Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tempo Change

By Barbara Hall, the creator of Joan of Arcadia, wrote Tempo Change, an intelligent, touching young adult novel. It tells the story of Blanche, a perceptive, sometimes sarcastic student at a fringe private school in L.A. Her father's a once famous musician who left the family when Blanche was six. Her mom now owns a store after working one undignified job after another to take care of her daughter. Blanche treasures her email relationship with her "artistic" father, who indulges himself in all the tortured artist platitudes to justify his wanderings and irresponsibility.

Blanche gets pulled into starting her own band and finds new talents and challenges as they compete for a spot at a reknown music festival. Throughout Blanche smart and engaging. The plot progresses in interesting directions and the minor characters are well drawn and all able to challenge Blanche to divest herself of easy answers and idealized notions. It's a good read and goes beyond what I expect to find in a work written for teens. (I realize that's my own bias.)

It's interesting that I read this as I watched Once another work that looks at the world of musicians, who're outside the mainstream fame and fortune.

This could make a good family drama on television. One, like "Joan" with authentic smart characters coping with tough issues.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Comrade Lost and Found

A Comrade Lost and Found: A Beijing Memoiris the third Jan Wong book I've read and I highly recommend it. This book chronicles Wong's search for the woman she turned in during the cultural revolution. As an exchange student at Beijing University in the 1970's Wong was smitten with the Great Helmsman's ideology and felt she was doing her duty when she turned in a woman who approached her one day to find out how to immigrate to America. Later this woman was interrogated and shipped off to do hard labor in the hinterlands of China.

Wong later remembered this incident and felt guilty and concerned. Many years have passed and Wong returns to look for the woman who's name she's unsure of. As she searches for this woman, she and her family encounter the nouveau riche of today's China. They drive expensive cars, live in vast, expensively decorated condos and make tons of money.

While I enjoyed Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now and Jan Wong's China more. Still this book features the humor and insight that make Wong's work well worth reading. Because she knows the language and culture so well, lived in China on and off from the '70s through the 90's, Wong can penetrate the culture as few can.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Walk in the Woods

While driving to Colorado, I got to listen to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woodson CD. I should share that this was the first time I'd listened to a book "on tape" (CD actually). It took me a while to warm up to this, but I did. I'd never read any of Bryson's other work, but I did know that he was a well known writer.

A Walk in the Woods describes Bryson's adventures hiking the Appalachian Trail with Stephen Katz, a friend he hadn't seen in 25 years, a friend who never said no to a Little Debbie cake and who owed him $600. The addition of Katz and the humor he provides made the book.

Throughout the narrative, Bryson sounds like a Victorian dandy. Though he grew up in Iowa, spending several years in England left him with an English accent, a rather upper class accent at that. He uses a lot of language like "mis-attired" and "we hastened across the road." I can see some readers getting put off by that.

Yet, I found it funny. Often I laughed with Bryson as he bore Katz's eccentricities and laughed at him when he just got to foppish. In both cases, I'd laugh out loud.

Despite the affectation, I did find the book enjoyable and learned a lot about the history, flora and fauna of a great trail.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Naked in Baghdad

I listened to Anne Garrels' Naked in Baghdad book on CD while driving across country. It blew me away.

NPR Correspondent Garrels has covered wars in Russia, Kosovo and Iraq. She is intelligent, brave and personal as she describes her work covering the lead up to the war starting in the fall of 2002 up to and shortly after the invasion in 2003. It was a riveting story that reveals the behind the scenes look at the getting of the stories as well as the personal insights from the Iraqis she spoke with and got to know. Garrels has a good voice, and I dare say this CD set was more powerful and touching than reading the book would be. I came away with an even greater appreciation of the reporters who strive to be our eyes and ears in these danger zones.

Garrel's observations and remembrances are interspersed with her husband's messages to their friends and family. These were perceptive and interesting, but I'm not sure they were necessary.