Thursday, June 18, 2009

Books of 2009 so far...continued

With only one exception so far this year (Rock, Paper, Scissors) every book I've read has been very good. These are the best four I've read so far and I would say all of them are excellent.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Murakami's books always have a dreamlike tone, it seems half the action takes place while the main characters are sleeping. Kafka, of the books I've read, makes the best use of this type of writing. Kafka on the Shore is the story of Kafka Tomura a 16 year old boy who has run away from home in order to escape an incestuous and murderous prophecy foretold by his father. Kafka runs to a small town in Japan where he meets a colorful cast of characters including a hemophiliac transvestite and a ghost of a young girl who may or may not be his mother. The book is intentionally vague with the story and messages but to me it is about destiny and our ability to choose our own way in life. There are parts of the book that, to me, were inexplicable but that did nothing to take away from the fact that the writing is great and even when I don't completely understand a characters actions I am still able to enjoy the ride.

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

I've already reviewed this book on this blog so I will just leave what I've already written. Denis Johnson is one of my favorites.

Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen

I just finished this book very recently and I absolutely loved it. Galchen's book is often compared to Murakami and like in Kafka above it's not always perfectly clear what exactly is happening in this book. There is a good reason for this however as it is written in the first person from the point of view of a man who is possibly insane. I have my own ideas about what is happening here but, regardless of that, what made this book work so much for me were the characters. I don't know what it says about me that I was able to empathize with the main character, Leo Liebenstein, more than just about any character in any book I've ever read. He is going crazy but in a way that seems perfectly logical to me, it was riveting and slightly scary to read about him falling further and further into his obsessions and into his own head. You really should read this book, it's a quick read and is highly entertaining.

2666 by Roberto Bolano

2666 is easily the best book I've read this year. It's quite a time investment, the version I received as a gift came as three separate paperback books. It took me a few months to read as I read one of the books then a couple other books and then the next which was a great way to read this book in my opinion. The book tells the stories of a large cast of characters who all either have or develop ties to the fictional city of Santa Teresa in Mexico. Santa Teresa in the novel is a stand-in for the real city of Juarez where, in the last twenty years, over a thousand women have been murdered in unsolved crimes. The book explores the madness that could lead to such a situation. Bolano writes about a group of critics who are obsessed with a reclusive writer, Achimboldi, who they believe is in Santa Teresa. They travel to the city to find him and all have different reactions to the atmosphere of degradation in the city and the cheapness of life there. Also in the book are stories of a professor in the city, an american reporter who visits to cover a boxing match and the police in the city who work in a dysfunctional system that really, for many reasons, has no interest in ever solving the crimes. Lastly, there is a section about Archimboldi, the mysterious writer mentioned above that (sort of) serves to tie the whole thing together.

I loved every section of this book, it's absolutely full of amazing characters and great writing. The Part About the Crimes in particular is fantastic and unlike anything I've ever read. This section is written in a police blotter type style with cold hard facts about each of the murders laid out in shocking detail interspersed with scenes of the personal lives of the police who are working the crimes and the suspects in the crimes.

2666 is a great novel that, I believe, will stand the test of time as a classic and I can't recommend it highly enough.

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