Reading on the Road
Welcome to a brand new series on Dashin’ Ash. As a bibliophile, a lover of books, and a hodophile, a lover of travel, whenever I hit the road I have a book, or four, with me. I don’t always read all of them, but I cannot tolerate the idea of being on a plane with nothing left to read. If you relate to that, you’ll love this new series. The books I write about will be random, with hardly any regard to when they were published, what genre they belong to, or the quality of writing. I can assure you however that every word I say about these books will be honest. Maybe you’ll find another book to add to your “to be read” bookshelf, or maybe you’ll be persuaded to remove one from you Amazon wish list, but either way I’ll do the legwork for you. So, without further ado, let me present the first edition of Reading on the Road.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
In this novel, our title character, “The Count” Alexander Rostov, is a young man of a prominent Russian family, who is sentenced to spend the remainder of his life In The Metropol Hotel because of a poem he wrote that challenged the status of life in Russia in 1922. After the Civil War, the socialist policies that followed did not favor men such as the Count. As part of his punishment the Count was stripped of his glamorous room, and forced to move into an attic room far removed from the luxury he was accustomed. Following Alexander through the remainder of his life, we get both a full glimpse of his past, as well as an unrelenting hope for his future, even as each day stays relatively similar to the one that came before it. Fortunately you have Alexander’s wit, and adamant commitment to preserving social graces, which leads to many hilarious commentaries on the decline of the later, to keep each day interesting. Towles manages to turn one single building into an entire city, entirely accessible to the Count.
I had heard of A Gentleman in Moscow before, and it held a slight interest for me, but the real reason I delved into it was because Princess claimed to host a book club type meeting on their cruises. I say “claimed” because I never saw any sign of this meeting, but I adventured forward page after page regardless. As I took my first gentle steps into this novel, I admit it was with slight trepidation. It’s a pretty long book, with what could only be an extremely singular story. That hesitation was unwarranted however, for the Count found new ways to keep himself entertained throughout the entire novel. Which, in turn, leads to the reader’s entertainment.
Filled largely with anecdotal accounts, some funny, some tragic, some inspiring, but all contributing what they can to create a man you cannot help but to love. The Count certainly is a man who can plant the seeds of an everlasting friendship in a single encounter, and he is a man who is passionate about cultivating those relationships. Most of what lingers in my mind is how well written these associations are, for they stand paramount as I reflect back on what left me feeling so pleasant as I shut the cover for the last time.
A well written character is the trademark of a good novel, but Towles has written not only a bountiful amount of memorable, well rounded, and uniquely personified characters, but also a number of minor characters who, although they only appear a couple times, stick with you. He sees the extremes in everyone and applies those extremes with such precision, and perfect timing as the story rolls onward that you can’t help but to laugh out loud, sometimes at a characters expense, or roll your eyes at some of the of the more insufferable personas, or weep as death, or sometimes life, comes for them.
A novel that takes place almost exclusively in one place may not seem like the best book to accompany you on your travels, but I think it does a good job of instilling a portrait of home in your mind. And what better to help combat the homesickness we all eventually feel, than to accompany a man as he accepts that he will never again leave his home, but he will also never again visit any place that has felt like home elsewhere in the world.
The Blinds by Adam Sternberg
Chosen as one of my August Book of the Month books, (more on that a little later) The Blinds tells an extremely unique story of a town in the middle of nowhere Texas. This town is kept secret from the outside world for one reason. Almost everyone who lives here is in hiding. There are three types of people, the first type consists of three individuals who make up the police force. They, like everybody else, use fake names and live entirely removed from the outside world, with the exception of a single fax machine. These three people, unlike everyone else, remember who they are and what led them to work in the Blinds. The second type of person is an innocent. These are people who testified against dangerous people, and have come to the Blinds as a form of witness protection. With a new identity, and their memories removed, they are safe to live of the remainder of their lives. The third variety of person in the Blinds is definitely the scariest. These people are criminals who turned on their comrades, and in exchange for their testimony they are permitted to have a certain amount of freedom. Just without any memories of their identity or the crimes they committed.
This novel is one of the most individual ones I’ve read, even just starting with the description. When the novel opens with a murder, and an assortment of new townsfolk who are definitely hiding something, you don’t expect the action to slow down. The entire story happens in less than a week, focusing on a handful of characters. I will admit that this novel wasn’t as much of a “page turner” as I had expected, but the slower pace fits in with the southern personality of this novel. Sternberg times everything perfectly, with each story unfolding at exactly the appropriate moment.
Toying with an individual’s memories creates a myriad of unexpected problems, including a child born in the Blinds, multiple individuals who’s feeble minds create unpredictable outcomes, and above all else, a town driven by the constant question of, “what if?” What if I’m an innocent, what if I’m a criminal, what if I leave the Blinds, or what if I die here. If you’re looking for something to read that is unlike anything else, The Blinds is the book for you. It is definitely not what I would consider it a beach read, but then again, isn’t anything you read on the beach a beach read? Don’t leave yourself thinking, “what if I don’t read it?” It’s not worth pondering because it is definitely worth reading.
Book of the Month
One of my most favorite companies is Book of the Month. I pay a subscription fee, and then each month I get to select one of five new novels to read. If I can’t decide, I can add up to two other novels for $9.99 each. The novels are BOTM edition hardcovers, and I haven’t come across a bad one yet. More importantly, many BOTM novels have been added to my favorites list. If you’re interested in giving it a shot, please use my referral link, as you’ll treat me to a free book. Which is better than any other gift I’ll ever receive.
Let me know if you’ve read these books, or if you intend to pick one up. I’d love to hear if you had similar reactions, or if you disagree with my descriptions. Also, if you have any book recommendations, drop them in the comments below. I’d love to review them for the next Reading on the Road.
Note: if you’re purchasing one of these books, I’d appreciate it if you were to use the links I provided. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.