Today, we went to the nearby Cookworks kitchenware shop where Akemi browsed while I offered the woman at the cash some book recommendations for her upcoming vacation (John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle). Moments earlier, we had been at our local chain bookstore where Akemi hunted for a cookbook for dogs (cooking for dogs as opposed to cooking dogs or a book for dogs who cook) while I called out an employee on one of his “recommended” reads. I’d been checking out the back wall when I happened to notice Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life among the Staff Picks. A fine book but, as I pointed out in my capsule review, nowhere near the brilliant work the critics would have us believe. Unless, of course, said critics could explain the nonsensical ending or what, exactly, was so fiercely original about a conceit and structure that has been used in almost every scifi series ever produced .
“Hey, you’re Mike,”I said, stepping up to the employee.
“I am,”he said, smiling down at his name badge.
“You recommended Kate Atkins’s Life After Life.”.
“I did,”he said, suddenly awkward and unsure of himself, looking like someone whose deep, dark secret had just been exposed.
Glancing about anxiously: “What do you mean?”
“The ending didn’t make any sense.”
“Also, everyone talks about how original it is but if the fact is the going-back-repeatedly-in-time-to-fix-things story is as old as science fiction itself.”
“Well, yes…but I saw it as more a collection of short stories….”
“But they’re not short stories. They’re a novel with a single storyline…that ultimately doesn’t make sense.”
Lowering his voice and levelling with me: “I didn’t even think it was that great but I had to come up with a book to recommend.” Beat. “I didn’t even finish it.”
Aha! I knew it! A week earlier, I’d gone to a rival book shop and questioned another employee’s recommendation of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, a book that concludes with one of the most ridiculously coincidental reveals in crime thriller history. She too admitted that, in retrospect, she may have been rather hasty in suggesting that one.
Don’t get me wrong. Both books are well-written. But they’re flawed – in ways other equally well-written but lesser known books are not.
Which is why I try to read A LOT, everything from well known writers to first-time authors, fiction and non-fiction alike, lauded or not, so that when I recommend a book, I can do so with confidence. Sure, much of it comes down to subjective personal taste, but there are objective failings of certain books that are impossible to excuse. Although some readers will try.
Last week, my sister sent me a text, asking me to recommend her some non-genre books. After some consideration, these were the titles I suggested:
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Misery by Stephen King
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (I’d argue its SF classification)
Camp Concentration (like SoD, it’s classified as SF but it straddles the line)
Fool by Christopher Moore
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The Man Who Ate Everything, and It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (the entire series)
Thoughts? Agree? Disagree?
What are YOUR top recommended reads (including genre fiction). Let’s debate. I’m in a feisty mood!