Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Two Books from 2010

Before moving onto to 2011 reads, there are 2 books I read in 2010 that I'd like to mention. One I really liked, the other I did not like as well.

The first is The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins. Released in 2007, it was touted as the best book of the year by The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, San Francisco Chronicle, among others. How did I miss this?

Then I remembered. In 2007 I wasn't working at a bookstore, my mother was dying; my attention was not much directed toward books.


Using her own name for one of the characters, she combines Marianne Wiggins's (fictitious) search for her father with discovering and unveiling a story about Edward S. Curtis, photographer of Indians and presidents.

I loved how she wove together the two stories, the modern day story about Marianne and then the story of Edward and his wife, Clara. More than that, though, some passages stunned me with their insight and beauty. For instance, she talks about photography as a medium...

"Edward had been there she (Clara) couldn't help but realize. That was something unique to photography, that a photograph elicited - that sense of being there - that painting more or less finessed. You could paint from your imagination - her father frequently had - but in order to produce a photograph you had to put yourself within a visual range, you had to be there and that locus carried with it its own intimacy. The photographer was acting for you with his eyes, acting as your own eyes would. It was a contract between the artist and the viewer that few painters could make and it was deeply personal, she saw, because she could not look at any photograph of Edward's without thinking about Edward, himself, about the man behind the camera, about how and why he had positioned himself where he had. What he did when he made photographs was an adventure, she saw, it was adventurous - as well as beautiful - and what she learned looking at his photographs made her feel even more thrilled to know him, thrilled to have his company, to be called his Scout."

Stunning passages, a great story...I'm so glad to have discovered The Shadow Catcher.

Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, on the other hand, was a strange one for me.

The entire book is questions. The question mark after the subtitle is apt, it speaks to the content being entirely questions and it is questionable as to whether this is a novel or not. That it is being shelved in the fiction section does not necessarily make it so, in my opinion.

It doesn't make it so in the author's opinion, either. Padgett Powell started asking questions in emails; he never intended it to be a book. A publishing house asked to publish it as a book, specifically as a novel - because novels sell better than anything else.

               The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? (P.S.)

This book took a different kind of reading for me. I found myself starting to read like I read a novel, fairly quickly, wanting to get into the story. And there just wasn't one. I'd skim through some of the questions, and then slow down for others.

It was questions, lots of questions. Some were intriguing, others not so much. Some of the questions were ones I was interested in answering. And many were not.

Often when reading, I'm looking to get out of myself, to get to another place. In fiction, it's to get into a story. With non-fiction, it's to learn about something other than me. While I certainly have read my share of self-help books, some of which have been excellent and extremely helpful, I didn't want this book to be one. Or this wasn't the right time for an exercise in introspection.

Progressing through the book, I found myself not always wanting to pick it up after putting it down.

Would I recommend this? Probably not. Not as a novel. I would have enjoyed this as an essay. Or an article in a magazine. Shorter.

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