Search This Blog

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Round-Up

Man, I'm behind.

Jincy Willett, The Writing Class: As with Winner of the National Book Award, Willett excels at characterization. She sets up the class at the start of the novel with satirical caricatures of potential writers -- the woman who does not read but thinks publishing a book would be easy and fun, the socially inept nerd living in his mother's basement and writing scifi, the bored housewife, the professional who wants to be another Grisham or Crichton. But then we get to know them and can no longer dismiss them; instead, Willett forces us to see them as three-dimensional people, good, bad, flawed, or all three. There is also a bit of meta-fun; at the end, some members of the class begin asking for the details of how the murderer committed the crimes, but Amy, their instructor and the protagonist, brushes them off: "What difference does it make? . . . I'm not waving off the what and the why. I'd never do that. But the how bores me to death." And so we never really learn how either. Reading examples of bad fiction was fun too.

Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book: An excellent book, with a couple of exceptions. The structure was very similar to Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, where the novel goes back in time to tell the story of an object through various episodes in history. This book is based on the fascinating story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, with Brooks imagining a history for it as it survives through the ages. Some of the segments were a bit heavy-handed if very educational; I knew about the convivencia from my Spanish lit studies, but I had no idea Muslims and Jews coexisted peacefully for a long time in Sarajevo, and one section of the book shows Muslim characters risking their lives to protect Jews from the Nazis, because their cultures are so similar and they have to stick together and help each other because who else will, and ow, I just got hit by the Anvil of Irony. The sections where the protagonist, Hannah, interacts with her mother were unpleasant. I appreciate that Brooks did not go the standard route of misunderstanding, bad blood, misunderstanding, big cathartic fight, new appreciation of each other, but the resolution of their relationship seemed unduly harsh. They had huge problems, no question, but in light of all the atrocities in the book those problems seemed both not serious enough and too complex to justify the ending. I'm not sure why Brooks felt the need to include this in the book, except as a further illustration of her thesis that sometimes there is no happy ending, which was amply demonstrated elsewhere in the book. Overall, though, I enjoyed it.

McSweeney's 13: I like McSweeney's Quarterly so much, I wish I could get all the issues. This one had a comics theme. The vast majority of the works were comics, with a few comics-related essays; even the book itself was wrapped in one big comic sheet. The stories were funny, tragic, heartbreaking, disturbing, dull, clever, and beautiful. I was inspired to learn about the Métis and reminded that I really need to check out Love and Rockets (I just don't know where to begin). That's the best part of lit journals like this -- the exposure to writers and information I would not otherwise encounter.

No comments:

Post a Comment