As soon as I saw M. Gin’s post here about wanting to do a book exchange I immediately expressed my interest. I hope this becomes a massively popular project almost as big as this whale here. I am absolutely going to be participating and I hope that if you are interested in joining as well that you express your interest and let me know. And if you haven’t yet visited her blog, I whole-heartedly suggest you visit M.Gin’s for some fantastic pieces of writing and reflection.
Anyways, so I’m all pumped to go out and get this book this weekend (Barnes and Noble coupons for the win y’all!) but I’m having a hard time picking what book I’d like to send to represent my literary contribution to the betterment of this world. So I’ve narrowed it down to three very different but equally fantastic reads and I’d like you all to help me pick which one gets sent across the world to a lucky stranger.
I’ve read all three in the past and they’ve been some of my absolute all-time favorite reads. They are a great representation of very different writing styles, themes, and emotions. Some you might have heard of, or at the very least of their author, but I would also like to try and highlight some recommendations that are I think, unjustly underrated. I am always trying to spread the good word of some of these authors and their works but my friends don’t usually like to read and I have very few opportunities to discuss my literary passions. So the more people I can infect with my particular style of reading, the better for me. Hahah.
Option 1: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Perhaps the most well-known author in my selection, Kazuo Ishiguro is an incredibly talented British author. He was born in Japan but his family moved to England when he was very young. As such he has the dignified suffering and slow, steady, pacing towards sadness that I love about British authors. There is a wonderful moroseness to his stories that make you love the lingering longing feeling of want. Most people who have heard of Kazuo Ishiguro or read anything of his will know about The Remains of the Day, which was later turned into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins. Remains was a poignant reflection not only on the national identity crisis of a post-empire Great Britain but also on the identity crisis of an aging butler who had hitched his entire life to one of the men of their so-called ‘last great generation’. There were beautiful themes of mortality, dignity, pride, and most of all, the reliability of memory and narrator. When you pair the gentler, slower pace of British writing with the often-times circular and reflective path of Japanese storytellers, you get a piece that is strikingly deep, painstakingly subdued, and tragically suspenseful. I read Kazuo Ishiguro when I want to experience a much deeper and personal level of melancholy. You might not think a book that is designed to make you feel the most beautiful levels of despair would be appealing, but trust me when I say Kazuo Ishiguro has a way of making you love the knife as it cuts.
Never Let Me Go is a dystopian novel set a non-specified amount of time in the future and centers around the reflection and narrative of Kathy as she recounts her time growing up with her best friend and the boy she grew to love. Once more Ishiguro loves to play with the reliability of the narrator as Kathy attempts to present her story in a way that is both truthful but also affectedly sympathetic towards herself. It takes us around the countryside of Britain, a nostalgic setting for Ishiguro, as it travels from schoolhouse days to days by the sea. It is a wonderful perspective on love, loss, and growth. I really don’t want to give too much of the story or its nuances away as the best part of the book is really how it builds up to its most tragic reveal and completely changes the context and backdrop of the story. No better style and storyteller could have built up the effect of Never Let Me Go when its true nature is finally revealed.
So I would highly recommend this choice if you prefer to read something that is deeply, emotionally charged. And only if you’ve had some great days before it to buffer. One of the best examples of pace and setup that I’ve ever read. There is also the added benefit of a cinematic counterpart, though I highly recommend reading the novel first before watching the film. The movie is actually very well done, with some of my all-time favorite actors in it. Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield. Though the movie reveals in five seconds what the book takes so much love and care to reveal only by the end, which takes away so much of the impact.
Option 2: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Another markedly British selection from what is perhaps to me one of the best examples of British humor. Perhaps second only to Nick Hornby of A Long Way Down and About a Boy (one of my favorite movies as well as books) fame. Mark Haddon began his career and set most of his works with youth titles, but it is his adult fiction novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time that had me laughing, smiling, and generally recovering from say, a long stint of reading Ishiguro. Hahah. In that signature dry and subtly almost completely lacking a punchline kind of way, Haddon delivers fine examples of literary humor. I’ve since read other works by Haddon which continue to deliver his style of ensemble story with all points connecting chaotically, humorously, in the end. A Spot of Bother, which is about a recently retired hypochondriac and his wife and children was an absolute riot of poor judgement. What I love about British humor is how comfortable it is making its hero the punchline of the joke. It doesn’t construct comedy by laughing at others but rather enjoys and desires to be the butt of it all. The ability to laugh at oneself is a skill I think most people can benefit from nowadays and the novel, in true form, does much the same. Only you will find that as you keep reading and laughing and thinking…the joke inevitably starts to turn in on itself until you find yourself laughing at your own reflection. And you’re quite alright with that. That to me is the skill and beauty and relatability of Mark Haddon’s work.
