Friday, January 12, 2007

BOOKS: But My Air of Mystery Is Part of My Charm

National Delurking Week is winding down, but it's not too late to say howdy. It's okay if you're shy -- so am I! And don't worry if your grammar ain't up to my snuff. I only judge my own (and that of The New York Times). I'd like to say I don't bite, but that would be a lie. In my own defence, let me add that I rarely break the skin.

I know you're out there. I can hear you breathing. Tell you what: I'm going to tap on my side of the monitor once, to say hi. If you can hear me, tap back twice.

Well, it was worth a try.

We're less than two weeks into the new year, and my reading luck has been incredible. Not only have the books that have come my way been consistently excellent, but at the rate I'm going (four and counting) I'm destined for 100 books this year. (Note: This will not happen. Something -- Moby Dick, a root canal gone horribly wrong, etc. -- will intervene. But it's nice to dream, and it's still early enough in the year that I'm letting myself gently tend a few delusions as if they were brand-new Tamagotchis.)

All this reading, however, comes at a price. You knew it had to, right? That price has been sleep. But hey, I can sleep when I'm dead. Can I read when I'm dead? Probably not. The choice is a no-brainer.

Coincidentally, death seems to be coming up as a weird recurring issue in half the books I've read so far. But not in the first one of the year, so let's start with that.

The Van
by Roddy Doyle (#1)
I loved The Snapper, so when I learned that it was part of a trilogy, I knew I'd end up reading the other two books in the set. Since I inadvertantly started in the middle, which is fairly typical, I wasn't too fussed about whether I moved backward or forward, so when The Van -- the final book in the series -- came my way, I was all over it.

Much as I liked The Snapper, The Van is an even better story. It focuses on the character of Jimmy Sr., the patriarch of a large working-class family in Dublin, as he struggles with unemployment and his feelings of inadequacy. Jimmy is an ordinary guy, a charming guy, a nice guy, and a bit of a dick, too, and it's to Doyle's credit that he's able to bundle these incongruencies -- incongruencies that apply to pretty much every normal person on earth -- into a likeable, believable character. He reminds me that what I love most about Doyle's writing is his huge talent for creating dialogue that's real and funny, and often really funny.

The Van is a comic novel, but like every great comic novel, it's also sad, with the ability to blindside you with moments that are terribly, terribly poignant. Apparently, The Commitments is widely considered the best book in this trilogy. I'm going to give myself a few months to let the anticipation build, and I'm definitely going to pick it up.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures
by Vincent Lam (#2)
So, after reading The Van -- this awesome, funny, life-affirming story -- I'm thinking I'm ready for Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, the most recent winner of the Giller Prize by first-time author Vincent Lam. It turns out I wasn't, but that's okay. It was an amazing book, and I forgive it for holding all my worst fears up to my face and laughing at me.

In my past, I have been obsessed with death in ways that have bordered on the unhealthy. If I were a bit younger, I might have even gone through a goth phase, though probably not, because I hate jobs that require a uniform. Instead, I am a (relatively) normal-looking person with an abnormal fixation on death. You could argue that a borderline obsessive fear of death is just good survival instincts -- if you worry about dying, you're more likely to be careful with your person, right? Unfortunately, caution doesn't seem to help the characters in these stories very much, which isn't very reassuring.

Oops. I've backed into my topic again. Okay. Again. From the top.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures is a collection of stories loosely gathered around a group of characters as they enter medical school and following the first few decades of their careers. Lam is, himself, a doctor, which lends these stories a degree of verisimilitude that is frequently unnerving, especially if one tends to be so squeamish that even hospital dramas on TV are too much to take.

The takeaway from this book is, in a nutshell, this: bad shit happens, usually for no good reason, and at the end of the day, we're all going to die anyway. That old pessimist Thomas Hobbes was right: life is nasty, brutish and short.

Or maybe not so brutish after all. Interwoven among the hyperreal scenes of hospital drama are passages of truly lovely writing, and maybe THAT is the takeaway from this book. That old saw about carpe-ing the diem. Find the beauty where you can. It's out there.

