Reading for Fun: Book reviews of summer reading

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
Reading for Fun
Book reviews of summer reading

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Wednesday, January 4, 2006

When half of the movies at the local Cineplex are remakes and all that is on TV are the usual summer reality fodder, literature can often be the best place to escape after the afternoon grind at the office. Lord knows there is no shortage of good material out there, but to save Loyolan readers some trouble, here are some of the best-and some of the not-so-good-on my summer reading list. If there is time for "reading for fun" between classes, work, homework and drunken weekends, check out a few of the titles below.

"Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal" by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's instant classic was by far the best summer read. Infusing fact, speculation, and all-out ridiculousness, the Gospel according to Moore is entertaining every step of the way, and even that much better when one realizes that he did his homework and made sure everything added up according to all other writings about Jesus' life and teachings. If not for the sex jokes, this wouldn't be out of place at Sunday morning mass. Too bad, too-it could add a bit more fun to church.

"Matilda" by Roald Dahl

Yes, it's a children's book. Yes, I'm a college student. Now that we're clear on those two facts, allow me to explain to you naysayers. Though his style may seem directed at children, do not be fooled-Roald Dahl's ideas and sense of humor are oftentimes quite mature, subtle enough to float over the heads of the smallest children, yet funny enough to get the oldest of parents gasping with laughter. Don't believe it? Read this little gem and then try and say otherwise.

"Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" by J.K. Rowling

In the sixth and newest tale of the would-be wizard, Rowling doesn't disappoint, serving up a fresh batch of brooding darkness and magical secrets. Tight and gripping throughout, it's guaranteed to keep the reader flipping pages faster than Flipper can say "eee-ah!" or whatever that weird sound dolphins make. To top it off, the author gives us an ending that stirs up emotions like those that come after seeing the end of "The Empire Strikes Back." HP fans all over are gearing up for book seven-it's going to be a bloodbath.

"A Grief Observed" by C.S. Lewis

Not exactly light and simple summer reading fare, "Grief" provides an engaging look at losing a loved one and all of the losses that accompany that. Lewis systematically works through his loss of faith, love and even his own idea of himself. Reading more like a journal than a novel, "Grief" dashes all hope to the ground and shatters it before picking up the pieces to put it back together again. If one isn't convinced of Lewis' skill by the Chronicles of Narnia, this amazing work will finish the job.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl

Having been raised on the '71 film adaptation with Gene Wilder, and having just seen the new Johnny Depp version, Dahl had to work pretty hard to impress me with his original story. Still, it is easy to see how the tale caught the attention of movie producers in the first place. Dahl's language and vivid imagery give this children's novel a charming quality that cannot be found anywhere in the creepy Tim Burton summer film. Skip the movie, read the book instead.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon

The story of an autistic boy who spearheads an investigation into the mysterious death of his neighbor's poodle is a strangely intriguing yarn that remains complex in its simplicity. Haddon gives amazing voice to his narrator main character, helping his reader understand the way this young boy sees the world, without forcing any sentimentality down his or her throat. This author is definitely one to look out for in the future.

"A Certain Chemistry" by Mil Millington

Following up his hilarious "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About," Millington tells a story not quite so autobiographical with an unorthodox structure. When he hits his stride, the pieces fall together beautifully like a choreographed game of Connect Four. At times, however, the narrative feels forced and jerky. Still, the humor remains constant throughout, and that alone makes it worth the read.

"Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris

Sedaris sets off running from the get-go with the first story "Santaland Diaries," detailing several weeks in the life of a mall elf. Manically hilarious, the stories of elf-on-elf love affairs, along with elves going postal and elves having an unholy obsession with daytime television, "Diaries" is easily the best piece of short fiction in a long while. While the other four stories keep the pacing steady and elicit a few chuckles themselves, they pale in comparison. Read "Santaland" first, then return to the book six months later and read the rest.

"How To Be Good" by Nick Hornby

Much headier than the usual Hornby fare, "How To Be Good" often feels more awkward than entertaining. Abandoning the light and casual subjects found in "About A Boy" and "High Fidelity," Hornby tries, through his female main character, to ask some of the big questions about life, purpose, and, well, how to be good. What's left is a novel full of questions but no answers. Though this might have been the point all along, the reader winds up with an empty feeling and only one question-what was the point of that?

"War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells

This classic work of science fiction falls into the dreaded category of being famous simply for being the first to do something. While it must have been ground-breaking to speak of aliens-Martians, in this case, in 19th century London-today, the story is both stale and boring. It's a wonder that Spielberg and Cruise wanted to make a movie out of such a bland novel, and even more of a wonder that they stuck so closely to the text when it is a perfect story to be used as a jumping-off point for the bigger and better. Unless you're a history buff, steer clear of both the novel and the film.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan:]
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