Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dog v. Goon Squad

{Biscuit & The Hound of Love on This Year's Pulitzer Prize Winner}

Zipped through Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad and devoured every morsel, but slightly surprised that it was, in fact, a medley of morsels and not an epic tome through which to slog. I might be old-fashioned but it seems a Pulitzer Prize should require a bit of perspiration on the part of the reader; perhaps the award panel had the Twitter set in mind this year. (Poor Jon Franzen and his very long books.) Loved Goon Squad nonetheless and definitely recommend it. It's biting, self-aware, and beautifully written- an acerbic merry-go-round of American mores. And there are just enough trashy sex scenes to make it an entertaining summer vacation book (turns out "Pulitzer Prize" and "Beach Read" are not mutually exclusive).

While we're at it, a brief list of the best books I've read in the past six months, with a slightly Indian inflection:
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
Just Kids, Patti Smith
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

What should I add to the list? Would love your recommendations.


  1. Have you read any David Mitchell? He's a dream of a writer. Start with Black Swan Green or Cloud Atlas. Epic, beautiful books.

    Your work here is simply stunning!

  2. Meg, no I haven't! Thank you thank you! Adding both to my list this very moment. I heard good things about The Thousands Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, too.

    (and thanks!)

  3. This might be a little low brow for your taste but I absolutely loved The Art of Racing in the Rain.

  4. Lindsey- there is no such thing as a little low brow for my taste. I'm racing my way through The Hunger Games this very minute and haven't had so much fun reading in ages (I'm looking at YOU, Salman Rushdie). Thanks for the rec, adding it to the list pronto!

  5. Ohhhhh The God of Small Things.

    I've given my summer over to children's books, but recently enjoyed The Summer Book (Tove Jansson) and Villette (C. Bronte). YOU might really enjoy The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet (Reif Larsen)--Jamie liked it quite a bit.

    p.s. Go Katniss!

  6. God of Small Things, sigh. I had read it many years ago without any sense of what INDIA meant; I reread it when I was living in Kerala (the state in which it takes place) and the book broke my heart in a million more pieces. One of the most beautiful novels I'll ever read, I know.
    Re. T.S. Spivet. Done. If there's one thing I like with my fiction it's MAPS.


  7. i loooooooved this book so much. how did you like the lacuna? i started it but never could get into it.

  8. Naurnikins- so glad you loved Goon Squad! It took me a while to get into The Lacuna (and I'm not a big Kingsolver fan, usually) but it was the perfect breezy Mexican balm for the brutal heat of the Indian summer (I read it when we were in Jaipur), and I *loved* it. I just loved the passages about Frida and Diego and the descriptions of their complex world, and the world at large around them in the context of McCarthyism in the US. So I dug it, but it's a commitment (read: LOOOONG).

  9. Dogs and books-what a fantastically underrated combination.

    "So Big" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" are my two heart-stoppers right now. Although, let it be known that I have been tagged as reading books that are a bit "slow". I guess that is just how I roll.

  10. I'm sorry to report that "The God of Small Things" did nothing for me. I found it to be a bit over-written and under-performing. Not that I'm I cold fish by any means - The Hunger Games book #3 made me cry!

  11. Also can I recommend "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts? It's a bit of a tome, and is also guilty of overblown prose, but paints a compelling picture of the Mumbai of the 1980's. The book makes me feel like a slacker. In just a few years the protagonist escapes from prison, learns 2 languages, and joins the Mumbai mafia. I'm sorry to report that I have NOT succeeded in joining the Delhi mafia in my one year in India.

  12. Julie- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my mom's favorites and I've never read it- adding it to the list! And I don't know So Big- have to go look that up. I'm down for "slow" too. SPANX!

    Freshica- WOMAN, you are such a tough customer. I have no words. God of Small Things is like, HEART-EXPLODING to me, but alas. And I am so telling P. that Hunger Games book Three (what is it, Mockingjay?) made the Freshinator cry. Don't give away the ending. I'm all over it.

  13. My heart broke to a million pieces while reading A Fine Balance. Funny, I was just suggesting this book to a friend earlier this week :) I might check out The God of Small Things, sounds like I would enjoy it.

    I just finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower and it transported me to a good place. That would be my suggestion for now!

  14. And Fresh- I'll try to give Shantaram another stab. Glad to hear you loved it. Word is/was that Brad Pitt is playing Roberts in the movie. True fact.