Crap. Was that depressing? It wasn't meant to be. Er, have a great weekend!

61 comments:

Anne said...

In honor of delurking week--hello. Thank you for writing such an entertaining, literary-yet-not-pretentious blog!

Now I shall burrow, mole-like, back into anonymity.

Melanie said...

Hey! Almost-first comment and I'm also a former lurker, so two mountains climbed today. I mowed through Lam's Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures after I got it for Christmas, and I was blown away. Semi spoilers toward the bottom; just a warning. I'm working towards my MA in English, so I'm always ready to be critical of Popular books. I thought maybe it was just popular because of the popularity of medical drama on TV (I'm a Grey's Anatomy addict), but it was actually a really good book in itself, with or without the medical stuff. I especially liked the fact that, in the stories/chapters that focussed on one particular patient and told part of the story from that patient's point of view, we were only with the story until its climax, and then we were cut off. You know, "I stitched her up" and then the story ends. Unsatisfying, yes, but if you think about it, that is the extent of a doctor-patient relationship. The doctor doesn't find out what happens when the woman goes home. Did her husband ever show? Doctor doesn't find out. I wonder if they experience the same kind of dissatisfaction about the lack of resolution to a drama. Hmmm. Anyway, I recommend this book to everyone. I haven't gotten that into a book in YEARS!

Chanie said...

Hi! Well, technically, I have left one or two comments before, but I usually don't so I think I qualify as a lurker. So thanks for your blog and your wit and thanks for making me copy you and try to read 50 books last year (which I did) and this year too. We'll see how it goes this year with all the new rules I've added to the mix.

Beth said...

Howdy! =)

ragdoll said...

Well, I had no idea about the de-lurking because I comment all over the place, I'm sorry if I'm trumping all over toes but, I too loved "Bloodletting," especially the SARS story (and I'm not giving anything away with that one). But what impressed me was how he was able to link the stories, with even a glimpse of one of the main characters, we still knew what was happening with them. Very good storytelling on Dr. Lam's part.

girl_in_greenwood said...

Okay, I will de-lurk. And I will add "Bloodletting" to my reading list. And I will also thank you for pointing out Shelfari to me, because even if it's not your speed, it is my new obsession.

Carry on!

Southern US Carla said...

First-time poster, long-time lurker.

The movie versions of The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van are all wonderful, if it's not sacrilege to say so on a, you know, book blog.

Rita said...

I am now officially delurked. Love your blog. Often follow through and read the books you recommend. I shall probably continue to lurk, although I've taken off the sunglasses and will wave if you happen to glance this way, instead of darting back into the shadows.

Dina said...

Delurking!

I read your blog often (as a librarian, I can deem it work-related and enjoy it on the clock) especially when I'm headed to the public library to pick up something new and interesting. You had me at Hey Nostradamus!, which I just recently reread and own and adore.

Bonus: Master Sam ranks high on the cutest babies list.

Ellen Wernecke said...

Hi. I'm de-lurking to say that I really like your blog, and I have no justification for not commenting earlier. I say go for 100!

Betsy said...

Hi! Just delurking quickly before the offical week is over!

Angie said...

I don't think I'm a full on lurker, but I'll say hi anyway. I love your blog. I've read several books on your recommendation!

One good thing for me is that I have ADHD, which means I can't just focus on one thing at work. I literally mean "can't" here. So I've started listening to a lot of audiobooks. I listened to Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs, which was great and A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore, which is an awesome book but even more fun as an audio book because of all the voices. Right now I'm listening to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. If you haven't read it yet, I highly suggest it. It's written in the voice of someone with Asperger's syndrome, and it's fascinating. I'm also reading the second book in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, which are such fun, and just finished a book on cadavers.

Man, when I de-lurk, I de-lurk! :)

Ruby said...

Hi! I think I've posted before, but it's apparently de-lurking week, so I will. I love your blog -- your ramblings are fascinating.

Petunia said...

I've commented before but I've read quietly for a lot longer so consider me de-lurked.

