I read widely and compulsively and my fancies are ever changing. My love of reading, however, is no mere fancy.
This is the tale of my nasty book-buying addiction. Since 1998 or so, for every five or six books that I bought, I'd read maybe one, leaving something around 80% of my library (over 1000 books) unread. Most of my library is still in boxes: we don't have enough room in our house to display all of them. My office is a mess of boxes and books, and I can't work in there because of it. To fix this problem, I've instituted a new system I call the Clearing: for every new book purchased, one book from the stacks must be read, and then a decision made: keep or give away. The Clearing began with Cloud Atlas.
How long has Cloud Atlas been in the stacks?
I have trouble remembering how long I've had some books, but CA is pretty easy to pin point, since I am not in a possession of a copy of this book, persay, but an original Advanced Uncorrected Proof, of a Random House trade paper original (hard to believe that CA was a straight-to-paperback, in the U.S. anyway)marked for August 2004 publication. The letter on the inside of the book from the Editor is dated Dec. 2003, which is probably when I picked it up, out of the galley bin in the basement of the Shaman Drum bookshop in Ann Arbor where I worked from 2003 to 2005. So, 10 years. 10 years. I've had this book. OH! and before I forget: Full Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a review. Please keep this in mind, dear author/publisher, when offering me a copy of your book for review. I do get around to them, eventually.
Why did you buy it?
The cover is lovely. Also, I was probably caught by the blurb. I was a sucker at the time for novels with giant casts made up of multiple narratives that connect in unique and interesting ways.
Why didn't you read it when you bought it?
There were literally hundreds of galleys for the taking. Hundreds. And I, book hoarder that I am, took as many as I could feasibly carry back to my rental on each trip. It would have been very difficult to read them all, given that I was also enrolled full time in school, though I tried. Also, as word came in of how good this was - I had to avoid it for awhile. I've heard my psych major friends speak of the notion of 'pleasure anxiety', and I think that I may experience this phenomenon when it comes to books.
What was it about?
Many things. Slavery and more generic captivity. Reincarnation. Salvation. Justice. Art. Technology. Unifying principles of same. That last bit makes Cloud Atlas one of the most religious books I've read in a while.
Would you have felt differently about it had you read it when you bought it?
Yes. Ten years ago, a combination of the structural complexity, justice-oriented themes, and prose written in fake English dialects of the future would have blown my mind. It didn't blow my mind now, but I'm a better reader and a deeper cynic than I was then. The construction of this non-linear narrative was delicately stitched together, and like a novice quilter's six-pointed star, too many seams were showing. There are times when Mitchell knew that his story ark (plot is too strong of a word) was drawing thin enough to break, and he would clumsily patch things over with a slab of expository dialogue. There were beautiful moments of self-awareness, too, as when Robert Frobisher explains the structure of his new composition, nearly identical to that of the novel he is cast it. Though this book has become something of a classic, it is obvious how much this book was a product of the early aughts. One thing that struck me was how nostalgic it made me for those days, a time whose political realities(9/11, the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the right-wing nutjob factions first real taste of power in this country, the PATRIOT act) should inspire anything but. Yet - we were so naive, then! And naivete, like it's friend ignorance, is its own kind of bliss. My own personal political righteousness was not tempered by feelings of hypocrisy. I wasn't some grown bourgeois twit swaddled in the comfort of an increasingly rare corporate job in a nearly recession-proof industry having just spent the last five years watching many of my nearest and dearest scramble for purchase on our collective road to serfdom! I was a college-aged bourgeois twit swaddled in the comfort of an excellent school and the largess of my exceptionally generous parents! I could bemoan injustice without ever having to think about the role that I might be playing in perpetrating it. Things that seem shockingly banal now had the gravity of epitaphs. We were all really freaked out that the government wanted to know what books we were checking out from the library.
So: Keep or Give Away?
I'll probably lend this one out, but it will become a permanent fixture in the stacks.
[cross-posted on Goodreads and The Stacks (shelvesandshelves.tumblr.com)]