14 May 2007

Much loved books

What I'm reading: House of sand and fog by Andre Dubus III (again!)

It's funny how some books just get under your skin. As writers I think we're shaped by everything we read, everything that happens to us, everything we see and hear and feel and do, and so those books that we read that we come back to again and again must do more than their fair share of shaping. I hope so. I would love to be able to write like the authors of the books I love.

This week I'm returning to an old favourite because I'm teaching it, and have done so for the last three years. There's a lot to be said about teaching a new book every year, but there are some reading experiences that you just want to share with your students, and that you know that most of them wouldn't find on their own. House of sand and fog is one such book. This is an amazing book, amazing for the difference in the two first person narrator's voices both done so convincingly, and amazing for the way your loyalties are pulled back and forward between the two protagonists. And so it is with great pleasure that I opened it again to the beginning and immersed myself in the reading. This is not a book to skim, but one to savour the richness of the language, to marvel particularly at the construction and authenticity of Behrani's voice (a Persian colonel who starts the novel working on a road crew in the US, picking up garbage). I love the way Dubus has done this.

I love the arguments that students get into over this book. The two protagonists are both fighting over a house that both feel is theirs (both with good reason), and that both are desperate to own. Some students identify with one character all the way through, but most are like me and switch allengiences -- more than once.

I first heard about this book from Sherryl (of the Books and Writing blog), and she spoke of it with such passion that I decided I had to read it too. One student last year, after class was over, came to me and thanked me for the class and then thanked me for setting the book because he just loved it, and it was a book he'd read again and again. But that's just the other thing about such great reads: we spread the word, the infatuation -- no, it's more than that -- the love for a certain book. We spread it again and again because great books deserve to be read!


Sherryl said...

But I still don't understand why they didn't feel that way about "Cold Mountain"!

Tracey said...

Don't ask me. I loved it. But I seem to remember being the only one in that class. It is a slow read, but rich and rewarding. Another book to sink into and enjoy.

I think one thing that some students found hard to cope with in Cold Mountain is the unremitting bleakness. It is a bleak book, and I think some just feel that they are swamped by it. Personally, I don't mind a bit of bleakness if it's done well, and Frazier does do it very well. And that's the problem for them. Others are just lazy readers who want a quick read, and don't want to work at it. I have had a few who were as entranced with the book as I was.

You can't please them all -- you can only hope to extend their reading range!