For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!

Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

SPOTLIGHT ON BOOKS: Two Novels of Interest

READ, READ, READ! That’s my motto and I enjoy every syllable of it. My whole life it has been such a special pleasure to open a book with anticipation and to find myself drawn into the story, the characters, the writingm from the very first page.
Some books take a little longer to capture my attention. For example, I’ve noticed that books by US authors often try to reach out with maximum impact from the first sentence, as if our short American attention span must be grabbed by the throat and yanked into the story immediately or all will be lost. Of course, I am excited when that opening sentence is something so cool that I just know I’m going to love the book, but I’ve found that novels written in other countries often take a slower approach, building interest more gradually with greater emphasis on character development, setting, or backstory. For me, either approach can be appealing as long as the writing itself is good. It’s similar to how I love Hollywood films and independent foreign films with subtitles equally, though differently, if the stories are exciting, thought-provoking, and engaging. Recently, though, I found myself setting aside a book I had anticipated enjoying because there were so many typos and other editing errors that they constantly distracted me. I couldn’t immerse myself in the tale. I felt, “Why should I care about this story when the author and publishers clearly did not care enough about me, the reader, to present the very best product they could?”

What have you noticed about approaches to fiction in other countries as compared to here in the US? How do you feel about poorly edited books? I’d love to hear your comments—

Here are a couple of my recent finds since the last issue of FEAST was published, both are written by European writers. I hope you enjoy them: 

Girl in a Blue Dress, Gaynor Arnold. Crown Publishers 2008. Longlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize, this engaging first novel by British social-worker-turned-author Arnold was inspired by the life and marriage of Charles Dickens and presents a very believable and thought-provoking view of the most celebrated author in the Victorian world. This is the wife’s side of the story, an examination of what it is like to be the mate of someone famous, beloved, and absolutely captivating in public—a man who is much more complicated in private and much more fallible. It’s a familiar story in its way (we’ve seen it recently in our own press)—a man becomes powerful, rich, and a celebrity and succumbs to the tantalizing pitfalls of such a position. What’s most interesting here is how true the story rings when examined from the viewpoint of those most intimately acquainted with the person. It’s a cautionary tale in a way—all one sees in a person in public is not necessarily, maybe never, what it seems. 

The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano. Viking translated edition 2009. An international best seller, this book won the Premio Strega. Its author is the youngest-ever winner of Italy’s prestigious literary award, and his debut novel has been translated into more than 30 languages worldwide. Giordano’s use of prime numbers as a metaphor for two lonely young misfits—Alice and Mattia—who each suffered traumatic childhood events that forever changed their lives, is brilliant. One of my favorite parts is the author’s discussion of the rare occurrence of two prime numbers, so-called twin primes, which occur “close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching . . . .” This is the story of two such lonely figures who long to be close, who tremble at the possibility, but who do not know how to span the distance. A beautifully conceived meditation on the weight we all carry forward from our childhoods, the efforts of even the most solitary to seek connection and love. This book transcends borders.

Happy reading!

Rosemary Carstens


Laurel Kallenbach said...

I have noticed the difference between American books and films and those from other countries. And I have to say that, like you, I like both. As someone working on a novel, I find myself torn between the fast action (which clearly sells better in this country) and the gradual exposition. I'm trying to keep from overanalyzing and just write my novel in my way. Trying to write for a publishing trend is not the way to be most creative!

Priscilla said...

Rosemary, you touch a nerve when you ask about typos in books! As an editor, I can't stand them. But sometimes I can take my editor self so offline that I don't even notice typos. Then I'm really immersed in the book.

Laurel, I like your thoughts about writing for yourself first of all rather than a publishing trend. It has to satisfy us before it can satisfy anyone else, methinks.

dana said...

The first book you mentioned is right up my alley. thanks for writing about it. i just read remarkable creatures by tracy chevalier. have you tried it?

Melanie Mulhall said...


Thanks for these two suggestions.

Yes, American novels tend to begin with a bang--and writing coaches instruct their charges with doing so. (I've given that advice myself.) I do think it has something to do with the short attention span of American readers, but that is not the whole story. Our responsibility as writers is to pull the reader into the story and keep pulling them along.

I love the late John Updike, but I must admit that it always took me about fifty pages to get into his books. I read that far on the first book because my fiance (now husband) assured me he was good. He was. But it took him a while to engage me.

Better to engage the reader early on. And, yes, I agree that we're willing to hang in there with the author if the writing is good.

One more time, thank you for doing the culling for us.

Walk in Beauty

Rosemary Carstens said...

Laurel, you are so right. It's impossible to predict what the publishing industry wants--we must follow our own style and instincts so that we know it's OUR best!

Dana, Yes I read Remarkable Creatures and LOVED it! I've enjoyed all of her books.

Thanks all for your comments and interest!

Lys said...

Thanks Rosemary for making me want to take much more time to read fiction. My world is saturated with non-fiction news reports right now... and escape from the day to day world would be a gift. Your insight on writers and the craft of writing fiction is a great path for a usually "non-fiction" reader to follow. - Lys