Monday, February 08, 2010

Quick Thoughts On Quick Reads

How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, Toby Young (A): I gobbled this memoir down like a box of Morden's Russian Mints over Christmas week. Young hops the pond to take up an internship at Graydon Carter's revitalized Vanity Fair, with visions of storming celebrity ramparts a la Spy Magazine (Carter's earlier rag). Anyone who's leafed through VF in the last 10 years is assured exactly which direction this story is going to go. Young gets all his signals crossed, grossly misreads the rigid Manhattan/Hollywood class system, offends pretty much everyone and confesses to multiple booze-induced acts of shamefulness. Although I thought he played the "I never expected Mother Britain to be more enlightened on this issue" card a little too frequently, I enjoyed the book from beginning to end and have become a regular visitor to his blog.

When I was finished How To Lose Friends, my appetite was roused for yet more servings of contemporary British shame. To that end, I finally dusted off my old remaindered copy of Robert Harris' The Ghost (A), a thriller in which a cocky ghost writer agrees to a last-minute request to ghost a former Prime Minister's memoirs. Said writer is just intelligent enough to get on the fast track to more trouble than he can handle -- rather like Toby Young -- and the ex-Prime Minister and his wife are just oily enough to skid the rails for everyone in their immediate vicinity -- rather like Tony and Cheri Blair. Harris has built up a considerable reserve of bile in his reassessing the Blairs, which was fine by me. But The Ghost is first and foremost a taut page-turner -- the grim sort of fun that keeps me returning to British writers.

Finally, long-time readers know of my fondness for James Lee Burke. With Rain Gods (A) there is little need for me to add another verse to my hymn of praise, except to say that Burke restricts his narrative mode to third-person limited, eliminating a narrative quirk (or lapse) I've sometimes found trying in his earlier novels: a first-person narrator who slips into omniscience about a course of events he hasn't witnessed. If you still haven't given Burke a try, this is one of the better books to start with.

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