Sunday, August 14, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 5

Apologies for the hiatus--my life got a bit crazy this week.  It's time to get back on track, though.  Without a public outlet Gianna might send me nudey pictures or something.  I don't want to have to jab an icepick in my eye.

Day 5: Favorite First Novel

The first novel holds a special place in the book world.  It stands as a declaration of talents and potential to come, and many a master writer began with an audacious debut. 


Two words. The Notebook. I think it stacks right up there with other first works: Gone With the Wind, Dr. Zhivago, and The Bell Jar.

Before I unveil my second choice I wanted to mention a few first novels that I have loved that have come out just this year. What these 3 books have in common are there relatively young authors. Little shits.
Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter is such a wonderful book – its not perfect – but it’s a loaded first novel, he clearly has a gift for language and storytelling. I highly recommend this book and I just learned that Ritter is coming to BookPeople in Austin for a signing on October 5th.

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner. If you read a more romantic or charming book this year let me know. This is an old fashion love story from beginning to end. Liz said this book made her believe in love again…well Russian love. [I'm not sure what "Russian love" is.  I do think Cossacks are hot, though.]

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. This author is the youngest recipient of the Orange Prize, which she won for this insanely good novel. This book will be on year-end best lists to be sure. Obreht writes well beyond her years; she is an amazing talent.

My favorite debut novel is a book that just blew me away in 2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I was absolutely engrossed in every page of this book and when I had to put it down I was miserable. If you love books you know that is a good feeling. This won the National Book Critics Circle Award and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (just like The Notebook!).


A couple of honorable mentions before naming a favorite--

Special Topics in Calamity Physics was one of those audacious debut novels which received front page New York Times Book Review coverage, and additional press because the author, Marisha Pessl, is attractive.  Yes, beautiful people can write engrossing fiction too.  I read this book and loved it before I ever saw a picture of the author, for the record.  It's a coming of age novel about a new girl with a mysterious past trying to fit in at a new school and finding a special teacher who helps her.  More importantly, though, Blue (the main character) is a whip-smart, precocious, pop culture encyclopedia who loves a parenthetical aside, and the book--written in her voice--snaps with witty banter and trivial minutiae.  Some people hate her voice; I love it.

Moondogs by Alexander Yates--one of the best debuts this year.  Set in the Philippines, an American plans to travel to the islands to reunite with his businessman father and do some scuba diving.  Before he arrives in the Philippines, though, his father is kidnapped by cab drivers (and part time cockfighters) who want to kidnap an American in order to sell him to Islamic fundamentalists.  They are inept kidnappers and having no luck in the cockfighting ring since their rooster, Kelog (named after the corn flakes box rooster), is blind.  The Manila police charge their squad of super-cops to find the businessman, and among their ranks are a shape-shifter and a man who can shoot anything from any distance.  If he focuses on a dog on a neighboring island which he can't even see, he can hit it with a bullet.  Moondogs is a fun, well-written, gangster novel about immorality in the Philippines and a declaration of great books to come from author Alexander Yates.

My favorite first novel should not come as much of a surprise.  I once suggested that the author should marry me, after all.  The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead is a brilliant novel.  Period.  The story explores the historical conflict between faith and science through rival methods in the field of elevator inspection.  How Whitehead came up with this story, I have no idea, but one shouldn't ignore an author who can make elevator inspectors so fascinating.  Around the same time that this book was published, film maker Darren Aronofsky released his incredible movie Pi, and in my mind these two works stand as companion pieces to one another.  Spending time with either will challenge you, intrigue you, make you smarter, and allow you to believe in, if not higher powers, the incredible talents of two geniuses.

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