Reading is fundamental

Last-minute items to toss under the tree and more
By PORTLAND PHOENIX STAFF  |  December 12, 2007

"They’ve got issues: The bookworm’s gift that keeps on giving." By Christopher Gray.
Last-minute items to toss under the tree
Kids’ books aren’t just for kids anymore. In fact, some of the books I enjoyed most this year were written for an audience more than 10 years my junior. They also happen to be bulky, fantastical trilogies that adults can mine for both popular and cerebral enjoyment.

Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS TRILOGY (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass; sold in various box sets starting at $22.50 from Laurel Leaf, up to $60 from Knopf Books for Young Readers), launching onto the big screen this month with New Line Cinema’s The Golden Compass, pulls philosophical themes (and its title) from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It’s a heartwrenching coming-of-age tale that reminds its readers of the value of knowledge and self-discovery, not to mention the dangers of power-hungry institutionalized religions.

Stephanie Meyer’s TWILIGHT TRILOGY (Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse; Little Brown Young Readers, $18.99; and set to continue with a fourth book, Breaking Dawn, in 2008) doesn’t quite possess the intellectual heft of Pullman’s, nor does the saga of Bella, a teenage girl, and her hot, vampiric boyfriend Edward spark theological inquiries. But it’s one hell of a ride, one that ultimately broaches the painful question: Who is willing to die for love — or kill despite it? Rumor has it that this trilogy, too, will be made into a movie. Read the books now to get pumped.

_Deirdre Fulton

Furtive first novels
A British man awakens from a coma an amnesiac after a mysterious accident. He receives an 8.5.million-pound legal settlement on the contingency that he not discuss the accident he can’t remember. In a bathroom, he sees a crack in a wall that triggers a memory he needs to place, and spends his new fortune trying to recreate this elusive moment. Tom McCarthy’s debut novel REMAINDER (Vintage, $13.95) is sci-fi without the supernatural: an eerily realistic look at a psyche’s slow march to madness.

Set in the late 1990s at a Chicago ad agency before the dot-com bubble burst, THEN WE CAME TO THE END by Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown and Company, $23.99) captures the modern office for what it is: a cesspool of paranoid conspiracy theories and the anchor of a stable identity. Ferris’s bold narrative tactic — writing nearly the entire book in a “we” voice, making the book’s protagonist either hidden or universal — remains potent for 400 pages, and its messages are myriad: we are the quirky supporting actors in our co-workers’ lives; we may all be fired tomorrow; we are all in this together.
_Christopher Gray

Truthiness
There’s enough wrong in the world that books are telling us about, so let’s start with something right: the resilience of Earth is quite incredible. Read what would happen on our planet, and how fast, if we were all to disappear tomorrow (whether by plague, neutron bomb, or Rapture) in THE WORLD WITHOUT US, by Alan Weisman (St Martin’s Press, $24.95).

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