"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never...more"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't
I think the first book review of the year should set the tone for the rest of the year. And what better way to start the year 2013 than reading and reviewing the book that has everything? In fact, it has so much of everything that I used every single one of my shelves to label it. I'm pretty sure that I'm still short a couple subjects.
Sure, I could've been reading Anna Karenina and learning about Imperial Russia with the rest of my book group instead of learning about the present American stuff I already know. But since my reading goal this year is 100 books - which is like reading everything - I should start my odyssey with the book that has everything. Everything American, that is. Anna Karenina just has affairs and trains and Keira Knightly and other stuff.
Tolstoy's book doesn't have anything that Colbert's book doesn't have.
Anna Karenina has extramarital affairs: America Again has illicit relations between politicians and food.
Anna Karenina has people who hate their jobs: America Again has resume how-tos.
Anna Karenina has 2-D: America Again has 3-D.
Anna Karenina has Siberia: America Again has North Dakota.
Anna Karenina was translated into English: America Again was written in American.
It's probably this last one where Tolstoy has managed to one-up Colbert. America Again has no, count them: none, award winning translators. We're just expected to understand paragraphs like: "But the Real Question is: are America's best days behind us? Of course they are, and always have been. We have the greatest history in the history of History. But never forget, our best days are also ahead of us, and always will be. Because America also has the Greatest Future in the history of the Future. It's our Present that's the problem...and always is be."
I mean, Colbert began two sentences in that paragraph with But. And fragments. You just don't do that. A good translator would've saved him some face-saving. (less)
What fun this was! I was really pleasantly surprised - I was looking for a 'quickie' read (which generally means a book to pass the time until I find...moreWhat fun this was! I was really pleasantly surprised - I was looking for a 'quickie' read (which generally means a book to pass the time until I find a 'real' book I wanna read) and I couldn't put it down. Finished it super-fast. This book magically has everything: a funny, intelligent heroine; a scruffy hero; intrigue with weird contraptions and political conniving; and some sex and violence. What more could a reader possibly want?!
Miss Tarabotti is a charmingly Italian heroine. Her sense of propriety in the midst of werewolves eating the faces off of people (okay, it never gets quite that bad) is worth a smile or two from the most stalwart of readers. That same sense of propriety also allows the sexier scenes to not take themselves too seriously, so you're not bogged down by rigid/tumescent/turgid members...which I'm kinda grateful for.
I enjoyed the steampunk elements - 'glassicals' and weird blood-sucking machines that make vampires look like a dustbuster compared to a Hoover.
The side characters are also charming. Loved Lord Akeldama, the 'rove' vampire, Miss Hisselpenny (what a FANTASTIC name), and Professor Lyall - the Beta of the werewolf pack. And those three characters are also used to great effect in establishing the hierarchies of Carriger's supernatural London. Probably the make-it-or-break-it moment in fantasies is the world establishment. In this book, the rules are very nicely defined, easy to grasp quickly, and - perhaps most important - are interesting.
And let's not forget that the cover is kickass.
My only beef with this novel: The POV jumps from head to head really quickly. Luckily, Carriger does it so gracefully that it's almost seamless. But just fair warning that sometimes you've gotta read a sentence or so over in order to understand whose thoughts you're hearing. (less)
British authors must have some kind of secret to writing scrappy orphan stories.
Not being opposed to books that start with a creepy man breaking into...moreBritish authors must have some kind of secret to writing scrappy orphan stories.
Not being opposed to books that start with a creepy man breaking into a house, murdering the family who lives there, and being thwarted by an infant and his ghost protectors...I thought this was a great book. The opening is certainly dark, but I can't imagine a coming-of-age-in-a-graveyard book opening with sunshine and happy little gnomes.
The creative concepts in this book really caught my attention. How would one raise a living child in a graveyard? If the ghosts can't leave, how do you get food? How do you educate the kid? How do you teach him to protect himself? How do you make friends? The answers Gaiman comes up with are soooo very interesting. Plus, it's all a very interesting take on the ultimate human question: What happens when you die?
Nobody Owens, Bod, is one of those characters that you want to cheer for. He works hard to do what's right, whether it's getting a headstone for the dead who long to be remembered or defending his fellow students from the classroom bullies. When he's told that he is kept in the graveyard for his own protection, Bod's reaction is to say that it's the man Jack, the man who killed his family, who should be protected - from Bod.
I love a can-do attitude.
The good news is life in the graveyard carries a story a long way. The only problem I had with the story was the reasoning - the 'why' - of the man Jack's assault on Bod's family was explained away in a sentence or two very close to the end of the book. The bad guys just seemed too simplistic, which was disappointing after so much mystery had been built around their 'society'. With the well-explained good guys balanced against the less-explained bad guys, the weight of the story shifted strangely, if that makes sense.
All in all, though, it's pretty darn good. I'd recommend it for middle school and up - and not because the opening is dark (which it is, no lie) but because there are a multitude of literary and historical references that I'm not sure younger readers would appreciate. There'd be a lot of blank stares unless there's an adult around to explain.