Talking about the best book I read in the past month.
By David Mitchell
Random House, 2004; 509 pages.
I buy too many books in general, but I always have a particular urge to buy thick books. Somehow, I feel more justified spending money on a 600-page novel than on a 125-page collection of short stories. Thus, I was delighted to find a copy of Cloud Atlas at the biannual Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library book sale (aka the greatest event in Charlottesville) for a mere $1.
I have been wanting to read this novel for a long time, particularly after I enjoyed Mitchell’s most recent novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, last year. I was also partially motivated by the release of the movie, which I still haven’t seen, and now I’m not so sure I want to see it. Because now I’m afraid that the film would spoil my memory of the book.
Cloud Atlas is a sprawling and fragmented novel, split up among various narrators in different places and historical eras. Essentially, Mitchell displays his profound talent for voices — voices in the sense of appropriating people. Every section could have been written by an entirely different, talented author, and yet every section bears this tight, dependent relationship with all of the other sections. It is an impressive feat and I don’t know how he did it.
Lately, I’ve been tired of novels that use this form (chapters each with their own separate narrators; e.g., The Imperfectionists), but Mitchell does it SO WELL that there is no reason to complain. None at all. Recommended!
Best book I read in 2011: Can’t tell you yet. Will be revealed when I do my Top 10 Books I Read in 2011 countdown in a few weeks…
Most disappointing book I read in 2011? The worst book I read was easily Night Fall, but “disappointing” implies that I was expecting it to be good, which doesn’t apply to De Mille (I knew it was going to be garbage). The most disappointing book I read in 2011 was either The Surrendered, by Chang-rae Lee, or The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht. I had such high expectations for both of them. The Surrendered ended up being strangely dull, with a string of totally useless deaths, and The Tiger’s Wife was neither compelling nor whole. Both had bright moments, but neither were excellent.
Most surprising book of 2011? What the Living Do, poems by Marie Howe. Outrageously beautiful and heartbreaking. Also The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles, which was upsetting and shocking and mind-bending. But great.
Book I recommended to people most in 2011? Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer’s narrative of the history of memory and how he went on to become the U.S. Memory Champion after a year of training. Our minds are more powerful than we think.
Best series I discovered in 2011? Dog training books by Patricia McConnell? Probably? Does that count?
Favorite new authors I discovered in 2011? Marilynne Robinson, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Marie Howe.
Most thrilling, un-put-down-able book in 2011? Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson.
Book I most anticipated in 2011? Maybe The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides? But I still haven’t read it yet. I’m in position no. 1 out of 113 holds at the library, so I’m getting there! Finally.
Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?
Here’s a few I liked:
Most memorable character in 2011? Ruth from Housekeeping or Patty Berglund from Freedom.
Book that had the greatest impact on me in 2011?Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
Book I can’t believe I waited until 2011 to finally read?The Divine Comedy (Dante) or Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh).
Book I read in 2011 that I’d be most likely to re-read in 2012? Housekeeping, or the poems of Marie Howe and Maxine Kumin.