I have a new post on The Europa Challenge Blog, on a New Zealand noir novel, “Departure Lounge,” by Chad Taylor.
Noir isn’t generally my cup of tea, and I had some issues with this story, as I detail in my post. But I’m glad I read it; it’s part of a personal campaign for expanding my mind by reading books that are out of my usual genre preferences. I could tell that reading it had the desired mind-expanding effect, for I became really uncomfortable as I read the main character’s explanation of his mental processes and work as a thief: I wanted to take this imaginary individual by the shoulders and shout at him, “Stop! What are you DOING with your life?!” Hope you’ll click on over and check out my review.
Whether you’re unfamiliar with Europa Editions or a confirmed fan, as I am, this interview on Publishing Perspectives with Europa’s editor in chief, Michael Reynolds, is also interesting reading. And reading Taylor’s book, which is set in the author’s home town of Auckland, New Zealand, reminded me that one of my favorite podcasts comes from Radio New Zealand: Saturday Morning With Kim Hill, an eclectic program on which Hill interviews guests from all over the world on topics from books to politics to cooking to art to urban planning. And subscribing is FREE–I so love the internet!
I recently mentioned that I’d started three books at once, all of which had a common theme of law and law enforcement, and all of which lawyers recommended to me: John Mortimer’s “Rumpole Omnibus #1,” a collection of short stories; Steve Bogira’s nonfiction “Courtroom 302,” and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “Watchmen,” a graphic novel. (I should note that John Higgins gets well-deserved high billing as colorist along with Moore, the writer, and Gibbons, the illustrator/letterer, on the hardcover edition’s title page.) I still have the first two going, but I’ve now finished the third.
What I’d most like to tell you about “Watchmen” is this: Change whatever your reading plans are and move it to the top of your list.
It’s an amazing, complex, multilayered work. If you’d like to know a bit about it before you begin, read the Wikipedia entry, which is scholarly and thorough. It also contains spoilers, so you might prefer to stop after the “Background and Development” section. Once you’ve finished it, you may, as I did, want to reread portions to pick up what you missed the first time around or put some pieces together. The Watchmen Wiki, as well as the rest of the Wikipedia entry, can help you to make sense of anything you missed.
Published in 1986 and 1987 as a 12-volume serial comic book, “Watchmen” is mostly a graphic novel, but interspersed are meta-fictional straight narratives as well as a comic book story within this comic book story–meta-metafiction. Its structure puts it ahead of its time, not only in 1988 but still today. It fully deserves the high praise it’s garnered from, among others, Time magazine, which named it one of the hundred best English-language novels published since 1923.
Have you read “Watchmen?” What did you think of it?
I like to participate in the #FridayReads meme on Twitter. The idea is that every Friday those who like can tweet what they’re reading with the hashtag #FridayReads in the tweet. Putting # without a space immediately before a term transforms it into a hyperlink. You can then click on the hyperlink to see other tweets with that hashtag. So, clicking on #FridayReads in any tweet will take you to a page with an aggregation of the most recent tweets containing that term. The meme seems to get more popular every week and now has its own Facebook page, complete with prizes for those who participate.
This week, I have several books going at once. Each is from a different genre–one work of fiction, one fictional graphic novel, and one nonfiction–but the three have a common theme: lawyers and law enforcement. My #FridayReads tweet contains all three: John Mortimer’s “Rumpole Omnibus,” Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “Watchmen,” and Steve Bogira’s “Courtroom 302.” I expect it will take me a while to finish all of them, but I often like to be reading several books at a time. I’m enjoying thinking about the different angles and ways that the different writers tell their stories, and I’m thinking that I may be able to see some parallels in these three very different books.
I have an extra incentive to read each book, too: on different occasions lawyers recently recommended each to me. I’d like to be able to tell those lawyers that I’ve read their recommendations and compare our views the next time I happen to see them! Since I’ve read enough of each to have become quite captivated by their stories, this won’t be a difficult commitment for me to keep.
In the meantime, I’ve been continuing to ponder The Book Show’s list of novels everyone should have read by the age of 21. I have lots of thoughts about that list and about what list I’d create if I were to do so. I hope to post some of those thoughts next week, so please check back with me then.
What’s your #FridayReads?
One of my favorite podcasts, “The Book Show,” from the Australian Broadcasting Company, had a good interview with Scottish crime writer Val McDermid at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival last month. McDermid, who, in an interview with Deutsche Welle’s Breandain O’Shea a few years ago, memorably responded to literary writers who have disparaged genre fiction by suggesting that some of them “can’t plot for toffee,” spoke to the ABC’s Ramona Koval of her passion for story. In response to Koval’s question about the transformation in crime fiction that’s taken place over the last 20 or so years, McDermid speculated that many present-day crime writers might be writing “literary” fiction if that genre hadn’t been usurped by those more interested in the theory of writing than in engaging with readers through storytelling.
McDermid said that in the United Kingdom and Europe, and to a degree in the US, that change in literary fiction took place around the 1980s. With last year’s Man Booker Prize having been awarded to a whacking good story from the historical fiction genre, Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” I’m wondering whether storytelling and plot are regaining ground and whether genre fiction is gaining more respect.
Do you agree with McDermid’s observations about literary and genre fiction, or is she overstating her point?