Monday, October 17, 2005

Is it getting better/ Or do you feel the same?

A long time ago, I gave up on Latin American writing. It was the names that did me in. However delectable the narrative might be, I found myself tripping over these grand, leaden lumps of nomenclature. Don Seferino Huanca Leyva. Lucho Abril Marroquin. Jose Arcadia Bienda. Santa Sofia de la Piedad, mother of Aureliano and Jose Arcadio Segundo.

The more I read, the sooner I realised (with a somewhat sinking heart) that this was not a land of first names or terms of endearment. Everyone was addressed by their full names at every twist and turn of their literary lives. And I couldn't handle it. (Years later, I learned I wasn't alone in my confusion.)

In fact, back in the days when I refused to abandon a book midway, I remember giving up on Mario Vargas Llosa's Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a fascinating book if only the protagonists' parents were kinder.

With the possible exception of Paulo Coelho, I've persisted with my Latin American-free reading habits. Until a perfectly random conversation that ended with an offhand suggestion that I read Love in the Time of Cholera. The fact that the comment stayed with me has more to do with my niggling sense of unfairness at boycotting a whole genre of writing for an incredibly shallow reason than with the credentials of the one making the comment.

So I did it. Read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's stunning narrative of love, and its ability to shape character; of the passage of time; of fickleness and understanding; of the drama of everyday life. Can't remember the last time a book drew me in this way.

Perhaps it wasn't the names, after all. Maybe I was just meant to wait -- patiently, quietly, distanced from the romance of Latin America -- till this book.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Maybe you should read: Codex.

By a chap called Lev Grossman. If the name rings a bell, think Time magazine. He reviews books for it.

Codex is a great book, if:
1. You like oddish titles, especially ones that pun. (Yeah, codecs. Short for compression/ decompression, a codec is any technology for compressing and decompressing data.)
2. You're working yourself up to reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
3. You've ever wondered about the existence of obscure texts other than the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, immortalised in Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason's The Rule of Four.
4. You've been unfortunate enough to do a paper on Medieval English in college.

It's quite ho-hum, if:
1. You like your books to have proper endings.
2. And proper heroes.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Maybe you should reread: The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Never have I wished to have written something as much as this 'increasingly inaccurately named trilogy'. Exceptionally written. Lusciously funny. Makes one's knowledge of the English language worthwhile.

A few of my favourite characters? 1. Marvin, the Paranoid Android. 2. Zem, the mattress from Squornshellous Zeta that attempts to engage him in conversation. 3. Rob McKenna, the truck-driving Rain God.

Also made a particularly miserable weekend almost, barely, slightly alright. But I digress. All I can say is that very few things compare to spending a rainy afternoon with a Douglas Adams book, a hot cup of tea and someplace comfortable to put your feet up.

Maybe you should skim through: Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.

By Peter Ackroyd. Not to be confused with Peter Carey, who wrote the intermittently hilarious Oscar and Lucinda.

Why'd I read it? 1. Recommended highly by Histrionix, who knows his way around good writing. 2. Super title. (This was before I learnt that it had been previously published as The Trial of Elizabeth Cree.) 3. A cast of real-life characters like Dan Leno (a British comedian billed "The Funniest Man on Earth") and Karl Marx (yes, the 'opium of the masses' guy)

Why'd I put it down feeling vaguely dissatisfied? Tough one, but I suspect it has to do with fabulous characters working their way towards a less-than-fabulous end. Left me thinking more about the writer, than the book -- never a good sign.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Maybe you should read: The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner.

By a bloke called Giles Waterfield.

5 reasons why? 1. It's British. 2. It's impeccably crafted. 3. It has a mad cast of characters. Think Wodehouse-type flaky, teleported into our time. 4. It's obscure. Never heard of the chap before, and don't know anyone who has. 5. It's set in a museum. The only other book I recollect with a similar setting was Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child's Relic, where the museum exists solely as a place for an ancient (yes, you guessed it) relic to come to life. A far, far cry from this one.

And if you need another reason? It's funny.
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