Tag Archives: Tournament of Books

ToB: The Sisters Brothers vs Open City CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND


You guys!  Yes!  A surprising and surprisingly large victory for The Sisters Brothers aka The BEST Brothers over the also fantastic Open City.  Look, when it comes down to it Open City probably has more literary merit.  It’s deeper and stays with you longer, and if you want a proper (mini) review see what Vivienne said the other week.  I haven’t read any Sebald, so I don’t have that as a reference point (I CHALLENGE YOU to find a review that doesn’t refer to him) but it’s a beautifully lyrical and haunted book, and Julius is a fascinating and evasive narrator.  That said…

F YEAH (family friendly small business blog) THE SISTERS BROTHERS!  That book was the best!  I loved it, AS YOU KNOW.  Did you love it?  If you didn’t GET A COPY NOW ($19.99 at the incomparable Sunflower Bookshop!).  If you did, I know right!  Hands down the most entertaining book I read last year, full of rich evocation of place and time, picaresque characters and adventures, fantastic protagonists (for sociopaths) and a wonderful story about greed, conscience, fate, mercy and murderin’ folks.

And to think I thought the CHAMPION would lose in the first round!

And with that victory celebrated thus ends the 2012 TOURNAMENT OF BOOKS!  My favourite literary event of the year is over, and now the long drudge of the REST of the literary awards.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  And, although the excitement of the tournament is over, keep reading the Sunflower Bookshop blog for more news, reviews, and whatever else I post on a particular day.

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ToB: The Sisters Brothers vs. Open City AND The Sisters Brothers vs. Lightning Rods

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

– Steven Helfenbaum, 2011.

Well my friends, this year’s Tournament edges towards its inevitable conclusion with round after round of joy.  First The Marriage Plot is eliminated, then through the magic of the Zombie Round my two favourites, Open City and I THINK YOU KNOW THE OTHER ONE (of which we have three more copies in stock!),  both live to fight another day.  AND the last book left that I haven’t read is eliminated!  (Though I bear it no ill will it is certainly easier to talk about books I HAVE read).  Whatever happens after this point will suit me just fine: either one of my two favourites will win or The Art of Fielding will, and that was ALSO totes great!  So in the way of commentary, I don’t have much.  Yay for everything I like winning lots and yay for The Sisters Brothers for being popular enough to come back?

In the commentary Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner asked a couple of guests what book they would have had in the Tournament if they could, and for me that answer would totes be The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (which is STILL unavailable in paperback in Australia, and thanks to a pesky thing called the law I can’t get the overseas paperbacks in for the shop).  It’s just such a fun, clever, meticulously written book and I loved it and it was the best.  DON’T WORRY YOU GUYS I can give it a proper review if it does come out in paperback and we get it into the shop.  (And I say pfft to hardbacks, what am I a BILLIONAIRE? [No.  Also if only]).

But with the Tournament fast coming to a close my favourite literary event of the year is over, and FURTHERMORE we are totes left with a gap in bloggage.  I won’t lie to you folks, blogging the Tournament was an easy and excellent way to generate good book content, and it was great fun.  So will the blog be able to continue without the Tournament?  You’ll just have to find out by READING IT.

Love yas,

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ToB: Lightning Rods vs 1Q84

Ah Lightning Rods, the book we have nothing to say about.

Well there goes the last book I’d read in the matchups.  I am indebted to Lightning Rods for knocking out Salvage the Bones , a book I refused to read (dog death), but then it kept on getting up in my face and knocking out things I liked, while not being available in Australia. It sounds interesting and has polarised commentors but seriously I have nothing to say about it. Go check out the matchup comments to see how people who’ve actually read the book feel about it.

1Q84 on the other hand I have lots to say about. But I’ve already said it in three other posts. Previously, on 1Q84 : I really liked it, found it really entertaining the whole time, it was ambitious and often successful, had some minor problems, I didn’t agree with some ToB judge criticisms probably because I didn’t find it as painful as others to get through. I really like soemthing Judge Michelle Orange said: “The emphasis is less on the sentences themselves than their layering and arrangement for cumulative effect. It’s like reading underwater—at times it feels extraordinary, silky, buoyant, and strange, like moving through a new world.” There’s also an interesting discussion of Murakami’s writing style in the commentary.

