Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Book of Air and Shadows

I confess.  I'm not a big fan of "literary" fiction.  I often find it pretentious, the author trying to sound smart, or conversely, trying to make the reader feel stupid or at least uneducated.  Either goal, of course, makes for a poor author but I'm convinced they're out there and they're supported by similarly pretentious editors and publishers.

Nevertheless, I keep trying them in an effort to prove myself wrong.  Surely there are authors that write masterfully in the English language while at the same time, can tell a darn fine story.  Well, I've found one in Michael Gruber.  The Book of Air and Shadows is a fantastic fictional story, a thriller of sorts involving the discovery of a long lost unknown Shakespeare play.  The book has all of the elements I love including a fascinating plot, intrigue galore, cool settings, and complete characterization.  But, this is truely a "literary" novel in that Mr Gruber has produced a genuine work of art.  He does not stoop to the devices of lesser (although perhaps best selling) literary authors such as I refered to in the first paragraph.  He does not use a large word where a smaller one will do just fine, merely for the sake of using a larger word.  He doesn't lose the reader in a maze of prose, forcing them to re-read sections to try and figure out what the author is trying to say.  This book is not boring in any sense but rather vibrant.  It's like the difference between a black and white photograph and full color.

This novel is one of the best I've read all year.  I checked out Mr Gruber's website and paid special attention to one of his essays, "Writing Life: A Short Guide".  I often look up authors of books I enjoy, attempting to glean tips on how to improve my own writing and Mr Gruber summarizes much of what I've read elsewhere.  For example, most authors say a good writer is first, a good reader.  Mr Gruber puts it this way: "Read both stuff you like and difficult stuff that people you respect have told you is great."  That's what I try to do and the main reason I read what are considered to be the great classics as well as those books that are classified as "literary" novels.  Thank-you Michael Gruber for a great book, and the will to keep trying those other "literary" books.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire