Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Watch Out Oprah, Here Comes Joe's Book Club

I am not really sure if this line of conversation belongs on Life Begins at 30, but I want to at least start it here to see if there is any interest.

I am always on the lookout for new and entertaining literature to read, and the wide and varied views of all of you interest me greatly. And I know that many of the people that peruse this Blog are avid readers. (A few of you may not be, so you can just skip these posts.) Therefore, I propose to start a quasi-bookclub-group-thingy. If I find that there is enough sustained interest, I may start a Blog or Discussion Group dedicated only to this subject. If not, I just may do random recommended Reading posts here.

It will work like this. I will start the conversation, and you leave your recommendations--in the comments--along with a short commentary about why you think a certain novel (or three) is a good read. Every week (or two?) I'll summarize what people have written and start over again. The books do not necessarily have to be recent reads if you have not read anything "good" lately. Also, do not worry if your book offerings are not the most literary. I love brain candy--especially SciFi-fantasy.

If you have ideas about how to improve this process, let me know. Or if you think it is a crappy idea, let me know that too.

I'll start with three very good novels that I have read in the past month or so.

  1. Julian Barnes, Arthur & George. Although it has a few dry moments, A&G is overall a fine book. I read every Sherlock Holmes story when I was in high school, so Barnes's concept--based on an actual account--appeals greatly to me. It is also a nice peek into early 20th-century race relations in England. It was short-listed for the most recent Man-Booker Prize.
  2. Zadie Smith, White Teeth. This is a damn funny book. I laughed out loud many times while reading it. But it is far from a shallow farce. Smith paints a vivid picture of a multi-ethnic London and sharply illustrates how blurred the lines are between race and ethnicity. And (this is my own interpretation) she shows how an older generations' expectations of their children conforming to preset ethnic roles can backfire. The "teeth" metaphor continues throughout. It seems she is saying that no matter what our heritage is, we are all born with basically the same white teeth. (I'm really looking forwards to reading On Beauty)
  3. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex. I just finished this a couple of days ago. It is probably one of the best written books I have read in the last few years. Yes, the main character is a hermaphrodite. But Eugenides uses this plot point as merely a coat rack onto which he drapes a marvelous coming-of-age story. It is really a novel about finding one's identity. All the primary characters are struggling to find out who they are, whether it is "Cal's" own gender and sexual identity or her/his grandparents' ethnic and national identity. Oh, and Middlesex is also about the city of Detroit struggling to find its own self over the course of the twentieth century. I could go on and on, but I will just let you find out for yourself.


croust said...

More thoughts for Joe's Book Club:

Eugenides, Middlesex. I have to second you here. It's not very often that I read a book and really enjoy the author's prose. Eugenides writes beautifully and the narrative is so elegant--this novel is a true pleasure to read.

William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways. I read this because a good friend loved it. Though this book didn't do a lot for me, it has some great moments and I think is worth reading. Like Travels with Charley and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, it fits in that genre of man-facing-mid-life-crisis-goes-on-a-road-trip-to-find-himself-and-in-the-process-finds-America. I especially recommend the book if you grew up off of the interstate system or in the central US (Missouri, Illinois, Indiana)--I think you'll find a lot to identify with.

Hemingway. I've been on a big Hemingway kick lately: short stories, The Sun Also Rises, and The Torrents of Spring. When you're in a literary mood, check out the short stories and the second novel, which is Hemingway's effort at Dadaism/Surrealism (and also takes place in Michigan).

Mark Twain. I've also been on a Twain kick. I highly recommend Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Pudd'nhead Wilson. They all give a great glimpse into life in the Midwest with a healthy dose of 19th-century satire (much of which still seems to apply to US culture today!).

amy7252 said...

Middlesex was excellent. (Don't let the hermaphrodite thing scare you off.) Blue Highways was slow, but pretty good. The only problem is that I just finished it and am completely out of the mood to read anything. I'm just too exhausted!

croust said...

Just one more recommendation. A couple weeks ago I read Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes. It's not as dark as Heart of Darkness, though the theme of the novel can be summed up in one word: FATALITY (in both the senses of "fate" and "fatal"). If you enjoyed Crime and Punishment, you'll enjoy this as a variation on Dostoevsky's masterpiece. If you hated Dostoevsky's painstaking psychological portraiture, I think you'll prefer Conrad's streamlined and more direct prose (or, as novel's narrator would say, "the more Western style of narrative").

brian sacawa said...

White Teeth is great! Also read recently and worthy of Joe's time:
- Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
- Yannick Murphy, Here They Come
- Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius
- David Sedaris, Naked