Friday, July 31, 2009

Cloud Atlas

It's hard to describe the charm that David Mitchell exerts to draw the reader along in this odd book narrating six different stories in different periods. It is probably the voice in each narrative, so distinct, so different from the others in style and tone. Even the futuristic dialect of a post-apocalyptic world, which could have become simply ennervating in less skillful hands, captivates the reader. Not to mention the pre-apocalyptic but dismal future world where more brand names are generic (all cars are fords, all movies are disneys, etc.).

The sheer imagination used in creating these different worlds, interlinked only in the most subtle way, helps carry the reader along. The individual plots, too, have their own suspense, plus, somehow, the suspense of seeing how these stories are linked.

Thematically, Cloud Atlas glorifies independence of spirit in the face of a cynical and often cruel world. The protagonists triumph in greater or lesser fashion, but they preserve their integrity against often unspeakable corruption. If you subscribe to the theory that they are in fact each one the reincarnation of the previous one, then of course it is a single protagonist who succeeds in this endeavor over the course of centuries. But that is really a superfluous consideration, because each narrative stands on its own, and, related or not, the six protagonists show different ways to maintain integrity.

I now have two further books by David Mitchell on my shelf, waiting to be read. I'm a fan.

Book buying

Buying books can of course be an addiction. Most book lovers will buy more books than they can read and, as books have become cheaper relative to other things, it's hard to put on the brakes.

During my years living in France and Germany, I learned to buy an English-language book I wanted when it was available, whether I planned to read it in the near future or not, because it might not be available when I was ready to read it. Books would sit on my shelves for years, but often enough I would finally get around to reading them.

Now back in the U.S. in the age of Amazon, it is much less likely that a book will not remain available. But I still have a tendency to buy books now that I have an interest in, even though my reading stack is already a mile high.

So this week I saw a couple of Josef Roth novels on the remainder shelf at Politics and Prose and snapped them up. Radetzky's March was so good, I'd read anything of his. Also, since I just finished watching the John Adams miniseries on DVD (loved it!), though I should get the McCullough book while the paperback is available. Besides, it has this wonderful large print. While I was at it, picked up Meacham's American Lion to fill out my burgeoning collection of presidential biographies. (Also bought David Stewart's Impeached last month.)

These books may sit for some time on my shelf before I have a chance to read them. But they're there.

Here is what I intend to make a monthly feature -- a log of books that I have bought, started and finished. It's not complete for this first month, because I only just had the idea, but I will try to keep it up to date.

Booklog July 2009 (not complete)
Bought: Beyond Recall-Robert Goddard; Past Caring-Robert Goddard; Hotel Savoy-Josef Roth; The Silent Prophet-Josef Roth; The Omnivore’s Dilemma-Michael Pollan; In Defense of Food-Michael Pollan; Jewish Study Bible (don’t ask); John Adams-David McCullough; American Lion-Jon Meacham.
Started: Out of the Sun-Robert Goddard; Every Man Dies Alone-Hans Fallada; Redbreast-Jo Nesbro; The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Finished: Out of the Sun; Cloud Atlas-David Mitchell.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hans Fallada

I've started reading Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, a new publication in English of a book originally written shortly after the war. It was reviewed very positively in the NYTBR a few weeks ago.

I have a connection of sorts to Fallada because one of his other books, Ein Mann Will Nach Oben (loosely, A Man Strives to Get Ahead) was filmed as a miniseries when I was living in Hamburg 1978-80. I watched it religiously -- this was the time before VCRs, Tivo or DVDs, so if you wanted to see something you had to be parked in front of the TV when it was on. It was a very affecting story about a young man who arrived in Berlin at the turn of the century -- the Gruenderzeit in Germany -- and worked his way up the ladder of success, leaving behind the small group of friends he met when he first came to the city.

Every Man is set during World War II and deals with resistance to the Nazi regime. I've only just started, but John Marks, a discriminating reader whose tips are very reliable, loved the book. Already some early scenes have been surprisingly moving.

I've pretty much abandoned Redbreast by Jo Nesbo. It's not a compelling read in any sense, neither from style or from plot. Too much jumping around between past and present.

Also just starting The Omnivore's Dilemma, part of my new interest in food writing (see my food blog, You Are What You Eat).