Tuesday, January 04, 2005


"The Corrections," by Jonathen Franzen
I started this book in an airport holding pen (er, "passenger lounge") and it kept me reasonably entertained through the flight. However, when I got home, I found that I just couldn't finish it. I can't say why, maybe I got frustrated with all the talking talking talking and absolutely nothing happening. Yes, the dad has Parkinson's, the kids are maladjusted, but...then what? I can't explain why I can race through some books and other books (like this one) just draaaaag oooooon. So I'll try and give this one another shot later.

"Bridget Jones's Diary," by Helen Fielding
This was a desparation move on my part, because I was getting a ride into work almost every day this month (and on many days, a ride back from work too), so my reading time was severely curtailed and I found that the only thing I was managing to read were magazines and newspapers and breezy little books like this one. I do like this book though, even though I think it helped to spawn the most unfortunate genre of literature ever to hit the bookshelves: "Chick Lit." (See: Any book with a cover featuring 1.) a predominantly pink color scheme 2) a picture of legs in high heels on the cover 3.) or a shapely woman's torso 3.) or giant red lips 4.) or some faceless woman carrying some shitload of shopping bags from designer stores. That's "Chick Lit." Also, thanks a lot for your nefarious influence on this trend, "Sex and the City.") I think Bridget is a funny, sympathetic character, even though she is a bit pathetic at times. Also, what are these salmon pinwheels they keep talking about? I must try them!

"The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004," by Dave Eggers
This is a book that breaks off into nice, bite-sized chunks, though as I noted, I wish they included more non-fiction pieces like in their previous collections. I do applaud their decision to include at least one graphic story a year, though, and I thought this year's "Poor Sailor" was an especially fine choice.

"Geisha: A Life," by Mineko Iwasaki
Reading this book, you can see where Arthur Golden got a lot of his source material for "Memoirs of a Geisha." So maybe reading those two books back to back is a tad repetitive. But this book is non-fiction, and therefore devoid of all that drama in "Memoirs" if you don't like that kind of thing, what with the Chairman and her sister running away and Hatsumomo going ballistic all the time.

"Salt: A World History," by Mark Kurlansky
This is a fairly interesting read, in that History Channel kind of way. I would classify it as an excellent gift for the foodie in your life--I gave a copy of it to my dad for Christmas, along with the companion piece "Cod: The Biography of the Fish That Changed the World." (That, as you can imagine, is a book about the history of codfish, also by the same author.) But maybe it's telling that while I enjoyed "Salt," I didn't actually rush out and buy a copy of "Cod" for myself. There's only so much I can read about the ancient Chinese dredging up salt ponds and the history of pickled foods.

Friday, November 12, 2004


"The Fortress of Solitude" by Jonathan Lethem
I don't know why I couldn't get into this book. I just thought it was boring. I haven't finished it, it's still on my nightstand, but I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to give it another go just yet.

"The Rule of Four" by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
I read this book out of curiosity, because one of the authors was a year ahead of me at my med school, and given that the book was so prominently displayed in every book store I wandered past, I wondered what all the ballyhoo was about. A good book with an interesting plot--obvious comparisons have been drawn between this book and Dan Brown's stuff, but there's a lot more interpersonal and emotional development that's much more thoughtful than what Brown is putting out. Of course, with all this chit-chat about feelings, it also a lot less exciting.

"The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll" by Jean Nathan
This book is straight-up People magazine fodder. Part biography, part gothic novel, part psychoanalysis, it's a book you can read in one sitting and still have room for a few magazine articles afterwards. But it did leave with with a definitely unsettled, creepy feeling.

"Box Office Poison" by Alex Robinson
This is another great graphic novel because it creates an intricate community of friends and acquaintances with believable characters and real lives, from the mundane to the earth-shattering and everything in between. And, it's a whopper of a book that'll take you at least a few days to finish. I like that. Also recommended is the after-thought sequel/prequel/outtakes volume, "BOP!"

