Friday, February 12, 2010

Classics, Geniuses, and Thwacking the Blog Divas

I can't read classics all the time. Or can I? I'm almost done with Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a lovely, sad novel, but I am eager to return to the books of the diva, George Eliot. Hardy is a couple of rungs under the diva Eliot--and Tess is really not his best book, despite what they tell you--but in a way this is a good thing, because I am also able to read some other novels on my TBR list. When I'm reading Eliot, I Can Read Nobody Else.

FIRST GENIUS UP: Anne Tyler. Noah's Compass is another of her odd classic confections about eccentric Baltimoreans: she spins tales that are so engrossing one almost doesn't notice the brilliant underpinnings of the perfect style. In this case, the isolated, spunky hero is Liam Pennywell, a 60-year-old philosopher who, at the beginning of the novel, has just gotten fired from teaching fifth grade. Not terribly upset about it, he eagerly downsizes to a small bare-bones apartment near a mall, thinking he'll devote himself to reading and philosophy. But when he wakes up, he is in the hospital, and has no memory of the injury, or of the person who broke in and hit him on the head. He becomes rather fanatical about his memory loss. And when the doctor says he needs someone to look after him for 48 hours after he leaves the hospital, he's not sure who that might be.

"How could he have ended up so alone?

"Two failed marriages (for he had to count Millie's death as one of them), three daughters who led their own lives, and a sister he seldom spoke to. The merest handful of friends--more like acquaintances, really. A promising youth that had somehow trailed off in a series of low-paying jobs far beneath his qualifications. Why, that last job had used about ten percent of his brain!"

Of course his family are prominent, surprising characters: very, very funny, and much more interesting than Liam gives them credit for. Tyler, an American genius, should get the Nobel Prize. Odd, isn't it, how the only Americans anyone talks about as contenders are Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates? It's not that they're not great, but why isn't humor valued? Tyler never writes a wrong word: she manages to be smart, funny, elegant, and profound all at once. She is one of those writers like James Wilcox who never seems to get their dues: she's very, very popular, but everyone underrates her because she's funny. She has won the Pulitzer once, but all her novels are perfect. Where is the National Book Award? Where is the Nobel Prize?

THWACKING THE DIVAS: I'm terrifically disappointed that no one has commented on my entry thwacking the British blog divas who have just started their own mutual-admiration-society blog book club (called The Not the TV Book Club), and for some reason unbeknownst to me are congratulating themselves for not discussing books they have received free from publishers. (Wow, what a sacrifice!) There are already tens of thousands of free book clubs online, most of which are NOT getting freebies from publishers, but this group has gotten free publicity in the Guardian blog. I look for them to be on TV any moment; what do you think? I was rather happy to see the Guardian article got only eight comments; obviously I'm not the only one who thinks this is ridiculous. Only this club, as far as I know, is "endorsed" by the Guardian bloggers. But, um, I guess the million other online book groups aren't special because maybe, err, they aren't run by book whores doing PR for free books.

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