The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst

The Dogs of BabelMy book club is reading Lost and Found later this year, and maybe a few months ago at a meeting someone was waxing ecstatic about Parkhurst’s first book, The Dogs of Babel, “You know, the one with the talking dogs?”

Right, yeah, that one, no thank you.

“But it’s so good! Look, it’s in the library that you are in RIGHT NOW!” Fine, fine, I said, and then it languished on my shelf for many months until the library was like, no, seriously, bring that back on Monday or you will owe us a dime!

And I had just finished reading The Whore of Akron and I needed something less angry and so I ended up reading this really intriguing and awesome book.

I love it when that happens.

So, this book, it is not actually about talking dogs, not really, but kind of? There’s this fellow, our present-tense narrator, whose wife has died from falling out of a very tall tree and it’s a horrible sad accident except our narrator thinks maybe it wasn’t an accident because of reasons. The only witness to the event is the family dog, and conveniently our narrator is a linguistics professor and conveniently in this fictional world there’s a guy what made a dog actually talk, and so our narrator takes a sabbatical to see if he can’t teach his dog some rudimentary language skills.

But of course there’s more to it than that, and our narrator also spends his sabbatical trying to piece together what might have happened on his own, and what I think is really interesting about this novel is that the wife is a total Manic Pixie Dream Girl and I think this is the first time I’ve encountered an MPDG story in which said MPDG settles down and makes a life with her besotted man, although it would be more exciting if she weren’t, you know, dead. Alas.

Now I really want someone to write a story from the perspective of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Has this already happened? Make this happen!

So, anyway, the story was really engaging. I wanted to know what happened to the wife, and what would happen with the dog and the talking, and Parkhurst added in more things I wanted to know about at just the right intervals and then at the end she made me cry and hug my husband and warn him against climbing any incredibly tall trees. And I am now super-excited for Lost and Found, which is apparently about people on an Amazing Race-like show and hey, is it December yet so I can read that book? Hurry along, year!

Recommendation: Read this if you’re looking for a quick page-turner and/or a decent cry.

Rating: 9/10

Paper Towns, by John Green (12 June)

When I saw that John Green had mentioned Scott Westerfeld in his acknowledgements as part of a writing group, I was surprised but not surprised. I love them both! And now I’m going to have to search out the works of the other authors in the group, because I imagine they are also swell.

But back to the book at hand. Paper Towns is the story of Quentin Jacobsen and his quest to find Margo Roth Spiegelman, his erstwhile best friend. Margo showed up at Q’s window one night after several years of non-speaking-ness, took him on a grand revenge-getting and trouble-making adventure, and then disappeared. When Q hears from her parents that Margo likes to leave clues when she runs away, he gathers up his friends to decipher the ones it seems she’s left for them. It takes him a while to make sense of what she’s left, and all the while he starts to realize that he doesn’t even know who Margo Roth Spiegelman is, let alone how to get into her head and find her.

It’s a good time and a fast beach read. (But be careful on the beach — you’ll get so caught up in the book you’ll get a sunburn. [Yes, this did really happen to me.]) Green’s characters are always so very, and these guys are no exception, but I feel like I could have known these people as a larger group in high school. And they’re fun, so that’s good. And [spoiler alert?], Green evens out all the ridiculousness inherent in the road-trip-on-a-deadline at the end with a punch of reality to the face, and I for one appreciated it.

Rating: 8/10