Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Book Report: History and Romance

I haven't talked books in a while, so today I have a Book Report of two very different things. My reading has been diverse lately.

First, there was The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which is a kind of book I like about a subject I don't much like. It's what I guess you'd call a historical mystery, in that it's about characters tracking down the events of the past, so that there are multiple stories going on in multiple times. There's the story of what happened in the past, and then there's the present-day story of uncovering that story. I'm a sucker for this kind of book and want to write one someday. I get very testy when a book seems like that type, but then there's no real story in the present, just finding a trunk of letters, or something like that. This book does it the right way, where what's happening in the present is almost as interesting as what's going on in the past. The downside is that the subject they're researching is vampires (one of my "ugh" topics), namely Vlad the Impaler, the original Dracula. However, this is far more about the historical mystery than it is about vampires, and the vampires aren't at all sexy or sparkly.

The book is written as a memoir of a historian, remembering something that happened when she was a teenager in the 70s. She found a mysterious old book in her father's study, something that seemed medieval. It was blank inside, except for one page with an illustration of a dragon. She asked her father about it, and he told her the story of that book mysteriously appearing on his desk when he was a graduate student, and how he researched it. Part of his research involved discussing it with his academic mentor, who'd found a similar book on his desk when he was a graduate student. The story has multiple layers, with the mentor's story more predominant at first, while we also learn how the father got the mentor's story. Later, it becomes the father's story, with the "present" story about what the girl is researching about the topic, and that story is the core of the book. Then toward the end, it's the girl's story, as she figures out what's going on in the present. It's kind of a globe-trotting adventure, to the point you find yourself imagining the thing from old movies where they show a map with a dotted line to indicate travel. They travel to Istanbul, Budapest, Romania, Bulgaria, Oxford and the south of France, among other places. It's a long book, but lots of fun for history and geography nuts. There's even a nice bit of romance playing out along the way.

For a change of pace, I read a young adult novel called The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. It's kind of a scaled down teen version of Four Weddings and a Funeral, a rather cinematic-feeling romantic comedy (and according to IMDB, a movie is in development -- but that can just mean an option, so it doesn't mean it's actually happening). It follows a theme I love, the idea of near misses and perfect timing and how things can sometimes come together. A teenage girl is on her way to London from New York for her father's second wedding, something she really doesn't want to do, since it will formalize the fact that her family is permanently broken apart after her father went on a temporary assignment in England, met someone else and decided not to come back. The girl misses her flight by four minutes, but while waiting in the airport for the next one, she meets an English boy who's studying at Yale and on his way home for a visit. They end up sitting together and spend the night on the plane talking, but then lose track of each other in customs. What are the odds of finding each other again?

I suppose it's not necessarily a true romantic comedy in that the things that happen aren't all that funny. It's just that the characters are witty and funny about some dark things, and the dialogue is very snappy. The book actually made me cry, but then I do tend to cry in the best romantic comedies. It's not just about the relationship between the guy and the girl because it's really more about her relationship with her father and coming to terms with the changes while discovering what really matters in all this. I read it in just about one sitting and couldn't put it down.

You know, I never end up next to the cute guy on flights, but when I was flying a lot for work, I remained ever hopeful that on the next flight, I might meet my Mr. Right. He must have missed his flight, or else not missed his flight so he didn't end up on mine.

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