Actually yours was the first book blog I read and the reason I have kept track of my own reading, trying to see how close to 50 books I could get. Now I have my own book blog(which is nowhere as entertaining as yours) and learned that I can in fact read 55 books within a year. Thanks for the push in the right direction.

BTW, have you read White Noise by DeLillo? It is all about man's(and woman's) obsession with death, without actually involving any death.

Nina in Sacramento said...

Another lurker...de-lurking. I love your site. I found it through DHAK, it's probably the my most-visited DHAK site other then TWoP. Our sons are just about the same age (Finn's second birthday is in March) so I appreciate all the motherly commiserating. (And, don't you just hate it when people say, "Oh, my baby was sleeping through the night at three months."? HATE.) Thanks to you, I now covet the wonderful espresso press that, of course, can't be had in the US. Anyway, thanks for the blog. You inspire me to read. Although I can't match your four books so far this year. I've only read two so far: "Pride and Prejudice" and "Jarhead".

Kim said...

Sort-of delurking:

I've read all three of Roddy Doyle's "Barrytown Trilogy" books; I don't know as I'd say "The Committments" is best, more like each one is perfectly suited to a slightly different audience.

One caveat that the film is a little different from the book. But personally, I think anyone who's ever been in a band would love it.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Southern US Carla about the movie versions of the Barrytown Trilogy--they're wonderful films, and they're what got me reading Roddy Doyle.

Erin said...

Hi! I'm also a lurker, but mostly because I fear that my comments will not be cool enough. Anyway, I love the site since I grew up surrounded by books and now work in a library. I'm hoping that once I graduate college I'll have time to read again. I miss it so. . .

Anonymous said...

De-lurking to say hello and thanks for directing me toward some great books.

Caroline said...

Tap, tap.

I came across you mid-summer, perhaps somewhere around JPod, looking for a list of good reads. I stayed for your incredible wit and insight.

Thanks for your great writing - I'll try not to lurk so much.

Pixie said...

Hi! I'm delurking to say I got into the Precious Ramotswe books because of your recommendation, & also found out there was another book by Mark Haddon because of your blog. Think I found you through DHAK... I enjoy your writing & appreciate your insight into books & also the occasional mommyblogging.

tetetetigi said...

I delurked sorta last week, and here I am, still delurking... with nothing new to say besides this: If I hadn't been reading this blog, I would have never read Hey!Nostradamus, and I love that book. So, thank you!

Skippy said...

De-lurking is such a strange thing to say, though I've always liked the word lurking. Come to think of it, I sort of enjoy actual lurking as well, though not in a creepy way, I swear.

--Deb said...

Funny--you're the second person today to mention that "bloodletting" book, and I'd never heard of it before! Anyway, I have left a few comments before, but yes, de-lurking to say hello.

Laura said...

Delurking!

In honor of criticizing the New York Times -- I noticed on their homepage on Wednesday (was it Wednesday?) that Chavez interprets his win as "free reign" to do, well, whatever funky socialist stuff he's up to.

Sure, it's more of a usage issue, but come on ... FREE REIGN? And it wasn't just in the promo on the homepage, it was in the actual article, too! Heavens.

I also did the 50 book challenge last year and hit exactly fifty and thought it was weird. And I love your blog. :)

Kathy said...

Hi. I've posted before, so I'm not really a lurker, but it's been a while. (It's not like reclaiming your virginity, is it?) I'm striving for the hundred book goal, too this year, but as of today, I've only read three and one was a graphic novel. I thought my last-year's total of eight-seven was good, until someone told me she read over 170 books! (I tend to get distracted by VH1's periodic marathons of America's Next Top model.)

Vickie said...

Hi, Doppelganger! Thanks for needling the lurkers to come out of hiding. I've really enjoyed your blog for...wow, a while now, and your funny and insightful reviews of your books has gotten me interested in reading again after a long dry spell. So thanks! Your site is one of my favorites!

By the way, if I can hazard a recommendation, if you like books that can be morbid (but not too goth), I would enthusiastically suggest the graphic novel Black Hole by Charles Burns (the guy who draws the covers for the Believer magazine, if you're familiar with it). It's about a network of suburban teenagers who, in addition to the normal tribulations and embarassments of high school, start falling victim to a disease that alterms them each in a different way. The art is also amazing (and i'm not hyperbolizing for once). It's a beautiful book in a lot of ways.

