I’m always interested in discovering new authors, and a couple weeks ago I was intrigued by an obituary for Milorad Pavic, a Serbian novelist who died on Nov. 30, at age 80. I haven't read any of Pavic’s books, but it seems that readers who love language and nonlinear narratives would find a gold mine in his novels.
Dictionary of the Khazars, from 1988, is organized (you guessed it) like a dictionary. According to the New York Times, the novel, “which purports to be the republication of a late-17th-century dictionary printed in poison ink, opens encouragingly:
The author assures the reader that he will not have to die if he reads this book, as did the user of the 1691 edition, when ‘The Khazar Dictionary’ still had its first scribe.” Ha!
Landscape Painted With Tea, another of Pavic’s novels, is organized as a crossword puzzle: “Readers may approach the book chronologically by reading only the “Across” sections, or less chronologically and with more digressions by reading the “Down” sections. Either strategy gradually reveals the story of a soul-searching architect who roams a labyrinth of meditation and memory.”
That description reminded me of a novel I’ve been working at reading for a couple of years now. (I know you all have one: the book you keep picking up and putting down again—but dang it you will finish it!) Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch is structured in an equally unusual fashion as Pavic’s books; you can either read it in direct sequence, from beginning to end. . . or you can “hopscotch” through the book’s chapters by following a table provided by Cortázar. (I think of it as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for grownups.)
Since I’m compiling my reading list for 2010, I wondered if readers had suggestions for other wackily-structured novels, or authors who employ an unusual device in their writing.
As 2010 rolls around, I know many of you will be making picks for a book club you’ve been a part of for years, or you’ll be joining a new group. (Or, maybe you’ve got your picks lined up months in advance. If so, please share the titles in the comments!)
My mom recently joined a book club in Arkansas, and I know she’s excited about January and February: Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo and Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage are on the docket.
If you’re just starting a club, BookPage has many resources: We have a book club column in the print edition of BookPage (click here for December’s highlighted books); and we’ve got an entire page dedicated to all things book club on BookPage.com, where you can learn about new books out in paperback, write a profile about your club or review books your group enjoyed.
What books will your club be reading in 2010?
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
September 2009, Riverhead
Juliet, Naked follows the intertwining stories of Duncan, a college professor in a small English town whose one passion is for the music of Tucker Crowe; Duncan's girlfriend Annie, who is beginning to realize how angry she is that she's just spent 15 years with a man who loves Tucker Crowe more than her; and Tucker Crowe himself, who has been in near-seclusion in rural Pennsylvania since shortly after the release of his greatest album, Juliet, in 1986. Hornby has a gift for illuminating the inner lives of his characters, from their moments of petty jealousy to the recognition of their scariest or most humbling needs. I especially appreciate his insight into the kind of fannish obsession that Duncan has for Tucker Crowe, which both embarrasses and sustains him. I always love Hornby's characters, and this book is no exception; I'm almost excited that I have another flight tomorrow, so I can have an excuse to plow through the rest of Juliet, Naked and find out how it ends!
What really frightened him was how spectacularly his transgression had paid off. All these years, he'd done nothing more than read and listen and think, and though he'd been stimulated by these activities, what had he uncovered, really? And yet by behaving like a teenage hooligan with a screw loose, he had made a major breakthrough. He was the only Crowologist in the world who knew about that picture, and he could never tell anyone about it, unless he wished to own up to being mentally unbalanced. Every other year spent on his chosen subject had been barren compared to the last couple of hours. But that couldn't be the way forward, surely? He didn't want to be the kind of man who plunged his arms into trash cans in the hope of finding a letter, or a piece of bacon rind that Crowe might have chewed. By the time he got back to the hotel, he had convinced himself he was finished with Tucker Crowe.
What are you reading today?
The novel Wolf Hall has gotten more than its fair share of press this fall and winter—Booker Prize notwithstanding, it also earned a place on our top 10 fiction list and a glowing review from contributor Lauren Bufferd—but I couldn't resist adding one more blog post to the load. I finished the novel last week. Contrary to what the paragraph in your high school history book might imply, it took years of plotting and scheming for Henry VIII to get his marriage annulled and marry Anne Boylen, and Mantel's brilliant, meticulous recreation of these events is a remarkable achievement, if occasionally overwhelming to those unfamiliar with the 16th-century mindset. (However, corporate types and frequent "Survivor" viewers will probably identify easily with the cutthroat atmosphere and clandestine alliances.) Equally impressive is her reinvention of Thomas Cromwell, a man she sees quite differently from most historians.
Wolf Hall is first in a trilogy, and during a recent interview at Daunt Books in London, Mantel revealed a bit more about the second installment, The Mirror and the Light. "It picks up in the autumn of 1535, when the holiday makers at Wolf Hall in Wiltshire take Cromwell through his further rise and his abrupt fall in 1540," says Mantel toward the end of this clip (part 3 of 3 of the interview):
We are thrilled to announce the launch of BookPage Book of the Day – our first-ever daily e-newsletter!