Goodbye 1Q84! I’m glad you made it this far and not surprised you didn’t make it further. Tune in tomorrow for the last of the semis!

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ToB: The Rest of the Quarter Finals

Yessss!  You guys!  First The Sisters Brothers wins, then The Marriage Plot loses!  Ha!  Victory!  And with that gloating over let’s get to the first round.

So, as discussed, my favourite book in the tournament is GOING FORTH!  But clearly not FROM THIS SHOP.  Why has no one bought the last copy?  I only have speculation.  Could it be that the Western is not a hugely appealing genre, especially in Australia, no matter the literary merit of the book in question?  Could it be that every one already has one (we HAVE actually sold a number)?  Could it be that it isn’t in a visible enough location?  Could it be that you who read the blog don’t love me?  Could it be that I haven’t been shilling it when people ask for a recommendation because I can just TELL the people wouldn’t like it?  WHO CAN SAY.  All I know is that you should watch the blog for more updates on the availability of that last copy.

SO, that book v. Swamplandia!.  Similarities: quirky first person narration from endearing characters, magical realism, poetic writing.  Differences: the rest of the books!  I’ve already discussed both their individual merits in their respective ToB posts so you know how I feel about both of them.  One further thing I will say is that, while this is CERTAINLY more an indictment of me than of Swamplandia!, at times I found Ava’s magical perception of events kind of irritating (and Ossie’s even more so!).  I felt like yelling at them SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read: Your stupid ghost thing is INCREDIBLY annoying Ossie and also shut up! And Ava THAT DUDE’S TOTES A PAEDOPHILE END SPOILER

The book was clever, it ramped up the tension, but at times I wanted to skip ahead till what I knew would happen happened.

THAT SAID!  Overall it is certainly a great debut novel, I wish I had one iota of the talent that Karen Russell shows.

The Sisters Brothers had tension too, but never the irritating kind, so that’s a win for me.

And so my favourite book of last year lives to fight another day!

As for the SECOND match up, may I just say haHA!  Goodbye least favourite book of last year!  Now I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this round (due to much previous discussion and incoming [eventually] EUGNIDESTRUCTION 2012), but I am very happy with the outcome.  Open City is a fantastic book, and Julius, its narrator, is a fascinating character.  As for a revelation that occurs towards the end of the book, I don’t want to spoil it here, but I WILL refer you to the comments on the match up because there is some seriously smart and interesting discussion going on there.  I’m glad that the more deserving book won (though Marriage Plot has it’s fair share of supporters, like that Fay girl).

That’s what I’ve got, keep a-readin’ to find out about the (eventual) sale of the last copy of The Sisters Brothers.

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ToB: The Art of Fielding vs Open City

So!  We’ve finally got to the end of the first round in Sunflower Bookshop’s mildly bizarrely ordered coverage of the Tournament of Books.  Followed a bit later with the mildly surprising AND HUGELY DELICIOUS victory of The Sisters Brothers (The Best Brothers) over Swamplandia!.  But first this round!

These books you guys!  Some of the (second) best books in the Tournament, head to head with their FISTS.  Book fists.  I loved them both.  I actually have a tattoo of Teju Cole making out with Chad Harbach.  Watched serenely from on high by Patrick DeWitt (WHY HAS NO ONE BOUGHT THE LAST COPY OF THE SISTERS BROTHERS IN STORE? It’s only $19.99 for AT LEAST 100 times that value!).

