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  • Jeff Somers 9:30 pm on 2017/01/10 Permalink
    Tags: all the missing girls, , , david mitchell, , huh?, megan miranda, story of your life and others,   

    7 Novels With Chronologies That Will Break You 

    We all love to be fooled. Some authors take this a little further than others. While all narrative is trickery in a sense, there are books that mess with the fundamentals of time and space so thoroughly, you have to open up a spreadsheet in order to figure out the timeline. Since our sense of cause-and-effect is so essential to our sanity, this messed with can be an exhilarating experience—which makes the following six books mind-bending literary achievements.

    All the Missing Girls, by Megan Miranda
    Miranda takes a typical thriller plot—a crime from someone’s past seems to be repeated shortly after she returns to her small hometown—and twists it into something amazing by telling the story backwards. The opening sets the premise: a woman named Nicolette returns to the town where her friend disappeared 20 years before. Her circle of friends fell under suspicion, but the missing girl was never found and no charges were filed. Shortly after Nicolette’s return, a girl disappears in a similar way. Then the story jumps ahead fifteen days and is slowly told backwards. The end result is so tense, you can barely stand it.

    Good as Gone, by Amy Gentry
    Taking its cue from the horrific story of Elizabeth Smart, Gentry’s new thriller tells the story of a 13-year old girl, Julie Whitaker, who is kidnapped from her home while her younger sister cowers in the closet. Eight years later, Julie suddenly returns, telling a grim story of abuse, rape, and other horrors. The question of whether this really is Julie is up-front—but is clouded by the reverse chronology Gentry employs, and a series of first-person accounts by women and girls who may or may not be Julie or someone else. Gentry uses this technique to explore what makes us us, the very nature of identity—and the result is thrilling, if challenging on the first read-through.

    Time’s Arrow, by Martin Amis
    Amis crafts a story about a man living in reverse, beginning with his death and spiraling backwards to his birth. This seems straightforward enough, except the narrator is a distinct, separate entity from the protagonist, and the narrator is…confused, and seemingly unaware of the true sequence of events. It can take the reader some time to figure out what’s happening—especially since conversations are also reported in reverse. That the character was involved in the torture and murder of Jews at Auschwitz slowly brings to the fore the theme of the ability of a movement like Nazism to distort reality, where truth is lies and brutality actually heals. If there was ever a novel you need to immediately read a second time, this is it.

    Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
    Heller’s brilliant novel has a surprisingly complex treatment of time, made even more challenging by the huge cast of characters and the zero amount of hand-holding he offers. Characters frequently refer to events the reader hasn’t yet witnessed, and the heavy doses of contradiction and irony muddy the waters further. The tone also shifts, beginning in absurdity and comedy and slowly drifting towards a final section that’s much darker and more violent. What seems at first to be a series of comic vignettes slowly coalesces into a narrative—but only if you’re paying close attention.

    Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang
    The short story that the film Arrival is based on offers one of the most surprising and affecting uses of a complex chronology in recent years (spoilers follow—seriously, don’t read this if you haven’t yet seen the movie or read Chiang’s excellent story). Interspersed with the account of a linguist’s mission to decode the strange language of aliens who have arrived on Earth are thoughts of her daughter—which initially seem like memories, implying a tragedy. The reality is tied to her epiphany regarding the alien language, and changes the whole tone and message of the story in a brilliant twist that will stick with you.

    Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
    Cloud Atlas is structured as nested stories sharing reincarnated characters, either repeating the fate of their previous selves or rebelling against them. The characters’ souls undergo various transformations as the timeline advances—but that advancement is difficult to follow, as each story is interrupted at a key moment, at which point, the next story begins—until we get to the sixth, central story. From that point on, each of the first five stories is continued, finishing each narrative. The connections between the stories go far beyond the characters, making this one of the densest and most complicated narratives of all time, a structure the movie version couldn’t even begin to replicate.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    One of the most complicated novels in general has the sort of timeline that isn’t exactly obscured, but becomes so tangled and complex that people are still arguing over certain scenes based entirely on what characters are described as wearing. In short, the story begins at the end, snaps back about a year, and never actually bridges events to the end that was the beginning. In-between is a huge cast of characters who seem to move about in the background like NPCs in a video game, their actions sometimes not evident until many, many pages later, when you may very well have forgotten all about them. You may enjoy Infinite Jest, you may think you understand it on some level (or many levels), but you will never be able to completely untangle its chronology.

