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Monday, December 3, 2007

What I'm Reading November 2007

Another month is over and here is a write up of three of the books I read this month. I actually hit three different genres in this list too.

This month I listened to Finn by Jon Clinch. This is a first novel, retelling of Huckleberry Finn from his Dad's point of view. Clinch's story draws heavily upon the text of Twain's work and he fills in the gaps between the few scenes where father and son have encounters and then builds around them leading to Finn's death. The story does include the frequent use of flashbacks. The story is told in almost a "back and forth" motion. The narration slips between the story of Finn and his black common-law wife's life and his present situation. This was slightly confusing in audio format, but I did catch on after a bit.

Overall, I loved the idea of Clinch taking a well known classic and giving us his take on a different side of the story. I do need to say though that there area a few shocking scenes of brutality, murder, and violence against children in this novel, which should not be surprising since Finn is not the most upstanding citizen. And although Finn gets his say in this novel, the reader is not expected to sympathize completely with him. Finally, in this novel (and I am not giving much away since this is revealed early on), Clinch imagines Huck as a mulatto. But please make no mistake, this is a dark and violent book that would be shocking to many Twain lovers.

When listening to the audio, there is a fairly long conversation between the narrator and the author at the end. Clinch answers a lot of questions about the research he has done and why he made some of the decisions he did. Even if you read this novel, the last disc of the audio is worth a listen. Finn is also beginning to turn up on many of this year's "Best" lists.

Obviously, after completing Finn, many readers are going to turn to the source material The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. But other "Classics Revisited" novels might appeal to those who enjoyed Finn. A good match would be Geraldine Brooks' March which is a retelling of Little Women from the absent father's point of view.

On a completely different note, I also read AJ Jacobs' new bestseller, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. In his previous memoir, Jacobs, the Editor-at-Large for Esquire spent a year reading the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica. Here Jacobs attempts to do as the title states. He spends 9 of the 12 months on the Old Testament and makes trips to Israel, Amish Country, Evangelical Churches, and Hassidic rituals. Jacobs grows a beard, tries not to covet anything, never lie, and wear biblical clothing. Throughout his experiment, Jacobs is also commenting on modern, secular life, his own feelings about religion, and his family life, including his wife's pregnancy.

I thoroughly enjoyed both Jacobs' experiment and his prose. This book definitely has a leftist lean (which Jacobs owns up to) which I would make sure people knew ahead of time. Also, Jacobs is neurotic with bad OCD (again he owns up to it), but some readers of his books are put off by it. I would suggest this book to anyone interested in the relevance of biblical laws in modern America.

For those who enjoyed Jacobs' experiment, try reading his other memoir, The Know-it-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. However, if you are a reader who enjoyed the biblical aspect specifically, there is Bruce Feiler's Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses.

Finally, this month I also read Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn which is the suspense sequel to Case Histories. In One Good Turn we again follow former police inspector and PI Jackson Brodie, but this time he is a bit more of a supporting player. Jackson is in Scotland for a theater festival with his girlfriend and gets himself tangled into a nasty conspiracy involving a corrupt builder, foreign maids, road rage, and murder. Like Case Histories the story is told from multiple points of view: Jackson's, the wife of a home builder, a female police inspector, and a mystery writer. It was a very satisfying suspense story with a tidy resolution.

Readers who like Atkinson's character heavy/literary suspense novels may also enjoy the Russian suspense writer Boris Akunin and his novel The Winter Queen. Here a seemingly routine suicide investigation leads to deeper secrets. Peter Hoeg also writes literary suspense. Try Smilla's Sense of Snow. My co-worked Kathy helped with these readalikes. Thanks Kathy.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would also recommend Boris Akunin for readers who like classic British mysteries. Murder on the Leviathan reads very much like an English country house mystery. You can see my reviews of his books at the site below.

Liz Clifford