30 December 2011

Books... about Books

In the last week I've finished Cornelia Funke's Inkheart and Alice Mattison's The Book Borrower.  Both were enjoyable reads.  They were both self-consciously ABOUT books, book lovers, even the activity of owning books (lots of them!). 

Inkheart is loaded with chapter-starting quotes from many of my best-loved books, as well as some that are on my reading list.  In Inkheart certain human beings have the capacity to read a character out of a book, into existence in the real world.  Elinor, a supporting (human) character, ponders that these read-out characters must miss their book world, in much the way that bookish people feel most comfortable living within their safe world of books. Hmmm.....

I like the concept, it's fun, and she cites a number of other books that tap the same process -- The Princess Bride, The Neverending Story, even Huck tells us in Huckleberry Finn that we've already "met" him if we've read Tom Sawyer -- but as some other reviewers have remarked, it takes Funke too long to get where she wants to go.  I think the book would be better, tighter, if it were about 1/3 shorter.  We're told that Meggie is 12 years old, but she doesn't seem 12.  More like 16.  I could stand less about Fenoglio's grandchildren.  Less about snakes and Basta's superstitions (I get it!).  Less about traveling around the Italian backwoods.

Don't judge a book by its cover,
but I just love this cover.
The Book Borrower was a surprising little read.  I really liked the cover (I dig hats).  Nice to chomp through a quick read in three evenings.  It did an especially great job at depicting women's friendships, how they are so folded among the craziness of kids and husbands and jobs (women's lives are different than men's!).  I loved the book-within-a-book structure, and that the first chapter jarred me as I got my bearings within this structure.  Like a train lurching forward.   I liked that Gussie/Jessie Lipkin aka Berry Cooper from the "inside book" ends up having a significant interaction with Toby Ruben, the main character from the outer narrative.  I appreciated the way Mattison described Ruben's grief at her best friend's death.  Lastly, I liked that the primary narrative had dialogue marked with --, but the narrative within used typical "quotation marks." A nice stylistic switch-up.

And what do you know, there was a notable reference to Anna Karenina! I would NOT have been able to appreciate this without having already read AK! There's a special circle of knowledge going on here among my most recent reads.

So... this is cool, this Post-Modernist self-reflexivity and all, but I'm ready for a book that, well, ISN'T about books.  Last night I started Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer.  It feels like a Horatio Alger tale, but I think there's a surprising twist coming.  Otherwise I'm just reading about a young, 19th century Gordon Gecko.

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