"Magical Thinking" by Augusten Burroughs
As always, entertaining, but this is Burroughs as his most Sedaris-like. Not to say that all gay men with long-term partners writing about their lives in New York are all the same, but the tone he strikes between humor and horrified introspection is very similar to that of our ex-pat in Paris. But hey, there's room for both of them.

"Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden
Much more absorbing than I thought it would have been. An interesting history lesson, a peek into the inner workings of a secret society, and a little romance. The romance was my least favorite part, and I thought the happy ending was very pat, but the rest of it was fascinating.


"Carnet de Voyage" by Craig Thompson
From the author of "Blankets," which is one of the most acclaimed graphic novels in recent years (deservingly so, I think). There's nothing earth-shattering about this book--it's neither a follow-up or an extension of "Blankets," more of a sketchbook that his editors probably pressured him to publish due to all his recent commercial success. But the art is beautiful, and there's some interesting travel writing in there, so why the hell not?

"The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger
I'm not a big romance story buff by any means. But this is a beautiful book. It's a little confusing at times, following the non-linear story told in a linear way, but it all comes together very nicely in the end. I was getting all anxious near the end of the book, because there's such a palpable sense of forboding--you just know something's going to happen, and it kills you that you can't tell what that something is--but I love a story that really sucks you in like that. I missed my stop on the subway because of this book. And no, I didn't cry at the end, but I can see how you would.

"Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown
I will not be the first to note that this is almost exactly the same setup as "The Da Vinci Code". Be that as it may, here's another good beach book, suspenseful and absorbing and (again) a little bit educational. And while I totally thought I had guessed the major plot twist, I was completely wrong.

"The Diary of a Teenage Girl" by Phoebe Gloeckner
I thought this was going to be a comic when I ordered it, but it's actually mostly prose, with illustrations and occasional comic strip interludes. I like this book because it's very honest, despite a lot of the ugliness that she writes about.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


"Candyfreak" by Steve Almond
In the vein of "Fast Food Nation," here's another book that exposes the monopoly of big money and politics in the food industry. But it's actually much more personal than "Fast Food Nation," almost a memoir of one man and his life-long love affair with candy. Sweet, sweet candy. He's pretty unembarassed about it all too, there are scenes in the book where he's just sitting in his car or in some seedy motel room cramming free candy samples down his gullet.

"My New York Diary" by Julie Doucet
Of all her books, I think I like this one the best, probably because it's a graphic novel in longer narrative form, not just short one-pagers like in "Leve Ta Jambe Mon, Poisson Est Mort!". I also appreciate the art--I think she does lithographic prints, but I'm not really art savvy enough to say for sure.

"Beg the Question" by Bob Fingerman
Heh. "Fingerman." Another great slice-of-life graphic novel, similar to "Box Office Poison" in terms of the characters and the focus, only there's a lot more sex in it. I like his art, it's very substantial and he takes a lot of time with the little details, like layout and background.

"When I'm Old and Other Stories" by Gabrielle Bell
Eh, nothing especially memorable about this book. In fact, I'm having a hard time remembering enough to even talk about it.

"The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown
Even though I was all snooty and shamefaced about reading this book, because it's almost like a stereotype, someone reading "The Da Vinci Code" on the subway or in an airport lounge--I have to say this book was suitably thrilling to earn it's reputation. I mean, don't get me wrong, the characterizations were often hackneyed, and the writing wasn't brilliant or anything like that, but it was a page-turner and exciting and even somewhat educational. What else do you want from a book anyway? Free gum?

"Scrapbook: Uncollected Work: 1990-2004" by Adrian Tomine
I love Adrian Tomine and I will buy any damn thing he puts out. Period. I don't usually buy art books, but I do love his style which (as I've mentioned before) has a flavor of Edward Hopper. More on Adrian Tomine in my entry on favorite comics.


