Thursday, February 19, 2009

TBR List 02.19.09

Time for more items from the TBR list, three fiction picks this week. Feel free to comment if you’ve read one of these and want to recommend it (or dissuade me). And, of course, feel free to add to your own list. I’m here to serve.

Dear Everybody, by Michael Kimball. From the author’s site: “Jonathon Bender had something to say, but the world wouldn’t listen. That’s why he writes letters to everybody he has ever known—including his mother and father, his brother and other relatives, his childhood friends and neighbors, the Tooth Fairy, his classmates and teachers, his psychiatrists, his ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife, the state of Michigan, a television station, and a weather satellite. Taken together, these unsent letters tell the remarkable story of Jonathon’s life.”

The description makes me think of The Stone Diaries, which wasn’t an epistolary novel, but still dealt with a character (a wonderful unreliable narrator) in charge of shaping her own story. Do you ever wish you could see the old letters and notes you wrote to people? Do you wonder if you really were the same person then that you are now? The idea of character through correspondence or diaries always gets my attention. The only epistolary novel I’ve picked up recently--We Need to Talk about Kevin--I was unable to finish. I wished I could have written “Return to Sender” on the book and put it in the mail. That’s not fair to say without a complete discussion, I suppose, but it’s my gut reaction. Feel free to try and change my mind. I like to give books a second chance most of the time.

You can watch the trailer for Dear Everybody here. Am I the only person who finds trailers for books a little bit strange? I’m an excerpt kind of person. I like to get a sense of the writing. I’m not going to “watch” the book, and I also don’t want any associations with other things, like voices or pictures, because it drives my impression. Seriously, am I weird? About this, I mean?

Servants of The Map, by Andrea Barrett. Synopsis: “Ranging across two centuries, and from the western Himalaya to an Adirondack village, these wonderfully imagined stories and novellas travel the territories of yearning and awakening, of loss and unexpected discovery. A mapper of the highest mountain peaks realizes his true obsession. A young woman afire with scientific curiosity must come to terms with a romantic fantasy. Brothers and sisters, torn apart at an early age, are beset by dreams of reunion.
Throughout, Barrett's most characteristic theme — the happenings in that borderland between science and desire — unfolds in the diverse lives of unforgettable human beings. Although each richly layered tale stands independently, readers of Ship Fever (National Book Award winner) and Barrett's extraordinary novel The Voyage of the Narwhal, will discover subtle links both among these new stories and to characters in the earlier works.”

Ever since I read Ship Fever, I’ve been meaning to pick up another Andrea Barrett book. This is another collection of stories, but I’d also like to read one of her novels. I love the way she blends science and history into the narrative. I’ll post about Ship Fever sometime, but just for the moment, I want to complain about the W.W. Norton site. If I were an author, I don’t think I’d be too happy, because A) it looks like the person in charge of the site gave this project to their seventh-grade kid who was trying to learn HTML; and B) it contains no excerpts or author interviews. I cannot think of a better way to promote a book--even if it wasn’t recently published--than excerpts. Get people hooked on prose! Books cannot survive by synopses alone!

Read a great interview with Andrea Barrett here.

The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald. review (the publisher’s synopsis is terrible): “[The Blue Flower] is the story of Friedrich von Hardenberg--Fritz, to his intimates--a young man of the late 18th century who is destined to become one of Germany's great romantic poets. In just over 200 pages, Fitzgerald creates a complete world of family, friends and lovers, but also an exhilarating evocation of the romantic era in all its political turmoil, intellectual voracity, and moral ambiguity. A profound exploration of genius, The Blue Flower is also a charming, wry, and witty look at domestic life. Fritz's family--his eccentric father and high-strung mother; his loving sister, Sidonie; and brothers Erasmus, Karl, and the preternaturally intelligent baby of the family, referred to always as the Bernhard--are limned in deft, sure strokes, and it is in his interactions with them that the ephemeral quality of genius becomes most tangible. Even his unlikely love affair with young Sophie von Kühn makes perfect sense as Penelope Fitzgerald imagines it.

The Blue Flower
is a magical book--funny, sad, and deeply moving. In Fritz Fitzgerald has discovered a perfect character through whom to explore the meaning of love, poetry, life, and loss. In The Blue Flower readers will find a work of fine prose, fierce intelligence, and perceptive characterization.”

I’m pretty sure I found this book through an interview with another author, but for the life of me I cannot remember out who it was. Something the author said about it must have attracted me, because it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I would pick up without a recommendation. I love the fact that Fitzgerald didn’t get started on her writing career until she was 59 years old. That gives me hope for all us late bloomers out there.

Read the archived New York Times review here.
Read a fun article on late bloomers here.

*images from