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Book Nook - 07-08-2017

Monday, August 07, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Rare Books & Things
Fans of John Grisham’s legal thrillers, would be surprised to pick up Camino Island, that has cops and criminals in plenty but not a lawyer in sight (at least not any important to the plot).

It is, instead a breezy crime-cum-romantic caper set on the fictitious Camino Island, where the Gatsby-esque Bruce Cable runs a book store and the town’s watering hole of choice.  He wears colourful seersucker suits with bowties and lords it over the island’s community of writers and visiting authors conducting signing at his Bay Books store. He has also acquired a mansion, where some of the socializing and many seductions takes place.

His romance and co-habitation with antiques dealer Noelle is quickly established to come down to the business at hand.  Five precious F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts are stolen from the well-guarded Princeton College’s Firestone Library.  Two of the five thieves are immediately caught,  but the rare manuscripts have disappeared.
An impoverished, out-of-work writer Mercer Mann is approached by the stylish Elaine from a shadowy security company hired by the insurers to trace the manuscripts.
They believe Bruce might have acquired them—he is not all that scrupulous and is known to have dealt in stolen rare first editions. Mercer, who co-owns a cottage on Camino Island and spent her summers there in her childhood with her grandmother, has the perfect cover to worm herself into Bruce’s inner circle and try to find out if he has them.

If in the process she gets the inspiration to write the second novel she has been struggling with, as well as a touch of romance, so much the better for her.

The crime is not the Grisham’s main concern here, it’s creating a character like Bruce Cable and having fun with anecdotes about books and writers, at a time when so many book stores are closing down and there is a crisis in the world of publishing. Maybe some of Bruce Cable’s tactics to run a successful bookstore could be imitated?

Camino Island is a light read, perfect for curling up on a rainy day and finishing in one go.

Camino Island
By John Grisham
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 290

 

Excerpt of Camino Island
The imposter borrowed the name of Neville Manchin, an actual professor of American literature at Portland State and soon-to-be doctoral student at Stanford. In his letter, on perfectly forged college stationery, “Professor Manchin” claimed to be a budding scholar of F. Scott Fitzgerald and was keen to see the great writer’s “manuscripts and papers” during a forthcoming trip to the East Coast. The letter was addressed to Dr. Jeffrey Brown, Director of Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University. It arrived with a few others, was duly sorted and passed along, and eventually landed on the desk of Ed Folk, a career junior librarian whose task, among several other monotonous ones, was to verify the credentials of the person who wrote the letter.

Ed received several of these letters each week, all in many ways the same, all from self-proclaimed Fitzgerald buffs and experts, and even from the occasional true scholar. In the previous calendar year, Ed had cleared and logged in 190 of these people through the library. They came from all over the world and arrived wide-eyed and humbled, like pilgrims before a shrine. In his thirty-four years at the same desk, Ed had processed all of them. And, they were not going away. F. Scott Fitzgerald continued to fascinate. The traffic was as heavy now as it had been three decades earlier. These days, though, Ed was wondering what could possibly be left of the great writer’s life that had not been pored over, studied at great length, and written about. Not long ago, a true scholar told Ed that there were now at least a hundred books and over ten thousand published academic articles on Fitzgerald the man, the writer, his works, and his crazy wife.

And he drank himself to death at forty-four! What if he’d lived into old age and kept writing? Ed would need an assistant, maybe two, perhaps even an entire staff. But then Ed knew that an early death was often the key to later acclaim (not to mention greater royalties).

After a few days, Ed finally got around to dealing with Professor Manchin. A quick review of the library’s register revealed that this was a new person, a new request. Some of the veterans had been to Princeton so many times they simply called his number and said, “Hey, Ed, I’ll be there next Tuesday.” Which was fine with Ed. Not so with Manchin. Ed went through the Portland State website and found his man. Undergraduate degree in American lit from the University of Oregon; master’s from UCLA; adjunct gig now for three years. His photo revealed a rather plain-looking young man of perhaps thirty-five, the makings of a beard that was probably temporary, and narrow frameless eyeglasses.

 

No Melting Pot
In Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel Behold The Dreamers, a migrant from Cameroon extols the beauty of his native town of Limbe to his New York employer, who simply asks, “Why are you here?”

