Sunday, October 04, 2009

What You're Reading

What You're Reading: Let's get away from what I have been reading and talk about what you'll be reading. The WSJ has come up with a list of the hot books either recently released of coming soon. By hot books, they mean the publishing industry is going to gamble big money on these and try to come up with nefarious schemes and mind control techniques to make you buy them.

The article hits all the coming fiction and non-fiction. You can't read everything (unless you're Tyler Cowen), so here is my shot at pre-screening some of the fiction.

The Lost Symbol , Dan Brown: "Harvard symbologist and Vatican nemesis Robert Langdon returns in Dan Brown's sequel to his bestseller The Da Vinci Code." I would be willing to bet that I observe at least thirty people reading this book on every leg of every flight I take between now and the end of the year. I'm pretty sure that if I had some kind of extra-dimensional science fiction glasses I would see aliens sucking their brains out with a straw.

The Year of the Flood , Margaret Atwood: "Margaret Atwood's post-apocalyptic novel begins in the aftermath of a natural disaster that wiped out most of humanity, fulfilling a prophecy by a latter-day religious leader named Adam One. Survivors include a trapeze artist who is trapped inside a sex club... Ms. Atwood has written a one-hour musical theater piece to accompany the book, which will be performed during her book tour." With each passing day, I see more proof that it is simply not my world anymore.

Nocturnes , Kazuo Ishiguro: "Five pieces of short fiction by the Booker prize-winning author of "Remains of the Day" are thematically linked by music." An author many speak highly of and whose name is often mentioned in the same breath as "Nobel." His reviewers claim his novels center on human failings and his characters rarely achieve resolution. That appeals to me, but every description I have read of an Ishiguro plot is horrifically depressing. Too depressing even for droll comments.

Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby: "Pop music figures heavily--once again--in this latest novel by Mr. Hornby... The book's heroine, Annie, is having doubts about her boyfriend Duncan, who is obsessed with a reclusive folk singer." Love to Nick Hornby, purveyor of top quality lad lit. Even if it turns out to be nothing all that new, just a retread of About a Boy or High Fidelity, it's still a better way to spend your layover than frickin' Dan Brown.

The Wild Things, Dave Eggers: "Fans of Maurice Sendak's iconic children's book Where the Wild Things Are are bracing themselves for Dave Eggers's new take on the story--a novelization, based loosely on the children's book and published by Mr. Eggers's imprint McSweeney's, plus a big-screen version, which he co-wrote with director Spike Jonze." Celebrity author, beloved of hipsters, teaches us all how to sell novels in the 21st century. Eggers is Coldplay to Dan Brown's Jonas Bros. Or something.

Chronic City , Jonathan Lethem: "Jonathan Lethem... takes Manhattan with his new novel, Chronic City, which features a listless former child star whose astronaut girlfriend is trapped in space. There's also a tiger on the loose, a mysterious chocolate smell engulfing the city and a menagerie of colorful characters, including the brilliant but paranoid Perkus Tooth and the petite, irascible ghostwriter Oona Laszlo." Great, but where's my one-hour musical theatre piece?

The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk: "The new novel from the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author is set in the hedonistic world of Istanbul's Westernized aristocracy. Mr. Pamuk explores modern Turkey's identity crisis through the story of Kemal, the son of a wealthy family, who falls in love with a store clerk." Pamuk is the proto-typical Nobel Prize winner: a non-Westerner with a lifelong devotion to fiction writing, a very active and explicit socio-political sense (with specific concerns about the oppressed), and a bit of a prickly personality. That's a lot of baggage to bring to a novel. Anyone with even the slightest cynicism has to wonder if his renown and awards are products of his fashionable politics. He may be a great writer, but for me it's too much work to separate the writing from the reputation.

Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving: "Mr. Irving's 12th novel starts in 1954 in a New Hampshire logging settlement and spans five decades. The plot is set in motion when a 12-year-old boy and his father become fugitives after the boy mistakes the constable's girlfriend for a bear and bludgeons her with a frying pan." True story: I once got a rejection letter from an agent saying "Your writing reminds me of John Irving, but I just don't think I could sell it." If my writing reminds you of John Irving and you can't sell it, why the hell aren't you working at McDonalds?

The Humbling, Philip Roth: "In Philip Roth's 30th book, a washed up stage actor in his 60s laments his loss of talent." Really, dude? Really? Are you actively seeking abuse?

The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov: "The draft of Nabokov's final novel will hit shelves more than 30 years after his death, following his son's decades-long deliberation over whether to publish the novel or destroy it in accordance with his father's wishes." I love Nabokov, but I don't want to read this. I'm semi-praying for it to suck so I won't be tempted to stomp on his last wishes. Please, first read Lolita and Pale Fire, then decide if you want to flip a posthumous bird at Vladimir by buying a copy.

In truth, if I ever read any of these it won't be for years. Any hype whatsoever will automatically disqualify a book from my reading list for a minimum of five years. You are different, though. You are susceptible to the nefarious machinations of the book industry. These books are what you'll be talking about over Zinfandel and Baba Ganoush at your next dinner party, that is if you actually have friends that read.