    The post 7 Novels With Chronologies That Will Break You appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jordan Rosenfeld 7:00 pm on 2015/10/15 Permalink
    Tags: , david mitchell, , , justin cronin, , the enchanted   

    The Time Traveler’s Wife and the Rise Of The Literary Hybrid 

    I will never forget the two days I lost to the astonishing novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, in which an artist falls in love with a man who travels, unwittingly and uncontrollably, through time. It wasn’t the story alone that held me rapt, but the spell the author wove, with prose so lovely it sent me hurtling through time and space.

    But I also couldn’t put it down because I had to know what happened next, which is the hallmark of a great plot. I felt I had stumbled across something different, maybe new, a literary novel that thwarted the formerly stodgy reputation of the term “literary” and had the life of a fantasy novel breathed into it.

    Literary writers often lament the category’s lack of appreciation, pointing accusing fingers at the robust sales of genres like mystery and fantasy and blaming them for lit-fic’s impending demise. But other literary novelists, such as Justin Cronin, Kate Atkinson, David Mitchell, and Marisha Pessl are simply following in Niffenegger’s footsteps. They are straddling the worlds between literary and genre with surprisingly elegant results.

    After all, what makes a genre book qualify as such is its emphasis on plot, which could be reduced even further to simply “a good story.” And what makes literary novels so beloved is their careful attention to language, character, and big ideas. Who says a great book can’t have both?

    In search of more of this kind of novel, I made my way to Justin Cronin’s The Passageafter hearing Cronin interviewed on NPR. Cronin was originally known for a very “quiet” literary novel-in-stories called Mary and O’Neil. By contrast, The Passage is an epic, 766 page first installment of a trilogy set in a time after a virus has decimated humanity, turning some humans into vampire-like creatures who hunt other humans. And yet it’s less of a post-apocalyptic novel and more of an exploration of the foolhardiness of humans in their urge to be immortal. It asks big questions about what the healthy boundaries of science are, and when humans will grow to accept ourselves as part of nature, rather than above it.

    It’s also, most notably, a heavily character-driven novel: the first hundred pages or so are loaded with backstory and history about the key players in literary fashion. Then the “vampire” story begins in earnest. I was hooked by its first line:

    Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.

    (I can’t help but think that’s also a nod to Harper Lee there, a literary icon if ever there was one.)

    There’s also something deeply satisfying about a trilogy (and they are few and far between when it comes to literary novels) for anyone who loves an immersive reading experience, or has trouble letting go of beloved characters, as I do. Recently author Alexander Chee explored this notion in an essay for LitHub titled “From Potter to Tartt to Ferrante” about why serial novels are so popular. He writes:

    …before there was binge-watching, there was binge-reading: the three-volume novel, for example, also called the triple-decker, was a tent-pole of Victorian popular culture in the 19th century.

    Some of us, of course, are still binge-reading. Excited by Cronin’s book, I gobbled down the second and began an eager search for more while awaiting the third, and found my way to David Mitchell’s work. Mitchell is not only lauded for being literary but for bending genres within one book. His novel Cloud Atlas attempts a different genre every chapter, a series of interconnected stories that follow a reincarnated soul across time and was made into a movie by the directors of The Matrix movies.

    Then his most recent novel The Bone Clocks kept me up late at night asking questions about the human soul. (Where does it come from? Where does it go once we die?)

    Most recently I made my way into another literary hybrid, A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, which turned out to be yet another trilogy, though I didn’t realize this when I picked it up. I wasn’t really in the mood for a fantasy novel, still savoring the echo of the elegant and poignant The Enchanted, a straightforwardly literary novel by Rene Denfeld. But within a few pages I was drawn into Harkness’s novel by her deliberate use of language and imagery, and yes, a damn good story.

    A Discovery of Witches is about a New England witch named Diana who has avoided her powers, and the pressures of her witch aunts, because her parents died of magic, and become a scholar and historian instead. She meets an equally studious vampire named Matthew and begins not only a romance but a journey that spans three books and tackles big questions such as identity, miscegenation, and good old fashioned star-crossed love. The very descriptions of magic itself remind me of what it feels like to read a great story: “Just because something seems impossible, doesn’t mean it’s untrue.”