This idea has been in the works for a while. We figure that many of you don’t have time to read BookPage cover-to-cover, and it might be easier to take a little bite of it every day.
With BookPage Book of the Day, you’ll receive a brand new review every weekday in your inbox. We’ll cover fiction on Mondays and Thursdays, nonfiction on Tuesdays and Fridays, and mystery or romance on Wednesdays. We’re only covering the newest books, so in January you can look forward to recent (or coming) releases from Tracy Chevalier, Elizabeth Gilbert, Beth Hoffman, J.M. Coetzee, Jude Deveraux and more.
(As a personal note, I’ve already read the books featured on Monday and Thursday in the first week in January, and they were both excellent. Seriously: There are some great books coming out in 2010.)
On Dec. 26, Amazon reported that it sold more e-books than physical books on Christmas Day. Also, the Kindle was the top gift sold on Amazon this holiday season (and apparently the top-selling gift on Amazon.com of all time).
These stats—at least regarding sales of e-books vs. physical books on Christmas Day—did not surprise me. One of the lures of e-books is instant gratification, and if anyone got an e-reader under the tree this year, I would bet that one of the first things they did was some online shopping for an e-book.
I received only physical books this year (including Jane Austen's Little Advice Book -- Aww), although I have big plans to blog about my experience reading on BookPage’s Kindle.
Since I know readers of The Book Case are some of the busiest readers around, I wondered how you received books this year. Did you get a new e-reader? Or did your family and friends stick to gifting classic ink-and-paper books?
Also: What was your favorite book you received? My family didn't give me too many books this year (probably because my bookshelf is about to topple as it is), although I was intrigued by Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes; my cousin excused himself from our Christmas dinner table in order to race through the final pages...
Since I know it’s easy to lose track of things in the chaos of the holidays, I thought The Book Case readers might appreciate a reminder that tonight is the premiere of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women on PBS. The documentary (which the L.A. Times says does a “splendid job chronicling a woman who has served as an often hazy and romanticized role model”) starts at 9 p.m. EST.
I know Trisha will be tuning in – she gave Harriet Reisen’s book (upon which the documentary is based) a rave review and lobbied for its position on the BookPage Best Nonfiction of 2009 list. As a huge Little Women fan, I’m intrigued, too. Apparently the documentary will claim that Alcott was the J.K. Rowling of her day. Does anyone who’s read Reisen’s book agree?
While you wait for the documentary to start, read about Louisa May Alcott (the book) or watch the YouTube clip below the jump.
Now that we've shared our best books of 2009 with you, it's time to let loose the snark. The Guardian went first with an article about the worst books of the decade earlier this month, which made me think: what was the worst book I read all year? Like many of the Guardian commenters, I found Vernon God Little (which won the Booker in 2003) completely and utterly horrible, so that might be my worst book of the decade. But 2009 was actually a pretty good year for me, with no wallbangers that I can remember. A moment while I pat myself on the back for having excellent literary taste this year . . .
Were you equally lucky? Or was there a book you loved to hate in 2009? Share your thoughts in the comments!
For a little day-after-Christmas fun, we thought you might enjoy some behind-the-scenes photos from the BookPage holiday party. A week after the festivities, we’re still recovering!
We dare you to prove that your office Christmas party is more fun.
This is pretty oddball, but I’m giving a copy of Comic Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, And Friends (Chronicle) to my teenage son who loves comic books and hopes to attend Comic Con himself one day. The book is a large-format, illustrated look at the history of the show.
My dad is a huge fan of literary fiction, so I’m giving him John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River (Random House) and E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langely (Random House). Irving and Doctorow are two of his favorite writers and I know he is excited about their new books
—Abby, Fiction Editor
I'm giving The Lacuna (HarperCollins) to my mom, who loves both Mexico and art history, and The Education of a British-Protected Child (Knopf Doubleday) by Chinua Achebe to my dad, who loves both postcolonial writers and childhood memoirs.
—Kate, Nonfiction Editor
I'm giving City of Thieves (Penguin) by David Benioff to my grandfather. This book has been a hit with everyone I've recommended it to, including my brother, who hadn't read a book in years before I loaned him my copy. My grandfather loves novels about World War II and has visited St. Petersburg, where the novel is set, so I think he'll enjoy this one.
—Trisha, Web Editor
My 18-year-old sister just started college in New York (1,300 miles away from home!), so I’m giving her a copy of Ann Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier (Random House). I think my sis will appreciate the story of a young woman’s search for independence—plus, Packer does great descriptions of NYC.
—Eliza, Assistant Web Editor