Tag Archives: Byron

What’s Next?

Over the holidays, reading Byron in Love confirmed that I shouldn’t pick my own books.  It was highly recommended in a review I can’t find now.  All the ones Google pulls up confirm my assessment that it’s deeply unbalanced, providing way too little of Byron’s literary merits or even the non-sexual components of his relationships to flesh out the catalog of sexual perversity.

Santa, on the other hand, enabled me in my favorite rut, stuffing Edvard Radzinsky’s The Rasputin File in my stocking.  Odd reading on a Belizean beach, but deeply satisfying and it provides an intriguing reinterpretation of Rasputin’s murder.  The only thing I would have added would be more photos and reproductions of contemporary photos and news stories, since the contemporary publicity of Rasputin’s exploits was a significant factor in undermining the Russian people’s faith in their rulers and helped open them to the idea of Communist revolution.

Yesterday, I finished The Collector on the way to work, but everyone on the N Train was on a Blackberry or PSP, so it wasn’t until the ride home I was able to find a new book.  The first person I sat next to was a woman about my age with a huge book spread open on her knees.  I sighed a bit, since the long ones slow down my posting schedule, but a glance at the top of the page showed it to be Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth!  Saved, I turned to The New Yorker (highly recommend last week’s review of a book arguing van Gogh didn’t cut off his own ear) and forgot to look for a new book until I’d switched to the R in Brooklyn, where a scruffy guy had a bright yellow book in hand.  It turned out to be The Watchmen graphic novel, with the bleeding smiley cover obviating the need to see the title.  The Writer happens to own the original printing of the comics in book form (as well as the original comics, but I wouldn’t dream of touching those), so for once, no need to wait on the NYPL.

Winner of the National Book Award: A Novel of Fame, Honor and Really Bad Weather

So this book was billed, by no less than Augusten Burroughs, as a laugh-til-your-stomach-hurts novel, and the tweedy fellow I spotted with it was laughing out loud.  But I never once laughed reading this book.

Sure, the characters were amusingly larger than life, but I felt the core conflict, between fraternal twin sisters and the coolly cruel man who marries one while in love with the other, had too much emotional weight for the ridiculous situations to be funny rather than poignant.  The novel, with its twins, one a nymphomaniac, the other secularly celibate, reminded me of Half-Life, by Shelley Jackson*, which I really loved.  Half-Life is narrated by one of a pair of conjoined twins, in a world in which such pairings are increasingly common due to nuclear fallout, and the desire to be separated and finally live alone.  The narrator of National Book Award Winner has a similarly love-hate relationship with her twin, who completes her and yet imprisons her in their yin-yang dynamic.

An enjoyable read, but it doesn’t live up to its billing (though it does have really bad weather, so maybe a good pick for the next big snow).  My next Subway Book Club pick, The Collector, is waiting for me at the library when I return from my holiday vacation.  In the meantime, I’ll do a little personally selected reading, starting with Byron in Love: A Short, Daring Life.

*You may recognize her name from her Skin project, in which she enlisted 2095 volunteers to each have a word from her short story tattooed on his/her body without knowing what the whole story was in advance.