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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Irv's Book Reviews

Posted by patron and guest blogger, Irv S.
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is insightful, literate, and perceptive. Christopher John Francis Boone, the protagonist/ first person narrator is a 15 years old autistic savant. He can name all countries of the world and their capitals, as well as all prime numbers up to 7057. His teacher instructs him to count to 50 if he feels angry enough to strike someone. He counts by the third power of each number, e.g., 1, 8, 27, 64, 125, etc. to 125,000. He cannot stand to be touched by others and has no understanding of emotions. He has irrational objections to the colors yellow and brown. Think of Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie “Rainman.” Haddon has written an honest book. Christopher is a real challenge to his parents and all persons who meet him, not least of all the policeman who try to help him. His parents love him and have deep understandings of his idiosyncrasies but even they are sometimes stretched beyond their limits—and Christopher doesn‘t know why.
A neighbor’s dog has been killed and Christopher decides to investigate in the manner of his hero Sherlock Holmes. His efforts lead to some very surprising discoveries, complicating his life and the lives of others. His encounters with strangers are disconcerting but enlightening. People with autism need to be treated differently, perhaps protected but certainly not isolated. The protection/ independence dilemma is demonstrated in beautiful but sometimes heartbreaking fashion.
Haddon packs a lot of insight and action into a short novel. I recommend it highly.

It is the basis of a play which opened in London in 2012 and received seven “Oliviers” including Best New Play. The Broadway production won the 2015 Tony for Best Play.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers’ first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, published in 1940, when she was 23 years old, is number 17 on The Modern Library’s list of the best 20th century English language novels. It gives voice to the rejected, mistreated, and oppressed. The principal characters are sympathetic to the needs of others and inspire sympathy in the reader. The book is about relationships between and among the principals: a middle aged deaf mute man, a teenage tomboy, a drunk socialist, a black physician, and an observant diner owner; and the principals’ sensitivity and caring toward the needs of others. It is set in late Depression Georgia and Jim Crow has a significant role. Not a summer beach read—it instead burrows into the reader’s psyche and may leave a feeling of discontent. It does not engender a warm fuzzy feeling but can make one a better and more thoughtful person. 


Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
Dog On It (2009) is a Chet and Bernie mystery, narrated by Chet, who is color blind, lacks self-awareness, has a short memory, and wags his tail at inappropriate times. He says that his partner Bernie is usually the smartest human in the room.

Chet observes that “…(H)umans did not turn out to be the best judges of other humans….Once in a while they tricked us; some humans got up to a lot of trickery…but usually we were on to that type from sniff one.”

Well written, a quick read, clever, and with a special appeal for dog lovers.


Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo
In Everybody's Fool Richard Russo provides the same characters and locale as his earlier (1993) Nobody’s Fool, a highly entertaining novel, which was the basis of an also entertaining movie.

The earlier book’s protagonist, Donald “Sully” Sullivan is a central character in the sequel, but shares top billing with Douglas Raymer, the town’s police chief, who comes home to find his wife dead at the foot of the stairs, having descended them “like a slinky”, her neck broken and her bags packed to leave. Doug wants to find out who his wife was running away with. His efforts provide some real fun. There are some “laugh out loud” passages in what is a tale of revenge and redemption.. It is both farcical and grisly, but, happily, mostly the former. It is not necessary to have read the former novel to enjoy this one, but it would be a shame not to.

The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy  by Kliph Nesteroff
E.B. White compared comedy to frog dissection, observing that in either case the object dies and asserting that the resultant innards are of interest only to the scholar. Kliph Nesteroff’s The Comedians-Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy (2015) effectively refutes White’s allegations.

The book is enlightening , entertaining, and above all, readable. It combines gossip, plainly identified as such, with confirmed narratives about comedy, commencing with vaudeville and ending the tragic death of Robin Williams.

In the late ‘70’s The Comedy Store provided an opportunity for young comedians to work without pay. They were mostly young and almost invariably impecunious. Some decided to form a union. Their strike wasn’t going well until David Letterman joined the picket line, finally giving the strikers some publicity. There was violence. After two months the strike was resolved. The club owners formed The National Association of Comedy Club Owners. Perhaps this was their way of demonstrating their belief in the value of rugged individualism.

Did you know that Jay Leno lived in his car on the parking lot behind The Comedy Store in the mid 1970’s? That Jack Paar demonstrated homophobic tendencies and a virulent strain of paranoia? That Buddy Hackett was considered one of the dirtiest comics? That Flip Wilson and Redd Foxx were reputed heroin users? Frankly I cannot vouch for any of the above and may have personal doubts about some of it, but Nesteroff seemed to believe it all and, in any case, it makes interesting reading. I believed most of the book and enjoyed all of it.

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