    Melly- great suggestion. Adding it to the list! (and yes, check out The God of Small Things, esp if you loved A Fine Balance!!!)

  15. Oh my, I haven't read this one yet. I think I must now! Also thank you for your lovely NYC recommendations....I'm so glad you told me about the Maira Kalman exhibit...I'm forever in love with her work. I also can't wait to visit Westville!

    PS. I hope your copy gets to you soon too!

  16. Glad that maine has provided ample opportunities to photograph your books on your dogs. Love the red loafies! Love you!

    XOXO forevs,
    Ur #1 blogstalker

  17. Amanda Jane- I can't WAIT to read all about your trip! Ah, to be a fly on the wall in Maira's life for just one day. Thanks for stopping by.

    Anon, aka HOPIE- you are so busted, smarty-pants. The red loafies are das #1 best shoes of the summer. Now get back to work on BLKSHP and stop reading blawgs.

  18. I had this in my hand at the airport, deciding between it and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and I went with the cake because the sight of the word Pulitzer made me think it was not going to be the easy breezy plain read I was in the mood for. But now I'm going to have to get it. The cake was good good good too though!

  19. Cute doggies! And so cooperative!

    Have you read any of the following? They're some of my faves:

    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
    A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
    The Kind Arthur/Merlin series by Mary Stewart (The Crystal Cave, The Last Enchantment)
    A Story Like the Wind by Laurens van der Post
    The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich (or ANY of her books. They're all incredible!)
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

  20. Just finished Mockingjay last night. (Don't worry I won't say anything more than that!) I would recommend Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It takes place during WW2 and deals with the Japanese internment. I loved the characters!

  21. This is why I love your posts, I keep coming back to such great recommendations and original posts.

  22. Love all this: The dogs, your assessment of "Goon Squad," and the books you're loving lately, which oddly coincide with my own. A+.

  23. The pictures of your doggies are adorable! Coincidentally, I think we have near-identical taste in reading materials. Some suggestions (if you haven't read them already):

    Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, Great House by Nicole Krauss, What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt, Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz, Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman, and of course, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

  24. hi dude! i am halfway through goon squad and i wish i could say that i love it but i absolutely despise it. i'm making myself finish, though. i'm taking a b-day trip to big sur at the end of the month and have been looking for a good summer book that's epic and heartfelt and all about self discovery. my last big sur trip was just kids and i really don't think much can top that. anyway, i have to go with eat pray love for the second time around because, you know, i'm girlie like that. still haven't cracked the lacuna open, but thinking it will be more towards the end of summer. freedom blew my mind.

    one of my all time favorite books is shadow of the wind by carlos ruiz zafon. it's full of adventure, love, heartache, discovery, and will leave you wanting more.

    ok, that's all i have for now. : ) xo joanna

  25. i'm off to track down a copy of this book immediately! i mean-- if even the pups loved it, it HAS to be good :)

    as for summer reads....i've devoured "a country year" by sue hubbell, "prodigal summer" by barbara kingsolver...and of course a slew of agatha christie. i always keep her handy--- shameless miss marple maven that i am :) so glad you're a fellow fan.

    and your book list had me ooo-ing with delight. jhumpa lahiri is a goddess.

  26. The Glass Castle. Favorite book of the year thus far. Though the Goon Squad was most excellent (read it last week).

  27. oh, 'the god of small things' is SO good but SO sad, and it totally broke my heart to read. (plus i was reading another tough-ie at the time: 'alias grace', by margaret atwood.) i was having personal issues at the time, so it really only exacerbated things, i'm sure...

    i highly suggest 'the shadow of the wind', by carlos ruiz zafon, as it is still my favourite book i've ever read, ever. if you've already read it, then you know why, and you possibly also agree. (heh.) for india-themed stuff, 'to the elephant graveyard' by tarquin hall, is pretty amazing. and last but not least, if you have not read the 'his dark materials' trilogy by philip pullman, you are missing out...even though it's a little more indulgent than the other two.

    i still have yet to read the hunger games, though...i might have to buy it as the library's waiting list is loooooong!

  28. Here a few great novels I've enjoyed recently:
    The Inheritance of Loss (Kiran Desai)
    Island Beneath the Sea (Isabelle Allende)
    Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann) - broke my heart BIG time!!!!
    What I loved (Siri Hustvedt) - the best of her books IMHO

    I'll give A Visit from the Good Squad a read now that you've mentioned it.

