Friday, March 30, 2007

The Champion is Revealed!

Check out the final results of The Morning News Tournament of Books.

It isn't any surprise and sure didn't feel like any competition was actually occuring. With words like "trounced" being used and some of the best bloggers, reviewers (and even a few authors) weighing in on the final match-up with wit & without holding back, the summaries are worth reading even if you weren't already convinced that The Road is one of the greatest literary masterworks of all time, let alone of last year.

The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. (Source)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Road and O!? Really?

Wow. Oprah's announcement today may have been missed by indie booksellers, but it was impossible to not see the paperback copies of Cormac McCarthy's The Road with the highly-recognizable sticker stuck on the front cover. We were joking today that when the housewives come in to pick up the book, be sure to suggest they also purchase a copy of Blood Meridian. Yes, we can be evil. But seriously folks, as incongruous as it might seem for these two names to be connected in perpetuity, the attention that will be brought McCarthy as a literary master is priceless.

My 10/3/06 review of The Road

Two other great links:
CormacMcCarthy's Venomous Fiction, 4/19/92 New York Times Interview
The Cormac McCarthy Society

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Three Reviews in Brief

Fresh out in hardcover, these are brief reviews of a few new books I'm recommending. The first is especially a strong contender as my favorite book of Spring.

Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead

A perfect, beautiful child of Cormac McCarthy and Tom Franklin, Robert Olmstead’s Coal Black Horse brings to life the bloody, horrific details that make up people and land of the Civil War while illuminating the journey of a boy and his horse: a powerful, starkly honest path leading from boy to man. The graphic, violent images are both prosaic and poetic, but the lessons are only of hope and promise. One needs to travel through hell and back in order to see the brightest lights. Wow.

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

What makes us finally grow up? Is it the discovery of love? Loss? Or the realization that everything is transient, sifting? More than a coming-of-age story, Aryn Kyle brings us the exquisitely wrought story of Alice Winston, a heroine in her own right, as she endures heartbreak after heartbreak over a span of time that marks her transition from child to young woman. We all have that moment in time, a span of minutes or months, that changes us forever - in what will always feel like an instant. Solid writing that is stunning to the last word, Kyle makes Alice's dark, hard world - beautiful. Just don't judge this book by its cover.

The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

A young Australian woman emigrates to New York City only to get acquainted with a group of castaways who together shed their not-so-dull every day lives working in a used bookstore as they are caught up in a literary secret that changes their lives forever. A delightful piece of fiction that propels you forward in anticipation of what will happen next at the same time that your heart is warmed by the light that shines from the oddest of characters. This is a story about people and their connections to one another; about the families we create when we are far from our kin and how they change us forever - for the better.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

Through the conversation of a Pakistani man and an American at a marketplace in Lahore, we learn about the recent life-changing events of a young man who leaves his home of Pakistan in order to make use of the education and opportunities in the United States. He attends Princeton and is hand-selected to work for an important firm in New York City whose sole purpose is to evaluate the financial worth of companies about to be sold, purchased, overtaken, etc. In no short order, this young man shoots to the top of his "class" within the firm, becomes someone with a lot of potential within his line of work. Then the events of 9/11 occur and change everything. Or is it the doomed relationship with an upper-class girl he meets in school that changes everything? Or is it somehow the melding of all of these things together that ultimately sheds light over a world in which our main character simply doesn't belong.

Most arresting and memorable are the changes of emotion and core beliefs that occur within our young man. His own discovery of animosity towards America, while still grateful for the opportunities he was given feels true. It is a young man who begins with hope of a prosperous future for himself in America and his family back in Pakistan, but is disillusioned by a combination of American politics and capitalism. Who's to say which had the most negative effect? Perhaps it is mostly about discovery within himself of someone who finds value in the unsayable, empathy & compassion for the least among us and realizes he cannot turn a blind eye to the harder truths of the world.

Hamid's novel is brief, simple but not without a forward-moving intensity that keeps you page-turning until you have no choice but to put the book down. And in the time between setting it aside and picking it up again, you think of it. You ponder Changez, the world he lives in now in Lahore, the world he left in New York.

The author, Mohsin Hamid, is Pakistani. He did attend Princeton and is only a few years older than his character here. Keep in mind also that Hamid began this novel in the summer of 2000, nearly a hear and a half before the events of 9/11. The voice feels just that personal, that authentic and that impassioned.

