Saturday, March 13, 2010

A modern-day literary gem

As I've expressed before on this blog, I normally don't read modern fiction. Most of the books on my shelf were published before my lifetime. I don't really understand it. I just enjoy old books more. The closest I can come to an explanation is an anecdote about my musical tastes. When I was a kid, I listened to nothing but country music, because that's what my parents listened to. I was enamored over George Strait and Clint Black and Reba McIntyre and all the rest. Then one day during my high school years, shortly after I got my license, I was driving around listening to the radio. And it just hit me. The nasally, modern "country" music flowing through the speakers sounded phony and terrible. Since that day I never actively listened to modern country music again.

But I love old country and bluegrass. Hank Williams (Senior, of course). Bill Monroe. Johnny Cash. Flatt and Scruggs. Willie Nelson.

Yeah, that's the stuff.

My tastes in fiction have largely gravitated the same direction: older is better. Steinbeck. Pearl S. Buck. Charles Portis. John D. MacDonald. I love it. And conversely, I would rather, I don't know, get a root canal than read a Tom Clancy book.

But every once in a while I stumble upon something written more recently that strikes a chord. One example would be "The Kite Runner," a fascinating and heartbreaking book by Khaled Hosseini. A riveting thriller called "The Straw Men" by Michael Marshall kept me engaged. A handful of others.

Recently I found another one. It's "The Corrections," by Jonathan Franzen. It was published in 2001. And it's simply marvelous. It's a big honking mother of a book, over 500 pages, and I've taken my time getting through it. But I'm nearing the end, and I can't wait to finish it.

(Although, this book about a dysfunctional Midwestern family sometimes strikes a little too close to home - even though my own family, by comparison, is startlingly functional.)

Franzen's next novel, "Freedom," will come out later this year. And for the first time in years, I may actually have to go to the bookstore and buy it the day it comes out, rather than waiting until it shows up in the discount racks.

Now if only I could find a modern country music artist to engage me.

But I'm not holding my breath.

--Matt Kelsey

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