Book a Week Challenge (Double Edition) — Book 9

The second book for this week is Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie.

For fans of Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, comes yet another delightful tale featuring Haroun’s younger brother Luka. When Haroun and Luka’s father, famed storyteller Rashid Khalifa succumbs to a sleeping sickness, Luka embarks on a mission to the World of Magic to retrieve the Fire of Life itself. Joining him on his quest is a singing dog named bear, a dancing bear named Dog, and the mysterious Nobodaddy, Rashid’s ghostly double.

In a bustling and minutely imagined fantastical landscape crammed with allegorical figures and places, Luka moves between the mythological and the contemporary: one minute he is meeting all manner of gods and goddesses, the other he’s subject to the laws of the video game, keeping a close eye on the number of “lives” he has left and trying to save his progress through various levels.

The novel moves quickly and there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments. The only times it seems to drag is when Luka turns to introspection or worse, when he analyzes his companions and the world around him. It’s like Rushdie is trying to lead his audience instead of letting them get it on their own. It doesn’t help that Luka sometimes acts like a spoiled brat. (Then again, I have yet to meet a twelve-year old who didn’t act like that at one time or another.)

Favorite Line/Image: When Grandmaster Flame was right in front of him, Luka shouted out at the top of his voice, ‘May your animals stop obeying your commands and your rings of fire eat up your stupid tent.’

Now it so happened that the moment when Luka shouted out in anger was one of those rare instants when by some in – explicable accident all the noises of the universe fall silent at the same time, the cars stop honking, the scooters stop phutphuttering, the birds stop squawking in the trees, and everyone stops talking at once, and in that magical hush Luka’s voice rang out as clearly as a gunshot, and his words expanded until they filled the sky, and perhaps even found their way to the invisible home of the Fates who, according to some people, rule the world. Captain Aag winced as if somebody had slapped him on the face and then he stared straight into Luka’s eyes, giving him a look of such blazing hatred that the young boy was almost knocked off his feet. Then the world started making its usual racket again, and the circus parade moved on, and Luka and Rashid went home for dinner. But Luka’s words were still out there in the air, doing their secret business.

What I learned: Though they do slow – and sometimes halt – the narrative, some of the best moments come when Luka ponders how his actions will change others’ lives. His quest is an arduous one that endangers his friends, and he knows it.  

“I am exploiting their love and loyalty,” he thinks. “It seems there is no such thing as a purely good deed, a completely right action.”

Despite all the action going on around him, Luka’s struggle is primarily a moral one. And like many adolescent magical heroes, he recognizes that the tough part about being a kid is that the job of being the adult largely falls to him.

Bottom Line: A great story full of adventure, mischief, and magic. Highly recommended for kids and adults.  

 

Book a Week Challenge # 2

WHAT’S PLAYING: Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby “Brother Bill”

This week’s book is “The Enchantress of Florence” by Salman Rushdie.

This is the tale of Niccolò Vespucci, a golden-haired wanderer, murderer, magician, and conman, who visits the royal court of Emperor Akbar, ruler of the Mughal Empire. There, Vespucci tells the story of Qara Köz, Enchantress of Florence, lost Mughal princess, and the most beautiful woman in the world.

This was a tough one.

According to the jacket copy, “The Enchantress of Florence” is “the story of a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess the powers of enchantment and sorcery, attempting to command her own destiny in a man’s world.” Unfortunately, Qara Köz is anything but. She has no personality, no purpose, except to please men. In fact, she does little more than sell herself to the highest bidder, making sure that she is always on the winning side. She doesn’t even show up for a third of the book.

The first hundred pages describe Niccolò’s struggle to reach the emperor and Akbar the Great’s internal musing about the nature of man and kings, which sometimes fall into the realm of proselytizing. The book is dense with obvious and sometimes unsuccessful attempts to reconcile East and West, Renaissance Europe and Mughal India, and the overall story just didn’t feel cohesive.

But the writing! Sweet Mother, the writing! So sumptuous, so beautiful, it left me shaking my head in awe. If I could do anything half as well as this man uses words, then I would die a happy, fulfilled woman. It’s his mastery of the craft, past all explanation, that gives this book its glamour and power, its glory. I spent hours completely absorbed in the tale, but it wasn’t the story that captivated me. It was the writing. After I finished it, all I could say was “Holy Shit.”

Favorite Line: “He could dream in seven languages. … He had picked up languages the way most sailors picked up diseases; languages were his gonorrhea, his syphilis, his scurvy, his ague, his plague. As soon as he fell asleep half the world started babbling in his brain, telling wondrous travelers’ tales. In this half-discovered world every day brought news of fresh enchantments. The visionary, revelatory dream-poetry of the quotidian had not yet been crushed by blinkered, prosy fact. Himself a teller of tales, he had been driven out of his door by stories of wonder, and by one in particular, a story which could make his fortune or cost him his life.”

What I Learned: Master your craft. I spent hours lost in this fantastical world. Was the story great? Not really. But the writing was superb. And it was that writing, the way Rushdie put me inside the story, which kept me reading. I don’t know if anyone else could have done the same. I guess what I learned is that great books can come from great stories or great writing, and if you’re lucky, both.

Coming next week: “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden.

The First Ten of Fifty-Two Books for 2012

WHAT’S PLAYING: Lil Wayne “How to Love”

So, last week I decided to read a book a week for an entire year. It’s not really about the number; it’s about reconnecting with one of the most important things in my life: reading.

That being said, I’m having a hard time getting started. The idea of reading fifty-two books is ambitious to say the least. At the same time, fifty-two is a paltry number compared to all the novels I want to read.

So to make things easier, I’ve narrowed the list down to the first ten. I’ll be posting reviews on each one, depending on when I finish them. Some of these I have read before and want to revisit. Others are new additions to my ever-expanding library. But they all have one thing in common: masters of the craft wrote them, people I hope to emulate in my own writing some day. (And please, remember that I’m reading these books as a consumer. Not a critic.)

1.Witches Abroadby Terry Pratchett

Bet you saw that one coming. This is one of my favorite Discworld novels, and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year.

2.The Enchantress of Florenceby Salman Rushdie

This is a new addition. I’ve heard great things about it, and I’m a huge fan of his writing. I can’t wait to read it.

3. “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden

Lyrical prose, haunting imagery, and a strong protagonist. Toss in an epic love story set amidst World War II, and you have a book worth revisiting.

4.The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood

No reading list would be complete without this unnervingly realistic portrayal of a dystopian future.

5.Poison Studyby Maria V. Snyder

A friend of mine recommended this one. I don’t usually go in for fantasy-romance novels, but she insisted I give it a try.

6. “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

I grew up watching the movie. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the book was so much better.

7.Everything is Broken” by John Shirley

Another favorite author — not to mention a kick ass mentor – this is John Shirley’s latest. It’s scheduled for release on January 24. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.

8. “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman

I am ashamed to admit that – while I am a rabid Neil Gaiman fan – I have yet to read this one. An oversight I intend to remedy soon.

9. Luka and the Fire of Life” by Salman Rushdie

The first repeat on my list, but not the last. I picked this one because I wanted a kid’s book on the list, though from what I hear, this book is so much more than that.

10. “Butcher Bird” by Richard Kadrey

Tattoos and demons and witches, oh my! An excellent choice to round out the list. (Plus, I’m kind of digging the ink.)

And there you have it. The first ten of my fifty-two books. What about you? What’s on your must read list for 2012? (If you have any recommendations, I’m open to suggestions.)

I’ll be honest. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull this one off, but no matter how many books I read – fifty or five – the important thing is that I’ll be reading.

Best New Year’s ever!