Publisher: Random House, 2009
Genre: Fiction, Literary
Where I Got It: Bought it for my Kindle
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Brief Description: This is not an easy book to summarize. The basic idea is that, on August 4, 1974, a tightrope artist named Phillippe Petit illicitly walked across a wire stretched between the towers of the World Trade Centers in New York City. (This really happened by the way. Look at the photo below.) All around the city, people were buzzing about what Petit was doing. Using this unusual event as the backdrop for the book, McCann weaves together a series of stories involving a priest and his brother, a pair of mother/daughter prostitutes, a young artist and his wife, the judge who hears Petit’s case and his wife, and a group of mothers who have lost their sons in Vietnam. Like Petit in the book, McCann is performing a high wire act of his own—attempting to balance multiple stories on what begins to feel like a razor-thin wire.
My Thoughts: This book is an example of a new type of sub-genre that C.B. James recently discussed in his review of Ivan and Mischa: books told via “a series of interconnected short stories.” (Other examples of this sub-genre include A Visit from the Goon Squad and Olive Kitteridge.) However, unlike A Visit from the Goon Squad—which felt fresh and exciting and new (if not a little confusing)—I thought this book wasn’t well served by the interlinked stories style. First of all, the first story involving the priest John Corrigan felt way too long. We spend so much time getting to know him, that when McCann shifts to another story, it was very jarring and abrupt. Plus, it takes quite some time for all the stories to come together and intersect—almost until the last third of the book. Finally, I thought McCann overdid it on the interconnections between the characters. By having seemingly EVERYONE in the book end of up being connected in some way, it made New York City seem like a small town where everyone knows everyone else. This felt so unrealistic to me, and I just couldn’t buy into the story. So although I recognize what he was trying to do with this book, I think that (unlike Phillippe Petit) McCann stumbles and falls. Still, it was an interesting read, and I’m glad I gave it a try.
I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Where I Got It: Bought it
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: Kilmer-Purcell’s first memoir (before the The Bucolic Plague) chronicles his days as a drag queen named Aqua and his doomed love affair with a crack addicted male escort who specializes in S&M. The relationship between Josh and his boyfriend Jack is the heart of the book, and it shines brightly before exploding into a supernova of pain, addiction and loss.
My Thoughts: Kilmer-Purcell seems to have lived enough lives to fill many memoirs. Although it was hard to reconcile the Josh in this book (alcoholic ad man by day and drag queen by night) with the bumbling but persevering gentleman farmer of his second memoir, his wickedly sense of humor and self-depreciation was instantly familiar. Frankly, I’m impressed that Josh survived the days chronicled in this book long enough to transform himself into one of the Beekman Boys. Although this memoir is often really funny and fascinating in a “let’s see how the other more flamboyant half” lives sort of way, it is also filled self-destructive behavior that I found both compelling and horrifying. (I must warn you that this book isn’t for everyone. If graphic descriptions of gay sex, S&M, or drug use offends your sensibilities, steer clear!) Although Jack and Josh don’t live anything near a conventional lifestyle, their love affair feels doomed in a tragic Romeo and Juliet sort of way. And just because the heart being broken belongs to a 6-foot drag queen who keeps live goldfish in his corset doesn’t make this story any less affecting, emotional or touching.
Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer
Publisher: Anchor, 2011
Where I Got It: Bought it for my Kindle
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: In this 30,000 word short-form book (which you can download from Byliner.com for your e-reader or as an audio book), journalist Jon Krakauer documents the result of his investigation into Greg Mortenson’s various misdeeds and deceptions. If you don’t know already, Mortenson is the author of the best-selling book Three Cups of Tea and the founder of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which was created to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the years since his book was published, Mortenson has been a tireless advocate for the CAI and his books—raking in millions of dollars in donations. (Krakauer himself donated $55,000 to Mortenson’s cause.) However, when questions were raised about Mortenson’s management style and financial dealings, Krakauer felt compelled to investigate. The results of that investigation are documented in this book. Krakauer makes a damning case against Mortenson—exposing a series of falsehoods from Mortenson’s books (the most shocking being that Mortenson’s kidnapping by the Taliban NEVER HAPPENED!) and how Mortenson used the CAI as “his own personal ATM” and as a vehicle for augmenting his own profile and personal wealth. In addition, Krakauer exposes how numerous schools built by the CAI are “ghost schools”—sitting empty and abandoned due to lack of support and staff.
My Thoughts: Although I haven’t read Three Cups of Tea, my parents and brother were ardent supporters of Mortenson and his organization. When I saw this book, I knew I had to read it—not only because I respect Jon Krakauer as a person and a journalist, but because I knew how much Mortenson’s work had affected my parents and brother. When I told my brother I was reading this book, he asked to read it too. Despite his admiration for Krakauer, he was convinced that Three Cups of Deceit would not change his opinion about Mortenson. However, after reading it, his mind was changed …. and he felt as deceived as Krakauer and countless other Mortenson supporters. If you’ve read Three Cups of Tea or Mortenson’s other books or made a donation to the CAI, I urge you to read this book to fully understand the degree of fraud, deceit and financial misdeeds perpetuated by Mortenson. I’m sure Krakauer and other Mortenson supporters wish this wasn’t a book that had to be written, but I think it is best for all involved to get the truth out there.
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