A cousin of mine said she was interested in reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, and I chimed in that it was a fantastic book, with a rare mention of Manila in it. What I forgot to mention to her, but something she will soon find out, is how quick it is to read. I checked my book log, noting how quickly I finished the book and if there was anything striking about the work. I bought my copy last December while in the US, and it was a book that I read between the overload of food related literature in the first quarter of the year. It also took me 3 hours to read. While it is a relatively slim book, it could have easily been a book that took days to complete if I was bored with it or distracted. The writing does not drag, the characters are not hard to like, and there are no distractions towards the climax of the book.
I also jotted down that the book had a strong similarity to a couple of books I had read in the past, including Iain Pears' The Portrait, and a book by a Hungarian author who I couldn't remember when I made the note (including a reminder to self to find the other book in my bookshelf; as I still can't remember the author or the title of the book, but do remember the style and characters, it is doubly annoying several months after writing myself the note.). All three books are written in the first person narration by the protagonist, speaking to one other person (with a strong directive tone towards that person), narrating a story that they need to know, and you, as the audience, are keen to discover. In all three cases, the protagonist and primary speaker has a revelation through his talk with his sole audience, usually a negative one, and ends in a tragic note in all three novels. The medium can be intense, but what I always wonder when reading this style is how does one person maintain so much talking without needing a break, a regular flow of water and some menthol candy to soothe the throat? I can't imagine going on and on in that vein, charged with completing my mission and maintaining some semblance of composure at the very beginnning without giving away my final position. I know it's fiction, but the style can be a bit unmanageable, especially if you put yourself (like I often do) in the perspective of the main character.
I was interested in reading the book after seeing it mentioned in Jessica Zafra's blog, where she quoted from the part of the book that mentions Manila. She has done literary collections of books that refer to Filipinos and the Philippines, but this was the first time I felt compelled to find a copy of a book after reading so little of it. I am thankful that I did; it was a worthwhile literary find. Her blog has also had several links to short stories lately, the most recent to a short story by Edith Wharton, and a month ago she linked to Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. A week before Ms. Zafra's post I was listening to the New Yorker Fiction podcast which featured The Lottery. It was chilling, twisted, and very well written. I didn't realize that it was part of the literary canon for a certain generation of American school children, and I am not sure if it still is, but I would recommend it to an older high school student or first year college student reading American Literature. The language is clear and brutal, the plot is simple and subversive.
Short stories and books that can be read in a few hours in traffic or while standing in line is a breathe of fresh air, it can rejuvenate you if you're in a reading slump. Not only does it break the monotony of reading certain genres but it also invigorates those mental facilities that need a jolt every now and then. If it forces you to think or feel differently about the way you see life, then it is damn good reading.