The end of winter is an interesting time in books. Summer is for traditional beach reads, and fall is for blockbusters-- but often the end of winter is reserved for wild cards. You need a little luck when you're dealing with wild cards; judging from this week, this is going to be a very lucky year.
Douglas Coupland gives us one of the more memorable lines from a recent review when he writes, "The zeitgeist of 2012 is that we have a lot of zeit but not much geist." He quickly follows that up with, "I can’t believe I just wrote that last sentence, but it’s true; there is something psychically sparse about the present era, and artists of all stripes are responding with fresh strategies." Enter Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru, which is seeing a lot of recent review attention. To describe the book, Coupland feels compelled to invent a new genre of literature, which he call "Translit." He cites Michael Cunningham's The Hours and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas as fellow Translit members, as each "inserts the contemporary reader into other locations and times, while leaving no doubt that its viewpoint is relentlessly modern and speaks entirely of our extreme present." Building on that, Coupland describes Gods Among Men: "Its multiple substories span the years 1775 to 2009, and geographically cut between Manhattan, Southern California and Iraq — or rather, a simulation of Iraq. Reading this book is not unlike watching a TV show that’s simultaneously happening on multiple channels, a story filmed in different eras using differing technologies, but which taken together tell the same single story, echoing and reinfecting itself." Sounds fascinating. And confusing. And also a little bit like late night cable channel surfing. If you're still not sure what the book's about, here's the full book review. If you're content with all that has just passed before your eyes, I'll just finish by saying that Coupland calls Gods Without Men "a Translit gem." I'm looking forward to reading it.
- Susann Cokal starts off her review of Kathryn Harrison's Enchantments with this notable opening: "Grigori Rasputin: faith healer, mad monk, priapic charlatan, resilient victim of assassination . . . and family man?" She goes on to describe Harrison's book as "splendid and surprising," and representing "a tender perspective to familiar historical events as experienced by two central characters — Rasputin’s daughter Maria, known as Masha, and Alyosha, the hemophiliac Romanov heir — whose physical and emotional suffering acutely remind us of the human lives behind the legends." The story is told from the perspective of Masha, and Cokal notes that "Harrison presents Masha’s often admittedly fantastic narration in an admirably refined style, using the labyrinthine structure of her own storytelling to mirror this young woman’s approach to the truth."
A book that's recently made a habit of appearing in the top 10 bestselling books at Amazon is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. In the Times review, Timothy D. Wilson points out that most people would love to find a way of breaking a habit or two, things like smoking or overeating. Then he points out that "Charles Duhigg, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, has written an entertaining book to help us do just that." This is a book filled with the science of habit. Or as Wilson writes, "This is not a self-help book conveying one author’s homespun remedies, but a serious look at the science of habit formation and change. Duhigg is optimistic about how we can put the science to use. 'Once you understand that habits can change,' he concludes, 'you have the freedom — and the responsibility — to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.'" Sound good? Then get to work.