Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A few of my favorite things

One complaint I have about book, movie and music reviews is that all reviewers have taste and other biases. So if your first principals differ greatly, even a rave review may not indicate that you should read the book. As a guide to ground my own perspectives on good books, I present four of my all time favorites and why I like them.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: I like books that can tread the line between literature and entertainment, and this one does it wonderfully. The mix of humor and pathos is just right. There is one moment, regarding a characters reaction to the outbreak of war and his subsequent circumstance, that had me laughing out loud. My only complaint is that the ending is a bit overlong and I didn’t totally believe how the characters behaved in the post-War period.

Atonement: Yes, yes, the ending is controversial, but I very much like first person narratives that tell a story about an interesting shared history, as opposed to the solipsistic first person approach that until recently has had a strangle hold on middle to high brow fiction. And the ending has such emotional heft that any charges of cheating should be put aside.

Sweet Shop Owner: Now that I am older and have kids, the books about families and familial relationships hit me much harder. This short novel tells of a day in the life of a candy store owner as he considers his relationship with his wife and child. As you might guess, they aren’t going too well. I love the books that make you question your behavior towards others and strive to be better. For me, this was one of those.

American Tabloid: What with all these weepy books, I need a book with manly men engaging in manly acts of derring do. Seriously, I like my political books. And I like them to be as bleak, cynical and gigantic as possible. Also well-written with an excellent grasp of the English language as opposed to a easy cut and paste to movie script format. Nobody does bleak, cynical and gigantic like James Ellroy did in the LA Quartet and in this one. And man can he write, when he isn’t trying to go all Joycian. My fixation is peculiar as I generally eschew cynicism in my views on politics and policy. When it comes to non-fiction, I hate cynicism. Strange.

Note that these are favorite books but not necessarily my favorite authors. I continue to go back to people like Iris Murdoch, Anthony Trollope, Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, William Boyd and others. With them I believe any book will most likely be a good one.

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