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Monday, November 13, 2006

Let's Get Excited!

I can count on one hand the number of times a work of fiction has got me really excited. I mean really excited (though, let's be perfectly clear, I don't mean "excited" in a sexual way).

I primarily read fiction; I love fiction. When asked for fiction recommendations, I usually have a list kicking around somewhere. Some I like pretty well; others I love. But very, very few fiction books make me truly excited as both a reader and a writer.

Some recent examples from the "like" department (keeping in mind "like" implies an above-average book):
"The Twentieth Wife" by Indu Sundaresan
"Abundance" by Sena Jeter Naslund
"The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield
"The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova
"No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy

Some recent examples of fiction from the "love" department (i.e. you really should read this book in the next six months, because it will change how you look at the world):
"Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry
"Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison
"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak
"Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte
"The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth

To reiterate: these are fiction books I'm talking about. Nonfiction affects me in a totally different way. With really exciting nonfiction, there is this wonder that the recounting could actually have happened in real life. It's the old adage "truth is stranger than fiction" and most often this is very much the case.

Fabulous nonfiction from the past few months:
"The River of Doubt" by Candice Millard
"Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder
"Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer
"The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larsen

So, back to the original idea - really exciting fiction is a rare thing. But, I am RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT reading a book that is blowing my mind. It is "White Teeth" by Zadie Smith and it was published in 2000 when Smith was a dewy 24-year-old.

I'm not sure what initially compelled me to buy this book, other than glimpsed excerpts of hymn-like reviews, and its inclusion on many "must read" book lists. It has been on my personal "To Read" list for 2006 since January; and with 2006 drawing to a close, I finally decided to dive in.

The first page put me off sufficiently to take a 2-day break to read "Is Sex Necessary" by E. B. White and James Thurber (circa 1929 - how graphic could it be?) which I picked up the library book sale. But rather than start something else after "Sex", I went back to "White Teeth" and am so glad I did. Each paragraph is an epiphany of writing, as decadent as a bowlful of Costco tiramisu.

Recounting the plot line is pointless - if I did so, you'd probably never pick up this book. And it's not great one-liners that have me running for my highlighter pen. It's the book as a whole - its characters, its dialogue, its intelligence and saavy, it subtleties and turns of phrase; quirky characters like John Irving, but more accessible. Tons of humor, but completely authentic. This woman is a literary genius; so much so that it's hard to be jealous of her.

In the review-excerpts, she's compared to John Irving, Charles Dickens, Thomas Pynchon, and Mary Shelley. (Imagine them all combined!) But ultimately she has her own very distinct, unforgettable voice. Pure literary bliss!

The only other book I've ever read that has been more emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually satisfying was C. S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles. In the mere 74 pages I've read thus far of this 448-page book, there has not been the slightest misstep. Yes, I'm this excited after only 74 pages. As a writer, I rejoice in her control of the human language. Her work is an epiphany, because she captures the spirit of some undefinable thing that I long to create myself, but probably never will. I can hold this book up and say, "This is it. This is the voice I've wanted to find in myself."

So, there you have it.

Now, I will be embarrassed if I get to the end of this book and decide I hate it. The other really embarrassing thing would be for someone to read it and completely hate it.

On librarything.com (where my personal library is catalogued in its entirety; see www.librarything.com/alaskabookworm), there was at least one review by a reader who "didn't get it". Well, those of you who love Tim LaHaye and Dan Brown probably won't get it. But those who love John Irving and Christopher Moore probably will.

Well, enough. You're probably sick to death of my gushing. And, I've got a book to read.

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At 8:09 PM, Blogger kq1226 said...

So, how do you really fell about it? Not sure you expressed it well enough! ;)


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