Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Book Report: Random Hitchhiking (and Dancing)

I forgot to mention yesterday a bit of book world news that would have been highly appropriate along with a summer reading list. Borders has joined the online bookselling world with their own site, instead of going through Amazon. They seem to have the same free shipping with orders over $25 policy as the other online booksellers, but they also have a deal where you can have orders of any amount shipped to a Borders location for pick up for free. You can also put books that are in-stock at a store on hold through the site. So, basically, you can customize your local Borders to have what you want there for you if you're willing to wait a few days to go get it. If any of you are still having trouble finding your copy of Don't Hex with Texas, that might be a solution.

I guess this is still a book-related post, as I have a Book Report. This is a pretty random book report. I don't think you could accuse me of having narrow tastes.

The Salmon of Doubt, by Douglas Adams -- this is the posthumous book, taken from material they found on Adams's hard drive after his death. When they first published this and I heard that it was an uncompleted Dirk Gently novel (that he thought might turn into a Hitchhiker's novel), some essays and a Zaphod Beeblebrox short story, I decided I wasn't all that interested. I'd been a bit disappointed in the last Hitchhiker book, and I wasn't sure I wanted to read the random stuff. But then I forgot all that when I saw this in the library and decided to give it a shot. And, boy, I'm glad I did. Not for the incomplete novel or for the short story, which, while amusing, was essentially the set-up for a pretty stale punch line. But the essays may be some of my favorite Douglas Adams writing. They're full of his skewed view of the world, his way of looking at things from strange angles that make you see them in a whole new light. They're laugh-out-loud funny in places. I may not agree with him about everything, but he clearly put a lot of thought into all these topics, and he expressed himself well in a way that made things entertaining and clear. He was eerily prescient about his views of technology, given that some of those articles were written in the 90s. Some of the things he said mobile technology and the Internet should be able to do, it now does. His travel article about Australia may be one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. The novel fragment perhaps should have stayed on the hard drive, as he clearly still wasn't sure where it was going, and I know that when I have a book at that stage, I don't even like talking about it with people. I certainly wouldn't want it published. It's definitely funny and intriguing, and it's full of tantalizing questions that will never be answered. Like, is that ginger-haired out-of-work actor Dirk tails someone we've already met?

But I think the other reason I'd held off on reading this book was that doing so would mean accepting the fact that Douglas Adams isn't with us anymore. As long as that one last book was still out there, he was still here. Then when that novel fragment came to an end, they gave the order of service for his memorial, and it was a stark reminder that we lost him way too soon. I stumbled upon The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in a bookstore when I was in high school and bought it on the title alone because I love quirky. It's one of the few cases of a book really living up to a title that quirky. The book totally fit the title. I think I annoyed my mom to death by reading out loud from it the whole way home from the store.

However, I don't recall seeing his Doctor Who episodes (or if I did, I didn't know at the time that they were Douglas Adams episodes), so there's still something out there that's new for me.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro -- I have no idea why I picked this up at the library. I adore the movie, and maybe that's why the book jumped out at me. It's not the sort of thing I usually like in a book, other than the English country house setting and the time period, as I like more of a plot, but I really liked it. The writing was amazing, and the intriguing thing was the use of the oblivious narrator, where it was told in first person in a way that gave the reader enough information to figure out what was going on even as the narrator conveying that information still had no idea. That's a real trick. Now I want to see the movie again because it's one of the better book-to-movie transitions I can think of. The screenwriter really got the book and managed to fit in all the little nuances, even while making it flow into a more coherent story. I found myself seeing the movie in my head while reading, and not so much because the movie images are stuck there, but because the movie seemed to be so directly taken from the book that those images would have been what I saw in my head even if I hadn't seen the movie, if that makes sense.

The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird -- While I was struggling with learning about putting emotion in my writing, I should have been reading this book. It's all about the all-out, head-on fall into infatuation. The weekend of her high-school graduation, a girl's wild friend gets them into a band's concert after-party, where she meets a brilliant flamenco guitarist and has one of those amazing nights of music and conversation that's almost magical before he disappears without them ever even exchanging names. As her way of finding him again, she starts studying flamenco dance so she can become someone he could fall in love with, and that, in turn, helps her start discovering her own passion. This is fairly different from Sarah Bird's earlier novels. It's not quite as funny, but it still has that way of feeling so very real, even amid some of the rather bizarre situations. As the queen of the crush from afar, I could relate to the way the heroine approached her plan for finding the man of her dreams again, even while being not entirely sure that she really wanted to find him. I'm also queen of the great evening of really connecting with someone and having a great time, and then neglecting to remember that we never got around to introducing ourselves, so that we have no way of finding each other again. I even had one of those that involved dancing, though it was Viennese waltz instead of flamenco.

No comments: