Sunday, 23 March 2014

Insane City, by Dave Barry

Why I read it: If I had a religion, Dave Barry would be in the pantheon of gods, along with cats, free parking and Aperol Spritz cocktails.

Podcast: Fresh Air Weekend

Brow: I love Dave Barry, but that doesn't elevate his works above low brow.

Summary: A bunch of people and one orangutan end up accidentally going on a crime spree in South Florida.

But should you read it? The only reason I read Carl Hiaasen's work is because Dave Barry doesn't write enough books anymore. This was his first novel for adults in 11 years. Luckily, he is still just as funny despite the gap, assembling his motely crew in Miami with the clock ticking down on the main character's wedding, he sets off a chain of events that will eventually encompass a stoned billionaire, an obnoxious stripper, and a pizza restaurant owner getting a suitcase full of cash on the beach in the middle of the night. The only unfortunate thing is that the book is only 384 pages long. Clearly it's missing some zeros.

Pakistan: A Hard Country, by Anatol Lieven

Why I read it: Economist Review

Podcast: LSE Public Events

Brow: Upper middle, unless you're a Pakistani reading this in Pakistan... well, actually you'd still be upper middle brow to be reading this in Pakistan, since the literacy rate is only 56%.

Summary: It's basically everything you need to know about modern Pakistan, from how the society is ordered and governed to how each region functions both internally and in relation to the others.

But should you read it? I recognise that foreign affairs is not most people's cup of tea, and that Pakistan is very foreign to most people, which allows us to tell ourselves that it's somehow unimportant or uninteresting. But that doesn't mean it's true. In fact, Pakistan is of immense geopolitical and geostrategic importance, and the fact that many in the west try to dismiss it as a mere 'failed state' belies that importance. It also helps that this book is well-researched and full of fun tidbits, like the fact that Pakistan's feudal politicians now complain that they have to convince their vassals to vote for them, whereas once a bribe or even the threat of cancelling their tenancy were enough.

The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferranted

Why I read it: After reading My Brilliant Friend, it is impossible not to.

Podcast: NPR Fresh Air

Brow: For now, high. But when Ferrante's works start really getting the attention they deserve, they will become middle brow.

Summary: The Story of a New Name begins at the moment My Brilliant friend ends: 16 year old Lila Cerruto has just wed her fiance Stefano and realised that he doesn't share any of the ideals she holds dear. She spends the rest of the book fighting to escape her husband and avoid pregnancy despite having the right to divorce or access to birth control, and without slipping back into the violent poverty of her working-class Neapolitan neighbourhood. Observing all of this is her best friend Elena, who is envious of her friend's seemingly luxurious and romantic life while she toils away at high school and university. The two are further driven apart by Nino, a boy Elena has secretly loved since they were children, but who appears to prefer Lila, wedding ring notwithstanding.

But should you read it? Yes, absolutely, if only for the descriptions of the minute changes a female friendship undergoes in response to every experience the actors have. It doesn't hurt that the fierce, stubborn, passionate Lila is one of the most searing characters in recent fiction. I kept putting off bed time just so I could read one more chapter of her adventures.