    One of my favorite passages is deceptively simple, an ancient spell that Diana will one day learn is the key to the fate of all “creatures”: “It begins with absence and desire.”

    Doesn’t all great art begin with absence and desire?

    So to reassure those literary writers who fear the genre’s demise; it isn’t going anywhere, it’s simply changing shape.

  • Diana Biller 5:00 pm on 2015/06/18 Permalink
    Tags: , david mitchell, , , , , recommendations, , trust the source   

    Book Recommendations from Your Favorite Authors 

    It’s an oft-repeated maxim: to be a great writer, one must first be a great reader. So who better to ask for reading recommendations than your favorite authors? We’ve pulled together quotes from much-loved writers across the genres, including Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Rainbow Rowell, and Amy Tan, on the books they love. Just in time for those long, lazy summer days, build up your TBR pile with these awesome recs.

    George R.R. Martin
    Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
    From George R.R. Martin’s Not A Blog:
    “As best I can recall, I’ve never met Emily St. John Mandel, and I’ve never read anything else by her, but I won’t soon forget Station Eleven. One could, I suppose, call it a post-apocalypse novel, and it is that, but all the usual tropes of that subgenre are missing here, and half the book is devoted to flashbacks to before the coming of the virus that wipes out the world, so it’s also a novel of character, and there’s this thread about a comic book and Doctor Eleven and a giant space station and…oh, well, this book should NOT have worked, but it does. It’s a deeply melancholy novel, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac…a book that I will long remember, and return to.”

    Amy Tan
    Rabih Alameddine
    From the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review:
    “For years, I have been heralding the work of Rabih Alameddine, a Lebanese-American writer. His prose is gorgeous, his approach irreverent, and the ideas in his stories are sometimes comical or fantastical, but always deadly serious—very relevant to understanding the complex history behind multiple holy wars today. In Italy and Spain, his books are best sellers. He has full-page profiles in major newspapers, has garnered prizes, is a darling of literary festivals and has won acclaim from international writers. In the U.S., he’s hardly known. Why is there a geographic divide in literary appreciation?”

    (Check out Alameddine’s latest, An Unnecessary Woman. Set in Beirut, the book follows Aaliya, a reclusive septuagenarian, as she deals with an emotional crisis and reflects on the past, the Lebanese Civil War, creativity, solitude, and aging. An Unnecessary Woman was widely praised upon its release last year.)

    J.K. Rowling
    Emma, by Jane Austen
    From Oprah’s Book Club:
    “Virginia Woolf said of Austen, ‘For a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness,’ which is a fantastic line. You’re drawn into the story, and you come out the other end, and you know you’ve seen something great in action. But you can’t see the pyrotechnics; there’s nothing flashy.”

    David Mitchell
    Under the Skin, by Michel Faber
    From The Week:
    “Faber may be best known for his postmodern Victorian glory, The Crimson Petal and the White, but his debut novel tattoos the memory with an unholy trinity of hitchhikers, the Scottish Highlands, and the extraterrestrial meat-packing industry. Wonderful, grisly, and beyond bonkers.”

    (Mitchell’s favorite books also include A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, by Danilo Kis; The Fish Can Sing, by Halldór Laxness; and The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman.)

    Terry Pratchett
    The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G. K. Chesterton
    From a 2004 interview:
    “For teaching me how to see the world. To Chesterton, even a quiet street was a world of fantasy and a street lamp more precious than a star (because there’s a universe full of stars, compared to which street lamps are really uncommon).”

    (Pratchett’s favorites also included Roughing It, by Mark Twain; The Evolution Man, by Roy Lewis (which he called “The funniest science fiction book ever”); and The Specialist, by Charles Sale.)

    Rainbow Rowell
    The World According to Garp, by John Irving
    At a Barnes & Noble author event last year, we learned Rowell’s favorite book as a teenager was John Irving’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic coming-of-age tale. First published in 1978, The World According to Garp follows the life of one T.S. Garp, bastard son of a feminist icon, author, parent, and husband, through a series of tragicomic, but surprisingly real, events. Neatly structured with several internally framed narratives, it’s perhaps not surprising to discover that Garp was an influential novel for the author who gave us another book remarkable for its elegant and complicated structure: Fangirl.

