Sunday, November 12, 2006

Current reading includes the 13th Tale and Obama's The Audacity of Hope

96. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield. Fiction, 11-6, pp. 406
97. The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama. Non-Fiction, 11-9, pp. 362

Two surprise bestsellers comprise my recently completed books.

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, is enjoyable, but trivial. It celebrates story (see the book’s back cover), appropriately so, since the novel contains multiple story lines; all neatly resolved by the novel’s completion.

The central story is the mystery of exactly who is Vida Winter. We quickly learn that Miss Winter is a prolific and popular novelist, who also sketches a different personal history for every interview she gives. Now, Miss Winter, who is dying, has decided to reveal her “real” story.

There’s also the story of the mysterious thirteenth tale from which the novel draws its title. Miss Winter’s first book, a collection of short stories, was originally named Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, yet there are only a dozen stories. Although the book is recalled, renamed and reissued, Miss Winter’s fans, and they are legion, are curious about the fate of the missing thirteenth tale.

There is also the story of Miss Winter’s accidental biographer and the novel’s narrator, Margaret Lea, who has a secret of her own.

The Thirteenth Tale is a pleasant diversion. It has garnered a position on the bestseller, thanks in part, I think, to an aggressive marketing campaign. It might have had even stronger sales had it’s publisher issued the book this past summer. It is the ideal beach read.

Senator Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope is no beach read. It is a serious, although not overly complex book, that is as much about Obama’s personality and character as it is about ideas.

In its review, The New York Times hailed Obama as the rare politician who can write. And he can. One can’t help but wonder if there was a ghost writer or, at the least, a very, very good editor behind this book. Nevertheless, the ideas and opinions expressed here do belong to Obama, who was thrust onto the national stage at the Democrat National Convention two years and who is now on everyone’s shortlist as a potential candidate for president in 2008.

Obama, the son of a black man and a white woman, seems to be equal parts pragmatist and idealist. He is also, and this is part of his appeal, a reasonable man, firm in his own convictions, who can also see – clearly – the other side to almost every argument.

Obama lays out his thoughts on such issues as health care reform and immigration, spins a few anecdotes of life on the campaign trail and in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol and allows us to meet his wife and daughters.

The Audacity of Hope is an intriguing book. I don’t recall anything quite like it by another American politician and that may explain the better part of its appeal – ultimately, the book, like the man, is unique.

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