Last week we kicked off our monthly book club with a discussion of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. That discussion went very well, and tonight I want to bring you candidates for the next book club discussion, which will be on Saturday, Nov 6. Technically, it should be on Oct 30, but I understand that some people will be rocking for reason, or talking about terror, or maybe just meditating on mediocrity. Whatever. Folks are busy that day.
So you've got a full month to bone up on the winner of tonight's vote. The books I'm bringing forward are in some cases those that were recommended to me via comment or email after last month's discussion. Others are just some of my favorites. But the intention this week is to dive into a novel, and one that is (heavens forfend) not a pre-labeled category bestseller or literary fiction. We're going to look at one of those books that has something stamped on its spine that gets it shelved outside the generic fiction section of the bookstore. What we're really after is something that transcends genre, a work that blows apart the standard "tropes" of category fiction and rewrites the rules.
But first, something much nearer at hand. Tomorrow morning at 9AM ET, we'll be having a live Q & A with author Douglas Rushkoff. The main topic of that discussion will be Rushkoff's new book, Program or be Programmed: ten commands for a digital age. The book is only now becoming available, so take a hop over to view a video and familiarize yourself with the topic. Then set your alarm clock to participate in the discussion tomorrow morning.
OK, now to the choices...
In the western corner is Larry McMurtry's sprawling saga of cattle drives, aging rangers, and colorful characters Lonesome Dove. It's easy for the two characters at the center of the book to stick in your memory (Augustus McCrea may be the most likable old fart in literature), but the supporting cast in this book is as big as the landscape -- and many of them have roles so important that the narrative leans as often on them as it does Gus and Call. Included in the array are some truly memorable female characters, from the redoubtable Clara to the unexpected resilience of Lorena Wood. A story that dips in and out of history to paint a story of the "Old West" on the cusp of becoming the new west. Not many westerns end up winning a Pulitzer. Not many deserve it.
With the sound of mystic flutes and the faint tolling of a bell, the fantasy champion arrives. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by British writer Susanna Clarke, is possibly the most English book ever written in English. Set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Anglophiles will find more to love in this book than a shelf of Hornblower and a case of Regency romances. This is Clarke's first novel, and she labored over it for a decade. Every moment of that effort shines in a novel that creates a completely believable world filled with all the pathos and coincidence of everyday life, only tinged with the history and practice of Good English Magic. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this is a fantasy novel for people who hate fantasy -- and for those who love it. Read it, and you may never look at a winter wood the same way again... though you may find yourself fighting off an irresistible urge for crumpets. Whatever they are. And damn it, read the footnotes.
Out of shadowy depths of horror comes... The Throat by Peter Straub. This novel is more properly a "thriller," since it lacks the overt supernatural elements found in some of Straub's books. Or does it? This book concludes the "Blue Rose Trilogy," but the connection between the books is more in a sense of tone and a few shared characters, so don't go thinking you need to read the whole series to enjoy this volume (though there are many worse ways to spend your time than reading Koko and Mystery). The Throat deals with a series of murders taking place in the carefully constructed fictional town of Millhaven. Narrated from the point of view of a writer returning to his old stomping ground who ends up hip deep in the convoluted mystery, you may begin to wonder if the narrator is delusional, laboring under a death wish -- or maybe not quite putting all his cards on the table for the reader. And no, I don't think this one won any of those respectable mainstream awards. It's just good.
In the science-fictional ur-corner of the tesseract stands Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson has done some phenomenal work ranging from cyberpunk to historical thriller. This time he paints the story of an alternate world -- one where cloistered brothers and sisters spend centuries behind walls, isolated from the world, not to contemplate the mysteries of religion, but to protect the secrets of mathematics from a world that regularly cycles into ruin. Part character study of a collection of genius oddballs, part travelogue across another world, and all covered with puzzles and twists that will make you want to search out your Rubik's cube. It won't just make you think, it'll make you work for it -- and feel very proud of yourself in finding the answers (even if the author does help. A little.)
Waiting in the shadows... something I didn't put on the list. Don't like any of these ideas? Just give a write in vote for Lisa Mur... I mean, click "none of the above" and give your idea in the comments.
Whatever the selection for this month, please do dust off a volume and join in.