Yet another use for books (other than reading them): pile them up and use them as a bar.
Longtime Millions reader Laurie writes in with news of a sale on classic lit at Barnes & Noble. These Barnes & Noble-branded editions are sometimes criticized for cannibalizing the editions of other publishers because the chain store offers them so cheaply. Then again, some might argue that cheap books (and especially cheap classics) are always a good thing. It appears that the series Laurie mentions is now sold out (at least on the B&N Web site), but I thought the issues Laurie raised about the series interesting enough to merit posting anyway. Laurie writes:Here’s another item for your “book deals” section, if you’re comfortable with it (I have no affiliation with this publisher; I just like a bargain. Comments on the moral dimensions welcome.):Barnes & Noble publishes their own editions of classic literature. One series, the “Collector’s Library,” focusing mainly on works of the 19th century, went on sale the day after Christmas. Each pocket sized (6 inch x 4 inch) edition is hardbound in red cloth with an attached red ribbon placeholder held in firmly a stitched binding (at least it appears well-made) that also holds the printed work in small but sharp type, on good quality, gilt-edged paper. These little books look good and feel nice. Marked down from $5 or $6, which was already cheaper than most paperbacks, they are now marked for clearance at $2.00 each. About the worst thing you can say about them is that the striped dustjackets are pretty unimaginative. Want a copy of Moby Dick or Treasure Island, though, that can fit in the back pocket of your jeans and that also looks nice on a bookshelf (probably sans dustjacket)? Scour your local B&N — they’re going fast.Two further notes about this series:B&N’s choice of titles here is pretty eclectic — of the 65 or so I could find (they have no published list of all the titles and have not yet responded to a request for such a list), they’ve published Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina but not his War & Peace; Dickens’ Great Expectations but not David Copperfield or Oliver Twist; Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, but no other poets of the era (Tennyson was incredibly popular but appears left out, ditto Byron, Shelley, Browning, Wordsworth, etc.), the French Revolution drama A Tale of Two Cities is present but not Les Miserables. On the plus side, there’s a good mix of adventure (Treasure Island, Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe), horror (Frankenstein, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera), and human interest (Little Women, Sense & Sensibility, The Scarlet Letter), among others.The books are printed in China, which probably accounts for their cheap price, but that may be objectionable to environmentalists (industrial waste laws are weaker there) or supporters of U.S.-based printers. Or it may be a moot point – just what percentage of American books are printed overseas these days anyway?
So, maybe you’re curious about what books people are reading right now. I’ll start with new fiction. There’s a lot of interesting new books out there right now. The book that everyone is talking about remains The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. Lethem has recently been interviewed in periodicals ranging from Entertainment Weekly to the Paris Review, and the book is the current pick for countless book clubs. Despite the hype, this book is a worthy read, and you’ll have something to talk about at cocktail parties. In the category of science fiction for those who don’t typically read science fiction comes Quicksilver, the first book in a new series by Neal Stephenson. The book has been out for a week and is already flying off the shelves, most likely to the very same folks who are always telling me how much they love Stephenson’s previous novels, especially Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. Meanwhile, Zoe Heller is nearing breakthrough status with her second novel What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal, which is about a teacher who carries on an affair with her fifteen year old student. It sounds trashy, but from what I hear it turns out to be a nuanced and moving character study. It’s been short-listed for the Booker Prize and is beginning to sell accordingly. Also short-listed and selling incredibly well in England is Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Following in the footsteps of fellow young Londoner Zadie Smith, Ali’s debut novel is another unsparing look at multi-cultural London. Finally, another debut, this one is a cleverly wrought time traveling romance by Audrey Niffenegger titled, appropriately, The Time Traveler’s Wife. So there you go. A few things to read this fall. Stayed tuned for the next installment: new non-fiction.
