Jason's Reviews > The Book of Air and Shadows

The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
933518
's review
Jul 30, 2008

really liked it

a very enjoyable, but deeply flawed book...

flawed, because the gratuitous and largely pointless sexual content of this book almost causes it to founder...as a matter of fact, if you look at the majority of the reviews here and on amazon, many a reader could not get past it...
enjoyable, because the erudition and imagination that went into its creation are absolutely superlative...
the literary treasure hunt of the main characters and the prize itself are both filled with intellectual verisimilitude and brain twisting fun...

and the overall theme of the book is very satisfying as well...
as the book wends its way toward its conclusion you are always asking yourself "is the prize real or fake"...gruber constantly keeps you off balance and never really lets go with the truth until practically the very last moment...
what this question translated into thematically is: what is the nature of the 'dream' you pursue in life? is it real or is it fake?...
are you really pursuing your life's fulfillment?... or are you pursuing an obsession that can only end in self-destruction?...

the two characters in the book are contrasted to explore these issues to good effect...

gruber feebly tried to make the sexual content a part of the plot toward the end, but the lewdness and ribaldry of the depth and detail he provides was never really necessary...
what ends up on the pages as a result is arguably a more intellectually challenging romance novel...
in my opinion the work suffers mightily as a result...







12 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Book of Air and Shadows.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

July 30, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading
August 9, 2008 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Tracy Well, you'll have to let me know what you think of it. I am reading it right now, and I had really been looking forward to it. Much of it is all right, but one element of it bothers me. . . I am wondering if it will bother you, partly because of your long-ago response to White Hotel...




message 2: by Jason (last edited Aug 21, 2008 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason i got it at the same time i bought 'the hamlet'...it was one of those irresistible impulse buys...it looks so intriguing...

i still spend so much money on books...i pray to god we never hit on hard times...i seriously have a habit that would be very distressing to have to try and break...
i should add up what i spend...i bet you anything it comes to over 200 to 250 bucks a month...
i know that sounds ridiculous, but with comics, graphic novels, straight fiction, and research material all combined it could very possibly be as much as that...
eek...

you know, my main problem with 'the white hotel' was being hung-up on the sexual thing...i just couldn't read that kind of blatant unabashed sexual content without being freaked out...i'm just too squeamish for that sort of thing...

as soon as i finish 'the hamlet' i'll start on this i think...
i wanted to go ahead and read 'the town' and 'the mansion' but i'm going to have to order those online...i'll finish long before they get here...


Tracy Yes, I remember why you didn't like the White Hotel, oh indeed I do!

Ha - it's okay -

Yeah, I spend gazillions on books. I add it up every year, and I average around 2000/year. Something like that. I think last year was the first I spent more on medical stuff than books! 1700 on books.

Keep me posted on Book of Air and Shadows 0-0 I agree they marketed that book really well. I figured I was its audience. I think I actually am not : (


Jason just started it today...


Tracy I'm still reading it, and the parts that bug me as unnecessary and egocentric have disappeared. If they return, I will complain again!

Parts are okay. . . I am curious enough to keep on reading.


message 6: by Jason (last edited Aug 21, 2008 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason i'm 100 pages in...
so far i really like it, although the prurient and gratuitous sexual content is a bit much for me...(shocker)

seriously, who has (or has had) sex lives like these people?...i for one seem to be completely out of the loop here...
perhaps i should've moved to manhattan as a younger lad, where there seems to be an overabundance of eager females ready to sleep with a fat guy at the drop of a hat...

i did think the italian guy's mom just happening to have detailed knowledge of both jacobean secretary hand and english watermarks was also a bit much...

