Friday, November 23, 2007

A taste for emotions of surprise and recognition



There are two kinds of taste in the appreciation of imaginative literature: the taste for emotions of surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition.

* "Anthony Trollope," Century Magazine (July 1883)

I have sitting on my bedside table two books: Richard Russo's new one (Bridge of Sighs) and Ann Patchett's new one (Run).

Patchett's book begins
Bernadette had been dead two weeks when her sisters showed up in Doyle's living room asking for the statue back. They had no legal claim to it, of course, she never would have thought of leaving it to them, but the statue had been in their family for four generations, passing down a maternal line from mother to daughter, and it was their intention to hold with tradition. Bernadette had no daughters.

Aren't you intrigued, immediately? Who is Doyle? Who is Bernadette? How did she die? Why wouldn't she will the statue to her sisters? Did Doyle give the sisters the statue? If so, which sister got it? What is the significance that Bernadette had no daughters, outside of the issue of the statue?

I love a great opening, and Patchett's books always hold up to the promise of her beginnings. She manages plot, characters, and beginnings, middles and ends (Andrea will know of what I speak here---as we have confessed to the same geeky collection of writing and editing books) so deftly it is almost enough to cause me to quit offending the art of writing by doing it myself.

Patchett won't hold my hand or coddle me with neatly tied up answers in this book, I'm sure. She'll surprise me with ambiguity and complexity, and bond me to the characters and stories through moments of shocked recognition.

I suspect the simple last line of the opening, "Bernadette had no daughters," will be a keystone to the story.

Russo's book begins
First, the facts.

My name is Louis Charles Lynch. I am sixty years old, and for nearly forty of those years I've been a devoted if not terribly exciting husband to the same lovely woman, as well as a doting father to Owen, our son, who is now himself a grown, married man. He and his wife are childless and likely, alas, to so remain. Earlier in my marriage it appeared we'd be blessed with a daughter, but a car accident when my wife was in her fourth month caused her to miscarry. That was a long time ago, but Sarah still thinks about the child and so do I.

Those are some facts; they open such a can of worms, I imagine. Russo is, in my opinion, almost Shakespearian in his formula for his books. In Shakespeare what begins cohesively almost always unravels into pieces, with a very human resilience pulling pieces back together into a shape again, albeit usually a new one. Russo masterfully employs this technique, too.

His characters are invariably at a turning point; either their life or personal drive is shifting, or they are caught in a sea of shifting within others. Turning points are usually very contagious, I find.

I'm intrigued to discover whether our character Louis is about to turn, or if he is going to be caught in someone else's turn. Children are clearly very important to Louis; I wonder what the situation with Owen is. I can tell a lot about Louis from the simple order of his facts, none of which are actually very straightforward at all; he uses too many adjectives.

I just finished Nick Hornby's Slam, which, told from the point of view of a very practical minded teen boy, does include very straight-forward lists of facts and information. It's extremely black and white, because teenagers are not terribly skillful about shades of gray. Yet.

But adults, especially Russo adults, are.

The contrast in voice between the youthful Hornby character and the older Russo character should be interesting.

However, I haven't begun either book, yet. I am waiting for the uninterrupted time, the non-multitask time, because I know these two authors will drag me in to the story so completely that I will be snappish and short-tempered to anyone who dares pull me back to my reality in any way.

I got these books as gifts, and the rest of the gift I want is the time to read them, in total.

For now I'll keep plugging through the latest Jasper Fforde, which is choppy enough to easily be broken into short segments for the snatches of time I grab to read. It's full of fantastic quotes I keep thinking I ought to put in the blog, all on their own, because they are that good. Plus, great fodder for theoretical discussion. Fforde reached deep and rediscovered his intense cleverness with this book. Thank goodness.

(I'm trying to make time to review Slam and Thursday Next.)

Tell me about books and reading...

For example...What are you reading? Who are your favorite authors that you grab to read every time they publish something? How do you read? Do you gobble the books up right away or save them like a secret treat? Do you need to read cover to cover, or can you easily set a favorite down?

