Summer, Love — and a Good Book

What’s happening to me? Usually I read a couple novels a week. Now I’m lucky to finish even one. I haven’t turned in any book reviews to Shelf Awareness. I missed my last blog on Book Group Buzz. My pick-of-the-month for University Book Store was supposed to be announced last Monday, and hasn’t even been chosen yet.

It’s the sun. I’m doing my best. If you live in Seattle, you blame things on the weather. It rained all through June. When this blue-gray city suddenly goes bright with sunshine, it’s so distracting you wonder how people with much sun in their lives ever get anything done.

I could blame it on the weather, but I won’t. I have to admit something else is happening to me that’s hard to deny, as I find myself sliding deeper and deeper into an unexpectedly intense and intimate friendship. We haven’t even dared to kiss yet but I think it won’t be long, and I notice how very much less time for reading novels those unfortunate readers have who are lucky enough to be in love.

The table where I put the books I’m going to read next has degenerated to toppling piles of unread advance copies. This is unheard of. These are all reading experiences I’m not having. Why not? Because I’m not reading fast enough. If I don’t catch them now, they’ll be buried in a matter of weeks by even more new titles.

So, snap out of it, boy! What novel is my reading group going to enjoy this August? What novel will my bookstore feature next month? I’ve got to decide. I’ve got two novels beside me, and I think one of them is it. I just don’t know which one.

De Niro’s Game  At first I was going to go with Rawi Hage’s first novel, De Niro’s Game, the story of two friends in Beirut that has just won the biggest prize a book can win in this world, the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for $156,000. I’ve only read the first 60 pages. I’m a plot-and-character man not much into fancy writing, but I can tell you the language is so gorgeous, so lean and image-rich, that I read slowly and went back to enjoy some sequences over again, just for the words. Super high quality stuff. But do I really want to follow a book about Bosnia with a book about Beirut? How much beating-up will my book group take? A plus is that the book comes out in paperback next month. A minus is that it isn’t released until August 5th, which gives it a week-late start for featured selling at the bookstore.

Then yesterday an alternate suddenly appeared. Real World  It was a book I’d ordered for the bookstore shortly before it appeared on the cover of the New York Times Book Review – Natsuo Kirino’s novel of Japanese teenagers and murder, Real World. My sampling of the opening paragraphs quickly turned into page-turning. She sucked me right into the story. It’s not poetic, attention-getting language, it’s swift-flowing, limpid prose that reminds me of Banana Yoshimoto. An incredibly effective technique of the narrator trying to ignore an ominous string of coincidences makes the reader uneasy from the outset. Then we switch to a more savvy narrator in the second chapter, another teenager, this one a closet lesbian and much more worldly wise. And the third chapter, just pages away, will be told by the seventeen-year-old boy who has just killed his mother. This gets more and more compelling.

If it’s good all the way through, my group could read Real World next month, and then read De Niro’s Game in September.

As soon as I finish writing this blog, I’m going to sit out on my porch in the last of the sunshine, with a couple scoops of wild blackberry ice cream, and read as much of Real World as I can.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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