Saturday, February 03, 2007

BooksFirst - January 2007

The 2nd Annual National Just Read More Novels Month has ended. I didn’t get any real publicity for it, but I like the idea so I will just keep flogging it every year until it catches on. Whether you heard about it or not, if you read a novel in January, you are a winner. You can go back to the original post to claim your prize. Just copy the image that matches how many novels you read or use the link text on your own page.

Books Bought

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Time Won’t Let Me by Bill Scheft
Magic Street by Orson Scott Card

Books Read

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Time Won’t Let Me by Bill Scheft


As you can see by the books bought list, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Part of this was over exuberance for NaJuReMoNoMo, and some of it was using up all the bonus points and the gift cards from BigBoxOfBooks and OtherBigBoxOfBooks my wife gets as teacher gifts.

Fforde’s books were recommended to me by the Achenboodle as a clever piece of meta-fiction that has spawned an entire series. The Eyre Affair features Thursday Next, a Charge of the Mechanized Light Brigade survivor turned civil servant that gets dragged into a high level investigation trying to stop a evil mastermind determined to destroy the archetype of gothic romance from the inside. The central conceit is clever. Characters from books and the real world can cross over from one world to another. In this alternate universe, literature is treated as reverently as pop music or sports. Unfortunately, the book also crams in dozens of other ideas not quite as fully developed:
  • The Crimean War has lasted centuries.
  • Lycanthropy is a maintainable and treatable disease.
  • The timeline is constantly shifting history.
  • Genetically engineered dodo birds are popular pets.
  • One of the villans is named Jack Schitt.
It’s a very engaging story, but a bit of a mess. There are several other books in this series and it would be interesting to see if it settles down a little.

When I was at Balticon last year, they were giving away teaser samples of His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik’s first novel. Here the high concept conceit is very simple: What if there were dragons during the Napoleonic Wars? It’s Aubrey–Maturin meets Pern. A sea captain bonds with an exotic dragon and gets drafted into the Dragon Corps trying to prevent France from invading Britain. The book is the first in what is at least a trilogy, so the pacing is a little languid. There is a lot of backstory about how dragons and humans have coexisted. Much thought has been invested in all the different breeds of dragons and the battle tactics, trying to maintain the suspended disbelief plausibility. Perhaps too much. The book is great mind candy and pretty fun, but could have been tightened up considerably.

To go a little highbrow, I saw Memories of My Melancholy Whores bay Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the 3 For 2 table at BigBoxOfBooks. Since I will never ever get around to reading Love In The Time Of Cholera or any of his other giant tomes, this seemed like a good way to get a taste of his style. The book is barely a novella. The publishers have used all the third grade book report tricks. Wide margins, big fonts, short chapters. That said, the pace of reading Marquez was an abrupt downshift coming off of a breezy genre fantasy. Even in translation, every sentence is a polished gem meriting stopping and admiring the words for their beauty. The story itself is Nabokovian unsettling. Most men brag that they have never paid for sex. This book's anonymous protagonist claims he has never not paid. Over the years he has become a connoisseur of prostitutes. On the eve of his ninetieth birthday, he begs his favorite madame for an underage virgin as a novelty. The rest of the book is his quasi-platonic seduction of the naive and innocent girl. I can’t even begin to fathom the levels of symbolism Marquez is attempting, but to my contemporary sensibilities, the book is both beautiful and unnervingly creepy.

Time Won’t Let Me is a book that is a work of passion. The love of music that permeates Bill Scheft’s novel about the reunion of a short-lived prep school garage band is just boundless. He clearly loves the era and imbues it with a sense of adventure. The middle-aged characters are endearing and frustrating at the same time. Some border on archetype and clichés, but they have that Hiaasenesque quirkiness that makes them fascinating. The plot takes several unexpected but logical twists. The last quarter of the book is a little disappointing because the big Hollywood payoff never quite happens. The book stays true to the characters at the expense of wrapping up the loose ends in a pretty bow. If this book ever makes it to the screen, it will be a much different story and not nearly as true to the spirit of both the book and the garage band era. Time Won’t Let Me is an underappreciated gem that anyone that loves both the written word and the classic rock era will enjoy.

Remember, if you read any novel at all in January, you are a winner. And if you didn’t, there is always next year.


2fs said...

"Jeffrey FFordes"?

2fs said...

Hit the trigger too soon. I was going to say: does it count if I've read 300 pages of the new Thomas Pynchon? Of course, that puts me less than 1/3 of the way through it...but I've run out of reading time. Hope to finish by next NaJuReMoNoMo...

Anonymous said...

My kid had an Orson Scott Card book with him when he visited. Nice to see he's on your list.

I did read one novel - Sharp Objects by Gillian Somebody. It was a mystery, a bit creepy - my kid gave it to me for Christmas. I boodled about how I was obsessing about why he thought it was something I would like - but I comfort myself that it was on an Amazon list, and it's pretty well written.


yellojkt said...

Orson Scott Card is very good. He has a few clunkers, but they are few and far between.

You are braver than I am. I loved V (the Pynchon novel, not the alien invasion miniseries), but I have started Gravity's Rainbow more times than I can remember.

yellojkt said...

And I fixed "Jasper Ffordes". That go missed in my ultra-comprehensive proof-reading.

Your Mother said...

I'm a weiner! I made it through Pride & Prejudice and loved it.

Anonymous said...

I've been slogging through two books. Not because they're bad or hard, but because I've been so busy this month that there's been no time at all.

One is "God Knows" by Joseph Heller, which is a fictionalized (naturally) memoir of King David and it's pretty funny. The other is "Wicked", by Gregory Maguire. It's a sympathetic look at the early life of the Witch of the West. Fun.