Tuesday, March 25, 2008

STORIES FROM THE CITY, STORIES FROM THE SEA: Second try with a couple of book recommendations here. I posted this before, but then a Ludovician ate it. You won't understand that unless you read the second book I'm about to recommend.

Not more than a couple of weeks after the Wire finale, I picked up something of a companion piece, Richard Price's 1992 novel, Clockers. Price was a writer for the show, and David Simon mentioned the book frequently in interviews. Clockers is a pretty good example of why I complained a few weeks ago about the ghettoization of genre books. Although I picked it up in the crime fiction section, it's a crime novel in about the same measure as is Yiddish Policemen's Union. There is a mystery -- a murder, if you must know -- at the center of the book, but this is not a whodunit or a catch-me-if-you-can. More than that, it's a measured examination of three desperate men and why they ran out of choices. It's an excellent read, even for non-Wire fans, though if you did watch the show you'll enjoy spotting the vignettes and plot points -- including one major one, though I won't spoil it -- that ended up in the show.

And while I'm doing this if-you-liked-the-show-you'll-love-this-book dance, let me give my highest recommendation to The Raw Shark Texts, particularly for Lost fans. This book is an unusual idea executed brashly and deftly. One can't do the book justice just by relating the plot -- it's a fish story about a guy who loses his memory (or has it taken from him) after a tragedy and sets out to get it back. It's easier to say that the first two thirds of the book are like The Phantom Tollbooth as translated by Kafka. The last third is virtually a scene-by-scene reenactment of a book via a famous movie, as directed by Michel Foucault (actually, I don't know anything about Foucault but I imagine that this is up his alley), except what we see is all explicitly a metaphor, and the fact that it's an extended and hyperdetailed allusion to a movie is an important plot point (the main character tells us it's coming, and another character tells us when it arrives). The book simultaneously is ostentatiously intellectual while frolicking in lowbrow culture, mixing science fiction with linguistic theory. At one point it mentions treating a text like a flip book, and later it features an actual flip-book animation made out of text. It's a serious book, but one of its two principal villains is, hilariously, Microsoft Word. It's very smart, very funny, and very sad, often all at the same time, and I hope everybody reads it (especially Neal Stephenson fans, I think).

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