Thursday, January 25, 2007

On a Good Stuff Streak, with an Aside

Did I tell you how much I liked Carter Beats the Devil? Because I did. It's by Glen David Gold (interestingly, husband of Alice Sebold, also a great writer, but of a very different type of book. It reminds me of how Nicole Krauss's The History of Love is thematically as well as stylistically very similar to Jonathan Safran Foer's work--interesting how different sets of literary spouses are so different).

Anyway, what a fun book. I have a thing about stories about magicians, and about the idea of the importance of magic (speaking here of the vaudeville type of magic, not necessarily of just the idea of magic in the human psyche). My thing is, I think, that I kind of don't get it. I mean, the magician knows it's a trick. I know it's a trick. While I'm impressed by the tricks, what I'm really impressed by is showmanship and their ability to trick me, as opposed to really thinking there's anything fabulous going on.

This is similar to my issue about people who talk about the importance of Storytelling. You would think that as a voracious reader and consumer of fantasy (both in the High Fantasy tradition, and in the Made Up Things genre), I would really be someone who felt that Storytelling Is What Binds People Together, and Society is Defined by Its Stories (see Neil Gaiman--anything by Neil Gaiman). But I don't really get it. I think because there is no part of my mind that is not suffused in stories--there is no way for me to picture a story-less world and therefore to see how stories act on the real world. It's like picturing true nothingness, like before the universe. You can't imagine it, because there's nothing there to imagine.

Okay, that was way off-topic. Anyway, Carter Beats the Devil does some amazing things: it combines someone's life story (ie. a chronic story) with an immediate "now" of action (ie. the acute story), without boring me with the first or rushing me with the latter. (As much as I loved Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, the first half was acute, the second half chronic, and they did not fit together in the least). It was neither all sunshine and roses, nor was it about how the human condition is tragic and we may as well just grin and bear this veil of tears. It was such a hopeful story. I really recommend it. If, that is, you have a few weeks--it's almost 500 pages long, and, though fast moving and fun, not really challenging, it is so rich that it took me a while to read.

Totally different book: The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, by Jon Katz. I just finished A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life, by the same author. It's interesting, because they cover a lot of the same ground--Bedlam Farm was written first, about his first year living on a farm with his dogs, and A Good Dog was written later, covering earlier and later material, too. These books are flawed but charming. As memoirs, I accept that they jump around a little in time, because they're arranged thematically instead of chronologically, but it often gets confusing--if you got that chicken more than a year after you got there, why did you mention him in the first chapter? If you said goodbye to that dog so early, why do you describe your life on the farm as your life with him? Things like this.

The stories were nice--it was interesting to see someone who was eager for farm life, then, it turns out, pretty unprepared for it, and finally, it turns out, thrilled by it, though it was harder than he expected. I love that he's blunt about the difficulties, and gets his hands dirty with things like that. I don't always love the author/narrator, but I liked the stories he told. I felt sometimes like he would acknowledge and own his faults, but with such a sense of distance (or maybe it was a sense of his own virtue in acknowledging them?) that it didn't really make me feel close to him.

And finally, now I'm reading The Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists, which is a silly, Monty Python sketch of a novel starring Charles Darwin and the Pirate Captain. If it wasn't so fluffy it would probably drag, but it IS so fluffy, and it's glorious. I'll be done in a day.

Once again I overcommitted at the library--just after promising myself another Personal Library Renaissance!--but it'll have to wait till I finish all these glorious reads! I have a Tamora Pierce YA fantasy, another of Louisa May Alcott's grown-up books, and a book of short stories, from which the plot for the movie Secretary was (I gather) culled. I have two books by Jo Walton--the one I'm reading now is a true Victorian novel, only all the characters are dragons. It's interesting, because it has all the ponderousness of a Victorian novel, plus lots of raw meat and gold. It's not funny, or really fantasy--it's Victorian. The other is an alternate history thing about an England that made peace with the Nazis.

I'm so on a roll. It's about time!

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