Monday, October 4, 2010

Ooooh. A good book.

Whilst in Portland, the DuYos lent me a book. Now there needs to be some background to this. Once upon a time, JDuYo and I read most of the same books, eating up Auster and Delillo like any pretentious 15-year-old should. True, we occasionally disagreed, but for the most part, we were content to read and read alike. Then something happened: college. Maybe it started before college, but we were too busy to notice.

But on trips home during those four years, he kept talking about things like John Cheever and I kept talking about Gabriel Garcia Marquez. We both confessed to having tried the other's choice and having been mercilessly bored. Quelle horreur. When we roomed together after college, things got no better, for now we were set in our ways. Of 50 books read, perhaps 3 were in common, and we both just accepted that our tastes had irrevocably diverged. We tried not to make too too much fun of the other's preferences. That was difficult. Literary preference is only one rung down from sports team preference.

So eventually, we simply stopped recommending books to one another. After all, just because we didn't like the same books didn't mean we couldn't be friends. We should just avoid antagonizing one another with our tastes. Every once in a while we would hit upon something we both liked (though if I'm being honest, I can't remember the last one) and we could more often agree on what we didn't like - especially when it was the execrable work of former heroes.

But the book I was handed in Portland was handed over with a ringing endorsement and since I'll read anything, there was not reason not to begin David Beniof's City of Thieves.

Let's start off by saying I really liked this book. Thanks DuYos! And I'll tell you why. I think one of the points of divergence in our literary tastes has to do with protagonists and intent. My gauge is that JDuYo finds character to be kingly - even when said character is a middle class middle-aged white dude with no major problems. If the writer can capture the character brilliantly, it doesn't much matter if the character in question isn't that brilliant. I, on the other hand, thanks to a semester of Roth & Updike, no longer give a crap about the problems of the average white man. See also: Fight Club. I simply don't care. To me it's all so much blahblahblah. Now, in fairness, give me the average Indian man and I care. It doesn't make sense. It's just that the average Indian man is different - I don't know him - whereas I know the average 50-year old American or Brit.

My reading leans heavily towards the non-American or British author, excepting Colonial writers, because I'm reading to learn something I didn't know before. This doesn't always happen, but it's what I'm striving for.

Now Benioff is an American. A New Yorker. An easy mark to write Rothdike books. Yet he chose, for this story, the Siege of Leningrad among which to set his bildungsroman. Very well, I'm at least initially sold. I know less about the Siege of Leningrad than I know about Philip Roth's testicles ergo interest. And the story was good. And the characters believable not only for who they were but for who they were in the context of Russian characters. Benioff did a great job writing as if he was a Russian author. And as a great lover of Russian authors, that too held my interest. The book wasn't too long, something our young American writers are excelling at these days - it's fine if you're writing something like War & Peace, but a 600 page novel about how you can't finish your novel is really really really shite.

So I recommend the book wholeheartedly. And I'm ready for my own next recommendation!

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