Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How To Live A Good Life

I am a member of the very, very small group of readers who were not bowled over by Looking for Alaska by John Green. In fact, I may be the only reader who wasn't bowled over by it.

But it wasn't because Green is a bad writer. He is a decent writer who wrote a book I didn't care for. That is perfectly acceptable. So I decided to give his second novel, An Abundance of Katherines, a shot.

Okay, first I'm going to talk about a negative so I can end on a positive note, which will be a novelty for me.

I found the book a little gimmicky. For instance, our main character is always creating anagrams out of names. Plus, the book uses footnotes, a great many of them particularly early in the book. I will admit I've read a few novels with footnotes that I enjoyed. But here they are distracting. A little of the material in the footnotes does pertain to the main story. It could easily have been included in the text. But a lot of it is merely fun, clever stuff that pulls the reader away from the story. Green has a good story here, much more original than in Looking for Alaska, and it's entertaining. But for a long time I didn't feel any compelling need to go back to the book because I couldn't stay in the story. I was always being pulled out of it by footnotes, anagrams, or subtitles warning us that a flashback is coming.

Of course, given that mathematics has such an important place in this story, perhaps Green was trying to make his piece of fiction look like a scholarly work, complete with diagrams, subtitles, and footnotes. That is a neat idea, but it sure wreaked havoc with the narrative flow.

On the other hand, I think Green had some great material here. Colin Singleton is a former child prodigy trying to come to terms with the fact that he may not do anything particularly significant with his life. (He also wants a relationship, but who doesn't?) We're coming off a couple of decades during which many, many kids were identified not as prodigies, perhaps, but as gifted. And what does become of them when they grow up? After having been singled out throughout their schooling and working their butts off (Colin worked many hours a day from the time he was three.), are they left scratching their heads and wondering what they're supposed to do with themselves that's all that different from what their classmates who were merely smart or even average are doing? We're talking a story for our time, wouldn't you say?

In addition, the whole how am I going to live my life? thing is one of my favorite themes, and it's the major question that drives An Abundance of Katherines. The three teen characters--Colin, his best friend, the marvelous Hassan, and the girl who is not named Katherine who they meet in a general store--are concerned with how to live a good life. A good life, not the good life. Work, relationships (of varying kinds), and faith are all issues they deal with.

Whatever flaws An Abundance of Katherines may have, it is thought provoking and witty. I guess I'll be reading John Green's next book, too.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Perhaps This Is Some Kind Of Tribute

Last weekend, Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy did a post on the similarities between the covers for An Abundance of Katherines by John Green and the The Attraction Equation by Charlie Eppes who isn't a real person but a character on the TV show NUMB3RS. Notice that both covers include not only a group of people but mathematical thingies around the titles.

I was forwarding a link to Liz's post to a family member when I realized that the similarities between these books are not limited to the covers.

John Green, a real person, wrote a real book called An Abundance of Katherines about a former child prodigy who is working on a theorem relating to those who are dumped versus those who do the dumping with the intention that somehow this theorem will predict relationships. Charlie Eppes, an imaginary former child prodigy, wrote an imaginary book about his own equation that has something to do with attraction among people, which would also have something to do with relationships. I can't say exactly what because I understand very little of what Charlie Eppes says, I only watch the show because the actor who plays him looks like the family member I was e-mailing today. IMHO, though no one else seems to have noticed.

Anyway, I know I recently said that sometimes two books on the same subject come out at the same time. And, of course, a book and a TV show could appear with similar material at the same time. Except that An Abundance of Katherines came out in September, 2006, while the fake Charlie Eppes wrote his fake book last spring and the fake cover appeared on TV screens this fall. So that's not exactly simultaneous.

Here's what I think should happen: the people behind NUMB3RS should say, "Gee, we don't know how this happened. Perhaps Fate has pulled all this together for its own mysterious purposes. For whatever reason, this has happened, and we're going to put John Greene's book cover up at our website so everyone knows about him and he can sell a million more books."

Or--and this may be even better--the real John Green can sue the pretend Charlie Eppes as part of a NUMB3RS episode. It could even be part of a two- or three-part story arc. And John and Charlie can come up with some kind of mathematical thingie that explains how this whole thing happened. It doesn't even have to be a real mathematical thingie because even though the producers of the show say the math is real, nobody who watches the program has a clue what Charlie's talking about, so it really doesn't matter.

Of course, none of this can happen until after the writers' strike is over.


Friday, April 13, 2007

I'm So Sorry

The Seven Imps have an interview up with John Green. I usually can't get to their interviews right away, but for reasons that will become clear in my next post, I'm a little ahead with my blog reading today so I went for it.

This guy sounds so interesting that I'm left feeling really sorry I didn't like Looking for Alaska more than I did. I have hopes for An Abundance of Katherines, but I haven't read it yet.

I felt the same way after reading Miss Erin's two-part interview with Dia Calhoun. Calhoun's sincerity in wanting to write about her response to the attack on the World Trade Center was very touching, and I wished I liked the result, Avielle of Rhia more than I did.

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