Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Neglected Awesomeness

Ok, so here are some books that I should have talked about a long time ago but didn't for whatever reason, which is too bad because they really deserve more time than I can give them because my memory is faulty and I read most of these before I started writing down my thoughts right away. Maybe one day I'll catch up? I doubt it.

Anyway, the books!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie... Man, I read this back in August-- that's how behind I am! *Wail*

Anyway, Haroun's father is a storyteller, one of the greatest. He tells Haroun his stories come from the Sea of Stories, they come in dreams. One day, his father stops telling stories, the sea has dried up. Haroun travels to the Sea of Stories, to find it has been polluted. He has to save the sea to save his father...

This is the only Rushdie I've read so far, so I can't say how it compares to his more adult titles, but the language and imagery used in this put all of his other work on my "to read" list. How can you not get sucked in with sentences like this:

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale.

In addition to the language and imagery, this is just a plain, good story and a great adventure. If you haven't read it, hop to it. You won't regret it.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Regular readers will know that I love a good culture clash story-- immigrants coming to the US, children of immigrants torn between two cultures...

Born Confused is one of the best I've read. Not only is Dimple Lala torn between trying to be a good Indian daughter and being just a normal American teen, but she has the usual best friend issues, boy issues, and mother-daughter issues.

So, there's the best friend, who is white and is trying to co-opt Dimple's culture (in Dimple's view). There is the boy, that her parents tried to set her up with, so she rejected out of hand and the best friend was interested in... and then Dimple realizes how awesome he is...

There's the Indian cousin studying in the US who's living with her American-born Indian girlfriend and both are exploring Desi culture...

An American-Indian drag queen...

And some rocking bhangra beats.

Plus, language like this, when Dimple is drunk and trying not to puke in the car on the way home:

Then I thought of snow, that particular silence of its falling, blanketing... The whole forked street in white star-crusted stillness. (Also, I've tried this while drunk-- it works surprisingly well...)

More choice selections:

The music ended and hissed in that secret space between song and needle life; the arm settled into place and the record spun slowly to a stop, like a tire on a fallen bicycle.

He whispered tiny breezes into my ear, a current and an undertow.

Of course, 500 pages of this can get heavy and oppressive, but it doesn't all read like this, but what could have easily been a light teen novel turns into something more with passages like these.

My favorite is:

We'd been having such an incredible conversation and it was all down the drain now, like an idea for a poem you catch in bed, you promise yourself you'll remember, sing yourself to sleep with it and then wake to find you couldn't clasp it close enough and it stayed in your dream and now you're not there anymore and you might never have the same dream again.

What I love about this (besides the truth and the language of it) is that it's hopeful-- there is the hope that you might have the same dream again. I love that.

In the nonfiction front is Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption by Laura J. Miller

Tyler Cowan had a great article about this book in Slate last May that lead me to read the book. I don't agree with all of Tyler's assertions, but that's the former indie bookstore employee in me. And I don't practice what I preach-- most of my book buying is from Amazon.

Anyway, Miller offers a great history of bookselling in America that is very interesting-- many of the horror stories we hear today were around in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the genre wars (chick lit doesn't count as real books etc) have been around all century...

But what I really love about this book are some of the ideas it raises that I'm still mulling over. One is the inherent contradiction involved in the selling of books-- are books ideas and culture? or are they product? Can they really be both? Can we really sell ideas at a steep discount?

If books are so treasured that we fund libraries, that give them away for free, how can they be merchandised and sold like tuna fish?

There's also a great chapter on the politics of consumption and how this notion started the Revolutionary War.

Now, I have no background in sociology or economics, so a lot of this book was slow going for me. But I like the ideas it raised-- I finished this in November and I'm still pondering these things.

1 comment:

Dana Watson said...

I talked my boss into getting Reluctant Capitalists for us at the bookstore, because your description was so intriguing. Mmm, books.