Thanks again for sharing your reading and your fun with us! Best wishes for the new year!

LAKe said...

Catholic guilt + delurking week = my first post! Thanks for being a part of most of my days! Right now I'm reading both F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night (your recommendation, maybe?) and Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down. Love your blog - thanks!

Jennifer said...

I've attempted to delurk before, back when you talked about Jenny and the Jaws of Life, but chickened out and didn't make it past the word verification. I enjoy your blog, and it's inspired me to forsake my ADD reading style and actually finish a book before starting a new one so that I too can write about what I'm reading. I'm not totally cured, but instead of reading 6 or 8 books at a time, I keep it down to 2 or 3. One last thing before I go back to lurking: great blog.

pasqual said...

Tap, tap

I'm also a de-lurker and appreciate the many books you've recommended. I also like hearing about life in Vancouver and my mom is happy that someone is keeping me in the Can-Lit loop.

Thanks for taking the time out from reading to write.

Mama B said...

Tap Tap Howdy. Delurking to say hello!

Em said...

De-lurking for half a second to add my thanks to the chorus. I am currently living abroad, in a Third World, non-English speaking country with a fairly limited supply of reading materials, and visiting your blog makes me feel like I'm still somehow connected to relatively current literature instead of just a thwarted book-fiend reading "The Hobbit" over...and over...and over. *sigh*

Kathleen said...

Hi! Is Delurking Week over? I've really enjoyed reading your site for over a year. Thanks!

wineva said...

Well, I have delurked before (is that like decloaked, if you'll forgve the Star Trek reference?). I actually bought my girlfrind Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures since she took Gross Anatomy at U of T. Again, great blog and have a fantastic 2007! Just in the middle of playing Scrabble online at Scrabulous - great site!

Katy said...

Hello! I really enjoy reading your blog, and I look forward to actually being able to read some of your recommendations once I graduate in May and no longer have 6,000,000 pages of reading assigned to me each week.

Catie said...

Delurking to say say hi...and you got me started on the whole fifty books thing. Here's hoping I see sunlight sometime this year

cheese said...

delurking. I love the blog, love the language. Though I really did feel like a lurker when I crossed you on the drive in the summer. I recognized Sam from some of the cute pics. I looked up and -eek- doppleganger is a real person... walking... here! I went red and continued walking. Did you know you had those powers over stangers?

Anonymous said...

tap tap

cymraeg said...

Hello! I recently discovered your blog while poking around DHAK and now make it a daily stop. You've added a lot of titles to my "want to read" list, even though I disagree on some - "Never Let Me Go" left me cold, which was disappointing for me because "Remains of the Day" is one of my favorite books ever. (The only solution, of course, is to read all the rest of Ishiguro's books and figure out which one is the aberration.) Okay, enough babbling. Thank you for a great blog and happy 2007! (Oh, I'll also add I'm always interested in what people think of as the good children's books - I'm constantly trying to find great stories for my son and there's this big blank spot that stretches from when I was a kid to ... well, when I started reading stories to him.)

Stina said...

I've been reading your site off and on over the past year or so, and I too have been inspired to do a better job of tracking the books I read this year. Thank you for all of the great recommendations--I finally got my hands on a copy of Jenny and the Jaws of Life, and am loving it so far. It is so nice to read a blog written by someone who is thoughtful about books and reading (and the rest of her life) without being pretentious, and who makes me laugh frequently--bonus! Keep up the good work!

Lauren said...

(tap tap) I don't comment, but I read you every day in hopes of a new post. You've inspired me to keep a list of the books I read, for over a year now. Thank you for writing.

Sarah said...

I guess since everyone else is delurking, I will too....

I have only been reading your blog for a few weeks now and it has inspired me to keep track of what I am reading too! My blog readers thank you!

My question is, how do you find what you are going to read?

Roisin said...

