How to be Alone – Jonathan Franzen
Summary: A collection of essays – not short stories – on society, technology and human nature.
Truth be told, I was expecting something more poetic than this. How To Be Alone is very much rooted in reality, rather than the abstract. Chapter after chapter he rails against technology, offering a glimpse into the life of a writer who in many ways prefers the analogue to the digital.
It opens with a touching reflection on his father’s mental and physical decline, however, and there are other highlights in the form of a chapter on his return to his childhood suburb and the oddity that is being filmed for a TV show; insights into inmates and the business of prisons; and an essay on reading and readers, which I enjoyed most. Readers, research shows, form the habit early on, whether they simply prefer their rich inner worlds, or are genuinely awkward. If they’re lucky, he writes, their parents will forbid them from reading under the covers (like mine) and they will continue reading until university when they finally come across fellow bibliophiles. There’s a certain status, or mindset perhaps, that sets adult readers apart from non-readers, and it’s nothing short of a calling.
Apart from those three, really, I could have just as well left this book alone.
Drums of Autumn – Diana Gabaldon
Summary: Claire and Jamie’s daughter voyages back in time in an attempt to save their lives.
At this stage, Claire and Jamie are happily set up in the States, but a paper clipping outlining the details of their death leads daughter Brianna to leave the 20th century and travel back 200 years to try and avert it. She and boyfriend Roger are the main focus of this book, which I can’t say is particularly enjoyable. Much of it is taken up in ridiculous, petty drama that escalates from a rape and subsequent misunderstandings (pretty much all of the main characters in the series have now been sexually violated. Awesome) that ensue. While it’s nice to see how Jamie interacts with his hot-headed daughter, whom he never expected to see in the flesh, it’s all a bit tedious, to be honest.
Parents Behaving Badly – Scott Gummer
Summary: Inside the wacky world of crazy competitive Little League parents, and suburban family life in general.
After moving back to the small town they grew up in, Ben and Jili Holden are sucked into the world of Little League – Ben’s father reigned as the local coach while he was alive, but Ben himself knows next to nothing about baseball. At the heart of the story are the characters – ex-jock and power-crazed coach Del, for one, and Cyn, the sexy ultrasound tech who scans Ben’s balls one day and turns up on the pitch the next. Hilarity ensues as Ben struggles to balance making a a $50,000 furniture order for pop superstar Touche, dealing with his daughter Kate, who spends every waking moment texting, curiosity about unrequited high school crush Liza, his growing attraction to Cyn (including a random bump and grind at a Touche concert) and of course living up to the shadow of his father after he takes over coaching Del’s team, when it’s clear he has zero authority.
I know nothing about baseball, not being American, so much of this went over my head. Nonetheless, this is a smart, sharp novel that is downright hilarious. Gummer ridicules modern music, pop culture, washed up high school has-beens and of course the sporting equivalent of pageant mothers. Parents who tell their kids not to be such pussies, glue mirrors on the bottom of their coffee mugs to blind the opposition from the stands, and generally act as if they’re coaching professional athletes, not 10-year-olds, all get the ribbing they deserve..