Friday, December 2, 2011

Josh reviews Deep in the Brain and A Novel Bookstore

It’s Amante time! I had planned on reviewingThe Companion and A Novel Bookstore, but I just finished Deep in the Brain. It’s more recent than The Companion and I think it is a more unique read for the blog so you’re getting that instead. In addition, I find that the two books both say something very deep and powerful to the reader, more so than perhaps The Companion did.

A Novel Bookstore may just be my favorite Europa Edition to date. I know that’s a bold claim, but I stand by it. The book is the snuggie of novels, if that snuggie was made of the best novels ever written and decorated with mystery and romance. Cosse’s work follows the opening of a new bookstore in Paris dedicated to selling only the “best” novels (picked by a secret committee each tasked with selecting a set number of works). The opening of the bookstore’s backstory is engaging; the activity after it opens is exciting, frustrating and dangerous all at once. To say more about the plot is to ruin the tapestry Cosse weaves.

Deep in the Brain takes us into the mind of Helmut Dubiel, a college professor diagnosed with early Parkinson’s at 46. As one not familiar with Parkinson’s, the symptoms and diagnosis thankfully came across as human and personal, not as a textbook. Dubiel is a remarkable narrator and human being. His observations about himself and of society in general were nuanced and deep, devoid of pride. I came away knowing two things- this man is braver and stronger than I am and I do not ever hope to contract Parkinson’s disease.

As deep as Dubiel takes us into his own mind and the world of medicine and disease, Cosse matches him by taking the reader deep into the world of literature. The sheer number of titles mentioned, their connections, their meaning and their beauty had me wishing I were keeping a list of everything mentioned. On the other hand, to stop and write them all down would rob the reader of the inherent pleasure of immersing themselves into Cosse’s world.
Fear not, there is a website associated with the book that does indeed list every book sold at the Good Novel.

Where Cosse takes aim at the dearth of good literature being produced and the mass production of inferior works created for monetary gain and that cost the author no part of their soul, Dubiel’s critiques come from a distinctly more personal and slightly more scary place. He questions the nature of disease in modern countries—what it means, how we treat incurable disease, how friends and family, men and women all respond to the most visible signs of disease and the knowledge of another’s illness. This is not to say that either work focuses too heavily on the negative. Rather, they both focus on the strength and benefit we all derive from the highest of ideals and the noblest of causes: life and literature (are they not interconnected?).

Dubiel highlights the strength and bravery of the human soul as he fights, accepts, treats and eventually comes to peace with his illness and the life he has in front of him. Cosse’s characters show us the fruits of perseverance and the inner reward that sometimes replaces the outer flash. They show us what people driven at any cost to achieve a goal that is good, pure, and unselfish can do amazing things.

Friends of mine have alternately loved or not been able to finish A Novel Bookstore. I can understand that, the novel’s pace is not for everyone. One friend even said, “I just read 100 pages of that book last night. Nothing happened. Literally, nothing happened. They just talked and talked and talked about books!” So fair warning, there are stretches of this book where the plot is secondary to the discussion, the dissection and the adoration of great literature.

I hear the critiques and in a sense, I agree. At its best, the work pays homage to literature and to why we read. At its worst, it comes across as the literary equivalent of name-dropping just how well read or well cultured the author is. However, I don’t care. I loved it. It was like taking a bath in books and reminding me why I read.

I’ve not recommended Deep in the Brain just yet to anyone, only because I have just finished it. Put these on your holiday list, whether you plan to snuggle up next to fire while it snows or just as an excuse to get away from the hustle bustle of parties, family, travel, and crowds. As these two reviews close out my Amante level, I would like to sign off my last post of the year with an excerpt from A Novel Bookstore, reminding all of us why we read. Happy Reading everyone, I can’t wait to see what the end of the year has for our reviews and for next year’s challenge! Feel free to join me in my Crime novel themed Challenge…

“We have no time to waste on insignificant books, hollow books, books that are here to please. We have no time for those sloppy, hurried books of the ‘Go on, I need it for July, and in September we’ll give you a proper launch and sell 100,000 copies, it’s in the bag’ variety. We want books that are written for those of us who doubt everything, who cry over the least little thing, who are startled by the slightest noise. We want books that cost their authors a great deal, books where you can feel the years of work, the backache, the writer’s block, the author’s panic at the thought that he might be lost: his discouragement, his courage, his anguish, his stubbornness, the risk of failure that he has taken. We want splendid books, books that immerse us in the splendor of reality and keep us there; books that prove to us that love is at work in the world next to evil, right up against it, at times indistinctly, and that it always will be, just the way that suffering will always ravage hearts. We want good novels.” – A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cosse.