  29. Hey,

    You should read "The Rice Mother" its an addictive read.

  30. there is this little book called the divine secrets of the yaya sisterhood .... i hear it's awesome!

  31. Sweet little Corgi... Have you read any Vendela Vida? How about Michael Ondaatje? Completely different, but I like them both. How about Flaubert's The Temptation of Saint Anthony? Just a few thoughts. Enjoy your reading.

  32. More books that I read on my travels through India (besides, sigh, The God of Small Things and Midnight's Children)

    Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
    The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
    Shalimar the Clown by SR
    ***The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh****
    Passage to India by Forster
    The Blind Asssassin by Margaret Atwood (the last two, passage to india and blind assasin, i brought to burma expecting that they would last me 3 weeks. they lasted approx 5 days. then i traded for a jodi picoult book. forgive me.)

    And if you haven't, Gilead (Maryanne Robinson), anything by James Salter (particularly Light Years, A Sport and a Pastime), Diane Arbus by Patricia Bosworth, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

  33. I love that you read Rohinton Mistry!! I have read several books from him and loved them all! Also try Amitav Gosh, he tells wonderful and colorful stories!
    Great recommendatios around in the comments, will also help me to find my new summer read :)

  34. Shantaram is a bear of a read, but worth sticking out.

    I just read A History of Love by Nicole Krauss, and it was beautiful- highly recommend.

  35. Lillette! A booky post! Obvy this pleases me to no end. Stand by my road trip assessment that Say Her Name is a recollective, resurrective feat. Just beautiful. And I experienced a discomfitingly emotional response to the end of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but in a very good way. I feel quite sure that you'd love that one.

    Wish we were in Maine with you and P.


  36. Looks like we had the same reading list this year. Just finished "Goon Squad" - found it a bit episodic, but loved the last part and the notion of word casings - all too sad and true. Try "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese - Clea and I give it 5 stars!

  37. I also loved The Art of Racing in the Rain. It totally changed how I communicate with my critters (even though my husband thinks I'm nuts for trying to reason with the cat).

    My current recommendations are Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford,
    Honolulu by Alan Brennert, and How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway. Also, Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, and Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich.

    Your corgi has the sweetest little fluffy legs ever.

  38. I really love that you are making connections between Franzen and Egan. When I read Freedom I thought it was overworked, and when I read Goon Squad it felt underworked. But then if you read them back to back, they're having this dialogue. I wanted to read the book that is a collaboration between those two.

    For classic summer nonsense, I love a Mary Russell book. The plot is Sherlock Holmes, plus American apprentice, but its not derivative, its homage an a really different spin on the Edwardian detective. If you haven't read any they're so fun.

    I liked "the American Painter Emma Dial" as a novel about a young new york artist. It's a little depressing, but manageable, especially compared to working your way through the heavy hitters of Indian lit.

  39. 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' is next on my list! I'm glad to hear you liked it. I've been following along with the Leonard Lopate Book Club, so I just finished her older book 'Look at Me' (recommended). And a couple others I just finished and liked were 'Let The Great World Spin' by Colum McCann and 'The Paris Wife' by Paula McClain. I've been listening to books on Audible while I work, so I'm flying through books right now, and am definitely adding a bunch of these suggestions to my list! xx

  40. I loved Good Squad too - the PowerPoint bit just killed me.

    A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth. Epic. So incredibly memorable. One of those novels you never want to end.

  41. YOUS GUYS.

    This may be *the* single best comment thread in the short history of bigBANG; I can't even keep up with you guys! Such incredible selections and recommendations all around, some brand new ones I've never heard of but have added to my reading list after a quick Amazon look-up, and some long-time favorites you mentioned that I neglected to write on my list (hullo, Middlesex).

    Thanks for so many excellent suggestions and witty opinions. Keep em coming! More book posts in the future, methinks? This is too much fun.

  42. Perfect timing! I just finished the particular sadness of lemon cake and visit from a goon squad and I need some suggestions. My favorite book from the last few years is cutting for stone - please read it.

