Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Fifty-Two: The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy (and 52B: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Week 52! Victory is mine! One year ago I began my quest to read one book per week for one year, a task I have now completed. True, for some people one book a week is not a big deal, but it was my attempt to get more reading back into my busy life. Have I succeeded? Suffice it to say that I look forward to my reading time nearly every day and my list of what I plan to read grows exponentially. But I'll comment on that next week in my final blog post in the project. I intend to reflect on how a year of reading has impacted me, look at what types of book I have read, and perhaps sketch out some future guidelines.

But first, the final book. Hey what happened to Jane Austen? Well, I did get a good start on Sense and Sensibility, but I realized I would need to read very fast to get the book finished. Then I realized I need to read another book for a session I'm leading next week, so I was forced to abandon Jane for now. I simply cannot read any of Austen' works quickly. I know all the plots and characters, so when I read now I do it for the exquisite writing style and to pick up all the nuances I have missed before. So I turned my attention elsewhere.

I was so taken by Simon Van Booy's Love Begins in Winter that I decided to go to his first collection of stories, The Secret Lives of People in Love. As you can see, Van Booy likes love, which says quite a bit in today's world. This collection garnered praise and gathered fans, but it lacks the consistent strength of Winter.  Many of these stories sound like an MFA student getting their bearings straight, and indeed Van Booy says that is when he wrote many of these (and won some awards). Some sound like typical slice-of-life scenarios looking for a big ending, and at times they work -- I'm just not too fond of this type of work.

Where Van Booy creates a unique voice is in his longer works. Winter really contains a couple of novellas, and in Secret Lives his slightly longer works offer more substance. "Where They Hide Is A Mystery" explores the life of a young boy whose mother dies and whose father grows more distant as a result. The somewhat stereotypic "wise Indian" character could be rewritten, but the story ends with a sense of hope which I like in Van Booy's work. So few writers today see any hope that it seems they are disconnected from the daily lives of most readers (and perhaps themselves). Van Booy sees potential in life.

One of the short stories that also accomplishes this is "Save as Many as You Ruin," which is one of the better titles I've seen in some time. Here we see someone quickly open himself to the possibility of happiness despite the tragedies he has experienced. That openness to happiness is a quality too few writers and people in general are open to.

Van Booy is apparently publishing his first novel in 2011 and I'm anxious to read it. The novel length will let him leisurely develop his characters and plot, which is where he seems at this best. In the meantime he is putting out three different works of philosophy which he has edited (and he has a children's book). To learn more visit his website.

The Sign of Four
My revisiting of the Sherlock Holmes opus continues with the second novel featuring the great detective. Here Holmes is caught up in a mystery which combines horror with crime, and where we meet Mary Morstan whom Watson is engaged to by the end of the story. (For those who saw the recent blockbuster Holmes film, that is the name of Watson's fiancĂ©e of the film). The story moves quickly and even includes a "high speed" boat chase -- as high speed as coal-burning boats get. Holmes' deduction powers get the full treatment, although they do include some racist stereotypes of aborigines which reflect the author and time more than intelligence. The story drags at the end as a flashback explains the backstory, but there is less patience since we know ending already. In the short stories Doyle manages to avoid this clumsy technique in most cases, or at least keeps them shorter. Still, all in all this is another fine read.

Up Next
I'm finishing up Sense and Sensibility and then I have a range of books to read. But next week will be my last blog post trying to sum up the year of reading.

1 comment:

  1. congratulations!! i'm happy for you that you achieved your goal and looking forward to your final post to see what's changed for you over the year - of course i'm not looking forward to not reading your reviews anymore!