Sunday, October 30, 2005

On A Novel Jag

I just read (a) HOWARD'S END because I wanted to read (b) Zadie Smith's ON BEAUTY which is based on the Forster book. Then I had to start (c) A ROOM WITH A VIEW and finished it last night. Hard to believe I got through an MA in Lit and never read E. M. Forster. Sadly true but his books are all fresh to me now, one of the virtues of having a haphazard education.

Anyway, I'm enthralled. A gay male Jane Austen! (Whom I did not read in school either--what was I doing? oh yes, modern poetry). Mordantly funny, I believe the phrase is. Though his attention to courtship and domestic life transcends hers, IMHO, because he's absorbed in the transcendant meaning of these things, the "love more mysterious." His books read like poetry, slower and with strange compelling sentences.

Zadie Smith's book is also wonderful. She extends Forster's attention to gender and class to race and further questions of aesthetics and physical beauty. What a deal that book is, morphing the plot line of H-E just enough to keep it interesting and totally up to the challenge. She's brilliant.

I recommend choices a, b, and c, all of the above.


Robert said...

You talked me into it: I'm going to order On Beauty right now from Amazon. Howards End is one of my favorite books, somewhere on my all-time Top Ten list for sure (Room With a View didn't make such a strong impression on me).

Off-the-point question: I know people love to hate Amazon, but what do you think? I can understand not supporting big chains because they narrow the range of reading to bestsellers like Tom Clancy and not much more, but Amazon expands the range. People can go to Amazon and read descriptions of and buy, uh, say, my book or yours, Beverly, while you probably won't find them in your local store whether chain or independent. I am open to having my mind changed on Amazon, but I've bought and read a lot of poetry books through Amazon that I doubt I'd ever have read otherwise.

Diane K. Martin said...

I'm impressed that both of you find time to read novels. Well, maybe time isn't my problem right now, but attention span.

Robert, I go to Amazon for book information but prefer to buy in a local store--if the book is available there. That's where I do impulse buying. (And why not ask the locals to stock your book? Bring a stack with you?) I also like to order through Powell's if I can get used there. I don't hate the Amazonor the other online stores, I just like physical bookstores, and ordering can sometimes take forever.

Beverly said...

Robert, we should talk about Room sometime. To me, it's all about the view, and how hard it is to get past your own view--takes travel or a series of determined, even intrusive, people to open up the mind.

As for Amazon, I started off trying hard to be righteous about bookstores but frustration and disappointment have persuaded me over the years to agree with you. I agree with Diane--there's nothing like a real store with books to touch and peruse. But I too have found many poetry books I'd never have gotten my hands on without Amazon.

I've had not the best experience with getting bookstores to carry my book. I started with Cody's and Diesel, two stores I've supported for years. It took a series of phone calls & emails over a period of months to get anywhere. Finally both did order the book. The ones at Diesel sold very fast and they haven't reordered and I haven't been up for another round with them about it. Cody's has been somewhat better, but not great.

I learned this years ago with my first two (nonfiction) books, so I wasn't surprised. I hit the disillusioning truth that most independent books actually have about the same or less breadth than a big chain like B & N.

Cody's has a wonderful--unsurpassed really--selection of poetry but they can take a week to get a book they don't have on hand while Amazon usually gets them to me in under 3 days.

Robert said...

I think Room with a View didn't make a big impact on me only because I'd already seen the film, which I liked but ... I could not get too excited about Julian Sands and Helena Bonham-Carter. Daniel Day-Lewis was great--think how great he would have been in the role that Sands played instead of in the role of the uptight Cecil!

I guess the main complaint I've heard about Amazon is the large chunk of money it charges publishers. I think the publisher gets a lot less money if you buy their book on Amazon than if you buy it from a bookstore (or directly from them). On the other hand, I think Amazon's book business is still losing millions of dollars a year, so it's not as if they're Exxon.

The issue of getting your own book into bookstores is a whole other can of worms. I think it mostly depends on how much energy a publisher puts into distribution, which in most cases I fear is close to zero.

C. Dale said...

Robert, That isn't true. Most publishers make 5-20% more from selling at Amazon than they do via a bookstore because they aren't dealing with the distributors as go-betweens. That said, publishers make the most when people order directly from them. Why publishers haven't gotten better websites and better ordering systems is beyond me. Just remember, every time someone buys your book at a bookstore, Baker and Taylor or Ingram or Consortium or other such distributor takes a nice chunk of the profit for themselves.

C. Dale said...

Oh, and I love Howard's End. Just love it. Not so in love with Room.

Robert said...

OK, I stand corrected, and I'm glad to hear that. I'd heard that about Amazon from someone in publishing, but I guess it's wrong. I agree about publishers needing to make it easier for people to order books from their websites.

Happy Halloween--and happy birthday to Beverly!

Diane K. Martin said...

Oh yeah, Happy Birthday Beverly!

Beverly said...

Okay, one more defense of Room. Yes, Howard's is a stronger book. I think Room was a warm-up for MAURICE, his posthumous book on homosexual love (which of course I haven't read either). It's a passionate articulation of what love is, i.e, as Sr. Mr. Emerson says, "it's not the body but it is of the body" in a way that can't be denied.

And about making sure your room has a view, that you see past the walls of your culture. I did enjoy the war between culture and self-knowledge, one of the pleasures of the book, but also one of the pleasures of doing psychotherapy which is of course always about opening up the view, getting outside your own mind in some way.

And thanks for the birthday wishes!

Robert said...

I like that idea of psychotherapy as opening up the view, sort of like looking out the window: "Look, there's my depression sitting under the oak tree, and there's my manic side chasing butterflies ...."

Anyway, I think it was actually Where Angels Fear to Tread, not Room With a View, that was the Forster book I was thinking of that didn't make much of an impression on me. Obviously it didn't, as I didn't even remember the name.