The writing is bold, precise and feels well-calculated. The sentences and images well-crafted without verging into the saccharinely poetic. The story itself builds to a climax without conclusion. Ultimately, seeing through the eyes of our protagonist and accompanying him on this journey, however brief, left me feeling quite humble.

A highly recommended read.

Visit the author's website.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Your 69% Bestseller

So I just tried out the Lulu Titlescorer by entering in three different titles (just for fun, of course they aren't actual titles I have in mind for anything I'm working on) and each one received the same score: 69.0% chance of becoming a bestseller. Can I pick 'em or can I pick 'em?

Anyone need help titling their novel?

Book Girl

Yes, yes I am a book girl, but I am referring to the blog: Book Girl. It's aesthetically pleasing, made up of simple layouts, and boasts reviews of books I don't read (which means you can read more of a variety in reviews). Check it out!

Rant, Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck is BACK!

Using a device called the "oral biography," the story is told from the first-person perspective of many people who had some sort of contact with the main character, Buster Landru Casey, AKA "Rant". This lends itself most often to feeling as though you are listening to a radio documentary. As though someone interviewed hundreds of people one at a time, getting his or her entire version of Rant's story, then edited it together in a (more or less) chronological timeline. The voices stay fairly consistent and believable, though the reader must at times let go of the thoughts that some of these characters couldn't possibly know all that they now share about Rant's life, especially when they re-tell his childhood.

The reader gets to know the characters through their voices, through what they say as opposed to an external narrator explaining it all for you. Much in the way we experience people in everyday interactions, especially as we increase communication that is very self-centered and one-sided with e-mails, forum posts, bulletins, and of course, blogs. You judge based on word choices, sentence structure, and content. It isn't so easy to know who's the bad guy and who's the good guy. Sometimes what you think of a person based on what they say is flipped around later on by something else that comes out of the mouth.

The story itself progresses at an unstoppable pace. Impossible to put down, it still requires you to pay ever closer attention to the story being told or else you won't understand what's being told. This considering the casual use of terms foreign to us, but well-understood to the world within Rant: "Party Crashing" "flags" "tagging" "Daytimer" "Nighttimer" "boosting a peak" "neural transcripts". When the story starts turning sci-fi in technology, the reader has to start piecing together references from much earlier in the book and slow down, pay attention, read carefully in order to understand what happens. Think about what it was like for Neo to have to understand what the Matrix really was while experiencing it firsthand.

Since I have a bit of an obsession with names, I have to give a nod to the fabulous names in this book: Echo Lawrence, Shot Dunyon, Bacon Carlyle, Canada Mercer, Phoebe Truffeau, Green Taylor Simms, Symon Praeger, Carlo Tiengo, Lynn Coffee, and the list goes on. The names are ingenius, inventive, original and I envy whatever neurons snap into the right places to come up with such fun uses of the alphabet.

Then there is Palahniuk's tendency to describe in detail bodily functions, bad habits and people unafraid to harm themselves in unique ways. But, unlike Haunted which seemed to want to be as disgusting as possible, causing you to flinch so much that your muscles were probably strained while reading, in Rant Palahniuk returns to the more stylized grotesque so familiar to readers of nearly every single one of his previous books. He describes what should be so gross as to make you express yourself aloud, but yet he makes it easy to swallow while still squirming a little and laughing to yourself in disgust, as opposed to being a complete turn-off. Then he takes one particularly awful event, describing it in the sort of detail that makes you squirm precisely because of its innate awfulness and does so with sensitivity and even respect.

Set for a May 1 release, Rant is classic Palahniuk with sensory overload, critical riffs on society & government, gross oddities, not too disturbing violence and a smart, imaginative exploration of culture. Always trying on different storytelling devices, characters and voices; Palahniuk isn't afraid to stray far off the beaten track in terms of contemporary fiction. His latest novel is no different. This time he goes even further to mine the sources and structures of mythologies - those tales that have been the backbone of every religion, every culture since the dawn of time.

The questions he raises are sometimes answered, but mostly aren't and lead to only more complicated queries. And that's okay, the answers aren't what this book is about. With each chapter, you realize that the present era is being stood on its head to give a look not at today, but a speculative journey off into the future today. Yes, I meant that to sound obfuscated. To quote Rant Casey: "The future you have tomorrow won't be the same future you had yesterday."