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Summer Reading, So Far

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The Human Stain, by Philip Roth.

I became interested in this book when I saw a semi-review of it over at Atrios’ place. I can’t find the original post, so no link.

It tells two different stories and while a compelling read, just didn’t do it for me. The two stories are about one man, a black man who passes himself off as white, forsakes his family and becomes a respected Classics Teacher at a small New England University. There is an incident in which he uses the word “spooks” in regard to two students who have never come to class. Unfortunately for him, and unbeknowest to him, the two students happen to be black, hear about the comment, and he eventually resigns in the malestrom that follows.

The other story is his relationship with an illiterate janitor at the university where he used to teach and the scandal that generates, even though neither one of them are married. Here, Mr. Roth tries to recreate what he considers the hysteria of 1998, the year Clinton was impeached.

Either one of these stories would have been compelling in their own right, and Roth tries to weave them together, unsuccesfully. But, it is a well written book and the characters are compelling, especially the main character, Coleman Silk. If you are a Roth Fan, you probably have already read it. If you have never read Roth there surely must be something better to start with, and then come back to The Human Stain.

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson

I still have no idea what to think about this book. It is set post 9/11 and the main character, Cayce Pollard, lost her father (or did she?) in the WTC disaster. Cayce is sensitive to logos/advertising and has a freakish ability to tell whether or not a logo will work. The funniest part of the book was her reaction to seeing a Tommy Hilfiger display in a London department store.

The main plot is Cayce’s pursuit of the creator of the footage. The footage is a film (or is it?) being released, in no certain order, in segments over the Web. Cayce is interested in finding the creator because she is a devotee of the footage. Her employer is interested in finding it because, to him, it represents genius viral marketing.

There are things going on in this book that I think I need to read again to explain. On the other hand, I don’t really want to explain it because it would spoil the read. So, buy it, read it, and maybe we could start a discussion thread.

The Emperor of Ocean Park, Stephen L. Carter

The story of the Garland family, as narrated by Talcott Garland, the second son and youngest living child (there was Abby, but her death is what the book is partly about). Talcott is a law professor, married to an attorney that he isn’t quite sure is faithful, and son of the Famous Oliver Garland, disgraced former Appeals Court Judge. The Judge, as Talcott and just about everybody else calls him, dies and sets in motion a mystery that may cost Talcott his job, his wife and his family. Did I mention that Taclott is black? And grew up part of the privileged black class of Washington D.C.?

Fascinating, if somewhat meandering, book. Kept me up till all hours of the night for the past couple of days. The story itself is pretty straightforward: The Judge dies and leaves “arrangements” for Talcott to take care of. Talcott has no idea what these arrangments are or even about. The rest of the book is the discovery of these arrangements.

While pursuing the mystery, we get detours into the life of teaching at a law school, growing up rich and black, questions of marital and family loyalty, religion, and race.

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