A Tale of Two Novels: Part One

October 6, 2009 — Leave a comment


This picture of my bedside reading may give you an overly optimistic impression of my reading habits. It might lead you to think that every night before going to sleep I take one of these books and read it for a couple of hours.

I wish.

After working all day and buying food to cook, and then cooking it and putting it on my plate, then putting the dirty plate in the dishwasher to be washed, then taking out the clean plate and putting it back into the cupboard….well, that’s just one of the reasons why I’m only nibbling my way through this stack like a well-fed mouse. [That plus emailing and webcamming and trolling the internet and reading The New Yorker and watching Stephen Colbert and a movie or two. Frankly, it’s a wonder I do any reading at all].

But back to the stack. There are two novels in it: I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb [that’s the fat one one at the top] and The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker [that’s the skinny one right below it]. They remind me of the nursery rhyme: “Jack sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean.” They also remind me of the difference between sleeping on a feather bed or on a hard plank. Or sailing on an ocean liner or in a little skiff.

First a look at the ocean liner.

I Know This Much Is True is a novel to get happily lost in. You dive into it and it swallows you up. It’s almost two inches thick, 900 pages [but a nice big font size so you have a sense of making progress as you read along.] The story follows two brothers, one whom is mentally ill and one who is just normally screwed up. It’s a good beach read [or a forest read if you’re into camping] because it pulls you along with lots of energy and action and dialogue and characters galore who experience birth and death and betrayal and secrets and forgiveness too. What I liked best about it is that although the characters suffer plenty of pain and sorrow, their world is not without hope. There is the possiblity of change, and over the course of the novel, some of the tragedy becomes redeemed. That’s always wonderful to read .

Here’s the last paragraph [which doesn’t give anything away, but is a good summing up of the novel’s take on life.]

“I’m not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods on my own, and my family’s, and my country’s past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I’ve figured out. I know this much is true.”

On the Snack Bar menu, this is the “All you can eat” buffet

[But while we’re on the subject of sprawling books, I have to say that Anna Karenina is the one I’d take with me to a desert island. When I read it for the first time a few summers ago, it made me realize again why books become classics: because they are truly great on so many levels. So if you want to sink into a really long book and haven’t yet experienced Tolstoy’s brilliant, lucid masterpiece, read it first. “So many books, so little time.”]

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