The book centers around the adventures of Christopher, a young boy who describes himself as a ‘mathematical genius with behavioral problems’. Right from the start he sets himself up as the outsider and his behaviors certainly do seem strange and often times unpredictable and uncontrollable. He struggles to connect to the people around him, especially his father who has had to raise him on his own. The boy is obsessed with trying to solve the mystery of his neighbor’s dead dog, which he found one night killed with a garden fork. The novel is not without its own tinge of sadness, though great comedy often needs that foil to really shine. And we never lose our sympathy or sensitivity towards Christopher despite his many struggles to fit in.
This novel offers so much to its readers. Great comedy. An opportunity for real introspection. Prime-numbered chapters for the mathematically inclined. It was recently turned into an off-Broadway play which I unfortunately did not get to see though I heard it did fairly well. There’s definitely a bit of tongue-in-cheek laughing at oneself so for a brighter mood, a happier disposition, or to give someone who could use a laugh and a bit of humbling, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time would definitely be the choice.
Option 3: A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
Alright everyone. Here is your dark horse. Your wild card. Your joker in the hand. Christopher Moore is an American comic fantasy writer who has had way too much time on his hands. Quite frankly, I’m glad that his level of creativity and insanity was channeled into creating some of the most outrageous, random, and hilarious reads I’ve ever encountered. Because otherwise we would have all been dead. To really enjoy Christopher Moore you have to be the kind of person who can just be okay with things. No real explanation, no time for exposition, he arrives at your door in a car that is literally on fire and you have to decide if you want to jump in. I’ve seen anything and everything pop up in his novels. A hooker covered entirely in blue body paint named ‘Blue’. Frozen turkey bowling. Vampires encased in gold. One of the recurring characters in a whole series of his novels is the ‘Emperor of San Francisco’ and his two loyal subjects, his pair of pet dogs. I cannot tell you how fanatical I am about Christopher Moore’s many works and how disappointed I am that so few have heard of him. Now, I do recognize that his material represents such a strange fringe niche that intersects between comedy, fantasy, heresy, and blasphemy but he is so good at being so brash and so casual about the absurd that you truly wish to have the opportunity to be part of these worlds. Almost all of his novels have been happily and voraciously taken in by those lucky few who have discovered him and almost all have been optioned for movie rights but are all tragically not, in his words, ‘in any danger of being made into a movie’. If you read these and find the same desire and hunger for a film adaptation as I do, maybe we can work together.
A Dirty Job centers around the admittedly ‘beta’ Charlie Asher. He owns a second-hand property store and is raising his newborn daughter on his own after his wife passes away a little while after giving birth. He is chosen by some magical unnamed force to become a ‘death merchant’, tasked with collecting the souls of the deceased and helping them pass on to the afterlife. Trying to balance running a small business with the new responsibilities of fatherhood are only further complicated now that he is also responsible for the spiritual fate of countless souls and protecting the world from the evil powers of the underworld. I never imagined that I would find in the same novel a conversation about diapers and teenage girls alongside a battle for all the souls of San Francisco and a man’s reincarnation into an alligator doll. Because many of his novels center around San Francisco and inhabit the same universe, the book also has a Marvel-style plethora of easter eggs and allusions to his other works.
I think A Dirty Job is a great amuse bouche into the depraved hilarity of Christopher Moore’s works but it is only an entrance ticket to his whole collection. Unlike the other selections A Dirty Job has a direct sequel already out to continue reading and inhabits a whole series of works spanning at least four other novels. These are some of the craziest and most interesting characters I’ve ever come across. There’s Minty Fresh who is a seven foot tall black man who runs a second hand record store. Audrey the white Tibetan monk who creates Frankenstein-esque creations of small animals. Jody the red-haired vampire. What is fun about A Dirty Job is that if you find yourself enjoying the outrageous sheer shock and wonder of it all, there’s plenty more where that came from.
Well, there you have it. Someone is going to get one of these books, and I could really use your help in selecting which one! And if you would like to join in on the fun, let me know and you can be a part of this book exchange.
Man: 218 Loneliness: 33