Saturday, 4 December 2010

Tears of a Wallet: Latest Acquisitions

I accidentally ended up in an Oxfam bookshop today, and perhaps predictably, carnage ensued. They had a 3 for 2 deal on, and given that most books cost less than 2 quid...

Let's get the preconceived notions out of the way! Maybe if I write them down I can banish them until I've completed the book (this is part of my quest to honor Updike's Rule #6.)

I've been meaning to give Sawyer a go for ages, especially Flashforward. So when Oxfam offered me the choice of TWO Sawyer novels (the other being Frameshift, which sounded a little too Robin Cook for what I expect from Sawyer), I snatched Factoring Humanity.

What do I expect from Sawyer? Hard physics, multiple universe paradoxes, elegant human relationships. Basically I expect Fringe in book form.

I'm already 86 pages into it, and it's very good so far, if a bit heavy on scientific and psychological theory. It seems to be struggling to find the correct balance between it's science and its humanity, but I'm not far enough in to determine whether these currently disparate elements come together later.

I won't lie, this is the random pick necessary to complete the 3 for 2 deal. That said, I haven't read Garland before, and I have heard that his novels tend to be masterpieces of plotting and suspense without being airplane trash. So this was a curiosity pick.  (Basically I have little to write here because for a change I have few ideas of what to expect!)

It's no secret that I really did not like the movie. That said, I keep reading and re-reading about how impressively Burgess recharacterizes the English language in this novel. By all accounts, the themes that the movie seemed only to grasp at are given full attention in the novel.

Also, I have realized that if I really want to be at all authoritative as a blogger, I need to be open to different types of novels that go outside of my comfort zone. While I have no idea what that zone is (I have read multiple books in pretty much any genre you can think of), I thought that the novel inspiring a movie that I hate is firmly outside of it. So when I spotted it on the shelves, I thought it was time to put aside preconceived notions and give Clockwork Orange another try, and maybe to approach it with a more critical eye.

This one needs no introduction I think. Like Clockwork Orange, part of its reputation rests with its fluid use of the English language. But the plot interests me: the main character is a music and sci-fi nerd who is cursed by the Dominican Republican dictator responsible for his family's exile to the United States.

I have a slight concern, based on what I've read, that this book might turn out to be like Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, a novel about teenage superheroes and jazz music that commits the unfathomable crime of being BORING.

But this one comes recommended to me by people I trust, so I look forward to it.
Again and again, I've read about how Henry James is one of the greatest literary stylists that America has ever produced. He is apparently one of the earliest experimenters with form and style, and is also considered a master of transnational social commentary, much like Twain or Moliere. All this is high praise indeed.

Given his reputation, I was shocked to discover I had never read ANYTHING by James apart from a few short stories. Filling the gaps, indeed.

I really look forward to this one as it's a ghost story (who doesn't love a good atmospheric scare), but once I'm done I'll delve into the Merchant-Ivory stuff.

(FYI, I do blame Merchant-Ivory for my lack of desire to read James until recently.)

I actually squealed when I saw this one. McInerney's been in my thoughts a lot lately. Bright Lights, Big City, considered his masterpiece, is a book I loved despite every expectation not to, and more surprisingly, it has stuck with me.

Like that novel, I understand this one is loosely autobiographical. But in a little bit of strange yet recently topical gossip, the model ex-girlfriend McInerney alludes to in this novel is based on *drumroll please* Rielle Hunter! AKA the temptress at the heart of the so-out-of-control-you-couldn't-have-made-it-up-if-you-tried John Edwards scandal.
I've always wanted to read this but never gotten around to it (actually, the same goes for the movie). When I graduated from high school and had that endless summer  anticipating college, it was my mission to be as well-read on the 'canon' as possible, so I could have late night conversations with like minded young aesthetes under romantic lighting in various parts of campus.  (This did happen, but 18th century classics were rarely the topic. Ayn Rand yes. Politics yes. But mostly I seemed to gravitate toward lovers of Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World. And Donnie Darko.)

But this was never top of the list, and it seems to be alluded to a lot more in recent times. But can I just mention how much I loath the cover? Basically I thought, "for God's sake, do we really need to put a bright chick-lit cover on E.M. FORSTER?!? Imagine my surprise when I found out that this cover was printed in 1990, well before the chick-lit genre existed. Still. Ew. Bergdorf font. The end.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of the most haunting books ever written, a tale of depravity right up there with Notes on the Underground, and a wantonly unreliable narrator to boot. Before I read Kevin, it had been a long time since I'd read a novel that made me want to shower every time I put it down.

So yes, please, more Shriver. That said, I don't know if she can ever live up to the brilliance of Kevin. But then we'll see.

Also this is a first for me, reading a novel about tennis players. Could hit me too close to home, or be a straight ace (PUN!)

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