Let’s start with The Art of Fielding, aka the hardest to sell book in the shop.  “Why”, I hear you ask?  Well let me give youa summary mon frere.  The Art of Fielding follows young college baseball player… THERE. RIGHT THERE is why this book is hard to sell.  I preface every recommendation with “you’re not going to like how it sounds at first but bear with me”.  Australia just does not care.  “BUT” I tell them, “it is about so much more!  And it is!  But let me continue first, you jerk.  The Art of Fielding follows young college baseball player Henry Skrimshander, star of the Westish College team.  Henry is preternaturally gifted, and his skill, guided and developed by fellow player and bffl Mike Schwarz, raises the team into a force to be reckoned with.  Until one game, Henry makes a bad throw, his first, which goes off course and seriously injures his team/room-mate Owen.  After that, Henry finds he is unable to throw, seriously jeopardising his team.  This throws stoic-philosopher-loving Mike into a crisis of his own, having spent so much time on Henry to the detriment of his own life and law school ambitions.  MEANWHILE!  College President Guert Affenlight falls in love with Owen, and his daughter Pella comes to Westish, escaping an awful, controlling husband and trying to get her life back on track.  And all of it is GREAT.  Harbach made a storm when he was offered, like, a jillion dollars as an advance on this (his first!) book, and he totes deserves it!  This was one of the most enjoyable books of this years tournament.  It’s true that beyond its plot and excellent writing that there was nothing more to it, no deep philosophy or issues that will keep you a-thinkin’ after you’ve read the book, like there were in Open City, but you know what that’s ok when a book is this good.  I was engrossed in each of the character’s arcs and kinda wanted them all to be my besties.  Except Henry, really, as the judge mentioned BUT as someone wrote in the comments, this book is about MUCH more than Henry.  Some have called Pella problematic.  I would refer them to Madeline in The Marriage Plot.  But also I don’t see that so much.  Of anyone, she displays the most dramatic growth in the book, and she is the one who brings everyone together for the book’s incredible ending.  Soo basically?  The Art of Fielding was a super enjoyable, well written, lovely example of good ol’ fashioned literary fiction that everyone should enjoy and just BEAR WITH ME when I describe it to you OK?

And then there was Open City!  Which was also really good!  And here briefly to say that same thing, but better, is Vivienne, our newest comrade at the bookshop:

Vivienne: A young man wanders the streets of New york, sharing his thoughts, reflections, insights and snippets of his history. Through his beautiful, meditative prose we gradually learn that he is a psychiatrist, he is Nigerian and he is alone. His musings on art, history, music, love, politics are impressive, interesting and often challenging. It reads like a journal but is much more crafted and cohesive than that; it seems deceptively easy and fluid. He travels to Brussels, ostensibly to search for a lost grandmother but once there does not really try to find her. Instead he continues his wanderings and musings, connecting with strange and disparate characters along the way………the Moroccan phone salesman with an impressive knowledge of philosophy and politics,who is obsessed by the notion of difference, the doctor from Boston who only wants to talk about Jazz……….. I haven’t yet finished the book but I suspect the themes of racism, otherness, how we find our place will deepen as I continue to read. It’s not really like anything I have ever read before but I am intrigued and know that i will feel I want to read it again for the things I missed the first time around. There is so much to relish here.

Steven: Well, I’M going to stop talking about books.  Thanks to Vivienne for enlightening us all, and for showing me up.  THANKS.  Open City is a beautiful, lyrical book with a fascinating protagonist, one who is an outsider everywhere he goes, who is deeply introspective yet deeply guarded about himself (see, e.g. the revelation near the end).  And it’s currently out of stock!  But hopefully it will show up at the shop in the next couple of weeks with the attractive price tag of $19.99.  So Open City won, but I would have been happy either way.

And now we’ve finished our coverage of round one!  Fay has filled you all in on the surprising results of the first two quarter finals (both of which bode well for The Marriage Plot [The Worst Plot] according to my long term/highly faulty strategisin’), so tomorrow I will revel in The Sisters Brothers.  And depending on Fay’s next availability (the Venetian jerk) Eugenidestruction is coming soon.

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The Quarterfinals (some of them)

Hello from Venice! That’s right my blogfriends, this post comes to you from halfway around the world, from the city of love! Or is that Paris? Don’t worry,  I will be blogging from there too! Care too much? I believe I care the perfect amount, as officially endorsed by the Tournament of Books reviewers as the best bloggers in the entire world. Their words, not mine.*

But enough about me, let’s talk about books. In a super shock decision on Tuesday Lighning Rods beat The Sense of an Ending. Cmon Roxy Reno, what the hell! Or at least that’s my initial thoughts having not read Lightning Rods. As mentioned before, it’s not possible to get it in Australia and I don’t think it ever will be  due to extremely conservative and fearful publishing strategies. (‘Who’s Jennifer Egan?’ I hear Australians ask until 2011. ‘Oh, she’s just a much lauded, talented writer, with numerous awards and publications to her name.’ ‘Oh she just won the Pullitzer, I guuueesss we can publish her books now, just a small print run though…’) But I digress. I haven’t read Lightning Rods but I sure have read The Sense of an Ending and I know that it is beautiful and elegant and effortless and prize worthy. But hey, it’s not like it hasn’t won any prizes. But if you’re interested in Lightning Rods you should go and read the commentaries and comments left on it’s matchups. There are some really interesting and engaging thoughts by people who’ve actually read it. And just quietly, it’s getting kind of slammed.

