I just finished a pair of books that couldn't have been more opposite. Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End was the perfect book to read over Xmas "break" at the "in-laws". Ferris (it turns out he was born in Danville) writes of a Chicago ad agency in the post-dot-com bust. The company is going under quickly, and the staff is left to deal with the fallout. For me, the subject is very personal, as it currently describes my professional situation well. But the book is far more funny than my day-to-day work life ever could be. In many ways, this book is the perfect marriage of Mad Men and The Office. For those of you longing for either show's return, buy this book now.
I really enjoyed this novel, from it's unique first-person plural narration to the anecdotal storytelling approach. On the latter point, its worth noting that this book does have a traditional plot, but that the plot is rather obvious and isn't really the point. That may sound counterintuitive, but to a large degree Ferris' book is more a collection of short stories and character sketches held hostage by a novel than it is any traditional narrative construction we've become accustomed to in typical novels. The end result is rarely in question; for the reader the fun is in character assassination rather than plot twists. There are some laugh-out loud moments in this book, but the swath of emotions in this book make for an office dramedy. I found myself identifying strongly with certain characters, because I've worked with their near-equals in real life. Other characters I only wish I could say the same for. By and large, it's Ferris' attention to detail that makes for an enjoyable read, as he truly nails the mundane things that define office work and office life: the gossip parties, the absurd personality ticks, the power plays, the ridiculous company policy, the tracking devices. I could go on -- lest I leave out office furniture, so vitally symbolic that it plays a key role in this book -- but you get my drift. This is my favorite novel of the past couple years, for sentimental reasons.
I then transitioned to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the first of his novels I've read. After seeing the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men and listening to M talk up this novel, I was eager to begin. The book is a big departure from anything I've read ... ever. It took me a long while to adjust to the writing style itself, from his truncated passages to the lack of traditional punctuation. The novel is written in such a sparse manner -- McCarthy tells us only what few details he deems necessary -- that it leaves the reader plenty of time to wander around in his or her own head to create scenarios and ponder the past. It's almost like a Mad Lib exercise in some ways, as the reader is left to fill in blanks. The book is a post-apocalyptic tale of a father and his young son wandering "the road" to nowhere. It's a sad, existentialist affair, often touching. But on the whole, I'm not certain if I really enjoyed the book on the level I anticipated. After the hype (self-inflicted and otherwise), I thought I may be setting myself up for a Top 10 book. In the end, I'm not sure if I'm more taken by the book's oddity or the force of the story. Either way, it's worth reading, for sure. I just finished it last night, so possibly some more time away will allow me to come to a more defined stance on The Road. I'll definitely read another of McCarthy's books for perspective's sake. I think I'm going with All the Pretty Horses.
Next up on my list is another huge step in the opposite direction: Rick Telander's Heaven Is a Playground, which comes recommended by Chris. The '70s tome deals with the culture of NYC streetball. I'm expecting to find some insights into the AAU dominance of today's high school game and the revival of urban basketball culture in the media.