Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review: Book Riot's Start Here

When the folks at Book Riot sent me a copy of their new e-book Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors, I was super excited. Long form blogging (packaged as an ebook) is right up my alley, and I love the this author vs. that author, this novel vs. that novel parlor game.

This is not a book to be picked up and read. It's really an invitation to an old argument. How much of an author's work do we need to read before we can declare love and hate, before we can rank authors. Start Here tries to establish a gateway, the way I was told to read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as  a Young Man before considering Ulysses.

I read the first couple chapters in order, then started jumping around. One day I'd read a chapter on someone I already know; the next day I'd read about an author I'm not familiar with. The essays are short and accessible.

Give the Book Riot folks credit- I've not read a word of 12 of their 25 authors. They're mostly authors whose names I know: E.M Forster and Philip K. Dick and Cormac McCarthy and Zadie Smith, and so on. I've got  some of their books in my house, but for one reason or another, I haven't gotten to it yet.

And Start Here lived up to my expectations: some chapters are better than others, as is to be expected when you pull together 25 writers to write about 25 different authors. My favorite chapters are the most clinical; the chapter on Margaret Atwood actually did lead me to Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, and the chapter on Italo Calvino makes me want to try again with If on a winter's night a traveller. Some of the chapters had a little too much fanboy/girl glee in them, but for the most part the reviewers were even-handed in their assessments (I'm thinking especially about the chapters on Hemingway, Miller, Dickens and Bradbury).

Of course, reading a book like this only makes you want to continue the argument. Why Hemingway but not Steinbeck (whom I consider to be a writer of greater depth and breadth)? Where's Vonnegut and Roth? Why is Neil Gaiman the only graphic novelist; where's Otomo and Moore and Miller and Morrison? Aren't we all sick of Dickens and Austen on every must read list; why not George Eliot instead?

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