Nick vs. a Whale (of a Library)

Nick Vs. A Whale (of a library) In which we discuss a hypocritical National Book Award Board, being quite unabashed about judging books by their covers, and offering encouragement to young writers.

Remember how you were taught at a young age to not judge a book by its cover? You could say that I forgot that lesson. You see, I have a habit of cruising the library aisles looking for gems. Looking for those covers that immediately catch my eye. The ones that seem to hum just a little louder than the others. So, you can imagine my state of ecstasy when I found the captivating ''Art by way of Science'' cover of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. If there''s a moral to not judging a book by its cover I surely haven''t learned it. I just happened to pick up a book that won a host of prizes, including The British Book Award for Literary Fiction. And it happens to be one of the better books I can remember reading. Ever.

Michael Chabon aptly described this book as literary matroyshka nesting dolls. The novel is made up of six stories from different times and different climes. Stretching from the colonization of the Pacific Rim to a post apocalyptic Iron Age, these stories ''nest'' into one another. That is, each story has a kernel from the others deposited within it, creating an effect that''s not so much a singular cohesive story, but the planting and nourishing of allegories so rich and universal they are effective regardless of setting.

Upon safely arriving from my Cloud Atlas Adventure, I resided in book limbo longer than is comfortable for me. I find being between books unsettling. A ship without a port; it’s a disconcerting existence, wondering when and where that next magical book will come from. I picked up a couple of books, and being not instantly captivated by the first paragraph, I set them down with a plan to revisit them later. And then I met Mr. Pynchon...Well, his sci-fi magnum opus Gravity’s Rainbow. I

feel sorry for young, burgeoning writers. I really do. How can one go on, to keep clickity-clacking away, remaining focused, remaining dedicated when there are writers like Thomas Pynchon publishing books? This man amazes me. He is a complete genius. He writes like nothing I have ever read before. Gravity''s Rainbow can best be likened to stepping outside before dawn with a flashlight. The flashlight brightens only where you point it, but gradually the sun rises making all your surroundings visible. You must be patient for that is exactly how he writes. The scene is illuminated slowly and carefully with remarkable restraint. Upon considering Gravity''s Rainbow, the National Book Award committee labeled the book "unreadable, turgid, overwritten, and obscene". And then they awarded Pynchon the National Book Award! So it goes when recognizing genius, I guess.


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