Sunday, September 19, 2004

an american in geneva

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
A whimsical tour-de-force, a hilarious romp through Paris, a rumination and mediation on Frenchness. I read most of this on the plane on my way to Geneva. My favorite part: Gopnik's trip to a supposedly American-style gym, where the staff thought exercising one a week is a lot. But five or six days a week? They said that sounds wearing. And when he goes to a typical French gym, everyone's hanging out on the poolside eating sandwiches.

Sarah: a novel by JT LeRoy
A jolt of foreignness, though it's a bit too smart for its premise: a prepubescent transvestite who wants to become the most revered truckstop prostitute around. But its a fascinating, fast-paced story. The book reminds me of Terry Southern's stuff--the guy who, with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, wrote the screenplay for "Easy Rider." But the couple of Southern's books I read seemed to be caught up in trying to shock the reader; LeRoy seems a bit caught up in this, but not so much as Southern. Leroy's got promise to develop into a really great writer, and he's still young: he wrote this a few years ago at age 20.

Barrel Fever by David Sedaris
While hilarious, this book has a different feel from most of Sedaris's later stuff. No stories about his family, only a few true stories about himself. Most it's over-the-top fiction. As long as I ran with the scenarios he was throwing up--a long-unemployed man who suddenly becomes a star actor and director by making a film about his previously lazy life--then it cracked me up. One of my friends who's a big Sedaris fan didn't like his latest book, and worried that if he ran out of stories about his family, he'd be washed up. I think that if that ever happens, he's still got a knack for fiction.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

sad but touching

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
I've read a good amount about Iraq under Saddam and wanted to learn about Iran during the same period, going through the revolution and Iran-Iraq war. I bought a dense book by a great journalist, Dilip Hiro, but only got through 50 pages of it. This comic, on the other hand, I read in an afternoon. This true story covers the same period through the eyes of girl growing up in Tehran and is more gripping and memorable than books filled with details of armies' movements and governmental turnovers.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Beware! Only about a third of this book isn't a duplicate of the stories in his other books. But the last story, on neighbors who compete with conspicuous consumption and then with conspicuous altruism, was alone worth the $4.50 I paid for this used, "as is" copy. When I went to see Sedaris read recently, a guy nearby me had an equally beat up copy of the same book, and when Sedaris signed the book, the guy asked him to write something mean inside. Afterward he showed us the note: "To my cheapskate friend. My new book is only $23.95."