you know, the character i like the most?....can you guess?...
carolyn rolly...
i love how hermetic and dour she is...her commitment to books and her knowledge of their inner workings is inspiring...there's something compelling there about messing about in the hidden innards of a book...exploring the depths of its anatomy like some textually crazed pathologist...
have you ever heard of the artist frank stella?...or was it josef stella?...
anyway, one of them did this amazing series of paintings where he turned the canvases around and painted on the back of them with these enormous canvas tipped logs that he'd coat in paint and then bash them into the surface using a complex of rigging and pulleys...after he'd finished he'd tie off the rigging ropes to little dock gathers nailed to the edge and call a work of art...
they were astounding to look at...gigantic paintings, like 16 ft by 20...the presence they commanded was unforgettable...
they created this eerie feeling of seeing inside a whole new secret world that is normally cut off to scrutiny...like you were surreptitiously seeing inside the mechanism of art itself...

i felt the same feeling reading about rolly when she dissected those books...
and out of that secret world came this amazing discovery...

...and she (rolly) seems to be the only character in the book who isn't either being banged or banging anything that moves..
what she tells the italian about her life could have come right out of my mouth...
except for the bits about squatting in condemned buildings...sadly i've never done that...

have you read 'the thirteenth tale'?...if not you should, i think you'd really like it...


Tracy See, there are such good reasons to adore you!

I'll try to remember to check out the 13th tale!

I totally totally totally agree with you about the gratuitous sex parts. That is the part of the book that I completely adhore!

Fine, fine, fine, Jake likes chicks. He's vulnerable to offers of sex.

Does that mean he has to tell us how each woman he's ever been with has sex?

No.

And I'm not even as squeemish as you -- hell, I had a class read The White Hotel!

That part of the book just seemed to be -- if I'm generous -- Jake's gratifying his ego. But, since Jake clearly isn't interested in gratifying his ego about his strength or knowledge or other qualities that a person might have, I felt that it was....THE author!! gratifying his ego.

Bunk. bunk!!

I disliked that, and I disliked being subjected to it when the rest of the book is indeed interesting.

I like the Rolly character, and I think that the book gets at that love of books -- and how indescribable that love can be. Oh, there is something in Gene Wolfe's trilogy...I'm away from my home, so I can't remember the title -- crap -- anyway, in one of his books, the protagonist (an executioner) meets a librarian who first loved the content of books and came to love the fact that that they have covers, pages, that they have texture, that they are something you can touch.

Of course, Rolly gets into them more. She opens up their insides, and the Italian gets to appreciate what is within them. Lovely!

I love the description of this artist! I will have to check him out -- I am certain, though, that being in the presence of these works is what counts.


message 8: by Jason (last edited Aug 21, 2008 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason ha!...
you should give classes in ego boosting!...

i agree the rest of the book is truly interesting...i'm enjoying it very much...
although i guess i have to rethink my somewhat hasty conclusion that carolyn is the only character not sleeping with everyone...she bangs the italian guy and then, if my suspicions are true and she's also the faux miranda kellogg, she bangs the tubby lawyer as well...
sheesh...
how do these people ever catch their breath long enough to hatch plots?...

i'm about 310 pages in...the italian just found out carolyn had purchased the damaged churchill volumes from the book guy before taking it home...
this is certainly a big 'what the hell?' moment...
not sure what this means...



Tracy Okay, you will not believe this -- it's kind of a Corelli's Mandolin moment: I am at the exact same place.

Woah!

That is so crazy!

Yeah, I have been thinking that Kellog = Roly. I might just go read it now. It's late in the afternoon, I'm beat from rewriting my online-student-evaluations-suck article, and afternoons have been difficult on me, health wise. Reading is better!


Jason i'm certainly glad i read this...it was very good, but i won't be recommending it to anyone...

he really needed the advice of a good editor...


Rachael I don't even remember the sex in it, obviously didn't raise any red flags for me.


Tracy Isn't that funny? To me, it created an unnecessary flaw, but you didn't remember it! Ha!


Tracy Geez, I'm just going to have to finish reading the book! I got detoured. . . I love the themes and questions you see in it. You're so good Jason!


Rachael I think it had its purpose which was to present the narrator as a deeply flawed human being. This is what I liked about it: none of the "Harrison Ford of Religious Studies" or whatever Dan Brown described his hero as in the Da Vinci Code.


