Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Male Author Count: Books by Nick Hornby and Terry Pratchett Again!

I read mostly books by women.  It's no secret.  Maybe 72 percent of the books I read are by women.

When I read Hemingway, I'd rather be reading Margaret Drabble or Hortense Calisher.

But the year is ending, and I'm trying to get my Male Author Count up.  That sounds vaguely like sperm count, but isn't.

So I gathered a stack of short books by Nick Hornby and Terry Pratchett.  

I recently finished Hornby's A Long Way Down, a poignant, funny novel in which four suicidal people meet on a roof on New Year's Eve. 
Since I'm in the mood for comedy, I'm also rereading Hornby's Juliet, Naked, another novel hard to classify.  An incompatible couple is undone by the man's rock fandom, and his female companion wants out, tired of his nutty website about a retired rocker.
Though I'm not stalking Hornby, I happened upon his excellent short story, "Everyone's Reading Bastard," published as an original ebook for $1.99 (or maybe $2.99).  

It begins when Charlie, a banker, and his wife, Elaine, a journalist, decide to get a divorce.  Their mode of separation is no longer viable:  Charlie lives in a flat during the week, but spends weekends with Elaine and the kids.  Even the kids think the parents should get divorced.
After talking about it, Charlie walks away feeling as though he has been hit by a sniper's bullet.  

And then Elaine writes a newspaper column, "Bastard," about him. Suddenly everyone knows all about her "Life with My Ex." 

"Exactly a week later, when Charlie  discovered that he had become known--to hundreds of thousands of people who still bought newspapers, and God knows how many more who didn't but who read them anyway--as somebody called Bastard, it all began to make sense."

Elainee is one of those journalists who cross the line.  Everything becomes fodder for a column. The good and the bad personal stuff is entwined even with serious examination of other subjects. 

So Charlie's life is pretty much ruined.  Everyone knows all of Charlie's foibles and his social life becomes impossible.  Charlie, like his predecessor, Martin, in A Long Way Down, is stuck.  Who will ever think well of him again?
The ending is abrupt, but I very much enjoyed this story, which is structured like a novella.  Probably in a novel we would get Elaine's point of view, too.
TERRY PRATCHETT'S DODGER is a Dickensian Y.A. book, and adult fans of Dickens are likely to enjoy it.  It is fast-paced, witty, and rambunctiously plot-driven, laced with allusions to Oliver Twist, Our Mutual Friend, and Bleak House. Although the structure is simpler than that of Dickens-inspired novels like Dan Simmons's rambling Drood--hence the Y.A. category--it is more entertaining.

Dodger?  The Artful Dodger, right? No, they are not the same character.  Pratchett's Dodger is a "tosher,"  a scavenger who mines the sewers for coins and treasure, while the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist is a thief.  Dodger makes a good living, and more money than a chimney sweep, though he doesn't like to say how well he does.  He lives in an apartment with Solomon, a Jewish mentor who insists on good hygiene. 
Dodger is a hero.  He saves a young woman from her kidnappers, and this incident is the crux of the novel.  She tumbles out of a coach, and the men are instantly after her.  With brass knuckles, wit, and skill, Dodger hammers the two men. They run away.
Soon Dodger and the girl are joined by Charlie Dickens and Henry Mayhew (the author of London Labour and the London Poor, a 19th century study of work), who happen to be on a walk. They hide the girl, nicknamed Simplicity, in Henry's house.  
And Dodger becomes even more heroic.  He tries to find the coach, which he noticed had a squeaky wheel,  stops a robbery at Charlie's newspaper, and catches the mad barber, Sweeney Todd. 
Fans of Pratchett's Discworld books will be fascinated by parallels between the Victorian London of Dodger and the fantastic Discworld city Ankh-Morpork.  Again, if you're one of those people who reads all Dickens-inspired books, as I am, you'll probably enjoy this.  It would need a little tweaking to appear in the adult literature section, but, like all Pratchett's books, it is very well-written.


Belle said...

On a whim, I counted male/female authors and I am at about 50/50 for the year. I would have guessed more female, but I would have guessed wrong.

Frisbee said...

50/50 is excellent! I don't think I've read that many men since grad school a million or so years ago. know.

I am in the middle of an English classic by a man, so you will see more about men's books here soon.:)

Vintage Reading said...

I must be about 90% women writers with a bit of Fitzgerald and Steinbeck. Perhaps I need to examine my prejudices!

Frisbee said...

I write down the books I read, or I'd never notice. I wonder if women read more books by women. Men don't read women much, or at least that's my impression.