Monday, March 15, 2010

Kerry's BookShelf, Part the First

I'll kick off my inaugural BookShelf post with a pan and a recommendation. I know these are supposed to be our "currently reading" posts, but I'm playing catch up, so I'm going with the first two books I dug off my floor that don't feel quite right for standalone reviews. I was going to include my latest guilty pleasure series, but I've decided they're getting a post all of their own (plus they're buried somewhere under a pile of clothes), so I will include just the tiniest of shout outs.

Book 1:

Soulless. This book pained me. The premise sounded quite promising - Victorian lady born without a soul uses her unique condition to deal with otherwordly complications accompanied by an umbrella and healthy dose of snark. I heard good buzz in the blogosphere and the cover was kind of cool (I hereby confess, I totally judge books by their covers), so I picked it up at the bookstore. Then I started it. And realized I'd rather be watching The Cutting Edge 4: Fire and Ice (surprisingly good by the way). Or watching paint dry. Or reading anything else.

Short story? The prose felt jerky and strained. That may have been a deliberate authorial choice, but I found the word choice jarring, the dialogue unnatural, and the heroine's perspective offputting. Reading it felt like wearing an ostensibly cute shirt that turns out to be a size too small and made of itchy material. So I stuck it back on the shelf and have since tried to pawn it off on Elizabeth no less than three times. So far no dice, but I'm sure this post will convince her she needs to at least try it.

Book 2:

Let the Great World Spin. This was a book club choice and it reminds me why I do adore my book club. The deadline makes me finish books I might otherwise dawdle over and the discussion makes me think about them more seriously than I would on my own. And Let the Great World Spin is a book that rewards serious thinking (and, you know, finishing it).

Set in New York in the 1970s, it tells a story of interlacing characters, all set against a tightrope walker's journey from one tower of the World Trade Center to the other. Impossible to read without thinking about what happens 20 or so years later and McCann doesn't shy away from the emotional implications of that image of the towers.

The best way I found to describing it to friends was a "humanist Cloud Atlas", but that's more a comment on the structure of the novel. The story itself is really is a hymn to New York in all of its glorious, and sometimes painful, complications. My favorite section, the second chapter, packed enough of a punch that I found myself crying on the bus when reading it. Which may sound like an odd reason for an enthusiastic recommendation, but if you can bring me to tears on the way to bowling, you are doing something very right.


  1. I enjoyed this book too. I picked it up because of a picture book I read my kids about Phillipe Petit and I wound up reading it while I was in NYC for a reading conference. I did a lot of thinking too. I enjoyed the language McCann used and the different rhythms each character had.

  2. The picture book about Philippe Petit, "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers," is excellent! It deservedly won the Caldecott, as well.

    Kerry, you had me at "Cloud Atlas" (one of my all-time favorite novels) and will definitely be picking up "Let the Great World Spin."

  3. Reading 'Let the Great World Spin' made me want to watch 'Man on a Wire', though the people in book club who had seen it said he didn't seem like the nicest person. Maybe the picture book is more my speed. :)