Well, I'm back from San Diego, and in addition to a lot of eating, drinking, and lounging, I also did a fair amount of reading.
1. Accordion Crimes, by E. Annie Proulx. Pulitzer-Prize winning author Proulx takes on the vast topic of immigration in America by tracing a little green accordion through a series of owners. In the 19th century, an Italian immigrant crafts the instrument and brings it with him to New Orleans, where he is soon murdered by an anti-Italian mob. Over time, the accordion changes hands, from Germans to Poles to Cajuns to Mexicans and even French-Canadians, travelling to Texas oilfields to Chicago to Maine, and each chapter tells the story of the current owners. The premise is simple and interesting enough, but the execution left much to be desired. This book was a bear to get through. Proulx's America is a harsh and brutal nation, rife with evil and devoid of beauty. Her writing is vivid and technically flawless, but I had trouble sticking with the book, and in the end, I wish I had abandoned it after the first chapter. It's page after page of cruelties, murder, violence, rape, incest, molestation, and tragic accidents. Do your psyche a favor and skip it.
2. Can I Keep My Jersey?, by Paul Shirley. After the Debbie Downer of the Accordion Crimes, I was in the mood for something lighter. Fellow basketball fan Jason lent me a book by Shirley, a former college star at Iowa State attempting to make it in the NBA. I had read a couple of articles by Shirley in the past (he has written for ESPN and Slate) but didn't know that much about him. Shirley has been descibred as a basketball journeyman, and the book reads like a journal, following him in and out of the NBA, American minor leagues, and European league teams in Spain, Greece, and Russia. To the reader, it's immediately obvious that Shirley is both extremely intelligent and, at times, fairly humorous. However, I didn't like the book that much. I was hoping for more juicy insider gossip, but the few specific anecdotes doled out are not at all surprising (Shaq is friendly, Kobe is an asshole...who would have guessed?). And, man, does he WHINE!!! His litany of complaints never ceases- the food is terrible, the hotel sucks, NBA players are hypocritical idiots, the league is biased against white players, etc...I understand that it must be frustrating to have little to no job security, but it's hard to muster up sympathy for someone who does turns down a $200,000 offer to play in Barcelona for a year. Hell, I'd gladly clean toilets in Barcelona for a sum like that. Parts of the book were entertaining, but overall, I was left wondering why he still plays basketball, if he seems to hate everything about it so much.
3. A Model World and Other Stories, by Michael Chabon. The last book I read was a collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors. The first half of the book contains numerous individual stories, and the second part all feature the same protagonist, a suburban boy whose parents are in the process of divorce. Due to the format, the stories are nothing like the sprawling and meandering novels for which he is known. However, it's a quick and enjoyable read, filled with unique and believable characters. I preferred the second section of the book, which reads more like a novella than the occasionally curt tales of the first half.