Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers and other bookish bods to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles and new bloggers.
Today’s guest is Trevor from The Mookse and the Gripes, a wonderful blog jam-packed with thoughtful reviews on a wide range of literary fiction.
Trevor is an attorney at a law firm in Manhattan but he also has an MA in English. “The love of engaging with good books never left,” he tells me, “it only grew”.
The father of two young sons, Trevor is married to “a phenomenal reader who supports my bad habits fully — for the most part.”
Without further ado, here’s Trevor’s Triple Choice Tuesday selection:
This book could go in any of these categories. Though Roth is widely read, I don’t think The Ghost Writer is. Sadly, in 1980 it was the Pulitzer’s fiction committee’s choice to win the Pulitzer, but the Board overruled them and chose Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song instead (which is not really fiction).
I liked Mailer’s book, but to me it doesn’t compare to this gem in which Roth explores identity, the artist’s life, biography and fiction and how the two mingle (hmm, there is an inherent theme in The Executioner’s Song), and second-generation Jews in America — all in a short book and within a limited space (a home in the snowy Berkshires), a limited time (one day and night, all done by the next breakfast just as the cold sun is coming up), and a limited cast of characters (Nathan Zuckerman, his beloved reclusive literary master E.I. Lonoff, Lonoff’s poor wife, and the young Amy Bellette — plus some ghosts from the past). It is full of imagination and, I think, perfectly written.
Though The Ghost Writer wasn’t the first book I blogged about, to me it represents my beginnings as a blogger. After some ‘literarily’ lonely years studying law, I finally encountered John Self’s book blog The Asylum in June 2008 and saw that he was enjoying Roth’s early Zuckerman books. I liked his blog so much I not only decided to start my own, I also decided to read the first full Zuckerman book, The Ghost Writer, from his recommendation. Much of my first year blogging was dedicated to reading the rest of Roth’s Zuckerman books. And after reading all of them, The Ghost Writer still blows me away.
This is such a quiet book, it felt like it was haunting me and not like I was reading it. As I felt with The Ghost Writer, the writing here is perfect: unobtrusive, simple and yet intricate.
As the book begins we learn that our narrator is an older man who feels some shame from his youth. He tells us of a murder in a small town, and because the book is so quiet, the shot at the beginning rings in our ears. It turns out our narrator was friends with the victim’s young son, whom he hasn’t seen, basically, since the murder occurred.
Besides offering a wonderful portrait of a small American town in the early part of the century, this book is one of my favourite pieces of meta-fiction. Our narrator, in order to come to terms with his guilt, decides to reconstruct on the page what he thinks must have been going on in his friend’s home during the time before the murder. Frankly, this book made me dislike Ian McEwan’s Atonement, it is so well done without the tricksy ending.
Thanks to the NYRB Classics release of John Williams’ Stoner, that book has been getting a wider audience, at least among bloggers I follow. I haven’t read it yet. I’m waiting for the perfect moment, which is approaching. I started my relationship with John Williams with his superb Butcher’s Crossing, a book that deserves a wider audience.
I’ve been trying to figure out why everyone is reading Stoner but not Butcher’s Crossing, and the only thing I can think of is that the latter is a “Western.” But Butcher’s Crossing is a masterpiece of American literature, a book that struck me with as much force as Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby and Gilead, so well does it convey a sense of the American spirit, both its glory and its shame.
It is fitting that the catalyst in this novel are words spoken by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The one in the audience listening is Andrews, a young Bostonian who finds he must obey Emerson’s injunction to go find “an original relation to nature”. Andrews heads west, where he hopes to join a buffalo hunt. Andrews becomes like Ishmael, part of a crew of hunters led by a vainglorious man. The Ahab in Butcher’s Crossing is a lowly hunter named Miller, but Miller has secret knowledge of a gigantic herd of buffalo hidden away in the Colorado Rockies.
Despite the comparisons I’ve just made to Moby Dick, Butcher’s Crossing is much more than a derivative product. It stands tall alongside other great American novels.
Thanks, Trevor, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
I’ve only ever read one Roth and didn’t much like it, but perhaps I might have better luck starting with The Ghost Writer. (Interestingly, The Executioner’s Song is one of my all-time favourite non-fiction reads.) Not read any Maxwell, but this one sounds terrific (I have The Chateau in the queue), and ditto for Williams (I have Stoner in the queue).
What do you think of Trevor’s choices? Have you read any of these books?