Look you guys! It's me, in Venice!

Onto 1Q84 and The Tiger’s Wife (our personal shout out matchup). DISAGREE! As previously mentioned I loved both books. I really really did and would happily recommend either one of them. I loved the carefully manipulated sci-fi-fantasy of 1Q84 with it’s crazy interweaving plot threads and careful study of the mundane. But, for me, The Tiger’s Wife is the winner. It’s so much tighter and I found it more thoughtful, with a more subtle and considered take on the big questions it poses. I didn’t agree with any of the criticisms put up against it. I personally can’t think of one, where I can think of a few complaints for 1Q84. I think I’ve already voiced them but if you want me to elaborate let me know and I will! There was a discussion in the first round match up about rewarding failed literary ambition over the soemthing with a smaller aim. I think that’s what happened here and I don’t think it’s fair. 1Q84 went big, and while it didn’t always succeed, it worked a lot of the time. But The Tiger’s Wife is not short of literary ambition, and it worked all of the time. (Tiger all the time?)

Final note: I’m glad The Art of Fielding seems to have legs as a zombie (zombie legs?) because, like Steven, I am very eager to see it in a matchup with The Marriage Plot. Which I haven’t forgotten by the way! Boy did Steven say some hurtful things. Don’t worry crew, I will take him down next time and I take comfort in the fact that when customers come in to buy the book or talk about how they like it he can’t contradict them. Heyhere’s an idea,  all you fans, go in to Sunflower and tell Steven how much you liked The Marriage Plot! We could make it a thing, like Marriage Plot Fridays or something? I’m happy to make up a roster.

Goodbye for now! I hope you are enjoying Melbourne as much as I am enjoying Italy (did I mention I’m in Venice?)

*Actually my words, not theirs

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ToB: The Marriage Plot vs Green Girl

Well this is embarrassing.  As much as I love being OFFICIALLY MENTIONED BY THE TOURNAMENT OF BOOKS, I am subsequently shamed by my sometimes (often) less than average reviews (excerpt: “I like the way the words are good and stuff?”) and our less frequent than desirable update schedule.  Which is why this week there will be a TOURNAMENT BLITZ!  Today I’m going to talk about the Saturday’s match up of  The Marriage Plot and Green Girl.  TOMORROW I will chat (not to be confused with chatz) about The Art of Fielding vs. Open City with previously unmentioned and current-reigning newest employee (knocking me off my perch; alas that excuse for poor service is gone) Vivienne!  She will will totes have a bunch to say Open City and the previously eliminated though-none-the-less-great-for-it The Cat’s Table AND she will probably do it with effortless style and grace.  And then, my friends, AND THEN! Sunflower foreign correspondent (previously humble worker) Fay is going to discuss the semifinals thus far from Venice.  Venice you guys!  Clearly she cares about this thing too much.  And after (but super hopefully not) The Marriage Plot beats the much superior Open City, Fay and I will battle it out in a WAR OF WORDS over why The Marriage Plot is the worst.  Or at least I’LL be saying that, she loved that book!  Great minds and poor reviewers (well one at least) will clash and ONLY ONE SHALL EMERGE.

All of which means, of course, that I’ll be saving my choicest arguments about this match up till then.  And I haven’t read Green Girl so this one might be short.  Green Girl is another one of those books that, like Lightning Rods, is just not available in Australia, meaning to read it I’d have to buy it through America.  I shall leave the (very reasonable) rants about the conservativeness of the Australian publishing industry to Fay.  Anyway like Lightning Rods, I couldn’t justify to myself buying it for the shop, meaning I’d have to buy it for myself.  And LET ME TELL YOU while studying a useless discipline and working part time in a bookshop might SOUND like the glamorous life of a jetsetter, appearances can be deceiving.  In short, I’m cheap so I haven’t read it.  BUT it certainly sounds interesting!  I am not really a reader of experimental fiction, not because of particular taste but rather because I don’t KNOW any but I am willing to start with that one (even if the judge, and others, were not the fondest).  Aaand that’s as far as I can stretch talking about how I haven’t read a book.

