Wednesday, April 30, 2014

DRY by Augusten Burroughs ✎✎✎✎✎

Yes, I rated it a half a pencil higher than a book that just won the Pulitzer. I'm not sure I like the five-pencil system. The Goldfinch was excellent, but not on my year's best list. So. Four pencils, right? And I simply enjoyed this one more. It made me laugh. And it was wonderfully crafted and written. So. Five? Well, not exactly. If five is the top mark, then I need to reserve it for my all-time favorites--the ones up there with Geek Love and Black Boy and To Kill a Mockingbird. Well, how about a ten-pencil system? Offers a more accurate rating, perhaps, but gets a zero in the visual literacy department. ✎✎✎✎✎✎✎✎✎✎? Not. Switch to letter grades? (A- for the Pulitzer book, A for Dry, A+ for Black Boy.) Damn, this blog is 'posed ta be teacher's time off. Besides, I'm partial to the little pencil icons. And no matter what rating system, a four or a B+ or a 'Very Good' could indicate so many different things about the strengths and weaknesses of a book. This is why I didn't rate the books on this blog from the get-go. I hate grades. As a teacher, and as a blogger. Yet somehow, they offer up a handy road sign.

As for Dry, Burroughs' memoir of getting clean, he manages to make a harrowing story breezy and seriously funny, while in no way diminishing its potency. His writing is terrific, and the story is put together beautifully.

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt ✎✎✎✎ out of five (maybe four-and-a-little-bit)

Wrote down all the books I read in February and early March on a little sheet of paper that I can't find. For the record, those titles are missing here.

But how could I forget all 800-something pages of The Goldfinch? Many people whose reading tastes I respect immensely have called it their top book of the year. And, hey, it just won a Pulitzer. And while I liked it a lot, I'm not in that camp. Eight-and-a-half stars out of ten? Four pencils out of five? (Et voilĂ ! I've added a rating system to my blog.)

I love the protagonist. Beautifully drawn. When we first meet him, Theo is 13, the survivor of a terrorist bomb at the Metropolitan Museum, that kills his beloved mother. He walks away with a valuable painting... and the story is launched. The plot is full of compelling twists and turns. And there's so much really great sentence-by-sentence writing. But. It's just too long. And it's not because I'm becoming an intellectual lightweight in my mid-middle age (though that may, in fact, be true). The book is flabby. It needs an editor. It would be better--a tighter read--if half as long.

I felt this way about Middlesex, too. Excellent book. Needed an editor.