Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.
I have been on a nonfiction kick for a long time. The last novel I read was in 2005: Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning. But this weekend I think I hit some kind of reader’s emotional wall with the Iraq war, CIA intelligence failures, the torture regime, histories of the Pentagon, et al., et al. It happened after I finished Scott McClellan’s book, which was good. I enjoyed it. Next on my list was Jeffrey Toobin’s 1999 book, A Vast Conspiracy, about the sex scandals that brought down the Clinton presidency, but I didn’t get far before I realized that this book was just annoying me. I loved Toobin’s more recent book about the Supreme Court — The Nine — but this earlier one is oddly dissonant. Toobin says he interviewed hundreds of people, but there’s no source list (well, there is, but it’s a bibliography, not a source list). Also, Toobin very obviously does not like Michael Isikoff — that’s putting it mildly. He accuses him of being an investigative reporter about sex, and damns him for his book (also published in 1999), Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter’s Story, which he characterizes as an “unseemly,” sleazy, opportunistic “sex sells” book intended to destroy Clinton.
It may very well be true. But the way he writes about Isikoff seems so personal. And I don’t really see any objective, factual support for his accusations. The book began to seriously turn me off. And I realized I’m tired of political analysis and contemporary political history and such. I’ve been reading the genre nonstop since the Iraq war began.
So. I had this book by Vikram Seth, An Equal Music. It wasn’t a purchase or a loan or a gift. It came in one of the boxes of books I bought for five bucks a box from a dealer to sell on the Internet. I hadn’t gotten to listing it yet. So I picked it up. I’d only vaguely heard of Vikram Seth, and knew nothing about his writing. But the flap copy description sounded interesting. So I started reading it.
I liked it from the opening paragraph, but by the time I had read, oh say, 25 pages, I was totally hooked. It’s like the book just grabbed me by the collar (although I don’t wear collars), and would not let me go. I had forgotten how a really good novel can do that to you. It’s not that nonfiction can’t have that effect, and many nonfiction books I’ve read in the past few years have had that effect (here’s one, and here’s another). But it’s different. There’s something about characters, story line, the realm of the imagined, that can pull you in like nothing else. I’m enthralled with this book. It’s totally taken me over.
I’ll have more to say about it later.