Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Of Debut Novels and Vampires

Helen to Garp, "I am a reader, not a writer."  John Irving, The World According to Garp, 1978
     That is me-I'm a reader, not a writer.  As much as I would love to be able to write a wonderful book full of gorgeous and witty prose, it is never going to happen.  I do not posses the talent to write and invent my own rich world, I so wish that I could but when I have tried it always ends up "sounding" like my most recent "favorite" book or author.  I think I lack an originality gene.  Yet I think that I do posses a "I-love-to-read-just-about-everything" gene that gives me the, perhaps, biological imperative to be appreciative (and envious!) of all the talented writers out there.
     I highly recommend the oustanding debut novel, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (also famous for her blog-Good Wine Under $20). This book is the first in a planned trilogy and the minute I finished it, I went to look up when the second book will be published. Alas, the second book will not be published until 2012-curses! A Discovery of Witches reminds me of another exceptional debut novel, The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova.  I love The Historian-the writing is so lush and I am  such a sucker for beautiful and evocative descriptions and Kostova excels at it. 
These two novels share a number of things: libraries, archives, historians, strong women, Europe, suspense, a touch of romance, the supernatural, gorgeous writing, an ability to evoke time and place with words, and academic vampires. Yes, academic vampires.  Another way of looking at it is how my best friend Leiellen described Dracula in The Historian "a frustrated graduate student"-that always makes me laugh when I think of it that way, how true!
     Harkness' book is much more dynamic as it is imbued with suspense, mystery, and thriller elements-lots of great action. This book appealed to me on many levels as it included many of my favorite subjects—books and libraries, science and the theory of evolution, feminism, and history-all woven together in an engrossing and delightful read.

     As an aside, I can't believe I keep recommending all vampire books! I never thought I would since I am not a fan of the books who are at the root of the current vampire craze for young adults, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series. Her books, in my humble opinion, have several serious flaws. First, did Meyer not have an editor?  They all, especially the last three books, were in serious need of a very good edit. 
     Next, I did not like the character of the perpetually brooding and petulant Bella at all and how she only seemed to exist because of and for her "man" - who has stalkerish qualities-he was her entire world.  I do not consider Bella a good role model-I wonder how many young girls took her message to heart?  Last, but not least, I do not think vampires should sparkle.  So wrong! I also can't help but wonder, what are the odds that you have both a werewolf and a vampire fall in love with you? 

     Two other wonderful debut novels are The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht and Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  Both  women were named to The New Yorker's list of the "20 Under 40" fiction writers worth watching.  I found Swamplandia! to be very funny, highly imaginative, and quirky yet so very oddly endearing and sweet.  I am plain envious of Obreht's talent, she is not even 30 yet, amazing!   I also enjoyed the highly original Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt-an unusual discourse on depression and how fears can haunt everyone no matter their accomplishments or social status.  
     Other debuts on my TBR List (To-Be-Read) are Taylor Steven's The Informationist and So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman.  The debuts keep coming as next month we should receive I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle (the singer-songwriter who I have long admired for his biting wit and wisdom) and Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Garbrielle Hamilton an evocative memoir of food and family.

Happy Reading,