Going Out on a Literary Limb
My turn to choose a book for our couples book club is coming up. There’s always a question as to whether to play it safe and recommend a book of around 300 pages that is universally praised or to go out on a limb, knowing there may be some rotten tomatoes thrown during the discussion.
The last two books have been nonfiction -- The Good Soldiers and The Emperor of All Maladies. Both extremely well-written, but both rather depressing in their content: the war in Iraq and the war on cancer, grim and without victory in either case.
I had toyed with recommending That Used to Be Us (Friedman) or Millennial Makeover (Winograd/Hais), which would continue the non-fiction difficult truth trend. And if not, I had thought of Loving Frank, the biography of Frank Lloyd Wright. It is historical fiction, with one of the most gruesome scenes at the end I have ever read.
Then this week, my son strongly recommended the 2004 book Cloud Atlas by (British) David Mitchell. It’s a highly acclaimed novel that interweaves 6 stories over 1,000 years.
Our book club policy is that you must have read the book to recommend it. So as I struggle to finish the 500+ page book on the history of cancer, I am also reading Cloud Atlas and liking what I have read.
However, I can already predict there will not be universal enthusiasm for this book among our 10 members. Mainly because it is long (540 pages) and the writing is sometimes difficult. (I had to look up a bunch of words in the first chapter, which isn’t so hard when you are using a Kindle edition, but is still somewhat annoying when you realize how many more words this author knows than you do.) In talking about the book, Tom Bissell of the NYT said, “Deliberately difficult novels are the only novels he (Mitchell) seems to be interested in writing. This is to the good; the tree of literature drops its best fruit after being shaken with conviction and intelligence.”
Hopefully people will give it a try and will get seduced by the author’s ability to tell a good story. In the worst case it will join The Charterhouse of Parma and She’s Come Undone as the worst books of our 14-year book club history.
If you are a Can’t Beet It Book Club member reading this, you now have insider knowledge on my choice. You might want to get started soon...
If you have read Cloud Atlas, please let me know what you thought of it.