The Marriage Plot, however, I DID read.  And there was nothing SUPER wrong with it.  A large chunk of my visceralreaction against it is probs just because of how much Fay loved it.  But you know what THERE WAS NOTHING TO LOVE.  It was ordinary, the mainest of main characters was barely a character, Mitchell was irritating (though it certainly seemed like Eugenides loved him) and the whole thing was just inconsequential.  The first part of the book was orright but it reminded me of a weaker version of Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow, which, conversely I LOVED, and the rest of it, whatevs.  OK Mr. Eugenides was trying to write a late modern (it weren’t postmodern let me tell you!) version of a marriage plot but who gives a shit?  And then in the third (roughly) third I felt like it became too disjointed and lost all its momentum.  Oh yeah summaries we’re still trying to do that.  The Marriage Plot follows three characters as they graduate from college in the early 1980s.  There’s Madeline (the problematic one), a Victorian/regency literature lover who is no fan of Derrida (fair).  Mitchell (the annoying one) is totes in love with her or at least he idealises/idolises her, but she just wants to be his friend/is happy for him to like her.  Then there’s Leonard (the good one), the charming, bi-polar science student who Madeline falls in love with.  The book follows their college travails and bla de bla.  LET IT BE KNOWN that I have no problem with that as a plot.  And LET IT BE KNOWN that Eugenides writes totes good like (there that Steven reviewing skill is again!).  And LET IT BE KNOWN that I do not know what it is like to finish university and be thrown into the world like a child into the swimming pool, sans floaties, and so I obviously cannot appreciate the oft-commented-on way that Eugenides describes that post university feeling (very well apparently).  And LET IT BE KNOWN I wanted to enjoy it.  But unfortunately, for me, it was ultimately empty.

But Fay loved it!

As a final note is it just me or does it seem this tournament’s going out of it’s way to advance Marriage Plot, maybe even let it, heaven forbid, win?  I mean first it’s placed against something it will obviously crushed.  Ok, it happens! (See Sense of an Ending vs. The Devil All the Time).  But then things that could defeat it are placed against each other (Art of Fielding, Open City), then there are two surprise losses (Sense of an Ending, Tiger’s Wife) leading to a next round match up of Marriage Plot with Open City.  Now I know I just said Open City could win.  But it’s polarising.  Vivienne and I loved it, Margaret, one of the managers, hated it.  Whereas Art of Fielding is a damn enjoyable novel, and yes, there’s not much more to it but I feel the same way about Marriage Plot (minus the enjoyable part).  In other ways too I feel like Art of Fielding was the closest book to it in the Tournament (having not read Green Girl), and Art of Fielding was a LOT more enjoyable.  ANYWAY, clearly I’m hoping for an Open City win.

And that, as they say, is the books.

Check back in tomorrow for Vivienne’s internet debut!

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Tournament of Books <3 Sunflower Bookshop

You guys! YOU GUYS! Tournament of Books gave *ahem* “the well-read staff at Sunflower Bookshop in suburban Melbourne, Australia”  a shout out in the official commentary!

They like us! They found us! How did they find us? They think Steven and I are well-read! THIS IS SO EXCITING!

So check back in tomorrow to catch up on all the ToB news at their officially* favourite ever Australian bookshop. We are going to have to print up new business cards.


*I have no idea if we’re officially anything except awesome at bookselling

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ToB: Swamplandia! vs The Cat’s Table

[Note: This was written yesterday for that day’s round.  Today’s round saw the inevitable victory of the Marriage Plot which I shall discuss on Thursday, along with whatever has happens between now and then]

So, as you may have read, Fay’s going off to Europe for six months, aka being a white person, thus leaving you in my many pairs of capable hands.  Some of those I used to read both of today’s books!  Also: my eyeballs.