Jumping on the delurking bandwagon. I haven't read any of the Barrytown trilogy, but over the summer I devoured 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors' and its follow-up, Paula Spencer. I've been recommending them to everyone ever since. They're not comic novels, and 'Paula Spencer' isn't nearly as good, but 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors' moved me to tears more than once...I'll even send you my copy, you must read it.

kristen said...

Well...I've posted once but I read a lot more than I post so thought I would come out into the open! Thanks for the all the great commentary on books. I have added a lot of your suggestions to my 07 book list!

Anonymous said...

I'll delurk since you asked so nicely. I live in Toronto & read your blog frequently. I also enjoyed Lam's book. Love your blog.

Tracy

Ashleigh said...

Hi, I'm kind of delurking. This is my second or third comment on your blog. I'm working hard towards 50 books this year. I made 45 last year but I'm a full-time university student with a full-time job on the side so it's nice to get any pleasure reading done at all. I'm just finishing up my second book of 2007. I've read a lot of the books you've suggested in the last couple years and am looking forward to adding some more recommendations to my list.

Doppelsis said...

I am Doppelsis. My sister, Doppelganger has absolutley HATED some of my book recommendations (you know what book I am referring to), but she has also loved some of them too. I too lurk more than I comment. I think the comment Cheese made about seeing you on the street is hilarious.

Doppelganger said...

Guys! You're all dangerously close to making me cry. I was hoping maybe a few people would pop out of the woordwork to say hi, but your posts are making me all misty -- and making me so happy I keep this site. No one in my "real" life EVER heeds my book recommendations!

Cheese, your post cracked me up. You should've said hi! I mean, sure, I probably would have looked momentarily confused, but that's just my normal facial expression.

And Sarah, to answer your question, these days I've been getting my reading ideas from the bestseller and award lists (lazy, I know), and from recommendations from other people (including folks who post here). I've also been experimenting with lesser-known books by authors whose well-known books I've already read and enjoyed. So, basically, the usual mix of influences. I'm pretty excited by the books in my "to read" pile. If only I had more time to actually read them...

Thanks, everybody, for taking the time to introduce yourselves. It's so cool -- and important -- to me, to be reminded that there are real honest-to-god people on the other side of the partition.

emily said...

Delurking!

Hi. I've been reading for quite a while, but haven't posted a comment before (although I've thought about it quite a few times).

Megan said...

Hi! Delurking to let you know I compulsively read your blog and I have read quite a few books you've recommended. Thanks!

Gazetteer said...

Once read almost all of Mr. Doyle's entire Barrytown trilogy on one long, long series of flights across the Pacific and away.

It was fantastic fun and, just so you know, I try never to breathe while lurking.

Blathering Idiot said...

Just delurking to say thanks for an entertaining blog.

sarah k said...

Delurking (a little late)!

Thank you for your wonderful blog, and sorry for being a miserly commenter. I won't be thinking about having kids for years yet; in the meantime, your blog is my guidebook for how to be a surpassingly cool mom.

Dinah said...

I lurk more than I read, which is dumb, I know. But I love your blog, it's given me a ton of great reading ideas.

Thanks!

Nichole said...

Howdy!

Kathrine said...

I've been reading your blog faithfully for maybe a year and the reason that I never comment is that I'm here for you, Doppelganger, not for the other comments from various readers. It would be like going to watch a stand-up comedian to hear the hecklers in the crowd.

Not for me. I just want the main attraction, not the sidebars. And now I'll go back to lurking, thank you very much...

susan said...

Thank you, Doppelganger, for sharing your pleasure in reading and your pride in your little boy and your sense of humor (with the lurking and erst-lurking). My voracious appetite for the printed word makes trustworthy recommendations a huge boon, so I value your selections. I found you through DHAK -- and I'm very grateful.

reasonably prudent poet said...

is it too late to delurk myself? maybe it's never too late. i like your site. and you're cute. the end.

Iolandi said...

This is a little late, but am delurking to say thanks for a great blog. I've been dropping in most days for quite a while now and have been thorougly entertained (and found some great books!).

Lorna said...

enjoyed looking through your blog ...yeah I'm a book worm too

worldpeace said...

Great post here..May come again and see u