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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20 comments:

Gale said...

I love to read, I usualy pick up whatever book is laying around. Lots of fluff - I got into the habit during college. I would be studying for hours and need a cerebral break. Pick up a romance or detective book and step into that story for an hour or two. Now I usually have a book by every chair and oddly enough I can keep them straight. Takes me awhile to get through one, so I never say "hey, I will get this right back to you." May take me several months just to get through it.

Blogversary said...

I enjoy reading. I just finished The Tendar Bar and Smashed. Sometimes I read fluff like chick lit or mommy lit, but then I do enjoy a good classic too.

I also love poetry. I almost majored in British Lit in college becausae I loved it so much.

I am often reading more than one book at a time.

Happy Reading

Suz said...

I was going to put a post up asking for book recommendations because I'm sort of at loose ends right now. I just finished Restless by William Boyd and am looking for another book. I think I'll pick up Slam because I love Nick Hornby. Love him. My favorite book of his, How to Be Good is probably the least like the others. I love it, though.

Julie Pippert said...

Suz, you know I HEART Nick. I've tried to send fan letters but they all come out 1960 Girl Gush, "NICK! AHHHHHH! NICK!!!! I LOVE YOU NICK!!!!" I can't seem to find intelligence there LOL.

How to be Good is awesome. About a Boy is my hands-down fave, but I LOVED How to be good. It's actually the one I keep going back to and referencing for points, ideas, concepts, characters, etc. He's such an "in the book" writer. By that I mean, his tone and voice are so true to each story and character. I think he might be a writer's writer, though.

I'm conflicted a bit about Slam.

Parts of it were amazing. I was hardly able to be "in" the story because I was so in awe of Hornby's talent. I might should read it a second time, with less awe.

Anyway, other parts of the book were...definitely pushing boundaries, and I'm not yet sure if I think it worked, was good, or was bad. KWIM?

It's the first time I haven't just been ready to gush GO READ THIS!

Maybe that's why I haven't gotten the review done yet.

You know maybe I need a book group discussion of it.

Yeah, you go read it and come back to me and let's talk.

Did you read the Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go)? I did get my review up of that. I think it is a must read, but NOT for the faint of heart. Jeez. I needed a support group afterwards. TG MayLUE was there for me. Anyway for some reason I am thinking you read that one but can't recall for sure.

Kyla said...

I'm on a Jodi Picoult kick right now. I go in phases. I'll totally devour one author for a while and if I try and interrupt it with something else, I won't finish the book. I do the same thing with breakfast foods. LOL. I'll eat the same thing every day for months until the stage has finally passed. Anyway, it is her right now and I am out of novels at the local library. Drat. I'm actually intending to ask for book referrals today over at my blog.

I don't read cover to cover, small people won't let me, but I usually still get through in two days. If I'm not really captivated by the story, it can take a bit longer. I think Long Way Down took me a week or so, just because I wasn't in deep enough to devour it.

another good thing said...

Oops, didn't answer the questions.
I read 2-3 books simultaneously- and quickly.
Just finished Brock Clarke's Arsonist's Guide to Writer's Homes in NE, and Joshilyn Jackson's ARC for The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and am reading Glimmer Train story collection, Carol Shields' collected stories and Liza Palmer, Seeing me Naked (another ARC).
I have fav authors but also read the book club read and recommended newbies and almost whatever people shove at me. Unfortunately I have been watching way too many movies lately and may not hit my 52 book yearly goal.

Mary Alice said...

Stop, stop, stop with the intriguing novel openings! You are making me so jealous I can't stand it. I have a novel on my bed stand and have only made 20 pages in the last three weeks....all my reading consists of text books these days. My advisor suggested I take some summer classes too and I practically shrieked at him "No, summer is when I get to read, I won't give it up."

flutter said...

I read everything. From the crap to the sublime. My fiance and I are dually reading Les Miserables, and if you are up for some weighty French lit, Mr Hugo does not disappoint.

