H&WR: new poll for the next book!

From: Michelle
Sent on: Monday, July 13, 2009 1:56 PM
It's that time again. Time to vote for our next 2 meetup books. The choices are all fresh this time, thanks to member recommendations. For those of you that submitted recommendations, but do not see your books on this list, it is because we've already done that book, sorry. We may, however, be able to visit them in the future.

Link for reviews posted on Hip & Well Read Message Board
Link to poll


But for now, here are your choices:

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
From Publishers Weekly
Palahniuk's 10th novel (after Snuff) is a potent if cartoonish cultural satire that succeeds despite its stridently confounding prose. A gang of adolescent terrorists trained by an unspecified totalitarian state (the boys and girls are guided by quotations attributed to Marx, Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Idi Amin, etc.) infiltrate America as foreign exchange students. Their mission: to bring the nation to its knees through Operation Havoc, an act of mass destruction disguised as a science project. Narrated by skinny 13-year-old Pgymy, the propulsive plot deconstructs American fixtures, among them church (religion propaganda distribution outlet), spelling bees (forced battle to list English alphabet letters) and TV news reporters (Horde scavenger feast at overflowing anus of world history), before moving on to a Columbine-like shooting spree by a closeted kid who has fallen in love with the teenage terrorist who raped him in a shopping mall bathroom. Decoding Palahniuk's characteristically scathing observations is a challenge, as Pygmy's narrative voice is unbound by rules of grammar or structure (a typical sentence: Host father mount altar so stance beside bin empty of water), but perseverance is its own perverse reward in this singular, comic accomplishment.

A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
From Publishers Weekly
Take a self-assured Brit with an eye for the ladies, drop him in the middle of Paris with a tenuous grasp of the language and you have Clarke's alter ego, Paul West, who combines the gaffes of Bridget Jones with the boldness of James Bond. Hired to oversee the creation of a French chain of British tearooms, Clarke, aka West, spends nine months?the equivalent of a French business year?stumbling his way through office politics ? la fran?aise. Clarke's sharp eye for detail and relentless wit make even the most quotidian task seem surreal, from ordering a cup of coffee to picking up a loaf of bread at the boulangerie. Luck is by West's side as he moves into a stunning apartment (with his boss's attractive daughter), but he has to be careful where he steps, as he finds he "began to branch out from literal to metaphorical encounters of the turd kind." Between conspiring colleagues, numerous sexual escapades (he deems French porn "unsexy" since "Being French, they had to talk endlessly before they got down to action") and simply trying to order a normal-sized glass of beer, West quickly learns essential tricks to help him keep his head above the Seine. Originally self-published in Paris, Clarke's first book in a soon-to-be-series is funny and well-written enough to appeal to an audience beyond just Francophiles.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
From Publishers Weekly
Literary self-consciousness and technical invention mix unexpectedly in this engaging memoir by Eggers, editor of the literary magazine McSweeney's and the creator of a satiric 'zine called Might, who subverts the conventions of the memoir by questioning his memory, motivations and interpretations so thoroughly that the form itself becomes comic. Despite the layers of ironic hesitation, the reader soon discerns that the emotions informing the book are raw and, more importantly, authentic. After presenting a self-effacing set of "Rules and Suggestions for the Enjoyment of this Book" ("Actually, you might want to skip much of the middle, namely pages[masked]") and an extended, hilarious set of acknowledgments (which include an itemized account of his gross and net book advance), Eggers describes his parents' horrific deaths from cancer within a few weeks of each other during his senior year of college, and his decision to move with his eight year-old brother, Toph, from the suburbs of Chicago to Berkeley, near where his sister, Beth, lives. In California, he manages to care for Toph, work at various jobs, found Might, and even take a star turn on MTV's The Real World. While his is an amazing story, Eggers, now 29, mainly focuses on the ethics of the memoir and of his behavior--his desire to be loved because he is an orphan and admired for caring for his brother versus his fear that he is attempting to profit from his terrible experiences and that he is only sharing his pain in an attempt to dilute it. Though the book is marred by its ending--an unsuccessful parody of teenage rage against the cruel world--it will still delight admirers of structural experimentation and Gen-Xers alike.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
From Booklist
In a bourgeois apartment building in Paris, we encounter Ren?e, an intelligent, philosophical, and cultured concierge who masks herself as the stereotypical uneducated ?super? to avoid suspicion from the building?s pretentious inhabitants. Also living in the building is Paloma, the adolescent daughter of a parliamentarian, who has decided to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday because she cannot bear to live among the rich. Although they are passing strangers, it is through Ren?e?s observations and Paloma?s journal entries that The Elegance of the Hedgehog reveals the absurd lives of the wealthy. That is until a Japanese businessman moves into the building and brings the two characters together. A critical success in France, the novel may strike a different chord with some readers in the U.S. The plot thins at moments and is supplanted with philosophical discourse on culture, the ruling class, and the injustices done to the poor, leaving the reader enlightened on Kant but disappointed with the story at hand.

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Plascencia's mannered but moving debut begins with an allegory for art and the loss that drives it: a butcher guts a boy's cat; the boy constructs paper organs for the feline, who is revivified; the boy thus becomes the world's first origami surgeon. Though Plascencia's book sometimes seems to take the form of an autobiographical attempt to come to terms with a lost love, little of this experimental work?a mischievous mix of Garc?a M?rquez magical realism and Tristram Shandy typographical tricks?is grounded in reality. Early on we meet a "Baby Nostradamus" and a Catholic saint disguised as a wrestler while following the enuretic Fernando de la Fe and his lime-addicted daughter from Mexico to California. Fernando?whose wife, tired of waking in pools of piss, has left him?settles east of L.A. in El Monte. He gathers a gang of carnation pickers to wage a quixotic war against the planet Saturn and, in a Borges-like discovery, Saturn turns out to be Salvador Plascencia. Over a dozen characters narrate the story while fighting like Lilliputians to emancipate themselves from Plascencia's tyrannical authorial control. Playful and cheeky, the book is also violent and macabre: masochists burn themselves; a man bleeds horribly after performing cunnilingus on a woman made of paper. Plascencia's virtuosic first novel is explosively unreal, but bares human truths with devastating accuracy.

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