Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well Written, But, Kind of Boring

The other day I sent a message out to the world on Twitter that said, “Major author + really good writing, but = somewhat boring story. I almost feel like I wasted a few days of my life reading the book.” That of course, brought a number of responses from my Twitter followers. Some wanted to know who I was talking about, others tried to guess, and one bookseller hit it right on the head on his first guess. At that point, I felt like I had to come clean; to admit to everyone who I was talking about. I also felt like I was committing bookseller blasphemy.

The author is E. L. Doctorow and the book I was talking about is his newest novel, “Homer & Langley.”

Before I go further, let me just say a couple of things. I like Doctorow. I mean, I really like him. I was introduced to writing fiction in high school by being told to read “World’s Fair” and learn to write emulating him. “Billy Bathgate” was incredible. Doctorow easily has more awards for his writing than I have years in my life. I would love the chance to meet him one day. But, while immaculately written, “Homer & Langley” was not my favorite Doctorow novel. Why?

“Homer & Langley” is a fictional biography of the infamous New York City Collyer brothers who, while living in a mansion on Fifth Avenue, became the poster boys for pack-rats worldwide. They were born in the 1880‘s and died in 1947. Doctorow changed their timeline, moving them forward into the twentieth century so they could experience all the great events from World War I to the Vietnam War and the moon landing. While an interesting story to have two recluses experience the major events and watersheds of twentieth century United States from inside their mansion, the story also seemed a little contrived, kind of like Forrest Gump becoming inadvertently involved in most of the major political and cultural events of his lifetime.

While excellently written (Doctorow is incapable of writing a poor sentence), the story itself did not envelop me, pull me along and make me want to turn the page before I had finished reading the one I was on. The best episode of the entire story, where Homer and Langley are forced to house a wounded gangster, falls in the middle of the book.

If you are a Doctorow fan, “Homer & Langley” is a book worth reading, but I don’t expect this new novel to win new fans for this traditionally amazing author.

"Homer & Langley" by E. L. Doctorow, available September 1, 2009, is available for purchase by coming into the Bookmark at the U or by ordering from our online partner, Powell's.

Friday, August 14, 2009

You Can Go Home Again | Guest Post by Emily St. John Mandel

Note: Occasionally we invite authors to write a blog post on any topic they choose. This post is being written by Emily St. John Mandel, author of "Last Night In Montreal," her debut novel. I am personally very pleased to have Emily sharing her thoughts on reading with us. -Drew Goodman

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately. Books are a passion only recently rediscovered; I’m trying my best to make up for lost time, but I haven’t read very many books over the past decade or so. As a child I read novels constantly, and I’m not sure exactly how or when I fell out of the habit. It may have been around the time I left home—I moved across the continent at eighteen with only the belongings I could carry with me on the airplane, and the books I brought from British Columbia were only the small handful I absolutely couldn’t live without.
In the years after my airplane landed in Toronto I spent hours reading literary journals at the library, but mostly I’d become a voracious reader of newspapers and magazines. I developed an adoration for the International Herald Tribune and The New Yorker and I didn’t read books very often, although after a few years I found that I was trying to write one.
It’s been exactly twelve months since I sold my first novel. I think it’s really only been over the course this hectic and delightful past year that I’ve remembered how much books mean to me, and how soothing it is to find yourself in a room filled with them, and how perfectly a good book can transport you elsewhere. I’m not sure how I forgot these things.
I see people reading everywhere in my city, on benches during their lunch hours and on the trains to and from work. It’s partly a question of refuge: in a city as crowded as New York, books and headphones are our only privacy. In other places people commute alone in their cars; but packed into a subway car with a hundred strangers, the only way to be alone is to disappear into music or narrative.
But questions of escape aside, I’ve been thinking lately about the way the experience of reading a book over a number of days provides us with a certain continuity, a narrative thread that binds our days and our weeks. Like most writers, I lead a double life, and these two lives are entirely separate. There’s the day job: I do the filing and stare at spreadsheets and count down the hours to the end of the afternoon, and then I go home and attend to an entirely other, considerably more vivid life, a life that involves writing novels and approving copy edits and talking to booksellers and fielding interview requests.
My working and writing lives couldn’t possibly be more different, and it occurred to me recently that reading is the only bridge between them. The same book carries me from the morning commute to the calm hours of the late evening, the joys and responsibilities of the double life set aside for the day.

"Last Night in Montreal" by Emily St. John Mandel is available at the Bookmark at the U and at our online fulfillment partner, Powell's Books, and wherever great books are sold.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The August 2009 Book of the Month

Our selection for the August 2009 Book of the Month is "The Meaning of Night" by Michael Cox. Recently, I was saddened to learn of Cox's death earlier this year, so I decided to make this the book of the month selection

The Meaning of Night is a fabulously written, historical mystery set in Victorian England, infused with life by a cadre of characters that inhabit its pages. The protagonist, Edward Glyver, a man undone by an event from his early childhood, feels the only way to reacquire what is rightfully his is to exact revenge on the man he blames for everything gone wrong in his life- Phoebus Daunt. But, what seems to be a straight-forward story of retribution and revenge takes turns both dark and twisted, ultimately revealing an outcome that leaves the reader surprised and satisfied in a morbidly curious way.

This is one of my top ten all time reads, and a must for mystery lovers.