Thursday, March 13, 2008

Time Enough At Last: Hitting the Stacks by Dan McNulty

Hello again my fellow bibliophiliacs. Nice to see you back here on the world wide intra-web. I've dedicated this past month to attacking the switchbacked stacks of books that have been building since Christmas (when I received $100 in gift cards for a bookstore that shall remain nameless) and growing exponentially as Alex continues to amass an impressive selection down at the Raconteur. If you haven't been to the shop in a while, or ever, for that matter, I urge you to come check out some of the titles currently in stock. There are some great selections by choice writers like Jonathan Aimes, Paul Auster, John Fante, Chuck Palauhniuk, Charles Bukowski, Khaled Hosseini,Dave Eggers, the list goes on. And really, you'll be helping my wallet and my addiction by getting some of these books out of sight.

I’ve recently been chipping away at John Crowley’s Aegypt Sequence. I first became interested in Crowley after receiving a copy of Endless Things at a book expo last May.
The cover was quite attractive (pictured with old, crumbling, leather-bound volumes), and on the back was a quote by Michael Chabon:
"There are some people--and I am one of them--for whom life consists only in passing time between novels by John Crowley."

Needless-to-say, I was set to follow the rabbit down the hole. However, to my initial dismay, I found that Endless Things was the fourth, and final book in a series.

So instead, I opted for another title by Crowley, Little, Big before taking on the commitment of his Aegypt sequence. I needed to make sure he was really worth the effort. And so he was.

Little, Big is a fantastical novel like no other. There are worlds withing worlds ad infinitum and Crowley is able to conduct his alchemy without any of the outlandishness or ingenuousness typical of the genre. Perhaps this is because in his writing magic and Faeries are ever-present, but never quite in your face. Crowley has the tremendous ability to allow the reader to experience enchantment rather than telling them how they should feel. Little, Big is a multi-generational family epic as ambitious and richly layered as One Hundred Years of Solitude(to which it has justly been compared). And before I closed the final page on Little, Big I had purchased the entire Aegypt tetralogy (and two of Crowley's earlier novels as well).

I could write much on the first two books of Aegypt(I am now on the third): The Solitudes and Love and Sleep, but I will spare you, reader, since really you should be out there scouring for copies now. Also, the novels are just too complex for me to do them justice here. But briefly, the central theme (and there are many--all the great ones and more) is: Once, the world was not as it has since become. It had a different history and a different future, and even the laws that governed it were different from the ones we know. And in a book, within a book, and also another, a third book being written inside this book, Crowley shows us that perhaps this idea is not so crazy after all.

Another reason to investigate Crowley is that he has graciously agreed to participate in this year's Raconteur Festival on May 10th. Oh, and if you're still not convinced, Crowley has been called "American Lit's next Cormac McCarthy" by Spin Magazine.

Other books that I have been reading (a way to cleanse my literary pallet before the next bite of Aegypt) are Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World and The Collected Works of Amy Hempel by, you guessed it, Amy Hempel. my first foray into Murakami's widely acclaimed writing. It is a mix of Raymond Chandler and Kurt Vonnegut (Murakami cites both as influences) with a twist of William Gibson. On a whole I liked this book, one of his earliest, and look forward to reading more and seeing how he has evolved as a writer. There were some rather technical portions of the book that were downright confusing and unnecessarily complicated, as well as overly explicative. But where Murakami writes as a magical realist the book takes flight into the beautiful reaches of an unlimited and original imagination.

After meandering through her collected stories I have concluded that: Amy Hempel is amongst the finest short story writers that you will ever encounter. She is a minimalist along the lines of Raymond Carver, and in my opinion, a better one(or at least more entertaining). Her stories are funny, dark, and filled with knowing insight. And no, she does not write novels. Is not currently working on a novel. Will probably never write a novel. In fact, her stories are getting shorter, and that is just fine by this reader.