Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Drawing pictures of characters that make you throw up in your mouth just a little
Here's two book reviews that I need to add to the ether.  One with tons of press, one a fictional version of a heavy topic regarding newspapers.  Tenuous connection to toss out as an intro - my apologies.

"Game Change" by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is that truly rare political journalism book - one that is good enough to stand on the writing alone.  But in this case there is also a great deal of well-crafted narrative there.  Obviously.  The stunning thing about "Game Change" for me is that while they don't craft new character profiles (everyone already knows the personalities of Obama, the Clintons, the Edwards, McCain, and Palin), they absolutely NAIL the air in the room around them.  You can see and feel what they're like.  That's great reporting.  Any political junkie in your life that hasn't read this must be instructed to do so immediately.  For all the journalism that I read, I'll nonetheless admit that this book shaped my view of all those players more than anything I've read since 2007.  My rating - a strong A-minus.

"The Imperfectionists" by Tom Rachman is the sort of novel I generally love.  Hot, topical, smart, full of characters that surprise and impress.  I tore through it, compared to my usual limp while being too easily distracted by a half dozen other things I'm reading.  It's not long, and the writing for a first novel is, without a doubt, impressive.  It reminded me of Colson Whitehead's first book ("The Intuitionist").  That's a double-edged sword.  Because in both cases, I wanted desperately to see what they'd do next, while not being especially thrilled with the way I felt after this book was done.  For completely different reasons, mind you.  Rachman paints a vivid, cleverly formatted picture of a dying newspaper and the largely horrible people that orbit around that institution's rotting core.  Early on, I was knocked flat and happy by how well he drew his characters - introduced and covered deeply in each section, then dropped completely unless by incidental references in other sections.  Then I began to hate how cynical the pictures were that he'd painted.  Eventually I wanted to tell him to knock it off.  At the end, I tossed the book aside and muttered something not especially nice about the time spent getting dicked around.  So I can't recommend it.  I give it a C-rating.  If only judged by the quality of the writing, I'd give him at least a B-plus.  But the people he draws - oh gawd, that's at best a high-D.  Which I feel sort of bad about, because I was rooting for this author big time going in.

Hope your own double-sided coin is good either way today.  Rock on.

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