The Sunday Salon – August 7, 2011 edition

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Welcome to this week's edition of The Sunday Salon, in which I bring to you a mere fraction of what I've been reading throughout the week, because my ADD renders a full transcription a superhuman ideal to which I cannot live up.

Books finished:

Howtolivesafely A plot line centering on time travel would have had much less success with me before I became enamored with Doctor Who and his grand adventures in the TARDIS. Honestly, the absolute hotness of the present (Matt Smith) and prior (DAVID TENNANT) actors playing the lead role in the series did have a little something to do with my initial interest, but beyond that I became sucked into the world of time lords, quirky aliens and unpredictable plots. Now I'm a rabid fan, making the idea of time travel – though, in reality, negated by Stephen Hawking – irresistable.

So, in the mail comes Charles Yu's book, arriving at pretty much the height of my Who-mania. Main character Charles Yu (coincidence!) opens the book describing his job involving policing time travellers, in order to keep them from bending or breaking the rule declaring one mustn't mess with the past, or God alone knows the ripple effect. He travels around in a box sounding for all the world like the TARDIS, guided by his computer, TAMMY, and accompanied by a sort of robotic dog.

Sound familiar at all, Doctor Who fans? Me, too. A little too familiar.

The main theme is the alienation Charles suffered from his father – the ubiquitous constantly-distracted/disconnected from real life scientist – before and after his sudden, unexplained disappearance, and how this has haunted Charles all his life. The book bounces back and forth betwixt a young  Charles desperately seeking his father's attention and the adult Charles, operating the very time machines which his father's life's work involved, in the midst of searching for his father in order to find the proverbial closure.

The only time travel book I can recall reading previously is H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, an odd eyebrow scruncher/head tilter of a book, one I didn't particularly care for aside from the fact it was an early attempt at science fiction writing and interesting as such. I can't recall what led me to read it, whether it was for a book group or lark, but the impression it left me with was not positive. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe went better, but didn't replace Doctor Who in my heart. Yu's work lacked a certain something in the way of plot complexity, and general tension. It felt incomplete to me, though I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style – witty, and generally lovely. Pity, that, but can't win them all.

Bunnersisters A much better experience came in the form of a short foray with my beloved Edith Wharton's novella Bunner Sisters, the story of two impoverished spinsters – Evelina and Ann Eliza – living modestly, operating a small sewing/millinary business in their home. The two live miserly lives, but things are satisfactory; they can meet their needs through their own work, without need of a husband to support them.

"The Bunner sisters were proud of the neatness of their shop and content with its humble prosperity. It was not what they had once imagined it would be, but though it presented but a shrunken image of their earlier ambitions it enabled them to pay their rent and keep themselves alive and out of debt; and it was long since their hopes had soared higher."

But then enters a MAN – Herman Ramy – who sells Evelina a clock she gives Ann Eliza for her birthday. When the clock proves to need repair one of the sisters takes it back to his shop. It turns out there was only a speck of dirt in the way, after removal of same the clock was in perfect order.

What starts as a simple transaction blossoms into something suggesting more when the man decides to visit the ladies again, to ensure the clock remains in working order (lame, dude). You can see this one coming: the two sisters begin spending more and more time with him, each believing his attentions are due to her. One is left giddy, and the other broken-hearted, until…

Twist! Turn! Delightful stuff.

As far as actual finished books, let's say these two make up the total list, as I need to go grocery shopping in a few minutes.

Books in Progress:

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta. Reading this with The New Yorker book discussion group, which I didn't even know existed until last week but had to join because, hey, it's THE NEW YORKER. Roughly halfway through, reading on my iPhone Kindle app. Plot: a rather eccentric/artsy, brilliant brother and his adoring but less exceptional sister and the lives they lead, narrated by the sister. Kind of short on actual plot, come to think of it, but interestingly character-driven.

The Infinite Library by Kane X. Faucher. Shazam! No idea how I found this Kindle book, but so far I'm torn between thinking it brilliant and merely approaching/mirroring brilliance as it's heavily influenced by Borges' "The Library of Babel," and no writer can live up to THAT. A mysterious man approaches a book researcher/lecturer asking for help filling in obscure titles in his library, using less than legal means. Reeeallly interesting.

Luminarium by Alex Shakar. Good stuff! Twin men, one in a coma, one participating in a study in which the objective is something approaching becoming one with the universe, with a spiritual slant. Not very far into it, but it's great so far. Reading with The Rumpus Book Club.

Have a lovely week.

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