#FridayReads for 3/14/14

map and territory

Daniel Poirier (Creative Director) is reading The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq.

One of Houellebecq’s greatest strengths as a writer is a seemingly unlimited number of lenses that he uses to telescope the reader’s distance from any given passage. It’s a remarkable skill and it grants him the uncanny ability to break one of the generally accepted writing rules—show, don’t tell—and get away with it. He can tell and tell and tell while retaining the reader’s investment by flashing a sharp, crystalline detail here—and another there. And then, as if by magic, the reader is watching a scene unfold between characters they know everything about, characters who are real, whose decisions are informed. Time is revealed in all its brutality against this amount of definition. Time is trampled and stretched out, seeming both unmercifully short and long simultaneously. He also takes a huge narrative risk in “Part Three” and while I’m not sure he pulls it off completely, it’s incredibly exciting to read a firmly established writer who takes chances of this kind and willingly continues to break rules.

Lizzie Thompson (Assistant Fiction Editor) is reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

Almost every time I saw my mother over the past few years, she would say “Have you read A Prayer for Owen Meany yet? You haven’t? You have to!” John Irving is of course an acclaimed and celebrated writer: he was nominated for the National Book Award 3 times, winning once; has an Oscar; and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. From the first line of the novel, “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany”; to John Irving’s use of ALL CAPITAL LETTERS when Owen Meany speaks; to the interweaving of past and present to tell a story that linear form would not do justice to, A Prayer for Owen Meany shows how stories should be told, and how my mother is always right.

Craig Soffer (Senior Reader, Fiction) is reading Shogun by James Clavell.

This week I’m re-reading an old favorite that had been adapted into a TV mini-series long before Netflix. Shogun, by James Clavell, was a turning point in my life as a young reader. It kindled a tremendous fascination with Japanese culture, Japanese history, and the Japanese language. As the ship’s navigator, the Japanese afford Blackthorn more comforts than they do his shipmates. Blackthorn gets a tutor and a love interest at the same time, as well as enemies in the form of a jealous husband, and a maniacal priest. All the while, Blackthorn wants his ship repaired so he can go home. Not just an amazing read, Shogun is a sterling example of what publishing people are talking about when they say, “breakout.”

marchQuincy Scott Jones (General Reader, Poetry) is reading March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis.

Last month, I picked up the graphic novel March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis, co-written by Andrew Aydin with art by Nate Powell. This has always been on my must-buy list; however, March is very different from what I expected. While the first nine pages offer a brutal depiction of Bloody Sunday, Lewis also spends ten pages discussing chickens on his childhood farm. As a result the book is less politics and more memoir, and as the Civil Rights Movement comes back into the spotlight, Lewis’ narration along with Powell’s gorgeous black-and-white artwork makes epic moments like Emmett Till and Brown vs. Board feel as close to us as our morning eggs.

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