Monday, August 31, 2009

Greek for Beginners

I'm reading Beginner's Greek, by James Collins. Mike made a little joke about whether I'd learned any new Greek words from my book about Greek for beginners, and I had to explain that yes, I did, but that was a different book that I've had for years (a first grade Greek language workbook), and that this Beginner's Greek is a different book than that. It was a long, complicated explanation, but I got a chuckle.

Anyway, I'm only halfway through the book. It's probably inappropriate to write a review at this point, right? But I think this is the point where it's easiest to get a handle on what the experience of actually reading it is like. When I get to the end of a book, the ending will often color my experience of the whole thing.

A Curse Dark as Gold is an excellent example of this. I found most of the book to be a drag to read--it's like there was a great book in there for somewhere, but I couldn't find it. Like meeting someone who you think seems really cool, but somehow not being able to get past a superficial relationship, small talk. Then the last hundred pages were so good, I walked away thinking it was a great book. But that's not what the experience of reading it was like.

So: halftime at Beginner's Greek. The reviews I've read are so mixed, I think that the buzz might work against the book. I think it's great, but if I told you it was amazing and wonderful, you'd probably be disappointed.

It's an almost oddly simple book. It's a love story, pretty straightforwardly, with all the nice hurdles to romance that a love story needs. It uses the toolbox of literary fiction, including a lot of attention to details of environment and small anecdotes for verisimilitude. Amazingly, I find these incredibly engaging, I think because they're used very directly. Every word is used to tell you something important, rather than just a huge amount of information that drags the story down in the mundane.

Can you tell how I usually feel about literary fiction?

But what I like about the book--what I think lends to the simplicity, the black-and-whiteness of it--is that it reads almost like a fable. It is, at least in part, about fate stepping in in ways that just don't happen in real life. Coincidence, sudden realization, bolts of lightening, etc. play a huge role in the story. It's almost mythological, with sort of a dreamy solemnity.

Now, some people might say that a story like this should have an unhappy ending, to drag you back to earth. But I have to ask why you'd want to be dragged back? Wouldn't that negate the rest of the experience, the same way a good ending can negate a less-than-stellar reading experience?

I think the only way to end this book is with "...and they lived happily ever after." I'm looking forward to it.

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