I also adore Alice Sebold. I think her book Lucky should be required reading and her novel, The Lovely Bones is poetry, just poetry.

jen said...

i agree w/ Flutter on the lovely bones. i just finished a thousand splendid suns and was incredibly moved. just opened the rape of nanking and am somewhat silent on it so far.

Lawyer Mama said...

I just bought Slam. You know, I tried to buy Purple Hibiscus after you recommended it and can't seem to get it anywhere. It's even unavailable on Amazon. ARGH! I'm about to buy a used one. Usually I like to get new paperbacks so I can pass them on but I'm dying to read it!

slouching mom said...

I like Ann Patchett, but even more so, her best friend (now deceased) Lucy Grealy. Have you read Autobiography of a Face?

Karen (miscmum) said...

That Trollope quote is absolutely delicious.

Reading? I always have six or seven going at a time (you think I joke?!) Right now, I've got John Banville's The Sea (Booker Prize) and The World According to Garp. Plus others for research.

liv said...

I am pedestrian, but I swear I'd read Rosamunde Pilcher or Mary Stewart if they were immortal and published forever.

Yolanda said...

Sadly, I make very little time to read much other than blogs and news articles. I currently have Douglas Coupland's latest sitting on my nightstand unopened. In general, I like to fall in love with a book, devour it from cover to cover, and let nothing else enter my imagination while I am with it. I have never been one who could read several books at once. I like to be ll consumed, and I am disappointed if I am reading something that fails to consume me. I suppose it because I like to be consumed, that it can often feel impossible to have room in my life for novel reading. Much like writing, I am happier when I am reading; but I neglect both most of the time.

melissa said...

I'm pretty voracious, but right now I'm "in between" books. Just finished Middlesex for one book club, and I need to re-read The Preservationist for another. But maybe I'll pick up that Hornby.

I'm on the fence about the latest Fforde. I like the Nursery Crime series better actually. But I won't spoil it for you. :)

When I read, I have a tendency to read it all at one sitting, which can lead to some ridiculously late nights...

painted maypole said...

I am currently about 10 pages away from the end of A Long Way Down - and when I finish it I am going back to read what you wrote about it back in July. ;) How I read a book depends a lot on the book AND what is going on in my life. I have a really hard time not finishing a book, even if I hate it, and so therefore will spend months on the same hateful book (like She's Come Undone). I am trying to get over that, as it is such a waste of my time. Sometimes, as I near the end of a book, I am so sad it is nearly over, and yet can't wait to get to the end. And I just know that I have to read some fluff next because I cannot possibly expect the next book to live up to the one I just finished (I felt that way about The Poisonwood Bible and A Map of the World, for instance)

Hope said...

Oh I inhale books definitely inhale...

the dragonfly said...

I love Thursday Next!! Love her. I don't have the newest one yet, but I've read the others several times each. Fforde is so much fun!

I just read the final Sword of Truth book, and I definitely gobbled that one up...but some of that has to do with it being the eleventh and final book in the series, and being desperate to find out the ending...

Oftentimes I devour a book and then, a month or so later, go back and read it a bit more slowly.

Mostly I just love to read. I'm lost without a book to read, even if it's only a few pages a day.

Family Adventure said...

I read all the time. Sometimes it's junk lying around the house, other times, I've found myself so absorbed in a fabulously different world that I'm oblivious to the here and now. At least until I'm done with the book, at which point I have been known to cry...

I love the sound of both of the books you mention here.

Some of the books I've really enjoyed include
The Glass Castle
The Birth House
A Complicated Kindness
Brick Lane
The Lovely Bones
The Life of Pi
The Bookseller of Kabul

Heidi

niobe said...

Time and introspection have taught me that the emotions of surprise, as well as those of recognition, in each and every one of their varied incarnations, cut remarkably like a knife with a jagged blade.

Which is why I don't read imaginative literature if I can possibly help it.