"1984" by George Orwell
This is another one in my roster of all-time favorites, a book I will have to read at least twice a year every year--some might say compulsively. Especially chilling and applicable during these scary political times. War in Iraq's going great, you say? I suppose they're increasing our chocolate rations as well.

"House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski
I have to split this books into two parts--the first part, which is written in a relatively normal narrative (well, a split narrative, with the footnotes), and the second part, where the book goes crazy. I liked the first part a lot, I thought it was spooky and atmospheric, and I liked the premise. But the book kind of lost me in the second part. Most of the reading I do is on the subway, I don't have the patience or ability to read a book with only one word on each page, or printed upside-down, or which requires me to hold up the text to a mirror in order to decipher what's written. My sister (who gave me the book as a birthday present), says that there are whole college classes dedicated to just getting through the book. I could have used one of those classes, I think.

"Iron Wok Jan! Vol. 1 - 9" by Shinji Saijo
I gave a rather full review of "Iron Wok Jan" in this entry. Suffice it to say, I love this comic, and can't wait until they translate further volumes into English. Apparently, there are whole libraries of Japanese comics about food and cooking, although this is the only one available not in either Chinese or Japanese. There are even whole multiple volume comic series written about one specific type of food--fish, for example, or noodles, or sushi. The Japanese love their food.

"Complications" by Atul Gawande
More medical non-fiction, this time written by a surgeon surprisingly unabashed about admitting how much of what he does is guesswork or blind luck. Very well written, as you would expect--he's a regular contributor to The New Yorker.

"Dry" by Augusten Burroughs
I think this book is probably his best. I liked it better than "Running with Scissors" because it seemed more grounded in real life, like something that could happen to anyone. ("Running with Scissors" was so bizarre and grotesque that it made me itch.) And interesting from a health care practitioner point of view, into the psychology of substance abuse.

"Running with Scissors" by Augusten Burroughs
I guess I re-read this one after "Dry" as sort of a compendium piece. See what I just wrote above. I did like it in the end, though--it's fascinating and horrible, like a traffic accident. Some of those stories were so outlandish I almost had to wonder if he was making them up. I know I've said in the past that he's a poor man's David Sedaris, but at this rate (with all three of his books prominently displayed next to the door at every Barnes and Noble in Manhattan) he may become the rich man's David Sedaris.


"Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" by David Sedaris
Can I tell you, the first thing I do when I get my New Yorker in the mail is flip to the "contributors" section, to see if David Sedaris has a story in the magazine that week. I have a crush on David Sedaris, and must eliminate his partner Hugh so that I can live together with him in France. That said, "Dress Your Family..." is not among his best (that honor would probably go to "Me Talk Pretty One Day") nor his most innovative--makes me wonder if he's running out of stories from his famously colorful past to write about. However, some of his stories, like "The Ship Shape," have a story of melancholy and adult retrospection that adds a layer of depth that some of his earlier stories lack or skip over. One thing I would suggest for the die-hard Sedaris fan, though, is to get his audio book box set. Especially if you're the type that says, "what the hell is all the big fuss about David Sedaris? I don't think he's that funny at all!" Sedaris reads all his own stories, and does all the own voices (though he occasionally brings sister Amy in to help out with some of the characters). Then you'll get it.

"The Dogs of Babel" by Carolyn Parkhurst
I had no idea whether or not I was going to like this book, because the premise seemed a little fantastical, and I don't know if I like the fantastical. But in the end, I really enjoyed it. It delves a lot into the culture of grief, and it's a mystery at its core, albeit a low-grade mystery. And I like dogs.

"Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi
Despite my aforementioned predilection for medical non-fiction, my favorite books are ones that take you completely into the life of someone in a world completely different from your own. I could never even conceive of what it would be like to live as a child in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, and now I have somewhat of a sense--I would have a childhood both strikingly different and curiously similar to my own. I also admire Satrapi for choosing to write the book as a comic. It would have fared well as a more conventional novel, but is extraordinary in graphic form. A particularly a good for people who liked "Maus".

