Thursday, April 25, 2013

Reading A Book You Can't Put Down

I stayed up until 1 am last night, reading a book I couldn't put down. I simply could not go to bed until I finished it. There was a period in my life when I had so much spare time, I might read two or three books a week. If you count the years I worked as an editor, and the unpublished manuscripts I sifted through, I have certainly clocked many more than that.

These days, my deadlines are so close and demanding, I can rarely steal time away for reading anyone else's work. I usually don't like to read a work of fiction while writing one. It's like listening to a certain type of music. It gets in your head and then it's hard to "hear" your own voice and rhythms. When I do have time, it's often non-fiction, which clears my head and makes me think in a different way than fiction does. As wonderful as such books can be, I cannot recall one title that had me pushing myself to the final page.

So coming across a truly great work of fiction, a compelling reading experience,  is a rare treat. One I want to savour and study, like a dish I've never tasted before. I want to figure out the ingredients and spices so I can cook it myself one day.

What is the magical chemistry? What makes this reality, this entire world, so fascinating and convincing? So multi-layered and authentic?

Yet, it's so delicious and addictive, I can't help gulping it down, allowing no time at all to pause and critique.

By now, you must be wondering what I read. It was The Roundhouse, by Louise Erdich. I've read her work before, though not recently. I certainly was unaware that she is such a masterful writer. In a relatively short novel, she manages to combine a highly realistic story of a violent and repulsive crime and the impact, in very personal terms, on one Native American family, living on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. The tale unravels as both a mystery and  a very personal, family drama with amazing and deeply convincing characterizations.

Embedded in that story, the coming of age adventures of Joe, the 13 year old narrator-- both comic and heartbreaking. All of this layered with the magical legends, rituals and traditions of Joe's ancestors, and the complex politics and the dark history of injustice Native Americans have endured since the first Europeans set foot in North America.

My head spins trying to describe the synergy of these narrative threads. And I just hit the high points.

How did she do it? Impossible to say. Which must be a litmus test for
great works of art. At that level, it seems the intricacies of the many dimensions, and how they work together, are not something that can be consciously planned or neatly dissected. But organic, like experiencing a flower or a bird in flight. The impact of the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. Even when you try to analyze and catalogue, there remains some mysterious essence that defies description. Like the life force, or even the spirit, of some living thing.  

This must be the mark of a book well worth reading...and reading again. And well worth staying up to read, into the night.




Linda O. Johnston said...

That does sound like a good book, Anne. I'll have to look for it!

Betty Hechtman said...

I, too, have a hard time reading fiction, particulary mysteries, when I'm writing - which now seems to be all the time.

Anne Canadeo said...

Isn't that ironic, Betty? A love of reading and good books got us into this racket in the first place, right? When I do make time and find a really great piece of fiction, it is simultaneously inspiring and stimulating...and
very humbling. But necessary, like
taking vitamins. Another great book I read recently is State of Wonder by Ann Patchet. Would recomment that as well.

Dot Schmitt said...

Anne, this was unanimously enjoyed by our book club- a first! Usually there is at least one dissenter in the crowd! What an brilliant piece of work. One of these days you must join us at book club!

William Stark said...

I'll have to look out for that book. It sounds like a good one. Like yourself I don't get a whole lot of time to read a book cover to cover but when I do it's all the more exciting. The last great book I read that just refused to be put down was Max Zimmer's Journey (If Where You're Going Isn't Home). The first book in a trilogy that tells the story of a teenage Mormon boy coming of age in 1960's Utah. The main character is so relatable and his story so engrossing that I found myself thinking about it almost every day for weeks. My highest recommendation of the year.