what I read and saw in February 2011


* So Much for That, by Lionel Shriver. At the opening of the first chapter, we are introduced to Shepherd Knacker’s Merrill Lynch account, at a value of $731,778, money he has been saving his whole life to fulfill a childhood dream of moving with his family to some low-income nation where they can live the rest of their lives work-free, escaping the rat race. He has finally decided to leave when his wife is diagnosed with a rare cancer which his limited health insurance only covers the tiniest fraction of care for. We go on to follow his family and his best friend’s family (also with major health problems) through the ugly nether world of today’s American health care establishment. Every few chapters, we see the current balance of Shep’s account. It doesn’t go up. [Note: I read about half and then skimmed the rest, not because I wasn’t enjoying it but because there was a little more grown-up content than I was up for.]

6. Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, by Orson Scott Card (audiobook) – If only historians of the future could go back in time and explain to Christopher Columbus in a five minute conversation that he was being racist, maybe everything would all work out for the Americas and the world. Everyone will end up practicing non-violence and communal use of land. Maybe if we go back in time, not a single thing unexpected will happen and our plan (which includes the aforementioned conversation with Christopher Columbus, and also creating a new steel-enabled Native American empire by sending one historian back in time who dresses up like a Native American John the Baptist) will work out exactly as we planned.

Completely un-nuanced. Too much pretension, too many efforts at big ideas, not enough action (e.g., the time travel didn’t even happen until three-quarters into the book). My last Orson Scott Card book. 4/10

5. Faithful Place, by Tana French – Mystery takes place in Dublin and thereabouts. Detective finds out that the love of his life, who he believes left him to go to England twenty-some years ago, was actually murdered the night she left. Very detailed portrayal of difficult family dynamics. 7/10

4. The Old Testament! – I finally completed the entire Old Testament (maybe that should only count as half a book?). A number of dull patches, but overall, lots of fabulous material. Hope to repeat the experience in a few years.

* Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart – In the future, everyone walks around with äppäräts (the iphones of the future), scanning each others stats, including credit score, history, and ratings on personality and sexual attractiveness. No one reads books: Lenny – the protagonist – opens one on a plane but puts it away when the passenger next to him says it smells like dirty socks. The U.S.A. has become a semi-police state, with just one political party (the Bipartisan Party) which is losing the war in Venezuela. Many citizens watch FoxLiberty-Prime and FoxLiberty-Ultra (I’m kind of surprised those channels don’t already exist). Companies are massive conglomerates like UnitedContinentalDeltamerican and AlliedWasteCVSCitigroupCredit.

I found the picture of America pretty plausible while pretty hilarious: hyper-repressive, hyper-sexualized, and hyper-social networked. (It’s not numbered because I stopped about halfway through: It was a little too hyper-sexualized for my taste, not through graphic scenes but rather dialogue. And the world – which I’d seen – was more compelling than the plot.)

"Is he poor?" Eunice asked.

"I guess so," I said. "Middle class."


9. Unstoppable – Denzel and Chris Pine stop a runaway train. Perfect action suspense, cheesy dialogue but delivered by such likeable actors that I didn’t mind. 8/10 [plane]

8. L’Illusioniste [The Illusionist] – From the director of The Triplets of Bellville, this beautiful little French movie about changing times is engaging and moving. 8/10 [theater]

7. El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) – A little girl discovers a labyrinth with fantastical creatures while her fascist (literally, in this case) step-father tries to kill leftist rebels in Franco’s Spain. [Note: some intense violence, but predictable so one can self-edit.] 9/10 [DVD]

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