So, I’m going to say it up front I actually preferred reading The Cat’s Table to Swamplandia!.  I have less to say about

both of them than yesterday (I’m saving them for when I WORDDESTROY The Marriage Plot [though it will win

tomorrow, there couldn’t be a more uneven match up]) but I can tell you this: Swamplandia! is the best title of the tournament, the best title MAYBE EVER?  I want to name my firstborn Swamplandia!.   Swamplandia! Helfenbaum.  When the book came out there was a bunch of Swamplandia! mania in the U.S. but it never really travelled here (though I can order it in for you for a cheap $19.95!).  Anyway, the book tells the story of Ava Bigtree, the youngest daughter of Hilola and the Chief, alligator wrestlers at the Swamplandia! theme park.  Ava’s mother recently died, and her father leaves for the mainland in an attempt to keep struggling to keep the park afloat.  Older brother Kiwi leaves to join a rival theme park, in order to achieve that same goal, while middle sister Osceola disappears to join her ghost lover in marriage.  Swamplandia! follows Ava and Kiwi in parallel narratives and is a clever, magical realism (or, POTENTIAL SPOILER: fake magical realism) twist on a coming of age tale.  (YOU KNOW WHAT if you want a better summary just go to today’s link). By turns whimsical and (VERY) dark, Russell’s writing is terrific.   Yes the ending was basically a deus ex machina (though SUPER SPOILER DON’T READ THE AGAIN UNTIL THE END OF THESE PARENTHESES, you know, it still ends super sadly) as a bunch of folks have complained, but I didn’t mind.

The book is clever, mysterious, funny and sad.  WHICH SHOULD BE ENOUGH so the problem’s probably mine but I just didn’t FEEL it as much as everyone else seemed to.  Which is weak reviewing but that’s the truth.  My only less meaningless complaint is that I found myself skimming Kiwi’s sections, so concerned was I for Ava.  And that’s totes kinda a compliment!  Anyway, I totes want to read it again so I can get what I’m missing.

Whereas The Cat’s Table I very much did feel.  IN MY PANTS.  Lol jk it’s about an 11 year old boy ew.  Set largely on a ship travelling from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to England, the book is narrated by Mynah as an adult, but recalling the point of view he had then, as a young boy.  As mentioned, not much happens (at least till near the end).  Adventures are had with two other boys, we get to know a vivid cast of characters and we get to read Ondaatje’s beautiful, lyrical wordstylez.  It’s a really lovely, poignant book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read with their face.  I have very little else to say about it though.

I suppose in many ways Swamplandia! deserved to win.  It’s more new, exciting and ambitious but I just couldn’t help liking The Cat’s Table more.

And that, as they say, is the bookz

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ToB: State of Wonder vs The Sisters Brothers

Steven: You guys!  Did you read that?!  You guys!  The Sisters Brothers!  (THAT is the kind of sophisticated commentary you have come to expect from this blog).  Wil Wheaton CRUSH(ER)ED State of Wonder! (Get it? Star Trek puns I hate myself).  As I have mentioned here before, The Sisters Brothers was my favourite book out of nine I read for the Tournament, very likely my favourite book of 2011 (that I can think of off the top of my head).  I would usually describe myself as not a man of Westerns.  My exposure to them has been limited and it’s just a genre that has never hugely appealed.  That said, this was my favourite book of last year and Deadwood is the best TV show in the world ever I won’t hear any arguments go watch it right now, SO, maybe I need to examine my preconceptions.

Anyways, set during the California gold rush the book follows the journeys of Eli (the narrator) and Charlie Sisters as they track down a prospector for their unseemly employer, known as the Commodore.  For much of it’s length the book reminds me of a (much, much darker) picaresque novel, with the brothers travelling from Oregon to California meeting (sometimes murdering) strange and interesting characters, with themes of loneliness and the lure of gold throughout.  As for today, both Wesley Crusher and the commentators mentioned that it took a bit of adjusting to get into Eli’s narration, but I didn’t find that at all.  I remember telling a friend that it was a great book when I was only on PAGE TWELVE.  Maybe I just identify with murderers WHO CAN SAY BUT THAT WOULD NOT HOLD UP AS PROOF IN A COURT OF LAW.  I found the prose fantastic –  taut, engaging and noiresque and I really enjoyed the episodic nature of the book.  The brothers themselves are very well drawn, and as Crusher says you care greatly about both of them by the end.  The minor characters are also intriguing, and many add an excellent touch of weird to the book that makes it all the better.  Also, and this is worth mentioning, the book design is fantastic.  It is rare to see a book that looks this unique and, well, GOOD.

