December 2009


I loved Audrey Niffenegger’s first novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife. It is one of the most profound love stories I’ve ever read, and I remember loaning my copy to at least five friends afterwards. So when Her Fearful Symmetry came out, I started on it right away.

It’s a story of twin sisters who move to London after the death of an unknown aunt who’s left them money and a flat, and of the inhabitants of this flat’s building that sits next to a cemetery. As you might now guess, death figures prominently in the novel. The story seems to be set in present day, but the narrative and the characters have an ethereal, removed quality that at the same time suggests a past century. This fits comfortably with the tale’s resemblance to Victorian Gothic novels. It has all the elements: Horror, romance, the supernatural, and death all intertwine.

I recommend the book, but not because it follows in Traveler’s footsteps. The tale itself isn’t as engrossing as Niffenegger’s first novel, where you feel compelled to keep reading. I think Her Fearlful Symmetry’s strength is in its aesthetics: the picture it paints of a spiritually active world, the themes of death and darkness. I enjoyed it because I felt transported to an intriguing new time and place.

Advertisements

We all need methods in our lives to separate the worthwhile from the time-wasting, the valuable wheat from the useless chaff.

I’m not suggesting that all other books are chaff-like (I will admit Twilight was a delicious read), but the award winners below are safe bets in an age where 200,000 books are published each year in the United States alone. For reading and collecting.

Mann Booker Prize, open to novels by citizens of the Commonwealth of  Nations, Ireland, and Zimbabwe

National Book Award, open to American authors

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, open to American authors

Sad to say, I haven’t read any of them. I have my eye on The Children’s Book (Byatt is always great) and The Little Stranger (a mystery in postwar Britain seems right up my alley). Let me know what you think of these, or any of the books on the list.

I discovered a great comment that had been marked by wordpress as “spam,” and I fortunately rescued it from oblivion.

Vanessa from the Odyssey Bookshop commented about a fantastic scheme: Odyssey’s Signed First Edition Club. Each month, they send out a first edition that’s been hand-picked by the staff as a club selection, and signed by the author. Check it out:

The Odyssey has become the premier bookstore in Western Massachusetts for author appearances and signings. Odyssey staff read advance copies of books months before their publication, and are keyed in to those books which are likely to make an impact in the publishing world. We also know the books from small publishing houses, and those which will have ‘short press runs.’ This is important, since a book with a first edition printing of 5,000 copies will, all other things equal, likely have greater value down the road that one with 200,000 copies.

Past selections include The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Pulitzer Prize winer) and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Sea of Poppies (both New York Times’ top ten picks of 2008). And the price? Publisher’s list price plus shipping. I can’t imagine a more rewarding treat to look forward to each month — or a better gift for a friend.

My newest fixation is the audiobook. I’ve taken a few long trips — one to Paris, and most recently holiday travel. When traveling for long periods of time, I have always brought books along but either my eyes get tired or I find I’m restless from bending over a book.

So in preparation for my interminable flight to France, rather than buy a new book, I downloaded one. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. It was mesmerizing. The narrator was brilliant and brought the story to life — a dark and perverse story, I might add. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not for the faint of heart; it is an intriguing mystery that touches on some very uncomfortable subjects (rape and incest, for example).  Audiobooks are a bit pricey, but I consider the entertainment for long trips well worth it. I use Audible, associated with Amazon.

Now I’m on to Anna Karenina, a book that I’ve started before but never finished. The audiobook is around 37 hours long. I’ve listened to 8. But I’m optimistic that I’ll finish. Audiobooks are particularly well-suited to lengthy classics — you don’t get bogged down in the minutiae of difficult characters’ names and heady detail. The story flows at the steady pace of the narrator, and you are drawn along for the ride.