    John Green
    Sula, by Toni Morrison
    From The Week:
    “Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature the same year that I read Song of Solomon in a high school English class. I loved that novel so much I read Sula (and Beloved) for fun that summer. The friendship between Sula and Nel transformed the way I thought about love and gender.”

    Other John Green favorites include the delightful The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart, and Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, which Green calls “one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.”

    Nora Roberts
    Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
    From the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review, answering the question “What’s the best love story you’ve ever read?”

    “I have a very hard time with ‘best’ and ‘favorite,’ as this can change with the mood, or with the discovery of a new book or author. I often find the book I’ve just finished is my favorite, as it’s the one I’m so involved with at that moment. But one of my very favorites of all time is Jane Eyre. It simply has it all—a marvelous, compelling story told brilliantly, wonderfully realized characters, a gorgeous love story, evocative settings. And the madwoman in the attic. Hard to top it.”

    (Roberts also mentions Harper Lee and Mary Stewart as two of her favorite authors, and says that if she could require the President to read one book, it would be Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.)

  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2015/06/03 Permalink
    Tags: , david mitchell, , , julio cortázar, norman maclean, timehop   

    Five Novels that Play with Time 

    In Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining, by Stephen King, the director uses time title cards to disrupt the viewer’s sense of time. The text on the cards initially seems very specific and designed to ground the viewer in the timeline, but by the time the word MONDAY flashes on the screen midway through it hits you: as the cards become more specific, they also have less relation to anything, becoming meaningless and disorienting.

    Novels often play with time as well—most commonly by telling a story out of order. And while many classic, brilliant novels have been written using that technique, some go beyond, manipulating the reader’s sense of time in ways both subtle and obvious in order to control their perception of how it works in the story, altering the reading experience. Here are five examples of time manipulation in novels that will blow you mind.

    Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
    Mitchel’s novel has a unique structure in which six stories are linked to each other by virtue of the protagonist of one story reading or hearing the next. Each story ends abruptly about halfway through, and the next story begins. After the sixth beginning is told, the stories are concluded, one by one, in the second half of the book. All of this is not simply to confuse or inject the book with a false complexity, however; one of the fundamental themes of the book is that human nature is universal, and people are doomed (or blessed) to repeat themselves. The structure Mitchel created underscores this, telling the stories as if they were part of a unified whole instead of separate tales of separate people.

    Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
    Catch-22, a novel about Air Force airmen trying to survive World War II, derives much of its storytelling muscle from its jumpy, omniscient point of view, which visits several moments in the collective story from different points of view and with various time shifts, each time revealing something new. The effect forces the reader to be initially as confused and frustrated by the story as the characters are by the military, the war, and life itself. Slowly, both the reader and the characters come to accommodations that let them survive and even appreciate what they are experiencing, and the parallel experiences are what make this novel more than the sum of its hilarious parts.

    Hopscotch, by Julio Cortázar
    We are all likely familiar with the concept of the unreliable narrator, but in this book Cortázar takes on the role of unreliable author. A novel of 155 chapters designed to be read in any order—either one of the two orders Cortázar himself offers, or randomly—it manages to both make sense and tell a story. Cortázar even suggests that the final 99 chapters aren’t even necessary and can be skipped entirely. The effect is astoundingly freeing for the reader. The story of Horacio Oliveira’s search for his lover, La Maga, and the twisting, serpentine path it takes him on is perfectly suited to this remarkable and challenging book.

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    Using a trick similar to Kubrick’s, one of Wallace’s ideas in Infinite Jest is that time is given corporate sponsorship in an unspecified future—instead of a numeric year, we have, say, the Year of Glad (as in the garbage bags). The story twists and turns through a timeline that makes perfect sense if mapped—but that mapping is difficult and slippery, because we don’t know the chronological order of the years mentioned. While some order can be gleaned from the text, a layer of surrealism is added to the story, as events that initially seem to happen at one point actually occur at another, alternately clarifying and obscuring as you read on.

