Uh oh! The biggest upset of the tournament is here. Day four is another exciting one. We travel to the American South, Japan, and New York. We talk about some American giants, and visit some war torn villages. This is an exciting time to be a reader.
You can see the bracket here.
Remember, we will be discussing Pat Barker’s Life Class on April 28th at 5pm. Come one, come all.
1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami Vs. 8. Ask the Dust by John Fante
I knew we were going to read Murakami the moment we created this group. He’s one of the most interesting authors to talk about because of the interesting ways in which people talk about him. I’ve never met a writer who elicits such a diverse response. We, as a reading public, can figure out what a writer is pretty fast. If you don’t like Nora Roberts, fine, but you understand what she does, and how is fits into people’s lives. Same thing for Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is what you think he is. That’s a good thing. But, Murakami is described as pulp, commercial, paper-thin, silliness, and he might also win the Nobel Prize. What are we to think of him?
Personally, I think he’s brilliant. I think he’s important, and fun, and a master. Wind-Up Bird is his best book, and it’s the longest book we’ve read for this group. It was worth the time. The major take away from this meeting was the realization that you can simply accept what the text is telling you. By allowing the story its place to be weird, you open yourself up to the larger goodness. Thank you Haruki, and thank you group.
Fante is a fine writer. This book is more fun to argue about than most books we’ve read. Controversial? I guess so, but what isn’t? In the end. Fante got a bad draw here.
Murakami wins in a blow out.
2. The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty Vs. 7. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Some things are perfect. Some things exist like they’ve always been here. We sink into these things like a great chair. Welty’s novel is like that. So comfortable and thought provoking and timeless. In Welty’s South, the struggle between the past and the future, and who belongs where is turned about in a very few, but all necessary words. The struggle is highlighted by Laurel and Fay.
I think I can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to certain characters, and how someone reacts to these two ladies is the perfect resume line for any job I’m hiring for.
To me, Updike is a bit of a tool. If this tournament was completely about me, this book would not have made the tournament. Not even close. I think he plays stupid games that only serve to amuse himself. It was with this disdain in mind that I arrived at book group to discuss this book. I was ready to vent.
Then a funny thing happened… people really liked the book, and loved Updike’s writing. I couldn’t believe it, and still struggle with their love of Updikian quirkiness. It was a pretty big blow. I think I’m a pretty traditional reader, and after 12 years in the book world, I hope I can make a few guesses about what people will like. Add to that the fact that I was reading this book with people I had been discussing books with for a few years. If I am at all able to predict a group’s read on a particular text, this should have been the group. I was so wrong that I can only come to one conclusion: you can’t tell if people will like or hate a book with any certainty.
The inability to predict like/dislike is a bit freeing in a way, and I’m happy to not know what is going to happen when I show up at the Voyage Out every month.
3. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor Vs. 6. A History of Love by Nicole Krauss
O’Connor’s book is so damn good. Like some lost story from the bible, it’s didactic and weighty in the way that, after being here for a while, Southern sweat becomes part of what you love. It doesn’t sound like any medicine you want to take, but take it you do, and the nourishment is worth the stench that comes with it.
Hazel Motes is a wonderful character to talk about, and O’Connor’s Catholicism makes for wonderful discussion, but what we had the best time mulling over was the violence and the empathy. I don’t think you should be allowed to have a book group that doesn’t read Wise Blood.
Nicole Krauss is a Brooklyn hipster. She plays games and takes vagaries that may turn off many readers. It was a mixed bag as to whether the book’s big reveal was worth the exercise to get there. I just didn’t know what to think at the time.
Now, years later, I look back and think fondly of Krauss’ homage to generations past. I think she wanted to write a love letter to her grandparents, and she did. That might be overly sentimental to some, but not to me. I think that Krauss’ book is uneven. It’s style and flippancy may appeal to a very young reader, but it’s subject matter is for those who are old enough to see into the future, but also remember the past with nostalgia and fondness. The book is perfect at only a few select moments in your life.
Luckily for Krauss, this is one of those moments. In the upset of the tournament, Krauss wins!
4. S. : A Novel About the Balkans by Slavenka Drakulic Vs. 5. American Rust by Philipp Meyer
How often do you hear a friend tell you, ‘it was just too sad, I couldn’t finish the book.” Lots, right? I understand the sentiment, but some stories need to be told, and some stories are required reading. If our artists don’t write about our lives, and if we don’t read about ourselves, then what will happen next?
Slavenka Drakulic’s novel has many rapes in it. Many more than are comfortable to read about. Rapes by soldiers, men on men, men on women, men on children, family members to family members, fathers to daughters, fathers to sons. It’s a devastating book. Drakulic’s chooses to tell the story blankly, which is the only way it can be done right. Adding anything would take away from what happened to these people.
Philipp Meyer is an Austin guy now. His novel American Rust burst onto the scene in that ‘big book of the moment’ type of way. Everyone I knew was reading, and enjoying the book. I was curious.
The novel hits on a few key issues we’ve dealt with in the book group: small town life, empathy for the less fortunate, morality as action, etc. It hits and misses on a few of these topics in a way that pushes conversation forward. Great discussion/ pretty good book.
Drakulic is as necessary a story as we’ve read, and she wins!
First round now over! Here’s the matchups for round two, day 1:
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy Vs. Snow by Orham Pamuk
The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata Vs. Galore by Michael Crummey
Brownsville by Oscar Casares Vs. Provinces of Night by William Gay
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht Vs. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie