Thursday, February 18, 2010

Highly Recommended

I am always a bit apprehensive when I make book recommendations. No, it does not stop me :D

Why would anyone worry about the book recommendations they make? Well, simply because people have different tastes and a lot of the time those tastes do not coincide. Which means the book you adore is a total bore to someone else and a complete utter shock to someone else's sensibilities.

Over the years I have gotton some book recommendations that made an impression on me. One was because it was so spot on. It came from my mother. She is an avid reader. She gave me a copy of The End Of Eternity by Isaac Asimov. Now mind you my mother is not a science fiction fan. She reads a lot of fiction, but not much of science fiction. As I recall she had just finished this book and was not at all that enamoured with it. But she taught it would suit my tastes. Well I was a bit dubious about the recommendation. Considering the circumstances, who could blame me. I had neither read an Asimov book before that nor science fiction novel. I had read some steampunk tough and liked them fine enough. The very beginning of the book was so hard for me to get into. But once I got into the story, wow, it blew my mind away. The sheer imagination of what we know of time has been warped into something so strange and different. But not only that the story also was an amazing mystery and a great adventure along with some romance as i recall wrapped in a page turner. By the time I finished the book I was an Asimov fan. I read many of his books since then and I am afraid starting a genre with the best writer ever in that genre completely spoiled me. I have read other sci-fi writers since, but none compares to Asimov for me.

I had one other such good book recommendation. Unfortunately at the time I did not realize it. It was made to me by my first love. Yes, that is harp music you are hearing in the background :P And what did my big-brown-eyed hottie recommend me (yes, he was a total hottie with bu... Sorry, I get a little distracted when he is mentioned.)? The Three Musketeers. Yes, I know. That's what I thought at the time too. Boys. He was 17 after all. So it seemed excusable that he would recommend something that is just bunch of guys battling with swords. Or so I thought. Well, being young and stupid (and not just because I was totally in love) I promised him I would read and of course never did. Well I have to say years later (won't say how many) I still haven't read The Three Musketeers but I did read another classic novel by Alexandre Dumas which is just as famous and beloved and has probably a similar reputation of being not much more than a glorified comic book story that would appeal to only young men. Boy, was I wrong. I read The Count of Monte Cristo.

When I was searching for a copy of The Count Of Monte Cristo to read, I did a bit of research and came to the conclusion if you want to read this book there is only one version you can buy and have the original story written by Dumas, an unabridged version published recently that has a modern translation done by Robin Buss. Why? Because the story originally had been translated when it was originally written, that is the 1800's, in a haphazard way to take the story to English audience that was creating all the buzz in France. The English translators trying to preserve the sensibilities of the English people, did quite a bit of censure in the translation as well as to -I guess- save time from the translation of the high volume of work, to the extent the number of villains in the story went down from 3-4 people down to 1. That is not just a little censure but a major rewrite. They took out all the interesting tidbits (although by today's standards are not so shocking, probably shocked the daylights out of the translators back then) and turned it into just a simple story about a prison escape and revenge.

Reading the book that was originally written (no, not in French. Unfortunately I don't know the language) I have seen the story I thought I knew in a completely different light. This was utterly different tale. Yes it is the same man, yes there is a prison escape, yes there are revenge plans and conduct. But it is so much more. And no amount of watching TV series based on the novel or movies would do it justice. It needs to be read. And yes I do recommend that you do.

I may not have read the book that was originally recommended, but I did read from the same writer and now I am sure I would read The Three Musketeers too and enjoy it as much as I did The Count of Monte Cristo. And in the avid encouragement of that cutie pie who recommended it I have found true agreement of tastes.

Now with Knut Hamsun's Hunger, I did not start out with a recommendation. I picked it up in our family library (as I always did back in those days) and the more I read the more the protagonist started to annoy me. OK the guy was hungry, but one bad thing after another just started to get on my nerves. So I ended up with the book tucked in under my pillow for almost a year. Thank goodness it wasn't a hardcover or it would have poked my head nightly (just want to mention I don't tuck books under my pillow anymore. Haven't done that in years :) ). If you've seen the book, it is not so long a story. One day my sister saw it when the pillow was moved and asked if I was still reading it. I said "no" and explained why not, stated I was seriously considering not finish reading it. She was so insistent that I should read the book, finish it and I would be fine with the end of it, that I went back to the torturous endeavour (as was my perception at the time. I may have been a bit young to appreciate the books contents). Well it turned out that I did love the ending of the book and it completely redeemed itself in my eyes. I am so glad my sister caught me and forced me. Who would have thought.

I have one last book recommendation to talk about, then we wrap this up. It is a book called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It was pretty popular a few years back. Stayed at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for quite a few weeks. I had it recommended to me a couple of years before that (time is a bit fuzzy but it was definitely quite a bit before it became popular in US). The person who made the recommendation is an acquaintance, a friend of sorts (tough to really describe that relationship actually, but I guess this would be close enough. Not that it is all that significant.) He said he does not read many books but this was one he really enjoyed and made a gushing recommendation pretty similar to the one I got from the brown-eyed hottie years earlier.

Well of course I bought and read the book. But it was the longest book I have ever read. How many pages is not the issue here. It was only 190 pages or so, but could have been thousands for all I was concerned. It dragged on for me. I considered ditching it and not reading it to the end many, many times. The only reason I stuck it out was because of my experience with the Hamsun book I mentioned above. I kept waiting for it to redeem itself at the end. And alas it did not. But what can be expected from a book where the writer does not care enough about the characters to even name them properly (calling them "the boy" "the girl" "the English Man"). I don't know if Coelho was going for some mystique, antiquated story telling technique to make it look like an old story or something, it just didn't work. Plus whenever the writer has an obvious agenda in writing a story and is made extremely obvious (cautionary tale or tale with a message), it just backfires on me. I like when writers are more subtle in expressing their views. I don't mind being taken to the water but don't like being forced to drink. OMG I just called myself a horse. :P But you get my point.

To cap it, people can highly recommend a book and may manage to match your taste. So you can read a very exciting enjoyable book. Or they may recommend a book and may miss your taste completely. And you end up with a dud you dislike. They may recommend a book without liking the book themselves and simply because they know you and your taste (and hence be successful in the recommendation), or they may force you despite yourself with their recommendation (what they liked) and be right about it. At the end they are just recommendations, some would work for you and some won't. My suggestion is to listen and read those recommendations, but never let them prejudice you against a book. I'd say read it yourself and make your own decision as to whether you like it or not. After all no one can force you to complete the reading (unless it's my sister :P) and there is no rule that says you need to read it a second time or even keep it.

I was going to end the post on that note but what would be a discussion about recommendations if I didn't make some myself, so I would like to say: yes, do read The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, do read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, pere but only the modern translation done by Robin Buss and the unabridged version, do read Hunger by Knut Hamsun, and definitely don't waste any money on The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Use the money to buy a copy of Mark Of The Demon by Diana Rowland (preferably from me :D). At least it is entertaining, has a nice mystery set up and solved, some action, lots of imagination, a strong female protagonist (which is named) and great delivery of all of that in masterful writing. JMHO

AC Read


  1. I read The Count of Monte Cristo in high school. It was surprisingly good. I also love the movie with Jim Caviezel (sp?) because it's so cheesy.