Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Year, New 30 Day Book Challenge, Day 7

Day 7--Most Underrated Book

As usual I am not going to follow the rules to the letter. Instead of offering a book that is underrated, I am going to choose an author. I know, scandalous.

If you Google Twilight + novel, you will get page after page, well probably over one hundred pages, of the Stephanie Meyer series (and if you’re lucky a steamy shot of Jacob!). Persevere my friends; click your asses off for another few hundred pages and you will be introduced to Twilight by William Gay. He had none of the Twilight movie connections, never had girls screaming over him, fans didn’t flock in the thousands to William Gay’s Twilight convention, but on the bright side (as if that wasn’t the bright side), William Gay never urinated on the floor of an airport terminal.

William Gay
William Gay was a rare thing, truly. He wrote southern gothic fiction set almost exclusively in the 1950’s. His books are unsettling, violent, creepy, and of course darkly funny. To me though, his writing is mostly just beautiful.

The good Twilight
We do too many lists on this blog [no we don't], so it seems like a good idea to write you a list of reasons to love William Gay.

  1. He didn’t have a goddamn MFA; he was self-taught. [Um...language!]
  2. He didn’t publish until he was in his mid-fifties. He was rejected for over thirty years by my count. Thirty odd years of rejection but he continued to write because this son of a bitch was a writer. [Your profanity makes unicorns cry.]
  3. He lived in a honest to god log cabin.  [My aunt lives in a portable storage building and no one's calling her a genius.]
  4. He was William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and Flannery O’Connor all rolled into one. He was the real deal.
  5. Gianna's favorite 
  6. He was a painter, a musician, and an unassuming literary genius. And if you walked up to him to say hello, he’d say hello right back to you. [Which is more than I would do.]

When Gay died last year at the age of 70, it just seemed so young, and too soon. We only have a few books from him, and it's just not enough. He is a rare thing though; he wrote books that can be read over and over. Classics really. At least we have that.  The Long Home (1999), Provinces of Night (2000), I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down (2002), Twilight (2006), and Wittgenstein's Lolita?The Iceman: Stories (2002).


I'm not sure how to address this topic.  Do I pick something that I loved but critics panned?  Do I pick a book that I enjoyed but most people haven't yet discovered?  Do I pick the most offensive book I've ever found at a bookstore and then pretend that I moved it? (Admittedly tempting, that last one....) I'm going to pick the relatively undiscovered book that, in the right hands, could prove to be a real delight.

I like paperback originals.  (A "paperback original" in book industry terms refers to a book that debuts in this format rather than the hardcover-to-paperback track that most books take.) They are affordable.  Often they are experimental, or feature younger novelists who deserve a readership.  Or they are novels in translation bringing some of the world's greatest writers to English readers. Cloud Atlas was a paperback original in the US, and it was a Booker Prize Finalist. I think an interesting book group project would be to spend a year focusing exclusively on paperback original novels.

One of the young novelists writing interesting and enjoyable fiction is Jesse Ball, and I thought his first novel (and paperback original) Samedi the Deafness was bad ass.  It's a spy thriller written by a poet who likes to riff on Kafkaesque plotting. Hang on to your hats.  Here we go.
Jesse Ball

People keep committing suicide on the White House lawn, and they ominously warn that the shit is going to hit the fan in seven days. The protagonist, James Sims, happens upon a man dying in the street, and when James leans over the dying man, he utters a word: "Samedi." As James tries to work out the puzzles and unravel the plot threatening the world, he's confined to an asylum for chronic liars (and you know I love books set in mental institutions).  The pressure is on.  Truth? Lie? Something in between? It's not just another weirdo plot twister, though.  Jesse Ball is a poet and creative writing instructor and this novel displays his fondness for words.  

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