  43. Maybe in your "free time" (hehe, what's that?!), you should host a book club here! :)

  44. Shantaram.
    Also, The River Why.

  45. Hi. I've never posted before -- but I can't help myself. I love booklists and I'm always looking for suggestions. Like you, I loved The God of Small Things and the Interpreter of Maladies. Admittedly, the Interpreter of Maladies had some stories that really kicked my a** much so that I had to give the book away rather than look at it on my shelf (I got emotional every time. Weird, right?). So here are my recommendations: The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud (because you liked Franzen)and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I hope you like them. (I really enjoy your blog. It's one of my favorites. Really).

  46. I love your readers. I was just in need of book recomandations, I have been reading like there is no tomorrow lately. Now I have a good list and a scared credit card!
    Biscuit butt in the last picture is adorable.

  47. So I've always loved your blog but I have never been one to comment. When I saw how many books we shared on our recently read lists (Goon Squad, The Lacuna, Midnight's Children, A Fine Balance, God of Small Things), I felt it necessary. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl is SO absorbing in my opinion and although it's long, it begs to be read quickly and then re-read. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard is my absolute favorite book although it's not really something you go through and read...however if you want something to really chew on it's awesome. The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert is also really, really interesting. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy is a beautiful story and finally, The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

  48. Demian by Herman Hesse is an absolutely brilliant novel by one of my favorite authors of all times.

    Also I assume you've read On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

    Taru from World Tour Stories. A couple of lovers sailing around the world.

  49. i have to say - i adored good squad. i thought it was a masterpiece. i don't care for franzen and thought freedom was loathsome dreck. i was thrilled she won the pulitzer! :)

  50. Lacuna is the only one I have not read from your list, shall be on the look out for it now, as I love almost everything I have read by Kingsolver! Summer reading lists in swing here too! I just finished The White Tiger, and for you, having just come back from India, I think you may like it. A little dark but funny too. Happy reading my dear! I shall be taking notes from your list of comments and suggestions!

  51. as if you need more titles...thanks for all the great recommendations! i couldn't get into The White Tiger, but seems to be a must for India fans (yes, a bit sardonic, but if you like Franzen...) The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker has topped my running fav list for months (a novel about poetry, and very funny!) speaking of laughs: Bossypants! Most recent read, which surprised me how delightful/insightful it was, Travels with Charley.

  52. I second (or third?) David Mitchell. Also love Tim Winton (cloudstreet, breath, the riders), Peter Carey (oscar & lucinda, true history of the kelly gang), Roddy Doyle (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha). More random recent loves: The Sherlockian by Graham Moore, Lava by Pamela Ball, Makai by Kathleen Tyau...

  53. 1. Kate's comment made me laugh out loud - i was furiously scratching down titles and then - divine secrets...hilarious.

    2. i could not get into Goon Squad - I think the Pulitzer Prize thing left me wanting more

    3. in love with Jonathan Safran Foer's - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

  54. I'm writing these down!

    Running in the Family is a beautiful memoir and revisiting of Sri Lanka by Michael Ondaatje.

    Also by Ondaatje: The English Patient, and In The Skin of a Lion.

    Some more CanLit:

    - The Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy Findley (though I haven't read it since high school and am not sure how much my tastes have changed, but Findley is quite reliable.)
    - The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
    - Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai (another Sri Lankan-Canadian)

    For short stories: Raymond Carver (especially "Cathedral") and James Joyce's Dubliners (especially "The Dead")

    Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
    A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
    Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

    And a random memoir that I found quite compelling: Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson

    Oh, and another good memoir is Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller.

  55. Oh! I forgot my most recent favourite, Zoli, by Colum McCann. He manages to write compellingly of another culture without romanticizing it or ever pretending to be a part of it. Plus, the story is great.

  56. Have read most of those and loved them all so.

    The God of Small Things was so terribly beautiful, wasn't it? Is up there on the very top-most shelf of favorites.

    Maine looks heavenly. And I'm going to admit that none of those micro-roasters make me as happy as Peets.


  57. I just read A Fine Balance per your recommendation and am still reeling (by which I mean, copying down passages before I return it to the library). So, so good! I'm going to coastal Maine myself this weekend, your pictures convinced me to spend the money and not give up the opportunity to visit a friend while she's still there. Good Squad is all out at the library but I recently read Martin Amis' House of Meetings (Siberia, depressing, kinda rauncy funny), and OH GOD yeah Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker, it is so good. I still have Museum of Innocence stuck in my head even though I thought it kind of dragged on. Huzzah, books!


Your turn: