Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book-buying and The Slap

If you follow my main blog, materfamilias writes, you know that we try to travel light, relying on carry-on luggage only. Besides shoes, the big challenge to this restriction is in the number of books I can bring back, especially when travelling to such a reader-friendly city as London. All those wonderful bookstores with remarkable backlists as well as all the latest offerings. And the prices reflect the dense market, very enviable indeed.

Yet I did manage to resist, mainly by doing my ogling through the store windows. One of these trips, I'm going to throw convenience to the wind and absolutely fill to the gills a honking big suitcase (that was a mixed metaphor surely, fish and geese are jumbled together) -- books, books, and more books. But given that I'd loaded up my new Kobo with a few titles, that we'd brought several real (i.e. paper) books to share, and that I knew there was a big stack of books waiting unread back home, I just walked on by, for the most part.

Finally, at the airport, though, having checked our carry-ons for a change, my hands felt too empty and there was a W.H. Smith singing the siren call of Buy 1, Get 1. I think I was a model of restraint, coming out of there with only four books. I think Pater disagrees. Whatever.

I read Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap on the plane. It poses an interesting question, albeit in exaggerated terms. The formula -- a group of friends and acquaintances whose stories overlap to form a prismatic whole -- is familiar, but managed quite well. There are enough sex scenes to make this a good summer beach read, but good enough writing and social analysis to elevate it to a rather literary beach book. That might make us feel better about packing it alongside the sunscreen, but while The Guardian thus fairly calls it the "must-read novel of the summer," The Daily Telegraph calls it the "ideal summer read; escapist, funny and clever," and the Daily Mail pegs it "as addictive as the best soap opera," I can't help but wonder what (Irish novelist) John Boyne's been reading that he proclaims, on The Slap's front cover, that it is "One of the truly great novels of the new millennium." Um, don't quite think it's there. That others disagree with my appraisal is suggested by the book being awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (and it was longlisted for the Man Booker, but that's quite a long list). My Scottish-French friend, Lesley, seems to agree with me, as this post suggests. What about you? Have you read it? heard of it?
And btw, how big is your stack of next-to-read or I'll-get-to-these-someday? And do you heed its perilous heights, or do you ignore it and plunge into any bookstore ready for more acquisitions? You know I love your comments, so do tell . . .


  1. Ah, The Slap. I read it, and was deeply disappointed. I thought the characters were cliches, the hetero sex was obviously written by a homosexual man (which the author is - I don't mean you can write about sex in which you don't partake, just I thought his orientation came through in the writing), and I couldn't feel sympathy for anyone in the entire novel. Yup, I hated it.

    My bedside stack is embarrassing. And the Kindle just makes it worse ... Plus Spouse puts whatever he's finished reading on my pile, and my brother brings over his (he doesn't keep paperbacks) so it seems to grow exponentially. I'm now banned from Amazon, banned from the local bookshops and even banned from the library until I make some headway.

    I can't remember if I mentioned it here before, but the first time I walked into a university library I cried because I realised I'd never to get to read all those books, even if I did nothing but read for the rest of my life.

  2. Tiffany, I know what you mean. I recently came across this article that speaks to your sadness at knowing that you'll never read it all. I'd recommend you read it.


  3. My mother passed The Slap on to me and consequently I couldn't help but blush at the sex and drugs scenes. (I know that this is irrational and that women don't suddenly forget that sex ever existed as soon as they pass 70).
    I thought the weakest part of the book was the Cinderella episode involving the teenage girl - shallow and visual rather than even vaguely cerebral.

  4. Tiffany: There were a few spots that annoyed me, some that came close to offending, but I did keep reading and I was intrigued by some of the characters and situations so I have to give credit for that. Offensive: I thought the sly contradiction between having a character complain about writing titillating scenes for a soap opera purporting to condemn incest andthen writing sex scenes between a man in his 40s and the 17-year old babysitter was nasty.
    And I'm torn about the closing scene -- I don't want to censor drug use out of literature, obviously, but that passage seems like too much proselytizing for the dealer down the road.
    As for your tears, such a poignant moment -- don't you often feel so protective of your young self?! -- my neighbour once said she wanted a moratorium on all book-writing,
    just for ten years or so, just some catch-up time.
    Lesley: Too funny. When we were still newlyweds in our 20s, we went with my in-laws to see The Way We Were -- the scene with Redford on top of Streisand (he falls asleep, mid-act, if I remember correctly) was excruciating to Paul and I. Not sure how the "old folks" (about 45 at the time!!) felt.
    Hope's link is a great article and suggests the moratorium wouldn't do the trick.
    And yes, that Cinderella episode did not do that young woman any kind of justice at all.

  5. I read the slap. I'm surprised I didn't blog it but that was during that entire fall hospital/remodeling upset so its understandable. Besides, I find it increasingly hard to review books I don't like

    I didn't hate it though. I was intrigued by the basic premise, and I did find some of the characters intriguing, although basically I thought pretty much everyone in the book was unlikable and unsympathetic. So it was a disappointment with a disappointing ending, not a great novel.

    As for my bedside stack, ha! Its more like 15 feet of shelf space, not including the books that have been shelved with the regular books because I have no hope of reading them soon, or the kindle list, or the library wait list or the little notebook which lists titles I want to add to the list as soon as there is space......

    I think I've rarely met a book I didn't want to read.

    I can relate to the profound sadness of that realizing that one will never get to read all the books, and I spent most of my youth holed up in a small university library where my dad was a professor. I'd read all the books in our even smaller public library by the time I was 13, except for the new ones coming in.