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I remember thinking, upon starting The Gathering, by Anne Enright, that I was going to finish the book in no time. I wanted to keep reading not so much to figure out the mystery of what had happened to the protagonist, Veronica, and her newly dead brother, Liam, but to keep the sting of Ms. Enright’s language fresh. It’s not her words that are beautiful or surprising–they are quite everyday–but the way she combines them to evoke  feeling: empathy, horror, confusion, disbelief, hopelessness.

Consider this passage, where Veronica, after telling her mother of her brother’s death, imagines herself looking down at the scene from near the kitchen ceiling: “This is where Liam is. Up here. I feel him like a shout in the room.”

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“…like a shout in the room.” I needed some time to recover from that one–it was so simple, so dead-on I couldn’t believe I’d never heard that description before, yet at the same time, I was absolutely sure I never had. On the sentence level, there is a lot of newness in this book. Read the rest of this entry »

I was recently forwarded an email written by Joshua Henkin, who is a wonderful fiction writer / Sarah Lawrence professor. (His newest novel is Matrimony and everyone should read it. It got about 200 reviews in the Times!) I asked for his permission to reprint the email here because I think it eloquently delivers an important message. In the comments of my last post, we were discussing taking books out of the library vs. buying them. The case for getting them from the library is pretty clear–of course, supporting libraries is our civic duty, and I’m sure, like me, your bank accounts are never far from your mind right now–but here is Josh’s very moving argument for skipping that third $12 cocktail and heading to St. Marks to finish up (start?) your holiday shopping:

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, the book industry is in serious trouble.  It was in trouble when economic times were good, and now that times are bad, things have gotten really precarious.  Book sales across the industry are down as much as 40 percent, publishing houses are laying off people and cutting imprints, one big publishing house announced that it was no longer reading new manuscripts, and a major chain bookstore is on the brink of bankruptcy.  Many of these problems have been a long time coming (the decline of newspapers and especially of book review sections has been a big blow, as has the closing down of many independent bookstores), but in recent months the problem has become especially acute.  I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but these are alarming times.   What’s at stake is the future of books, and of reading culture.  Although books will continue to be published (Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling will publish their next books), for everyone except a handful of bestselling authors, the future is far more uncertain.  What’s at stake is the wealth and diversity of book culture.  Many classics (books we read in our English classes in high school and college, books our children read or will read), simply wouldn’t be published by today’s standards and, if they were published and didn’t sell well immediately, they would be removed from the bookstore shelves.  This is why it’s so important that you buy books for the holidays.  There’s a website dedicated to this enterprise, http://www.buybooksfortheholidays.com, which you might want to check out, and publishing houses are running ad campaigns focused on holiday book-giving.  You really can make a difference.  A typical paperback novel costs less than fifteen dollars, far cheaper than a necklace or a sweater or dinner at a nice restaurant.  Thanks for reading this, and have a happy and healthy holiday.

Best,

Josh
http://www.joshuahenkin.com

The Man Booker Prize is given every year to an Irish/British writer. Looking over the archive, I see I haven’t read most of the list, which dates back to 1969. Of what I have read, the books fall into two easy categories: love and hate. I loved God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I hated The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (although I adore everything else she’s ever written). Although I’m not qualified to discuss Disgrace, by J M Coetzee, because I did not finish it, I didn’t finish it because I couldn’t face the idea of reading past the first chapter.  The pick of 2006, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, is also firmly in that latter category.

I obtained the book sometime last year, expecting to like it. I’d heard some buzz about it and was influenced by the knowledge that Ms. Desai’s mother–Anita Desai–had written one of the most beautiful short stories ever about a children’s game of hide-and-seek, a story that expressed the biggest of dissapointments in the smallest of worlds. Unfortunately, while that dissapointment was delicious, my dissapointment in The Inheritance of Loss was simply frustrating.

This is what I wrote on GoodReads upon completing it: Read the rest of this entry »