"McSweeney's Quarterly, 13th ed." from McSweeney's
A great one for the comics enthusiast. Excerpts and short stories from all the best and the brightest, along with several non-graphic pieces about the history of comics in America. And with a cover designed by Chris Ware! Make sure you take it off and unfold it to appreciate the full spread.

"Aching for Beauty" by Wang Ping
Eh, I was interested in the topic of footbinding, but this was a little like reading a textbook. Some interesting analysis and history, but it's not really a story by any means.''

"Found" by Davy Rothbart
A compilation from "Found" magazine. Cute, funny, and very sad in places. Makes me think about the things we throw out, and what kind of picture people could create of me if they went through my cast-offs.

"The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers
I thought this book was boring and abandoned it before finishing. Oh ye of the short attention span.


"Drinking, A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp
This book was a giveaway from the Addiction Counseling Office during my first year of med school, so if course I assumed that it would be preachy crap. It isn't. It's a very honest picture of addiction and recovery (like a less-funny version of Augusten Burroughs's "Dry", but equally harrowing), and it has a can't-put-it-down quality. I've read it at least six or seven times by this point.

"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman
If there was some way that I could have the power to choose required reading for medical students in this country, I would choose two books: "And The Band Played On" by Randy Shilts, and this book. Fadiman's book took so much love and work to write, and is such an eye-opener, both to people working in cross-cultural practices and to anyone whose ever laid hand on a patient of any background. The story was particularly applicable to Pediatrics, I thought, though really practitioners in any field could find something to take away. And I thought it was interesting to learn about Hmong history and culture, because I never really knew much about the Hmong, only that sometimes people would ask me if I was from Laos in the typical attempt to classify my Asian-ness.

"Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss
Cute, a nice gift book, but nothing earth-shattering here. It's funny to see how lathered up she gets about punctuation, though. And it was a nice little grammar review. I was never very good at grammar in high school. I mean, I know good or bad grammar when I see it, but I can't parse a sentence to save my life (and I hope I won't ever have to).

"Walk on Water" by Michael Ruhlman
This was my month to read non-fiction, apparently. This is a good book for anyone who enjoys science or medical writing, but again might be particularly interesting for those in Pediatrics. It describes some of the cardiac anomalies and corrective surgeries in an incredibly clear way--really, some of the best explanations I've heard without help from a diagram. We have a Roger Mee-like figure at our hospital too (he's actually mentioned in the book), so it was interesting from that behind-the-scenes standpoint as well.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon
This is a quirky little book--very different that what I thought it was going to be--that somehow avoids the pitfalls of authors who write about psychiatric illness. He could have been too cute about it, or condescending, or exploitative, or just downright tasteless, but he's none of these. It's touching and genuine (so far as I can tell, not being autistic myself), and I really enjoyed it. When I was reading it for the first time, I noted on the main page that "there are some books like this one that you enjoy so much, you just want to gulp them down".

"Singular Intimacies" by Danielle Ofri
Again with the medical non-fiction. What was with me this month? Anyway, I think it's a pretty safe wager that if you like reading all these medical blogs out there, and you like watching "Scrubs" on TV (not "ER," that show no longer counts because it is totally fake), then you will like this book. An honest and unvarnished look at what it's like to be a medical student and resident at a big city hospital, and the evolution from one end of the spectrum to the other. The thing that impressed me the most about this book is how willing the author was of letting us see her foibles. All her mistakes, her fumbles, her uncertainties, her ugly moments, she puts right out there before us. This is admirable. Personally, I would have had to seriously had to hold myself back from tweaking certain stories to make myself look better.

"Ghost World" by Daniel Clowes
My favorite Daniel Clowes book. It might also be a good way to break into the comics scene if you haven't read a lot about comic or are laboring under the misconception that it's all about Green Lantern and Batman. More of my opinions on "Ghost World" and comics in general in this entry.