A round up of brief reviews of books I read in June. David Lynch’s biography Room to Dream and Stephen King’s The Outsider are new to bookstores and worth reading.
The Sun Also Rises: Hemingway’s first novel and one of his best works follows American and British expats traveling from Paris to the bullfights of Pamplona. (5/5 stars.)
Room to Dream: A peek behind the camera to see what drives the visionary director and artist who has delivered a number of memorable films that enthrall and confuse viewers..(4/5 stars.) Read my full review.
The Outsider: What starts as a murder mystery morphs into a familiar Stephen King creep-fest with a bogeyman channeling Pennywise from It. (4/5 stars.)
Angela’s Ashes: I’m late to the game, but Frank McCourt’s memoir of growing up poor in Ireland is as moving as everyone says it is. (4/5 stars.)
A Geek In Japan: A fun, heavily illustrated and informative guide to the unique Japanese culture. (4/5 stars.)
The Stranger in the Woods: A remarkable and revealing story of a man who lived as a hermit in the Maine woods for 27 years. (4/5 stars.)
Old Man’s War: In John Scalzi’s science fiction novel, the elderly are given a chance at rebirth as part of humanity’s interstellar fighting force. (4/5 stars.)
The Art of Map Illustration: Four artists share their techniques for mapmaking as well as samples of their work. While the book is full of beautiful maps, it seems more time is spent describing how to illustrate map embellishments such as trees and buildings. (3/5 stars.) Read my full review.
The inscrutable auteur David Lynch has delivered a number of memorable films that enthrall and confuse viewers. In Room to Dream we get to peek behind the camera to see what drives the visionary director and artist.
In this autobiographical work that’s a collaboration between Lynch and Kristine McKenna, the chapters alternate between interviews with more than 100 colleagues, friends and family and Lynch’s own recollections of events. The biography ranges from stories of his growing up in a small western town to the processes that went into creating such iconic works as Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive.
Lynch was involved in even the smallest details of each of his works. He would often change directions on a whim if he felt it would serve the story and he was known to pull people from his production crew or even off of the street if he saw a roll for them in a film. Lynch’s colleagues universally laud him as one of the kindest and most giving directors to have worked with. A number of artists interviewed for the book credit Lynch as having given them the chance that kick started their careers.
Other than Dune, Lynch has avoided projects that could be consider big-budget Hollywood movies. Room to Dream (Random House, digital galley) is a refreshing look at someone who has pursued a singular vision and is willing to say “no” when his goals don’t align with financial backers.
Four artists share their techniques for mapmaking as well as samples of their work in The Art of Map Illustration. The book is full of beautiful illustrations by each of the artists, who employ a variety of media including pen, ink, watercolor and digital.
There are a number of map-making tips spread throughout the book, but it seems more time is spent describing how to illustrate map embellishments such as trees and buildings. Each of the artists share an almost whimsical style (as seen on the cover) with cartoonish illustrations and that probably accounts for the number of pages devoted to creating and placing those decorative details.
If the style suits you, the The Art of Map Illustration (Quarto Publishing Group, digital galley) is full of samples and would be a good book to reference for inspiration. Although the artists use a variety of media, the book feels a little repetitive because of the similar illustration styles.
David Itzkoff’s compassionate biography of Robin Williams stands out among the books I read in May. David Sedaris’ wickedly humorous collection of essays is also worth picking up.
Robin: This intimate biography of Robin Williams tells the story of the meteoric rise, frenetic life and the sad final days of the comedian.(5/5 stars.) Read my full review.
Calypso: David Sedaris deftly handles a variety of topics including middle age, shopping, gay marriage, language and family tragedy in this achingly funny book. (5/5 stars.) Read my full review.
The Shepherd’s Hut: A crisp story of survival, friendship and the search for peace in a brutal Australian landscape. (4/5 stars.) Read my full review.
Fear the Sky: A covert team of scientists and soldiers work to undermine the advance team of an alien armada on the way to Earth in this fast-paced sci-fi novel. (4/5 stars.)
The Paris Wife: Historical fiction written from the point of view of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson. Good for Hemingway fans, but so-so pacing. (4/5 stars.)
The Little Paris Bookshop: This love story following a bookseller calling himself the literary apothecary was a little pretentious for my taste. (3/5 stars.)
Warlight: In the aftermath of WWII 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister are left in the care of a mysterious man they nickname The Moth and his possibly criminal cohorts. An opaque novel that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. (2/5 stars.) Read my full review.
Jaxie Claxton lives a miserable life in rural Australia, stuck with a savage father he hates. Then one day a violent accident leaves him with no choice but to pack what he can carry and strike out on foot as a fugitive.
Walking across barren western Australia with a rifle and a water jug, he eventually runs into a fellow outcast living in a shepherd’s hut. In this remote and deadly landscape Claxton forms an uncomfortable bond with this man, who has his own secrets to keep and on whom he becomes dependent.
The Shepherd’s Hut (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, digital galley) by Tim Winton is a short and crisp story of survival, friendship and the search for peace in a brutal world. Winton’s masterful use of language, peppered with Australian colloquialisms, made this novel a pleasure to read.
David Sedaris has mastered the ability to be dark, charming and funny at the same time. His latest collection of essays, Calypso, revolves around gatherings at his North Carolina beach house, the Sea Section. Sedaris deftly handles a variety of topics including middle age, shopping, gay marriage, language and family tragedy.
It’s hard to go more than a couple of pages without belting out a laugh at some outrageous situation in which Sedaris has gotten involved. And he is capable of being shocking, as with a recurring tale that involves a homely snapping turtle and a tumor Sedaris needs removed
Sedaris’ unique powers of observation and his intimate descriptions of human interactions are absorbing. This is among his best books and fans will want to get hold of a copy. Anyone new to Sedaris’ writing will find Calypso (Little, Brown and Company, digital galley) a fine introduction to his achingly funny stories.