Tuesday, April 15, 2014

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Read this book. Do it. Read it now.
Happy day! One of my favorite books of the year, a book that has haunted me for months now since I read it, is finally on sale. If I were to pick an early favorite for this year's Man Booker Prize, All the Birds, Singing 
would be that pick.

Evie Wyld showed that she is a writer with some mad skills with her debut novel, the award winning After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, a novel about fathers and sons and the cost of war set in Australia. Now she's ready to explode to the literary forefront with her sophomore effort, All the Birds, Singing. I love this book.

Jake is an isolated woman working as a sheep farmer on an island off the coast of England. She is damaged (an understatement), and only the animals provide a reprieve from her remoteness. Then, at night, something begins to mutilate her sheep. She hears noises in the dark, and she finds the torn apart bodies of her flock. (I should mention that this novel isn't a comedy.) How did Jake get to this place? And what's happening?
Wyld's first book,
also great reading

Wyld unravels Jake's story in alternating chapters, with flashbacks starting in the present and then moving backward in time. In the present, the reader is struggling with the violence of the sheep murders and the unknown perpetrator (wolf? man? monster?). In the flashbacks, the reader encounters Jake the prostitute, Jake the captive, Jake the woman with unexplained scars on her back, and Jake the teenager in Australia. One reason I love this book is that the reader's opinions about the characters shift as more of the back story is revealed. Can a man who seems like a monster also be a man who's down on his luck and a simple farmer? How does a woman so cold and dissociated as Jake become so human? The method of storytelling adds depth and tension to the narrative.
Evie Wyld

I should also mention that Evie Wyld is a brilliant writer. She conjures visceral moments with words, but her novels don't bog down with heavy handed descriptive passages. Evie Wyld should rank among the titans of a new generation of writers and should win major awards. I would eagerly read anything she wrote.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

Hey look, we have a blog! Yes, Gianna and I are still alive. In fact, today is Gianna's birthday, so you should call her and comment upon her extreme advanced age. She loves that. Our bloggy negligence doesn't mean we haven't been reading, though, and what better way to dive back into blogginess than with a book about books and language?

Alena Graedon
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is a fun, creepy, innovative, and brilliantly composed novel that champions the value of language in an ever more digital world. If you read Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore or Ella Minnow Pea, here's a book for you. It's also a book for fans of Margaret Atwood's dystopian cautionary tales and nerds who lust after copies of the Oxford English Dictionary. If you're the nerdy type who makes a point of visiting bookstores and libraries on vacation, here you go.

It's the not too distant future, and bookstores, magazines, newspapers, and print are all a thing of the past. A smart phone, the Meme, has cornered the market and acts as the personal assistant to just about everyone on the planet. Can't remember a word? Look it up on the Word Exchange, an app that allows you to access the language you forgot (for a small fee). Anana Johnson, the protagonist, works at one of the few remaining publishers in the world, and along with her father Doug, is helping to assemble the new edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL). Anana is more a character from Girls than a word aficionado, but she needed a job and Doug was willing to hire her. On the eve of the publication, though, Doug disappears, Anana's ex boyfriend launches a new Meme device that taps directly into users' brains, and a strange virus, the Word Flu, begins to infect the population of New York and then the world.

What is the Word Flu? Imagin lettrs begin to fal off of words, but you can't rememb how the wrds used to look. Imagin that nonsense wrds start to replace the arla wrds and you're not sure what the arla wrds mean. No prblm. You can access the Word Exchange to lk up the wrds and even add defintitititions for wrds never used befffffore. Never mind that some people are dying from the flu, and most lose the ability to communicate entirely before they recover, IF they recover.
Did you know that New York was once connected by
pneumatic tubes that delivered messages around the city?
This is so much cooler than text messaging.

The best part of The Word Exchange is Alena Graedon's writing. Sure, the story is engaging and it's a literary mystery/quest novel that emphasizes the importance of books and language. It's a story that races from secret libraries to hidden rooms across New York, and it plays up cool, steampunk stuff like the pneumatic tubes connecting buildings underneath the city. But Graedon knows how to play with words and as the Word Flu spreads, so too does the virus infect the narrative. This is a fun read for smart people that takes advantage of clever tricks without losing the power of the story or characters. The writing is terrific and adds gravitas to the cautionary adventure tale Graedon is spinning.