Sunday, November 16, 2008

Another Ketchup - Part Two

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose - I've always been a sucker for these kinds of books that mimic survey courses. This one is particularly good, helped along by the fact that Prose is a top-notch fiction writer. Her chapter on Chekov alone is worth the price of admission (though I must admit that I borrowed this one from the library).

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson - Awful title, decent book. I fell in love with Atkinson's previous novel, One Good Turn and then went after her earlier Case Histories which I enjoyed, but not quite as much. WWTBGN? falls into that same "not quite as much" category. All three feature the same retired detective, Jackson Brodie, finding himself wrapped up in someone else's problems. In this one, the setup seemed to take forever (well over a hundred pages) and was only saved by the fact that Atkinson captured the voice and mindset of a quirky, sixteen-year old girl perfectly.

The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton - I don't buy many books strictly on the advice of cover blurbs, but this one had a blurb from David Sedaris saying that he howled with laughter. I didn't howl, but it was amusing and enough of a plot to keep it interesting. It felt like Flannery O'Connor-lite.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson - This is one of the best books I've read in the last couple of years. A beautiful style (and I guess some of the credit has to go to the translator, Anne Born) and a deceptively simple story of a man who moves to the country to find isolation for the remainder of his life. The novel manages to pull in a story of familial love, betrayal, honor and a bit of WW II intrigue.

How Fiction Works by James Wood - This book almost feels controversial now that I've read so many differing opinions on it. I fall into the camp that appreciates the perceptive insights that Wood contributes. I don't find him nearly as pedantic as some of the reviewers--he tends to affect a lofty diction, but that's just his style. Plus, he's English. I did notice that many of the examples of literature that Wood cites are the same ones that he's cited in other essays (some of the same scenes were used to illustrate points in essays from The Broken Estate and The Irresponsible Self). Not that there's anything wrong with that. Whether you agree with Wood's championing of "realistic" fiction or not, I think the book is worth the read. His explanation of the "free indirect style" is reason enough.

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