Monday, August 09, 2010

I'm a bookworm... I have been since I first learned to read.  For about six years in the middle of the 'aughts I worked for a college bookstore chain and thus had access to several advance reader galleys.  The nice thing about these galleys was that I was exposed to authors and books I had not previously been aware of, not to mention some of which I was aware of but hadn't taken the time to read beforehand.

So I read, and read, and read some more.  I also befriended some of the book buyers.  We'd share book and author recommendations which even further expanded the breadth of books I'd read.

Below is a "best of" of sorts of the best books and/or authors I read and enjoyed during my six years with my prior employer:

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts:  A semi-autobiographical door-stop debut novel.  An escaped Aussie convict on a forged New Zealand passport sneaks into Mumbai, India.  The books starts when he lands in India and follows his life, his adventures, and misadventures living on the lam in Mumbai.  This is currently being made into a movie with Johnny Depp cast in the lead.  At over 900 pages I have no idea how they can condense this book into three hours, let alone an hour and a half.  The book could have benefitted from some editing as at times it feels like Roberts is trying too hard to be flowery with his prose.  But the story is thoroughly enjoyable and the book is a bona-fide page-turner despite its sizable girth.

Adam Davies: I read three of Davies' novels that were published between 2002 and 2008.  The Frog King which is being made into a movie was mediocre at best.  The main character was eminently unlikable which made it difficult to continue reading about someone I really didn't like or care for.  It was Davies debut though and I did like his style of writing.  Goodbye Lemon was a substantial improvement over The Frog King the main character was still somewhat unlikable, however his motivations were a bit more understandable and thus I was able to generate a bit of empathy for him despite his obvious flaws.  In the end I found it enjoyable because I felt it succeeded where The Frog King had failed.  It got me to care about someone I really wouldn't normally have cared about in a real life setting.  Mine All Mine was the most unusual of Davies books.  The main character was a security guard who had developed a tolerance for various poisons and developing tolerances for new poisons was his hobby.  The plot hinges on being duped by a master thief whom he knows little about and the downfall his life suffers after being duped by said thief.  It's a crime-caper novel of sorts but not in the traditional sense.  I enjoyed it for it's uniqueness.  I can honestly say I've never read any other books quite like it and doubt I ever will (unless Davies writes a follow-up).

Dave Eggers: I read both his brilliant memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and his debut novel You Shall Know Our Velocity.  His talent was/is undeniable.  Both books were enjoyable to read but I repeatedly had the feeling that Eggers was trying to mess with my head a bit.  He included a section in the paperback version if You Shall Know Our Velocity that wasn't in the hardcover version which caused me to call into question the rest of the book... It's kind of like when you see a director's cut of the movie and think to yourself, the original version was actually better than the director's cut.  I appreciate what he was trying to do, but I'm not sure he quite pulled it off.

Theodore Dreiser: We received a galley of a new printing of Sister Carrie which I read and enjoyed so I went out and bought a copy of An American Tragedy which I absolutely loved!  I'd argue that Sister Carrie was one of the first "feminist" novels written by a male author.  I'd also argue the book was well ahead of its time.  While Carrie would have been seen as a bit of a hero and a champion of women striking out on their own and earning their own living during the peak of the women's lib movement at the time the book was written she was viewed more as an amoral anti-hero who uses her feminine wiles on men to advance her station in life.  I've read that Carrie was based on a school teacher in Chicago that he'd dated at the turn of the century.  An American Tragedy was set in the fictional city of Lycurgus, NY (loosely based on Utica, NY) and was based on an actual murder in the Adirondack Mountains in 1906.  The main character, Clyde Griffiths, was based on Chester Gillette who killed his pregnant girlfriend by drowning on Blue Mountain Lake.  The book was made made into 2 movies.  The original movie released in the early 30s followed the book somewhat closely.  In the early 50s a new version, A Place In the Sun, was released  following the same plot but set in the then present day instead of the twenties starring Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters, & Elizabeth Taylor.  Woody Allen borrowed plagiarized somewhat heavily from A Place In the Sun for his film, Match Point.  The book is better than any of the films that were based on it.  But of those films, A Place In the Sun is easily the best.  It really captures the feel of the book and it gets Dreiser's point across far better than Woody Allen's Match Point

The Sun Also Rises: In high school I had to read Hemmingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.  I didn't care for it at all.  After a discussion with some of my then co-workers I decided to give Hemmingway another try at my leisure as opposed to having it shoved down my throat.  The experience was much much more enjoyable.  After reading The Sun Also Rises I came to the conclusion that there's a certain level of emotional or life experience one should have to fully enjoy Hemmingway's writing.  As a high school student in an all too small town I didn't yet have the level of emotional experience needed to really appreciate Hemmingway.  However in my late twenties when I had another crack at him, I'd apparently lived enough to have a bit more understanding and appreciation for what his characters were going through.  I was considerably more sympathetic to Jake Barnes than I had been to Robert Jordan.

This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald:  In my junior year of high school I read The Great Gatsby and actually quite enjoyed it.  I've always had an affection for the Roaring Twenties (perhaps I experienced them in a previous life) and honestly if time travel were possible and I could go back to any era.  The Roaring Twenties would be at the top of my list.  We received a couple of galleys of Fitzgerald's work towards the end of my stint with my prior employer that I  in turn read after I'd moved on.  As much as I enjoyed The Great Gatsby I preferred Fitzgerald's debut, This Side of Paradise.  Where The Great Gatsby is a classic novel, I'd argue it's largely because of how well and accurately it captured the Roaring Twenties.  This Side of Paradise on the other hand has a timelessnes to it.  While the setting has changed there are still Amory Blaines in the world and I'd argue that there was something universally human about Blaine that made him a bit easier to relate to than Nick Carraway or Jay Gatsby.  The Beautiful and the Damned is also rather timeless in nature.  The sense of entitlement that Fitzgerald portrays for the upper class of the twenties has in years since flooded down to the middle class creating not merely a sense of, but a general culture of entitlement that makes The Beautiful and the Damned arguably even more universally pertinent than when it was written. 


Jessica D'Amico (JeDa) said...

I enjoyed the old man and the sea by Hemingway, in eight grade, but have n'er gone back to Papa since.

Thank you for sharing these authors and books, excellent way to peek at areas outside the comfort zone.

Voice of Doom and Gloom said...

Thanks. I haven't read any of these - I'll add them to the list!

Susan as Herself said...

Reading is still one of my favorite things in life.

Also, FYI--my blig URL has changed slightly:

Barbara said...

I love reading. People don't understand why I don't watch TV - I rather read.