Monday, February 25, 2008

Book Recs

I don't read as much as I used to. Some of it is that I spend a lot more of my free time on the "Intranets." (I know much more about Britney Spears than I care to admit.) But some of it is that, um, books just aren't as well written anymore. Earlier in this blog I mentioned the emergence of bovies or mooks, books that were clearly written with a screenplay in mind. Unfortunately, in addition to all media being treated as one entity, there is another casualty that is the result of what I call the "suiting-up" of the publishing industry; a possibly more insidious result of the need to sell more widgets that look like and sound like books.

This is the press for authors to write as much as is humanly possible, or in other words, churn out another book on that assembly line of words. This results in books with good (or even great) premises, but the authors were not given the time to actually write it. Writing takes time; it takes thinking about. If you're pressed to write a book a year, well, that's not much time to hammer out an idea to its logical fruition. Anyway, I'm not going to trash my fellow mystery authors, but one book that I think that suffered from that in a big way is the last Harry Potter book. I work as a professional editor, whoo boy!, did that book need editing. It was a first draft. Bloated, unwieldy, confusing, repetitive, and abysmal pacing are just a few of the problems with that book. But you know, I bet Ms. Rowling was under enormous pressure (not to mention contractual agreements) to pop out that book to coincide with the movie release last summer. It had the bones of a great book, which were never realized.

Anyway, the point of this is that I have recently read five books that I very much adored, and since they stand out in a sea of mediocre books, I'd like to mention them so that you can enjoy them too.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: This man can write no wrong. In Saturday, he took one day and made a novel out of it. Here, he takes a lifetime and does so, in what I'm guessing, is 50,000 words max. A beautiful book, I can't recommend it more highly.

Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith. Another Arkady Renko novel. I love this series with a passion. It is spare, down-to-the-bones sort of writing. He is one of the few writers I know who continues to write a series that has not become stale. There are, what, six Renko novels, and every one of them is great; and not repetitive and not tired. I write a series so I appreciate how difficult that is. I admire him enormously.

And now two love stores:

Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. Changes in POV are hard to pull off. You've engaged your audience, the reader, and all of a sudden you yank them from one head and plonk them down in another. This book tells a story from multiple POVs, and man, it works. Only an author who really knows what he's doing can pull this off. Truly, it's a structural masterpiece. I loved this book. It has a character death, the disintegration of several relationships, and yet it's hopeful.

This is perhaps my favorite book of all. About Alice by Calvin Trillin. It's about how much he loved his wife, who recently died. That's it. Why he loved her. How much he loved her. By the end of the book you are in love with Alice too. You think, you lucky son of a gun.

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