Booknotes

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I’ve started several books lately but finished none of them as of yet. So I’ll give you an up-til-now assessment of the books in my backpack. A good friend of mine swears by John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. He’s read it multiple times, and I can hardly have a conversation about books with him without him asking if I’ve started it yet. Another friend jokes about Owen Meany. He lists it among his favorite books, but he’s never finished it. He made it half-way through and thought it was brilliant and then something happened in the book that made him lose interest. So, I finally decided to read the book. I devoured the first hundred or so pages. It was funny and smart and a good story. Everything you want from a book. What made it even better is that I was reading a copy I picked up at a used bookstore and the previous owner had commented in the margins, and I got a hoot out of her comments. And then about half-way through, something happened. Nothing specific, it’s just kind of a general feeling. The previous owner’s remarks sum up my feelings at the half-way point: “Come on, Johnny, this is getting tiresome” and then “you don’t have to spell everything out for us. Give readers some credit — we aren’t idiots.” So I’m still half-way through. Probably will be for a while, although I feel some obligation to my friend to at least finish it.

I’m almost finished with Jonothan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It’s a book about a boy, and mostly narrated by the boy, who lost his dad in the September 11 attacks. I loved Foer’s first book, Everything is Illuminated, and couldn’t wait to read this one. Unless something very special happens in the last 50 or so pages of the book, this will be one of the biggest disappointments of the year for me. There are a lot of reviews bashing this book, so I’d love to disagree with them and say how very wrong everyone has been about it. I can’t. It’s contrived and despite trying to be a touching story, it isn’t. I’d much rather read a pre-teen’s account of searching for a piece of information about his father than a 20-something attempt to reproduce a pre-teen’s perspective. At least, if they can’t do it any more convinceingly than Foer does here.

One of my friend’s from grad school in Syracuse, Christian Tebordo, just had his first book published: The Conviction and Subsequent Life of Savior Neck. I’ll try to do it justice in a review at some point, but for now, every single page has at least one incredible sentence on it. A sentence that you would never even have thought of writing. A few random examples, just because I like them:

“Your own death smells like withered flowers doused in gasoline, or so I’m told.”

“Death is a long series of disappointments.”

“My son will not be in today as he has awakened to the smell of withered flowers doused in gasoline. His pulse is in the bed, his reflexes are in the carpet, and his hearing is in the doorway. In short, my son is feeling dead.”

“Most humans don’t wake up with an aching in the head that radiates from the right eye. Nor do they generally wake up with memories of having been knocked out by a cat.”

“The smell of urine floated along the currents, ricocheted against the back window, split, and circled the heads of the officers, stopping beneath their nostrils. Officer Longarm and his partner sniffed. They made wasn’t-me shows of sniffing.”

Now, back to what I’m reading. Yesterday I started Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story About the Hard Life. O’Brien’s At Swim Two Birds is a masterpiece, and this book has me laughing out loud in crowded rooms. He’s very, very funny. I highly recommend your checking out his stuff.

That’s where I am.

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3 Responses to “Booknotes”

  1. Brooks Says:

    I read Owen Meany just this year after someone recommended John Irving. The whole time I felt like I’d already seen a movie adaptation, but I don’t think one exists…

    Anyway, it was good. I enjoyed the whole thing and I recommend it as “light reading” to my friends. The story is good, the characters are excellent and the writing… while sometimes overbearing, is pretty decent.

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    (Hey, I’ll make my grand comeback on the comment board…)

    Wasn’t “Simon Birch” the movie adaptation of this book? I haven’t read the book, but I think this is correct.

  3. Michael Lasley Says:

    You’re right, Al. Simon Birch began as an adaptation of Owen Meany. Apparently, Irving is a bit of a jerk and didn’t approve of the way things were going and refused to let them use the title of his book. I can understand his argument — but from what I’ve seen in interviews, he’s kind of a jerk anyway.

    Brooks, I guess that’s one of the reasons I’ve been let down by it. So many people rave about Irving that I expected his writing to be better. But he does do a good job of developing interesting characters. I’ll give him that.

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