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blue bits. red rocks.

books

Every few years we cull because even with our enormous set of bookshelves we don’t have the space. When we lived in Cambridge we’d put books on the sidewalk, and they would vanish in an hour. The Leather District must be less literate than Cambridge because the books just sit around. Steven Pinker

Mitchell himself views his novels as “chapters in an Über-book”—which, to one degree or another, he has been writing all along. The first of the Atemporals, whose kind we meet again in The Bone Clocks, appeared in that unpublished novel he wrote in Japan. But what began as vague and intuitive has become increasingly deliberate and clear. Today, Mitchell keeps a notebook in which he tracks Marinus’s lives: number 28 in Jacob de Zoet, number 32 by the time The Bone Clocks begins. There will be future incarnations as well. “There’s something called The Marinus Trilogy in my head,” he says. “Jacob De Zoet is part one, The Bone Clocks is part two, and part three will be”—I cannot in good conscience finish that sentence; it gives away too much about the current book. But I can say that the final Marinus novel will not only finish the stories begun in the rest of the trilogy but also resolve a lingering mystery in Cloud Atlas. David Mitchell on His New Book The Bone Clocks

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I had noticed recurrent elements in Mitchell’s work before; it’s impossible not to. The same two cats wander through his books (one black, one moon-gray), and his characters admire the same painting (a Bronzino), reference the same novels (Lord of the Flies, Le Grand Meaulnes), and drink the same whiskey (Kilmagoon, imaginary, and I hope more smoky than peaty but I forgot to ask). But in The Bone Clocks, it becomes clear that Mitchell is not just hiding Easter eggs for loyal readers. Nor is he importing favorite props into book after book, as Murakami does with his jazz and ironing boards and infinite spaghetti. Instead, he is importing book after book into his favorite world. Mitchell’s novels share the same past, future, events, ethos, laws, problems, causes, and consequences. They are an archipelago of islands. David Mitchell on His New Book The Bone Clocks

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For all the stuff and nonsense about escaping mortality by switching bodies and devouring souls, death is at the heart of this novel. And there lies its depth and darkness, bravely concealed with all the wit and sleight of hand and ventriloquistic verbiage and tale-telling bravura of which Mitchell is a master. Whatever prizes it wins or doesn’t, The Bone Clocks will be a great success, and it deserves to be, because a great many people will enjoy reading it very much. It’s a whopper of a story. And in it, under all the klaxons and saxophones and Irish fiddles, is that hidden, haunting silence at the centre. Behind the narrative fireworks is the shadow that, maybe, makes it true. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Bookshelf Tag

Here we go, another book reading meme, this time inspired by afeatheradrift.

1- Is there a book that you really want to read but haven’t because you know that it’ll make you cry?

Not anything that comes to mind, but I have refrained from diving in to “downer” reads. Books on my to-read list like Half the Sky and The Locust Effect.

2- Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre.

Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel. That and learning Koine Greek (to read the New Testament in its original language) incited me to read and reread the ancient classics — Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes, Euripedes, Sophocles, Aeschylus, etc.…

3- Find a book that you want to reread.

At any point in time, there are at least a half-dozen books I reread on at least a yearly basis (or biennially):

4- Is there a book series you’ve read but wish that you hadn’t?

War and Peace, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

5- If your house was burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save?

Eh, everything is replaceable, though if I had to rank by value, it would be the hardcover Lord of the Rings volume. But I wouldn’t cry if I wasn’t able to save it.

6- Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?

Hmm, drawing a blank here. Not so sure about “fond memories”, but I recollect fondly on the reading of any of Murakami’s novels.

7- Find a book that has inspired you the most.

The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill — it fostered a desire to be a more authentic Jesus follower.

8- Do you have any autographed books?

Yes, recently, for the first time in my life — my copy of The Unbearable Wholeness of Being by Ilia Delio signed by the author at a conference I attended this month.

9- Find the book that you have owned the longest.

A Russian language textbook or Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse.

10- Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy?

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami — not a big fiction reader, but I enjoyed this, and it propelled me to read more Murakami, including The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore (which I deemed better than 1Q84).

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Still, The Bone Clocks is a massive achievement, and allows us for the first time to see just how ambitious a writer David Mitchell is. He is not stylistically ambitious as, say, James Joyce was — as I’ve noted, Mitchell shares Joyce’s love of pastiche, but it’s fairly pedestrian vocabularies that he likes to imitate. His books don’t quite amount to novels of ideas, at least not in a conventional sense. In fact, it’s hard to describe Mitchell’s ambition. But while it has long been noted that Mitchell tends to recycle characters — people who appear as minor figures in one novel reappear as major ones in another — only with The Bone Clocks are we able to see that this is not just a little novelistic quirk but rather a central feature of Mitchell’s imagination. All of his books are starting to look like a single vast web of story, with each significant character a node that links to other nodes, across space and time. And the essential insight, or image, or hope that provides structure to the whole web is the immortality of the human soul. Text Patterns

Nothing is more disconcerting, it seems to me, than to enter a home or an apartment in which there are no books and no place for books, no sign that a book has ever been there. It always seems like a kind of desecration to me, even though I am perfectly aware that bookless people can also be saved, even that they often have much practical wisdom, something Aristotle himself recognized. I know that there are libraries from which we can borrow for a time a book we may not own. We are blessed to live in a time of relatively cheap books. Ultimately, no doubt, the important thing is what is in our head, not what is on a printed page on our shelves, even when they contain our own books. Nor do we have to replicate the New York City Public Library in our own homes. Still, most of us would benefit from having at least a couple hundred books, probably more, surrounding us. I am sure that by judicious use of sales and used-book and online stores, anyone can gather together a very respectable basic library, probably for less than a thousand dollars. With a little enterprise, one can find in a used bookstore or online the Basic Works of Aristotle or the Lives of Plutarch for less than twenty dollars. When stretched out over time and compared, say, to the cumulative price of supplies for a heavy smoker, or a week’s stay in Paris or Tokyo, or a season ticket to one’s favorite NFL team, the cost of books is not too bad. My point is merely that whether or not we have good books around us is not so much a question of cost as it is a question of what we do with our available money, with how we judge the comparative worth of things. Fr. James V. Schall

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Rick Perlstein: By the Book

  • NYT: If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
  • Rick Perlstein: The Book of Job, maybe. It’s the best story I know at driving home the fact that the world just isn’t always a reasonable place. Not grasping that, I think, is Barack Obama’s tragic flaw: He still seems to stubbornly believe that if he just explains clearly and calmly enough to his friends across the aisle why his ideas will bring the greatest good to the greatest number, there’ll finally be no more Red America and no more Blue America. But my 18 years studying conservatism has convinced me the right just doesn’t work that way — they’re fighting for civilization stakes, and he’s a liberal, so, Q.E.D., he’s the enemy. His longing to compromise with them just ends up driving the political center in America further to the right.

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