Wherein My Brain Nearly Explodes With Excitement For a Second Time

I know it's a bit silly, but I freaked out with excitement upon discovering that the NYRB blog gives me a shout out! My only regret is that they quoted me before I fixed the text (I realized a few weeks ago that it's New York Review Books and not New York Review of Books)... ah well. I am probably outing myself as a major dork but this just might be the highlight of my month, dare I say my year? Thanks NYRB!

And while I'm being ridiculously excited, I thought I might also point out how I am very much on target to actually finish 52 books this year. In fact, I've already read five more books this year than I did last year. Double yay for me!

Book Fortythree: The Good Thief

The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti

A good--no, a great--classic adventure. Filled with preposterous, wonderful characters, pleasing action, and vividly described places. I found myself becoming highly attached to all the people, even though in my imagination they became silly caricatures. The Mousetrap girls were Maurice Sendak's depiction of the ugly Clara doll from the Nutcracker, Tom was played by Zack Galifianakis, and Dolly looked liked Zippy in my mind--should they make this into a movie, I believe I have the beginnings of an outstanding cast. And some of the things that happened made me laugh out loud at the sheer outlandishness of it all, yet I bought it all because I just couldn't help myself, it was so good. Plus, there were some lovely themes surrounding family and worth, so it wasn't all silliness. Please read this book.

Book Fortytwo: Under the Banner of Heaven

Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer frames the history of Mormonism around of the story of two fundamentalist Mormon brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who murdered a woman and her infant child because, simply, God told them to do it. This book goes in a lot of interesting directions, but the bit that really sums up the meat of the story for me comes at the end of the book, when Krakauer discusses the trial of Ron Lafferty.

If Ron Lafferty were deemed mentally ill because he obeyed the voice of his God, isn't everyone who believes in God and seeks guidance through prayer mentally ill as well? In a democratic republic that aspires to protect religious freedom, who should have the right to declare that one person's irrational beliefs are legitimate and commendable, while another person's are crazy? How can a society actively promote religious faith on one hand and condemn a man for zealously adhering to his faith on the other?

In other words, I don't see this book so much as a critical look at Mormonism (though, when you read about its history, it's hard not to be critical or find Mormons off-the-charts crazy), but rather a critical look at all religions. The only thing that makes Mormonism different from any other religion, Krakauer makes sure to point out, is that Mormonism came about recently and in the time of the printing press, where everything was recorded and we have the luxury of seeing it's roots close up enough to see how utterly preposterous it is to, say, have revelations directly from God (most of which were conveniently timed with Joseph Smith's needs at that moment, FYI).

So, any Mormons out there, I want to make sure you know that I'm not singling you out, it's just that I think that you're just as crazy as anyone else out there who believes in God.

Book Fortyone: Self-Made Man

Self-Made Man, Norah Vincent

Oh, how I enjoyed this book! How can you not be intrigued by a woman who spends over a year in drag attempting to pass as a man? And for the most part she succeeds! There's nothing even remotely scientific or methodical or even, at times, ethical, about her approach, and yet the whole thing really works. She spends pretty significant amounts of time in a variety of male-dominated places--she joins a bowling league, spends time in a monastery, gets one of those awful in-the-field sales jobs, dates women (yes, she's actually a lesbian, but she dates women as a man, which is a totally different ball of wax), joins a men's group (à la Robert Bly), goes to strip clubs, and so on--and sure, she learns a few not so surprising things about men, but she does learn quite a few interesting and insightful things.

I think what I didn't like at first, but then what sold me on it in the end, was the really organic way she seemed to go about the whole project. It didn't seem like she had any real rules or ideas about how everything would happen. She just showed up as Ned (her male alter-ego) in whatever situation she was planning for, and let whatever might happen happen. Sometimes she revealed herself to the people who she got to know as a man, and sometimes she didn't. Sometimes she passed incredibly convincingly, and sometimes she said or did things that raised suspicions. For me, the most compelling section took place in the monastery, which might seem like a strange and non-typical place to have a typical male experience, yet shed a lot of light on what men might go through emotionally and socially.

There were definitely some shocking things in here, right beside a few somewhat expected and trite things, but overall this was entertaining and lovely and well-written. You get to know a lot about how some men think and feel and live in the world, but you also learn a lot about Norah Vincent, which was maybe just as compelling a story.

Book Forty: The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday

The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, Alexander McCall Smith

This--the fifth installment in Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series--is my favorite. I feel like he's finally found just the right feel and tone with these books. The first few installments tried to be mysteries, though that was quickly abandoned. And the most recent two are more centered around Isabel and her complicated relationship with Jamie and their baby, Charlie. I loved how this book gives you a better sense of Isabel's insecurities--her inner dialogues are so human and lovingly flawed. And, of course, all the tender descriptions of Edinburgh and Scottish culture are really what make this series so special. My desire to someday (someday!) visit Scotland is purely driven by my love for these books.

And, speaking of Alexander McCall Smith, everyone who is anyone should be listening to his new serialized novel, Corduroy Mansions, which is only available as a podcast from Telegraph.co.uk. It's really delightful and silly and a wonderful way to spend 8 minutes of each day.