    A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean
    Maclean’s amazing novel dispenses with a traditional novel structure and reads more like a confessional infodump directly from the author’s brain. While ostensibly told in a straightforward chronological order, in reality the story about Maclean’s life in Montana, his father and deceased brother, and, of course, fly fishing is told by jumping from memory to memory in a naturalistic way that mimics how we actually remember our own lives. The effect is subtle and brilliant, and is one big reason anyone who reads this remarkable short novel is affected powerfully by it.

    Shop all fiction >
  • Jenny Kawecki 3:00 pm on 2015/05/20 Permalink
    Tags: books you were born for, , daniel o'malley, , david mitchell, , , , , , , muriel barbery,   

    Books to Read Based on Your Birth Order 

    Maybe you’re the seventh of twelve, or maybe you’re the first of one; whichever it is, your birth order definitely has an effect on your personality…and, consequently, the stack of paperbacks relaxing on your bedside table. In honor of all those times your little brother borrowed your favorite book and returned it with syrup stains on half the pages, here are some book recommendations based on your sibling status alone:

    Only Child

    Cloud Atlasby David Mitchell
    You can’t help it, but you’re a bit of a precocious perfectionist (being the only outlet for your parents’ attention tends to do that). With that in mind, you’ll love Mitchell’s complicated, circling novel. It follows a series of intertwining characters over several centuries, trying out multiple styles and narratives along the way. This book is sort of like you: it’ll monopolize all the attention, then impress you with its maturity and talent.

    The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen
    Maybe what you really want is to know what it’s like to have a large family. Well, The Corrections ought to do the trick. Enid and Alfred are tired of their empty nest, and Enid’s trying to get all three of her children back together for one more family holiday. But with Gary struggling to get along, Chip wrapped up in an intense new job, and Denise juggling an affair and a new restaurant, bringing the kids together is harder than it sounds. With a bit of luck, this book might just remind you how glad you are you don’t have siblings.

    Then try:
    Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion

    Oldest Child

    The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
    You know that overwhelming need you have to take care of everyone and everything? Now imagine that feeling multiplied by disaster. Stuck in a postapocalyptic world, a father and son attempt to stay alive despite near-constant life-threatening situations. The familiar exhaustion of trying to make sure everything turns out right, the driving need to be more and do more—this book was pretty much made for a firstborn.

    The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley
    Cautious, in control, aware of everything around her: Myfanwy Thomas has the personality of an oldest child. Of course, she also has no memory and no clue what’s going on in her life, besides the notes left to her by her former self that let her know someone is trying to kill her. With a secret organization to run and an evil plot to stop, Myfanway has no choice but to take charge and be the responsible overachiever you are every day.

    Then try:
    Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

    Middle Child

    I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
    Cassandra falls into the “What am I doing here?” trap all middle children face. She doesn’t get the attention her older sister, Rose, gets, so she’s stuck trying to please everyone and keep the peace—not so easy when you live in a broken-down castle with your crazy father and absolutely no money. With her need to be on good terms with everyone and her tendency to be overlooked, Cassandra will speak straight to the middle child in you.

    American Godsby Neil Gaiman
    Shadow has that rebellious streak favored by middle children, only bigger: he’s an ex-con. After the sudden death of his wife, he finds himself working for a man named Wednesday, who happens to be in the center of the ultimate power play. And if you think it’s hard to keep your older and younger siblings on speaking terms, try it with a handful of grouchy immortals with ego issues.

    Then try:
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Geniusby Dave Eggers

    Youngest Child

    Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
    For the fun-loving theatrical side of you, here’s a book about a love story between a young Italian innkeeper and a beautiful Hollywood actress…and that same love story again, picked up decades later, when the (now old) innkeeper sets out to rediscover the old flame. It’s an easy, entertaining ride, but touching all the same—perfect for sharing with those stuffy older siblings of yours.

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
    Every youngest child experiences that moment where everyone seems to be moving on without you. And what do you do when everyone treats you like you’re younger than you are? In Paloma’s case, plot something dramatic to snag their attention, or befriend someone who recognizes the old soul beneath the youthful exterior—enter Renée, the inconspicuous concierge who’s more on top of things than people think. For every baby of the family who doesn’t want to be the baby any more, this book is for you.

    Then try:
    Where’d You Go Bernadette?, by Maria Semple

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