What's Good for the Michigander: UCI Librarian Catherine Palmer on Bender, Trollope & Egan Not-so-Much
, then on to school inAnn Arbor
. She belongs to a local book group, going strong since 1994. Cathy tells me they read literary fiction, some nonfiction, but pick at least one classic to read together each year. Here, then, from her group's 2011-2012 reading list are books she recommends (or not!).
Catherine Palmer at work
"My favorite book was The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by UCI MFA grad Aimee Bender. I loved this novel because it evoked the process by which a family loses an adult child in a personal, idiosyncratic, and yet universal way. We meet the heroine and narrator of the story as a child of six when she discovers that she can taste the emotions of those who prepare the food she eats and, because of this unique ability, realizes that her mother is having an affair. We also follow her relationship with her distant and troubled older brother who, even more, I think, than the stresses in the parents' marriage, comes to represent how we lose, but still manage to hang on to those we love. This is a theme with great depth of meaning for me, having suffered the loss of my own beloved son four years ago when he was 27. I loved the way the narrator was able to "hold on to" her brother after he disappeared entirely from earthly existence.
"The final book I'll mention in detail is one I didn't like much: Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. Although this national bestseller was a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, I felt that it was more of an exercise in technical expertise than an effort to bring the reader into intimate contact with living, breathing characters. Others have written about the fact that each chapter is written from a different character's perspective using a different style, and that one chapter is even (drum roll, please?) written as a PowerPoint presentation! Yet without a compelling reason to care about any of the self-absorbed, narcissistic, amoral, and generally unlikable characters, the experimentation with style is merely that, an experiment that does little engage the general reader.
"In passing, from this year's reading, I would recommendA Perfect Spy
's memoir of her early relationship withRobert Mapplethorpe
;Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
;Carter Beats the Devil
byGlen David Gold
(another UCI MFA graduate) andState of Wonder
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