Minor complaint wise, I did feel a bit let down at the end though, unlike commentator Kevin, not because of the admittedly convenient but still totally believable diary, but rather because I felt the dark tone that the book had had from the beginning didn’t pay out in the end.  I’m not a fan of dark for the sake of dark Dark Knight style (or anything for the sake of itself for that matter, lookin right atcha any emotionally manipulative book about cancer) but I feel that, while the book was sad, it could have just gone that bit further.  Furthermore, and this isn’t a fault of the book, I don’t get why a bunch of reviewers are saying it was hilarious?  It was WRY, certainly, and there was some fun to be had with Eli’s new found obsession with toothbrushing (which, if you’d never done, you’d totally be into to) but hilarious IT WAS NOT.  But you know what it was?  THE BEST.  Get some in ya.

As for State of Wonder, let no man say it is not a book.

OK, I’m being harsh.  State of Wonder is totes good too. So Dr Marina Singh sets off into Brazilian jungle to report back on renegade researcher Dr Swenson. Swenson is working on what may be a highly valuable new drug, but she is not so good at reporting back in, and the last researcher who was sent to check on her, oh I don’t know, DISAPPEARED! Ann Patchett writes very well and while I agree with much of the criticism that Wesley Crusher dispenses, I certainly think that the book has enough redeeming features.  THAT SAID let’s dwell on some of these complaints.  First of all I am super glad that everyone seems to agree with me that, you know what, we wanted a bit more adventure-y, lowbrow ACTION.  For me, the premise, as familiar as it is, is still super awesome and I just never felt the book lived up from that, even though it wasn’t even trying to.  As Kevin Guilfoile says, “It’s almost as if, having decided on a premise with such a familiar, plot-oriented hook, Patchett keeps running away from the story’s possibilities. It’s a good thing—even a necessary thing, I’d say—to subvert the reader’s expectations, and I think that’s what she’s going for here. Clearly she wanted to write a novel that was more than just an adventure story. But she also ended up with something not quite as satisfying as an adventure story”.  Secondly, once those expectations ARE subverted there is a ton of foreshadowing and enough hints given that nothing that occurs is unpredictable.  My only surprise at the ending was its suddenness (especially after the long burn of the rest of the book).  Still, these issues aside there is much to like.  I didn’t find the characters nearly as hate-able as judge Wheaton, except of course for the walking stereotype that is Dr. Swenson who is MEANT to be like that, as awful as ‘that’ is (I really hated Dr. Swenson). In the end it all comes down to the writing though, and all issues aside Patchett’s is really good enough to make these problems with the plot not be too big an issue.  While I didn’t love it like I did the Sisters Brothers, it is still a Good Book (which we have in store!  For only $29.99!) Fay?

Fay: Yeah I liked State of Wonder fine. In fact more than fine. I agree with the complaints: Swensen sucked, not much happened, it doesn’t live up to the adventure BUT as you just said, Ann Patchett is really good at writing. It was atmospheric, lush and heavy with jungle feel. I found the characters plenty likeable and, like Marina, it immersed you in the environment until you turned around and you were right in there, agreeing with the people you didn’t know or like at first, or at least understanding where they were coming from. I didn’t see the ending coming either, that’s such an easy thing to say after you’ve already read it. I guess for me it just didn’t live up to what I could have been. But as Kevin said, maybe that was the point? I didn’t think about it like that at the time but the more I think about it the more it grows on me. Like some sort of jungle parasite. I would go right ahead and recommend it as clever, immersing and very atmospheric. Did I say that already? But it was.

Steven: So!  With that decided in the best possible way, tomorrow brings Swamplandia! vs. The Cat’s Table.  I’ve read them both so I’m going to talk at you some more.  See you then!

xoxo Gossip Girl

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