Tracy Oh yeah, he's definitely flawed! He's not a Dan Brown character.

I don't know - it actually was kind of weird for me because it's like Jake's self-depiction is that he's a sociopath. He acts emotions; he doesn't have them. But, elsewhere, he is caught in emotion completely. I am fine with characters' self-depictions being inaccurate, but I feel that there has to be a reason and a consistency to that depiction.

We get the difficulties of his character throughout his depiction, so why the gratuitous descriptions of how he makes women have orgasms? It is completely out of place; there is literally nothing else like that in the book. Well, the only other thing that is close is the extreme descriptions of the code.

I felt it was playing to the market, like much of the book. To me, the flaws in the book have to do with its attempts to point towards intellectual content while maintaining the feel of an adventure story. It doesn't achieve the balance well at all, its prose is bad, and whatever intellectual content in there is at max mid-brow. It simply failed for me, and I'm just trying to finish the book quickly so I can move on to my next read.


message 16: by Jason (last edited Aug 21, 2008 01:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason who could read this book and not remember the sex bits?...
that's like going to disneyland and not remembering they had rides...

and the sexual content was most certainly not included to portray the character as flawed...(it was a plot device to provide motivation for the villain...being of a vengeful disposition, the villain was angry that the lawyer had slept with his wives)...
his callous and emotionally constipated behavior outside the bedroom was what made him flawed...

as usual tracy you are spot on!...mid-brow!...i love that...
the seeds of the unreliable narrator are sown all throughout the book, and i suppose you could chalk the bedroom exploits up to self aggrandizement on the character's part...but as you say, balance was not well maintained...

it's really not a bad book...
if i'd read it as a younger man, when the libidinous fires were stoked to their full strength, i probably would have greatly enjoyed the passages in question...
but alas, the fires have dwindled to a fitful spark...



Tracy Ha --

Well, I finally finally finally finished it, and I have to say that I must rate it on my own page because I disliked it. I disliked it more I got to the end. I decided I just had to read a different mystery when I finished it; it would cleanse me!

It's noir fiction. I'm cool with that, and it's playing around the concepts of depiction/reality and all -- I still agree that you are right on target with that. . .

I even like the fact that the book is saying Shakespeare was definitely Catholic, but it's the Catholic (Jesuit) priest whose actions ultimately lead to the destruction of the mss. . .

It's just that er, two things: 1) Noir fiction has better prose. Geez, how many authors do I have to mention for this? And, it's not just 1950's noir authors who wrote better. The Yiddish Policeman's Union is totally noir, and it is excellent. It is so good, I have given several friends copies of it, and I considered teaching it.
2) I know Shakespeare's writing, and this book is not worthy of him. The plotline of the play he supposedly wrote was so completely unShakespearean that it was clearly, clearly a fake. Oh, but it wasn't.

Sorry, I don't usually have this strong a reaction to a novel, especially one I'm reading for pleasure, but this was a major disappointment. I blame the marketing; I saw it online and thought that I would undoubtedly love it.


message 18: by Jason (last edited Aug 21, 2008 10:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jason chabon rules...
i loved that book...i can't think of an example of noir i liked better outside of film...i've given it to everyone as well...
'mysteries of pittsburgh' and 'wonder boys' are also among my most favorite books...i've had to resist the urge to re-read both of them...

and i do agree that the involvement of shakespeare here is at best highly problematic...
i cannot tell you how uncomfortable i was at that point in the story where the two jacobean plotters were talking about putting shakespeare 'on the rack'...that's probably one of the more inappropriate and unseemly fictions i've ever come across...

i look forward to your review...


Tracy Oh,Chabon's book is excellent. It's worth every second reading it. So rich!

Hm. . . I will simply have to write my review of Gruber!




message 20: by J.M. (new) - rated it 2 stars

J.M. McAlpine I agree. I never heard of a guy so obsessed with the sound a woman makes during sex, like the sound determines how good she is


back to top