Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book review roundup (slight spoilers)

1. Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo: Here's the official description:

Filled with extraordinary characters and told at breakneck speed, Provenance reads like a well-plotted thriller. But this is most certainly not fiction. It is the astonishing narrative of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery. Stretching from London to Paris to New York, investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo recount the tale of infamous con man and unforgettable villain John Drewe and his accomplice, the affable artist John Myatt. Together they exploited the archives of British art institutions to irrevocably legitimize the hundreds of pieces they forged, many of which are still considered genuine and hang in prominent museums and private collections today.
If you enjoy nonfiction, it doesn't get much better than this. (Although I think the authors were a bit too kind to some of the members of the conspiracy.) If 300 pages sounds like a little much, just enjoy the Wikipedia links I inserted above. But it's only $2 used at B&N, and well worth that price.

2. The Maze Runner by James Dasher: I give the writing and character development a D+, the plot a B, and the cover by Philip Straub a B+ (unusually good for a fantasy novel). The story is Ender's Game meets The Stand, which sounds promising, but I barely managed to force myself to skim the last 40 or so pages to find out what happened. Just read the Wikipedia entry for this one. $5 used at B&N.

3. This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams: The first 140 pages are an excellent novella that imagines, "What if Jane McGonigal got stuck in Indonesia during a coup and had to rely on her ARG-loving fans to help her escape?" Unfortunately the next 300 pages are so horrendously cliched and predictable that I (incorrectly) thought the book must have been the author's first. $2 used at B&N, which is a good price for the 140 pages.

4. Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon: An intensely boring collection of his nonfiction essays. However, there were some fun factoids in the essay about Arthur Conan Doyle. For example:
At least one writer has suggested that Conan Doyle might have managed to kill a patient, through Charles Bovary-like ineptitude or more sinister motives; he did subsequently marry the dead man's sister, and took control of the income that she inherited from her brother.
And this is quite a sentence:
Detective Freud might well conclude that Conan Doyle never entirely recovered from the pain and humiliation first of watching his mother cuckold his demented father in his own house and then of being obliged to stand by as the old man was packed off to the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum, never to return.
I wish he'd simply written a novel called The Amazing Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle. $2 used at B&N, but only for the Chabon completist.


  1. You nailed "Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands". Every few months I'll see it on my shelf and think (thanks in large part to the amazing dust jacket and design), "It can't be as bad as I remember."

    Then I trudge through an essay and, in a frustrated stupor, throw it back on the shelf.

    I love Chabon but is as you so succinctly put it this collection is "intensely boring".

  2. Here is a pic of the version I'm referencing. The dust jacket is actually three different pieces and as you remove each one it reveals more of the scene below it. Easily the best part of the book for me.


  3. That's a shame about that Walter Jon Williams novel. He wrote one of my favorite books (Days of Atonement) and it's amazing to me that his new one would seem so amateurish. Wow.

  4. McSweeney's books are always beautifully designed, but with only a few exceptions, I've always been terribly disappointed by the contents.