Mid-90s Reading

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The Great

Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams is one of the great contemporary novels. Set in southeastern New Mexico, it's the story of alienated people told from inside their heads in a most effective manner. I plan to run out and buy more Kingsolver novels soon. And Pigs in Heaven, a kind of sequel to The Bean Trees, is even better. Poisonwood Bible was one of the best popular novels of the '90s (don't let the Oprah Book Club backlash prevent you from buying this book (ditto for The Bluest Eye)). Kingsolver is the finest novelist writing today.

The Really Good

Bebe Moore Campbell's insightful Brothers and Sisters is an engrossing look at the friendship between two young bank employees, one black and one white, in the very nervous and race conscious Los Angeles of the early '90s.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars and Green Mars (which just won the Hugo for Best Science Fiction novel of 1993) are splendid and scary views of a future colonization of Mars. Great characters, a strong narrative and good ideas keep both these books going. Another in the series, Blue Mars should be out early next year.

Harry Turtledove's Guns of the South, an excellent military alternate history even for those of us who avoid military history books. Mysterious strangers find Robert E. Lee in early 1864 and give him AK-47s, thus changing the course of the American Civil War. You'll figure out who these strangers are well before General Lee does, but Turtledove's "what if" is fascinating and very well-researched

Edward Hallowell's Driven to Distraction reinterprets attention deficit syndrome in a way that almost makes it sound more good than bad. An uplifting book for people with the condition, and required reading for all the teachers and employers and spouses who don't understand it.

Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist is even more enjoyable the second time around. Like Kingsolver, her characterizations are strikingly good, even when she's writing about extraordinarily mundane people like Macon.

The Overrated

E. Annie Proulux's The Shipping News has flashes of brilliance but is, overall, a weak novel.

Scott Smith's A Simple Plan is a well-written novel about completely appalling people who behave like animals for money. The writing is good enough to hold your attention, but I was kind of disgusted that I finished it.

Avoid at All Costs

Judith Micheal's Pot of Gold is junk. It's a neat idea (a struggling mother wins lots of money in a lottery) but it's weighed down by every dumb cliche imaginable. One of the worst books I've ever bought and finished.