Saturday, January 5, 2008

Winter reading

I usually buy my books in paperback, so I'm always a year behind the season's hottest reads. But every year there are one or two titles that sound so terrific, I can't wait for the paperback, so I plunk down the money for a hardcover copy.

I've been checking out some winter books previews, including this one from USA Today. The book that has me most excited is Adam Langer's Ellington Boulevard, which will be published on Jan. 22. This is one I'm going to buy right away, no doubt about it.

I've enjoyed Langer's two previous novels, about growing up in Chicago, Crossing California and The Washington Story. I absolutely loved the first one, in a never-want-it-to-end kind of way. The sequel was good, but it kind of went off into too many tangents and I lost a lot of interest along the way. However, both books are a funny, warm look at the Jewish neighborhood of West Rogers Park and the changes that occurred there in the 1970s and '80s. They're filled with lots of quirky, true-to-life characters and teenage anxiety.

In Ellington Boulevard, Langer has turned for inspiration to New York City, specifically the height of the city's real estate boom. On his Web site, Langer says the novel "explores the lives of a series of characters all directly or tangentially involved in the sale of one small and suddenly-valuable apartment."

Here's how the publisher describes the book: "It’s the story of why people come to a city they can’t afford, take jobs they despise, sacrifice love, find love, and eventually become the people they never thought they’d be—for better and for worse."

I'm interested to see how he does with bringing New York City to life. Part of the attraction of the two previous novels is that Langer grew up in the neighborhood he was writing about, so it was a world that he knew intimately. He was also dealing, in large part, with teenagers, where here he seems to have moved firmly into the world of grownups and greed. Ellington Boulevard sounds more like Tom Wolfe's territory in The Bonfire of the Vanities, another book that I love.

Langer's already gotten some great blurbs for Ellington Boulevard, including this one from "Wicked" composer Stephen Schwartz: “I laughed out loud throughout this simultaneously cynical and sentimental New York fairy tale with a love for off-Broadway musicals and the seventeen-key clarinet, and a profound understanding of the importance of dogs.”

I have no idea how or why he got the plug from Schwartz, the composer of my beloved "For Good," a man for whom I have almost god-like reverence. But despite my disappointment with Langer's sophomore effort, I'm really looking forward to Ellington Boulevard. If Stephen Schwartz liked it, that's good enough for me!

No comments: