Thursday, January 20, 2011

Books of the Week: Bel Canto and One Day

One of the assignments I have for the semester is to read about two books a week, and to write a commentary about the use of some aspect of the craft of writing in at least one of them. I thought, since I'd be reading so much, I'd share with you each week one or both of the books. I always like to hear about book recommendations (most people now buy books by word of mouth, and I found that's true of me most of the time, too), and I'd love to know what you thought of them if you've read them as well.

So this weeks books:

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Summary: In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

 My Impression: I must be one of the few people to never have heard of Ann Patchett and this story, judging by the responses I've gotten just carrying the book around. A friend recommended I put it on my book list when I was asking for suggestions, and the idea of it greatly intriqued me. It sounded like a subject ripe for interesting story development. A writing professor once told me, "If you want to write an interesting story, stick a bunch of random characters in a small space they can't get out of and make them interact."

Some reviewers are put off by the fact that this book came out of the Japanese Embassy crisis in Lima, Peru in 1996, but I don't have a problem with books that develop out of a news item if they are creative and unique enough. What writer among us hasn't seen something on the news and thought, "Wow! That would make a great story!"? While this story certainly has it's similarities to that event, it has it's own twist on it as well.

This is not a fast moving story, despite that it's a story of kidnapping and hostage taking. For the most part, the action occurs right at the beginning, and after that, it's a story of a group of people with nearly nothing in common (including language) biding their time waiting for the terrorists and government to come to some kind of agreement.

What is great about it is the character development, and the relationships that are built against seemingly impossible odds. The prose is lyrical and there are lines you will want to just hover over and take in. I highly recommend this.

One Day by David Nicholls

Summary:  The episodic story takes place during a single day each year for two decades in the lives of Dex and Em. Dexter, the louche public school boy, and Emma, the brainy Yorkshire lass, meet the day they graduate from university in 1988 and run circles around one another for the next 20 years.

 My Impression: I loved this book. I loved it so much more than I thought I would. I'd been eying it for a while in the store, but not until I was packing for school the night before the plane took off did I realize I wanted something really interesting and fun to read on my Nook, so I wouldn't have to pack a bunch of heavy books. I looked this one up and it was an incredibly low price, so I downloaded it and started it the minute I got on the plane.

I read for the entire trip, through two airports, two airplanes, and a shuttle, until I was almost done by the time I arrived in Seaside.

The book has its critics. The characters are very real, and very flawed. They spend the entire book circling each other until you are about mad with frustration that one doesn't just SAY "I love you already."  And yet, I loved this book. My heart broke the entire way through it, but I was never without hope that it wouldn't somehow end okay - it is a book after all, and not real life. Why write a book about two people so clearly soulmates if they never realize it? I will say, though, that the end shocked me. In that kind of way where I nearly lost my breath, had to get up and pace around the room a second before returning to it. I didn't at all see where it was leading, and this, while it seems to upset some readers, was part of what made the book so good for me. I like not seeing the ending coming.

I was intrigued by the structure of the book - picking just one day a year for twenty years to write about, but Nicholls does this flawlessly, balancing important events on that date to the seemingly mundane which still shed light on their relationship and manage to move things forward.

I thought this was a really great book, and I highly recommend it!

So as for you... have you read these? Do you want me to keep writing about what I'm reading, or is that the kind of blog post you tend to skip over?


  1. The ending to One Day shocked me too. I was just reading a long and then wham. I had to read it three times to make sure it was right, mostly because I didn't want to believe it.

    Does that give anything away.

  2. I'll talk books any day!

    I've been told I should read Bel Canto. Now at least I know what it's about and that it's well done.

  3. LOVE recommendations of books. Just don't post a million teen vampire books. Kay?

  4. I'll be adding One Day to my to-read list. Any post about books, is one I never skim over.