It is difficult to explain to a man who has everything what it or like to live in a country where there are no opportunities for a poor man with no connections. But America hold out infinite possibilities even to those who work at menial jobs.

Jende Jonga struggled for years to come to America and then bring his wife Neni and son Liomi to New York. While he hopes for the elusive green card , he works long hours as a chauffeur for Lehman Brothers honcho Clark Edwards and his family. Neni works at low-paid jobs, looks after the home and dreams of becoming a pharmacist. Cindy Edwards lives a life of luxury, full of parties and shopping, but can’t prevent everything slipping out of her grasp.

Mbue builds a contrast-- cliched though it may be-- between the happy life of the immigrant, and the family of his employer falling apart. His wife is an alcoholic, his older son, Vince, is a rebel who wants to chuck up his privileged life and go to India, the younger Mighty finds Jende’s family more loving that his own.

She does not go into details about the 2008 Wall Street crash, but the fallout of the crisis impacts both families in different but devastating ways. Still, in a strange way, the ending is not tragic. There are always new dreams when the old ones crash.

It's a moving story told with empathy and relatable at many levels.

Behold The Dreamers
By Imbolo Mbue
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 400

 

Excerpt of Behold The Dreamers
He'd never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview. Never been told to bring along a copy of his résumé. He hadn't even owned a résumé until the previous week when he'd gone to the library on Thirty--fourth and Madison and a volunteer career counselor had written one for him, detailed his work history to suggest he was a man of grand accomplishments: farmer responsible for tilling land and growing healthy crops; street cleaner responsible for making sure the town of Limbe looked beautiful and pristine; dishwasher in Manhattan restaurant, in charge of ensuring patrons ate from clean and germ--free plates; livery cabdriver in the Bronx, responsible for taking passengers safely from place to place.

He'd never had to worry about whether his experience would be appropriate, whether his English would be perfect, whether he would succeed in coming across as intelligent enough. But today, dressed in the green double--breasted pinstripe suit he'd worn the day he entered America, his ability to impress a man he'd never met was all he could think about. Try as he might, he could do nothing but think about the questions he might be asked, the answers he would need to give, the way he would have to walk and talk and sit, the times he would need to speak or listen and nod, the things he would have to say or not say, the response he would need to give if asked about his legal status in the country. His throat went dry. His palms moistened. Unable to reach for his handkerchief in the packed downtown subway, he wiped both palms on his pants.

"Good morning, please," he said to the security guard in the lobby when he arrived at Lehman Brothers. "My name is Jende Jonga. I am here for Mr. Edwards. Mr. Clark Edwards." The guard, goateed and freckled, asked for his ID, which he quickly pulled out of his brown bifold wallet. The man took it, examined it front and back, looked up at his face, looked down at his suit, smiled, and asked if he was trying to become a stockbroker or something.

Jende shook his head. "No," he replied without smiling back. "A chauffeur."

"Right on," the guard said as he handed him a visitor pass. "Good luck with that." This time Jende smiled. "Thank you, my brother," he said. "I really need all that good luck today."

Alone in the elevator to the twenty--eighth floor, he inspected his fingernails (no dirt, thankfully). He adjusted his clip--on tie using the security mirror above his head; reexamined his teeth and found no visible remnants of the fried ripe plantains and beans he'd eaten for breakfast. He cleared his throat and wiped off whatever saliva had crusted on the sides of his lips. When the doors opened he straightened his shoulders and introduced himself to the receptionist, who, after responding with a nod and a display of extraordinarily white teeth, made a phone call and asked him to follow her. They walked through an open space where young men in blue shirts sat in cubicles with multiple screens, down a corridor, past another open space of cluttered cubicles and into a sunny office with a four--paneled glass window running from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, the thousand autumn--drenched trees and proud towers of Manhattan standing outside. For a second his mouth fell open, at the view outside—-the likes of which he'd never seen—-and the exquisiteness inside. There was a lounging section (black leather sofa, two black leather chairs, glass coffee table) to his right, an executive desk (oval, cherry, black leather reclining chair for the executive, two green leather armchairs for visitors) in the center, and a wall unit (cherry, glass doors, white folders in neat rows) to his left, in front of which Clark Edwards, in a dark suit, was standing ad feeding sheets of paper into a pullout shredder.

"Please, sir, good morning," Jende said, turning toward him and half--bowing.

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