than a man, more than a leader- he was a movement, a hero, and something like a god. She manages to alienate herself from her fellow Party members and slowly thereafter from society in general, after she takes a giant iron statue of her hero from the town square and locks it up in her apartment.

Over the years the statue takes on almost religious meaning for her and she sacrifices everything else in her life- career, money, love- to keep it. Told in parallel is the story of one Mark Shubkin, a Jewish dissident intellectual and writer, portrayed as a kind of a poor-man's Soltzhenitsyn, who lives in the same building along with his mistress Antonina. They make a colorful couple and their life on the other side of the Soviet equation- the outsiders- has its own ups and downs. Aglaya's and Shubkin's fortunes are told against the backdrop of Soviet history from the 1960s until the 1990s and we get to see how the changes in Russia affect them both.

Sounds awfully serious but like I said, it's a satire, so while there are serious themes running beneath the book, there is also a lot of humor and humanity. Aglaya, for all her nuttiness, is portrayed as a woman whose logic and motivations are clear and consistent, even as they lead her to greater and greater ruin. She tries so hard to adapt to changing circumstances but she just can't do it. I really enjoyed the way Voinovich plays out her story against all the huge changes that took place in Russia during the 30-odd year period he covers and shows just what would happen to someone in her position- and therefore the kinds of things that probably did happen to a lot of people. It's a great way to explain history to an outsider- throw into the mix an exaggerated, hapless-yet-determined character with iron-clad beliefs and will to survive it all. And survive it she does, right to the bitter end.

Monumental Propaganda is a rollicking good time of a satirical novel about serious subjects. Aglaya's unshakable determination coupled with Voinovich's lively prose will keep you reading as she navigates her way from the totalitarianism of the Stalin era through the anarchy of the post-Soviet years. When the end finally came I felt like it came too soon, only because that's how much I enjoyed her story.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A bit of book news worth noting

Doris Lessing, author of many books including The Golden Notebook and most recently The Cleft, which I reviewed here, has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. NPR covered the story here and you can find out more information by going to DorisLessing.org or her page at Wikipedia. According to the NPR article is she only the 11th woman to ever win the Nobel Prize for Literature. See also the official page of the Nobel Prize for more information on the prize itself and its history. Brava Doris!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cool!


I just found out I won a copy of The Awakened Mage, second and final volume in a two-part series that began with The Innocent Mage. Both are published by Orbit Books and the contest was held over at The Book Swede.
As usual you can click on the cover for more info or to buy from a Booksense-affiliated independent bookseller.
Thanks Chris!

Book Shopping

Lately it's felt like the world has been conspiring against me. The world does not want me to read You Can Run But You Can't Hide by Duane "Dog" Chapman. Yes, I want to read the Dog's autobiography. I'm not just all about Serious Good Literature. And I'm a fan- what can I say? The flowing blond tresses, the huge biceps, the way he uses his intelligence and skills to make the world a better place... He's Fabio Hawaiian-style, a man who must spend as much time with his bottle of conditioner as he spends with his personal trainer. I've been watching his show on A&E for several months. It's irresistible.

So onto my own search, for his book. I have had it listed on my Bookmooch wishlist for several weeks with no bites. It's not highbrow enough for my usual bookstore haunts. I am unwilling to make a special order for a current hardback that should be no problem to find. The public library near my workplace doesn't have it. Barnes and Noble had it, but I couldn't find it, and I couldn't find a staff member to help me. It was shelved in Sociology/Criminology which doesn't make any sense, because it's an autobiography. But whatever. What do I know, I'm just a librarian. And then I went to Borders last night, which I know has it, and I know where it is- on the first floor, in the Television section. Except there was no one working there! I'm sure there was someone, somewhere but no one I could find, no one near the two large checkout counters. No one wandering the aisles. No one!

So I ordered it from Amazon. And I say to Dog's book: you can run, but you can't hide.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

REVIEW: Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo. Published 2007 by Algonquin. Literary Fiction.

Breakfast with Buddha is the new novel from Massachusetts-based writer Roland Merullo, which takes as its subject the angst of the upper-middle-class American man, specifically one who must take a road trip with his sister's Russian New-Age guru. Otto Ringling is a well-off publishing executive from suburban New York whose parents have recently died, leaving him and his hippy-ish sister a valuable homestead in North Dakota. In order to settle the estate he must go out there and transact some business; his sister is afraid to fly and insists that he undertake the trip in the company of one Volya Rinpoche, a monk of unclear religious leanings. Otto is not pleased, but he's a good guy and agrees, and the trip is not what he expects.

I have been a fan of Roland Merullo's for several years, ever since I read Revere Beach Boulevard, one of three books in his Revere Beach Trilogy. Revere Beach Boulevard is a compassionate novel about a blue-collar Italian-American family in transition and in trouble and compassionate is the key word because it characterizes much of Merullo's writing. Revere is a working-class town in northeastern Massachusetts near where I grew up, and I know how easy a target its denizens make for snobbery and derision but Merullo really treats his characters with care and respect, and the same is true with Breakfast with Buddha. Otto and Rinpoche could both have easily been caricatures- a clueless yuppie and a Froot Loop off on a road trip. Instead they are both believable and likable, flawed but kind and sensitive to the world around them.

You can probably tell, but I liked this book a lot. Merullo is a very skilled writer and as I said, draws his characters with compassion and sensitivity. One thing I like to do when I'm done reading first-person stories of personal transformation is to re-read the first chapter or two, to see the way the narrator introduces the story. In this kind of book the beginning is also the end- the character has already lived the story and the transformation has already taken place when it opens, so it is worthwhile, after having experienced the story, to see how the narrator talks about what for him has already happened. In this case I saw on this second reading something like embarrassment on Otto's part, a very modest self-effacement that I found endearing. The only flaw I found was the sense I had about 7/8 of the way through that Otto's transformation came on a little quickly, but re-reading the beginning dispelled this impression a little or at least softened it with the sense that okay, yes, it's a believably ongoing process. Anyway it's a charming, sweet, beautifully written book. Go read it.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.