While reading Rebecca Rosenblum‘s run-down of the books she read last year, I realized I hadn’t mentioned what my favorites of 2009 were. Honestly, it was a pretty low year as far as reading materials were concerned. Kij Johnson’s "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" was definitely the high point, along with Peter S. Beagle’s We Never Talk About My Brother and No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. And that’s about it.
2010 is off to a better start…
Book #1 – Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson takes a moment in time, the apprehension of murderer Hawley Crippen in 1910, and expends on it, telling the histories of Crippen as well the men involved in the development of the wireless telegraph that was instrumental in Crippen’s capture. What you end up with is two stories, told in counter point — the personal life of Crippen, and Guglielmo Marconi’s obsession with sending a trans-Atlantic wireless signal. Both narratives are backed up with an enormous amount of research. Indeed, anything "said" in the novel is a quote from a primary source. As far as historical fiction goes, the emphasis is firmly on historical and therefore the stories are told more than shown (in writerly parlance). And it works for the most part. History is most interesting when it’s placed into context. Larson adds enough touches and fourth-wall winks to the audience to keep the book from being a textbook. Strangely, for the first half of the book I found Marconi’s tale to be the more compelling, and in the second half, Crippen’s.
Tyler loaned this book to me and I’m glad he did. I tend to remain in one literary circle and rarely venture from it. Larson is an interesting writer with a good head for the personalities and cultural parallels. Reading about the scientific and corporate in-fighting, as well as the public reaction to the new technology, you have to think a little about how far we’ve come in 100 years, but also about how things remain very much the same.
I have Larson’s The Devil and the White City on order from PaperBackSwap.
Trying out a reading plan. I may or may not link it to other pages. I reserve the right to chuck it at any given moment.