Because I must compulsively write a review for each book I’ve read this year, I am pushing through and catching up on all the books I read in 2012 but didn’t review. Don’t worry … these reviews will all be short and sweet and to the point.The Devil In The White City written by Erik Larson and read by Scott Brick Genre: Non-Fiction, History Why I Read It: So many bloggers raved about this book that I crumbled and listened to it, even though I was CONVINCED I wouldn’t like it. I was wrong. My Rating: 4.5 stars
Larson found two fascinating but disparate stories that happened concurrently (the creation of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and a serial killer who was murdering women just blocks from the fair site) and wove them together without letting one overshadow the other. This is how I like my history (weird, accessible, contextual), and I see why everyone raved about this book. Scott Brick was a brilliant narrator, but since I listened on audio, I had to Google photos of the fair and the killer to get the visuals that Larson so eloquently described. You know when the building of a fair and the building of a killing room are equally riveting that you’re in the hands of a good writer.After The Quake written by Haruki Murakami Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Literary Why I Read It: To further my quest to discover Murakami’s weird side My Rating: 4 stars
A collection of six short stories dealing (tangentially) with the 1995 earthquake in Kobe that killed 6,000 people, After The Quake is unusual and subtle. The stories don’t deal directly with the quake but reference it and its aftershocks as they reverberate through the lives of the characters. Most of the stories were somber and understated, but there was a really weird one (Super Frog Saves Tokyo) that highlights Murakami’s weird side that everyone talks about. Still, it is the sadness and the longing and brokenness that linger after you’re done reading and not the giant talking frog. I suspect this might be a good introduction to Murakami, but since I’m still a Murakami neophyte, I’m not sure.Gang Leader for A Day by Sudhir Venkatish Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir Why I Read It: The author’s work was mentioned in Freakonomics My Rating: 4 stars
As a first-year sociology grad student at the University of Chicago, Sudhir Venkatish took his research on life in inner-city gangs to extremes when he befriended JT, the leader of a division of the Black Kings in Chicago’s notorious Robert Taylor projects. Venkatish ended up spending 7 years (!!) observing the intricacies of gang life and the lives of the urban poor, and this book documents that experience. I imagine that Venkatish went far beyond what was required for his thesis, and the line between sociologist and friend often blurred. The result is a fascinating look at a world that many of us probably know nothing about. I admire Venkatish’s work, which shines a light on the contradictory life and strange interdependence of gangs and the communities they live in.Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles and read by Mark Bramhall Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Why I Read It: Can’t really recall … I think the title drew me in My Rating: 4 stars
The entire book is in the form of protracted letter(s) to American Airlines by Bennie Ford. Bennie has found himself stranded at an airport (thanks to those nice folks at American!) and is writing to express his displeasure. Along the way, we learn about Bennie’s life and why it is so critical that he makes his flight. I listened to this on audio, and Mark Bramhall has this giant, booming, Southern-inflected voice that came to personify Bennie for me. It was a top-notch narration (which felt more like a performance than a narration), and I think audio might be the way to go on this one. At turns funny and heartbreaking, the story was surprisingly involving.Heft written by Liz Moore and read by Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Why I Read It: Another case where everyone was gaga over this book so I had to check it out. My Rating: 4 stars
Arthur Opp is a morbidly obese ex-professor who hasn’t left his Brooklyn brownstone for years. Kel Keller is a 17-year-old baseball prodigy whose education at a posh private school is at odds with his poverty-stricken home life. The connection between these two strangers becomes clear during the course of the book,with the narration alternating between Arthur and Kel. (I listened to this on audiobook, and, in a stroke of genius, they had two separate narrators for Arthur and Kel.) The book tiptoes up to the point where our two protagonists are on the cusp of a new relationship and then quietly shuts the door. This is a quiet book about loneliness, taking chances on other people, and moving out of your comfort zone. It is definitely worth checking out.