White Teeth by Zadie Smith

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The 150-word Review: When your hopes, dreams, failures, and regrets, heaped upon your children end in disaster; when your adopted country, the one you’ve shed blood for, turns its back on you; when your homeland fails to resurrect the fundamental good that must still reside in your blood; what are you to do? You do what any Englishman (by way of Bangladesh) would do; you find your best mate and head to the pub.

Samad Iqball (ICK-ball!!) and Archie Jones are best mates and the patriarchs of two London families in Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.” In this brilliant Whitbread-winning debut novel, three generations struggle to maintain (or discover) identity, fulfillment, independence, and joy in a multicultural world that is, at once, nurturing and indifferent. It is a story about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, immigrants and imperialists, triumph and disgrace, and the complexities that arise when everything is thrown into one pot.

You would like this book if you’re a fan of: genetically engineered mice (FUTURE MOUSE©), culture shock, browbeaten husbands, exasperated wives, sibling rivalries, self-involved animal rights terrorists, “hysterical realism,” and parodies of the misguided middle class (Chalfenism? Absolutely brilliant).

This book would go great with: Samuel Smith’s India Ale

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Interesting fact Norm… like her character, Irie Jones, Zadie Smith is also the daughter of a Jamaican mother and an English father.

Reading this book would impress: Jehovah Witnesses, E.M. Forster, Mangal Pandey, Jamaicans, Bengalis, Englishmen and maybe your dentist.


The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

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The 150-word Review: If you’ve ever been bullied relentlessly (been yoked); if you’ve ever had to desperately project a mole-like inconspicuousness as a means for survival; if you’ve ever withdrawn within yourself to a world of music, art, and imagination for solace; if you’ve ever hidden your devotion to another because it would mean suicide in your world; if you’ve ever somehow grew up, moved away, and found success; if you ever returned home in despair; Jonathan Lethem speaks to you.

“The Fortress of Solitude” is the story of a young motherless white boy and his equally motherless, preternaturally hip, black friend (masters of skully games, comic books, midnight graffiti missions, and superpowers) growing up in Boerum Hill (née Gowanus Houses), Brooklyn in the 1970’s. Featuring a deeply personal soundtrack, Lethem meditates on a not-so-idyllic coming of age, the struggle for identity, and how returning to ones youth can sometimes lead to redemption.

You would like this book if you’re a fan of: top-to-bottom burners, album liner notes, gentrification, early-era Hip Hop, intellectual punk rock, avant-garde art, genre bending fiction, and suspect magic realism.

This book would go great with: YooHoo, Rheingold, Manhattan Special

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm… Jonathan Lethem was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called “genius” grant, in 2005.

Reading this book would impress: Fab Five Freddy, Philip K. Dick, DJ Kool Herc, Lou Reed, and Brooklyn hipsters.