I am almost done reading a very remarkable book. Actually, it’s not really a book, it’s seven novellas about one man, a mysterious character by the name of Maqroll the Gaviero. He is too complex to really describe, but I suppose I might try: he is an adventurer first and formost, preferably by sea, but he is not in it for the excitment. His travels are constant because it is his compulsion. He is a lover of the world and ships and beautiful women. He is an excellent judge of character, though he is often drawn into disregarding his own judgements. He encounters many fascinating characters, and we follow as well the Gaviero’s companions and trusted friends, Abdul Bashur (Dreamer of Ships) and Ilona Rubenstein (the Nymph of Trieste).The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis is, dare I say it, on par with and even surpasses the work of Borges and Garcia Marquez. These novellas span the globe like no book ever has. Maqroll visits every continent and sniffs out schemes and companions in every port. This Maqroll, he is no vain adventurer, no hero. He is tortured by his restlessness. He is at the same time a most exceptional man, well-read and loyal, courteous and brave when bravery is required. And yet he is so fragile. I worry about Maqroll as he is blown about the globe by the whims of a strange fate. I am almost done with the 7th and final novella. I have almost reached the last of the 700 pages, but I am not ready to say good bye. This Maqroll, he can really get ahold of you. I have read some books, and though I am by no means an expert, I can say that this book will have to be a classic. It is just so good.
I went back home to Istanbul for my cousin’s wedding (yes, a lot of weddings indeed, fun nevertheless, and may all of them be happy) and there picked up Tuna Kiremitci’s third novel Yolda Uc Kisi (Three People on the Road). I had briefly mentioned Tuna Kiremitci’s first two novels in my Year in Reading for 2004. I had found both very pop but at the same time sincere and interesting. Yolda Uc Kisi has an interesting storyline, but it does not explore feelings, ideas, conflicts, and desires as strongly as its predecessors. The author’s involvement as the narrator was also too cheap and easy at times, helping Kiremitci to skim over facts that could well make the novel more interesting. I understand that he is a poet and would rather take the short cut, but Yolda Uc Kisi was a disappointing read with certain highlights and no identifiable resolution. I would recommend Orhan Pamuk’s Sessiz Ev (also reviewed last year) for those interested in the divide between the understanding of revolutionaries and consumers, as well as young and old, and the political life in Turkey before the military coup of 1980, it goes much deeper than Yolda Uc Kisi, and actually presents a full story.Funny book given as present by my friend Roland at the Virginia wedding: In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot by Graham Roumieu. Absolutely hilarious, from the myth to pop culture, everything that Bigfoot presents in his broken English puts a smile on your face or makes you laugh out loud. You will read the whole book in 5 minutes and then rush over to your friends to read what you thought was the funniest, realizing soon thereafter that you have read the whole thing to them, too. Go to a bookstore, pick it up, and see if it makes you smile. [Ed. Note: I’m also a big fan of the Bigfoot book. Go here to get a taste of Roumieu’s art.]Next I turned to Danyel Smith’s Bliss, which hit the shelves on July 12 to great acclaim. Smith takes the reader through the booming world of hip hop in the late ’80s and the ’90s, through the experiences, ambitions, and personal conflicts of Eva Glenn, a successful executive at Roadshow Records. Although fairly well concentrated on her career and personal freedom, Eva actually has little time to focus on her real problems as she juggles Sunny, her successful, multi-platinum artist; Ron Lil’ John, her rival record executive and part-time lover; Dart, Sunny’s manic-depressive brother and manager; and all other rivals in the cut-throat recording industry. Bliss is very pop and fun to read: Eva’s constant musings over songs – relating developments in her life through verses from artists like the Temptations and Tupac – her constant inner dialogue, which explains the real motivations behind her actions, and stories of making mixed tapes from radio broadcasts make for a novel that captivates the reader. Bliss is very similar to Syrup by Maxx Barry in both style and context. I had enjoyed Syrup a lot when I read it and think that it covers personal vice and dynamics of a cut-throat industry – marketing in this instance – stronger than Bliss does. Nevertheless, it was really entertaining to read about the recording industry especially when the story is of success, competition, music. If you are headed to the beach before the summer is over, or have a sweet life like Eva Glenn and will be traveling to an exotic island, take Bliss with you and marvel at how, maybe one day, your life can be like that too.Previously: Part 1, 2, 3