All branches of Marin County Free Library will be closed on Monday, July 4 for Independence Day.

Neshama's Choices for 4th week in December

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This installment: a standup comedian’s memoir about adoption from China; a new mystery by C.J. Box; Satanic Verses on CD and much worth it; a fascinating hot new DVD about a hitherto obscure musician; Ozeki’s latest (Canada/Japan/time travel and more); and intriguing Japanese short stories.


   If It’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother by Julia Sweeney


I first got to know comedian Sweeny through This American Life as she managed to make death and cancer, well not exactly funny but riveting.  Then I read her expanded version, God Said, Ha!  (She’s an atheist.)  Here’s her account of adopting Mulan from China and then finally meeting the man of her dreams two years later after she’d gone through a string of “Joe’s” and given up.  Short chapters, funny and real.  Her riffs on Big Strollers, snooty schools, trying to explain Santa Claus--and sex—to bright, deadpan Mulan, are priceless. Spirited and chatty, with a sweet core.


   Breaking Point by C. J. Box


Here’s the latest Joe Pickett adventure in which the EPA takes on the villain’s role. Well not the agency itself but a vengeful agent, and boy, what havoc he wreaked. For those who haven’t read the series, Joe’s a Fish and Game Warden with an independent streak who butts heads with the powers that be and gets into trouble himself.  A manhunt, a forest fire, a wild ride down a canyon on a log—exhilarating action, and lively skewering of the bad guys.


   The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie


I never read the book but when I came across it in CD form I decided to give it a whirl and find out whether it was worth putting the author’s life on the line. Now I can see why the Muslim fundamentalists were so outraged. It starts with a bang as angel and devil figures (Gibreel and Saladin) fall out the sky from a hijacked plane and land on an English beach, alive.  Each plays out his role in both England and India, gathering worshippers, being reviled—a constant waning and waxing of fortunes. It’s like a fever dream, and sometimes hard to follow, but I let each adventure play out and enjoyed the intensity and satire even if I lost track of  all the elaborate twists and turns. The actor did all the accents fully, a great pleasure. (But he pronounced some familiar words oddly: “albeeno” for a  pigment deprived person, for instance.) So if you want to enter an exotic, elaborate, fascinating milieu and give yourself over to it for a stretch, it’s a worthwhile journey.


   Searching for Sugar Man


A friend heartily recommended this to me and I pass it along to you. Sixto Rodriguez, with haunting Hispanic features behind dark glasses, is a musician who made an album in the ‘70s.  It didn’t do well here so he continued his blue-collar life in Detroit.  But unbeknownst to him the record became a huge hit in South Africa.  Two dedicated fans tracked him down (not an easy task), and brought him to the land where they love him for a series of ecstatic sold out concerts. Sixto remains modest, enigmatic, and true to himself in the midst of all this adulation.  We see him loping along the mean streets of his hometown (he doesn’t drive—glaucoma), get to know his three grown daughters (but where’s his wife?), listen to the crowds cheer him.

His music sounds kind of like Dylan to me.   But the real draw is Sixto himself, sui generis. The images (and the man) stayed with me long after the viewing.


   A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki


I order a book and a CD simultaneously and take whatever comes first.  In this case it was the CD and I was very pleased with the author’s delivery—excellent character voices and a chance to hear the occasional Japanese phrases. (Ozeki says she reads every word out loud as part of the writing process and it shows.) We meet teenage Nao (pronounced “now”—ahem) through the pages of a journal that has washed up in Cortes Island in British Columbia.  A writer, Ruth, finds it in a plastic bag in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, amazingly well preserved.  Ruth is stuck with writer’s block so this journal provides a welcome distraction that becomes a deep preoccupation as she tries to trace its origins. There are elements of time travel, quantum theory, philosophical and ecological concerns all woven together organically. I’ve spent some time on Cortes and Ozeki depicts it very well. Quite fascinating and I look forward to reading the actual book as well, in which there are illustrations and footnotes as well.


   Revenge by Yoko Ogawa


Cleverly linked stories in which each mysterious, grotesque happening is explained, kind of, in the next. As in the powerful significance of strawberry shortcakes, a plethora of kiwis, a children’s song, and many unpleasant deaths (hence the title). These are chilly, chilling stories with a bright gloss, like intriguing, interlocking puzzles.

Back next Monday





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Posted by: Neshama

Neshama works at the Fairfax Library.

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