Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Upside of the Unavailable Book

Aimee Bender's latest novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, is no longer on the bestseller lists, but we still can't keep it on the shelves. All three copies are currently checked out. Which pleases me, as Bender is a wildly inventive and singular author deserving of readers' attention. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is about a girl with a gift and affliction: she can taste the feelings or emotions of the person who prepared her food, whether the ebullient family that runs a local restaurant or her put-on-a-happy-face but ultimately unhappy mother.

The downside of all three copies of the above checked out is, of course, that if you want to check it out today, you can't. (Though you can put it on hold.) But I'm going to argue that there's an upside to this. While you're waiting for her latest book, you can check out her EVEN BETTER FIRST BOOK, An Invisible Sign of My Own, which as I type is currently on the the shelf.

All the strengths of her latest novel are present in An Invisible Sign of My Own, published back in 2000 when Bender was 31: her masterful metaphors, her quirky but authentic characters, her singular use of language, and her magical realism grounded in a desire to illuminate the darker terrain of her characters' lives. The heroine of this book is a young woman with many gifts who, when her father becomes mysteriously ill, begins to abandon all at which she excels and denies herself all that brings her pleasure, with the exception of math: she is an inspired and unconventional math teacher. The book follows her struggles and growth as she deals with her compulsions (which include knocking on wood), tries to help an eight-year-old student whose mother is dying, and starts to fall for a socially maladroit science teacher. Although I enjoyed The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and savored much of it, An Invisible Sign of My Own is ultimately the more satisfying book with a much stronger ending.

So, the next time the book everyone's reading is checked out, check out that author's previous books. Some of them might even be better than the one on the bestseller list! Just search for the author in our online catalog or ask for assistance at the public service desks.

Are there any authors on the current bestseller lists, fiction and nonfiction, whose earlier books you highly recommend? For example, John Grisham's latest novel is The Confession, but what is the best Grisham you've read? Which Vince Flynn thriller would you recommend to someone waiting for American Assassin?


Lynne said...

If you're waiting for Grisham's The Confession, I'd recommend revisiting The Firm or The Pelican Brief. I found both to be enjoyable re-reads.

Linda K said...

I read lots of books in series and I'm always game for going back to an authors earlier releases while waiting for a new one. In fact many author's earlier books may surprise you with the higher quality and standards they originally employed. (Or maybe they had better editors when they started?) We all know that guy (whose name rhymes with Chatterson) who releases umpteen books a year and refers to himself as a "brand." (I think umpteen is somewhere between 12 and 25) Anyway, grab one of his early thrillers and I'll bet you'll be pleasantly surprised with how gripping and complex the stories are in comparison to the newer, leaner, more white space new releases. Also try reading the first few Robert B. Parker mysteries. Parker, who unfortunately is no longer with us but is still issuing books from the grave, is another author who followed the "Chatterson" parade and started writing more books, with more white space, and less substance. (My opinion only, of course)
Other authors whose earlier works seem to surpass later efforts include Elizabeth George, Martha Grimes, Preston and Child, and Sara Paretsky. There's lots out there. Look beyond the newest books and best sellers!

Jeanne said...

I love the idea of going back to the author's previous books! I also like to look at books with similar themes. I enjoyed Bender's novel because it falls under the heading of "food and drink" for me. Other great food and drink novels include Muriel Barbery's exquisite novel, Gourmet Rhapsody, and Michael Idov's humorous novel, Ground Up.

Laura A. said...

Thank you all for the Grisham, mystery and Barbery suggestions! Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading to you all!

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