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Monday, October 29, 2007

What I'm Reading: October 2007

This has been a varied month of reading and the first two books I will list are great readalikes for huge bestsellers.

When The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came out, one of the reasons it was so popular had to do with the fact that its autistic narrator talked honestly and directly to the reader, relating his fears, confusions, and feelings. Although many readalike lists were made to help readers find something similar, none captured the voice of this young man as well. Until now, that is. This month I read, The Dead Father's Club by Matt Haig, and I instantly thought of Haddon's book. I am not alone, many customers on Amazon reported the same thing. Haig's novel is a retelling of Hamlet, in which a socially awkward preteen named Philip Nobel is visited by the ghost of his father. The father claims his brother (Philip's uncle) killed him in order to take over the family business and marry Philip's mom. The story unfolds much like Hamlet, and the ending is completely open (a cliff hanger really). However, the appeal of this story is Philip. He speaks directly to the reader in his true voice. I don't want to give much more away, but if you enjoyed the narrative voice in Curious Incident try Haig's novel.

Fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum mysteries should try The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. This is Lutz's first novel and it is promised to be part of a series about the eccentric Spellman family and their San Fran, PI business. This first installment introduces the family, Mom and Dad (PIs and owners of the agency), older brother (big shot lawyer), Uncle Ray (alcoholic employee and house guest), Rae (little sister, school age but wants to be a PI right now), and our narrator, 27 year-old Izzy. The main plot centers around Izzy, her parade of boyfriends, and her wish to leave the family business. However, she gets caught up in an unsolved missing persons case for which the solution is highly refreshing. This book has no violence and lots of laughs, but don't take that to mean it is unsophisticated. If you like eccentric characters, investigative detail, and familial dysfunction, you will enjoy The Spellman Files.

Now for something completely different. I finally finished listening to the literary fiction darling from late 2006 Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. This was Pessl's debut and it is long (over 500 pages). Six months ago, I tried to read it but found it slow going and returned it to the library. I then reserved the audio and loaded it on my computer until I could get to it. I am glad I gave it another try; although I do have to say I am also glad I had seen the book and knew there were footnotes and some "visual aids." Our protagonist is Blue van Meer, a Freshman at Yale, who has decided to tell her life story as if she were teaching a course in Western Literature. Thus, the chapters are each named after great novels. We also know from the start that her story involves the death of a woman named Hannah. Blue's story mostly takes place over her senior year at a prestigious NC boarding school. Blue and her father have spent her entire life traveling from town to town, as her father teaches Political Science at small universities. Now, he has promised they will stay in one place until she goes to college. Blue's story is part coming of age and part murder mystery. I agree with many of the reviewers on Amazon who say that the first 300 pages move slowly, but they are worth it for the last 200, which you'll want to take in at one time. Word of warning though: this book has no concrete ending. Instead of a final chapter, Blue leaves us with a "Final Exam" that allows the reader to fill in the final blanks. Try Pessl's debut novel if you are a fan of Donna Tart's The Secret History.

On next month's "to read" shelf I have a western and some short stories (still have to hit those quotas before 2008 begins), but who knows what else I may pick up between now and then.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now, I know this shouldn't matter, but I don't think I'll ever be able to get through "Special Topics in Calamity Physics," because Pessl sounds kind of snooty when she says that authors don't have to dress like boring librarians.

Please note: I dress like a boring librarian, so why this annoys me so I don't know. It just does.