Category: The Bestseller Code 100 (page 1 of 10)

Quick Giveaway of A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan

I accidentally ended up with two paperback copies of  A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan for The Bestseller Code 100 Challenge. Our discussion for the book is supposed to start October 30, 2017, so let’s have a quick giveaway for the extra copy.

Giveaway

If you are participating in our reading challenge and would like a chance to receive a paperback copy of A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan, please leave a comment on this blog post with a valid e-mail address. Let’s make the deadline by 12:00 noon Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday 19, 2017. That will give the postal service time to deliver before the challenge discussion starts. I will randomly select a winner if more than one person enters. Let’s limit it to U.S. residents this time.

You can comment on what your favorite book has been so far, if you’d like.

 

 

giveaway

 

#BestsellerCode100: Number 75. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

It is time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 listThe White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: An example of an epistolary novel, main character Balram Halwai writes about his rags to riches story as he leaves behind his impoverished Indian village to establish his own taxi business.

Although Aravind Adiga was only 33 when he published this debut novel, it won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.


Have you read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga? Feel free to add a link to your review here.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 74. A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan (2000)- Discussion begins October 30, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike Book 1) by Robert Galbraith is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  As Roberta pointed out in her Writer’s Review, we all know now that Robert Galbraith is a pen name for J. K. Rowling, author of the iconic Harry Potter series.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling* by Robert Galbraith


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Pen Name

You have to give Rowling props for using a pen name and writing something entirely different from Harry Potter.  She could have easily used her own name and raked in the dough that would come her way as her faithful readers scurried to buy her newest book.  Instead, she wanted her new book to stand on its own, or not, whichever the case might be.  Or maybe she wanted to make a point about how difficult it is for new authors to get noticed.  In any case, even though The Cuckoo’s Calling received rave reviews for a debut book upon it’s release in 2013, sales were mediocre at best until The Sunday Times revealed that the true author was Rowling.

How did the newspaper discover her identity?  Interestingly enough, they received an anonymous tip that Rowling was the actual author.  The newspaper then hired an computer analysis (sound familiar?) of The Cuckoo’s Calling  and some of Rowling’s other books, comparing them to works by other authors.  As soon as The Sunday Times published their findings, The Cuckoo’s Calling immediately went from No. 5076 in sales on Amazon to No. 1.  Rowling enjoyed five short weeks of anonymity after the book’s release before her identity was revealed.  I can only imagine her disappointment that she was unable to remain “behind the curtain” a bit longer.

Great Characters

The Cuckoo’s Calling doesn’t feel like a debut novel.  For one thing, it contains multiple complex characters.  Unlike one of our previous books, Easy Prey, these characters are memorable – no turning back pages trying to remember who is who.  Not only are they memorable, but we care about them, have visceral reactions to them, even if they are only peripheral characters.  Each character seems to be an essential part to the story, and who we thought they were at the beginning is often revealed to be a flawed first impression.  Rowling/Galbraith certainly knows her/his stuff when it comes to writing characters.

Cormoran Strike

As an example, we first meet the main character, Cormoran Strike, as he is spinning out of control from lack of sleep, the break-up of a longterm relationship, and the downward spiral of his business.  He’s homeless, living in his office, which may soon be gone also.  He’s simply not at his finest, yet this is how we first meet him, and our first impression is not a good one.  Who is this bumbling fool?  Surely he can’t be our detective?!  Yet as the story progresses, we learn that he actually brings a lot to the table as a detective:  he has a keen eye for details, listens intently, can easily spot when someone is lying, and is able to weave together the same story from several people’s perspectives to spot the flaws in their recounting.  He’s actually an excellent detective and it’s a pleasure to watch him at work as he pieces together the why’s and where’s and who’s of the crime, or, in this case, multiple crimes, as the body count does rise from the initial murder of Lula Landry in the opening of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Strike’s Office Temp

Initially I was a bit disappointed in Robin, Strike’s temporary office assistant (a.k.a. secretary).  When we first meet her, she has just accepted a marriage proposal and seemed to be more dazzled by the ring on her finger than the actual man who proposed.  Given the “modern times” we live in, Robin seems quite old-fashioned and it’s a bit surprising that Rowling, as a female author, wouldn’t give Robin a more feminist character.  Of course, Rowling didn’t write The Cuckoo’s Calling; male author Galbraith wrote it.  Maybe Rowling was trying to write this female character as she thought a male author would.  In any case, Robin’s character becomes more developed throughout the book and she and Strike seem to hit some sort of professional rapport by the end of the book, which bodes well for the continuing series.  And obvious seeds have been laid for growth with the Robin character.  I look forward to seeing how her character is developed in the continuing series.

Enjoyable Reading

We’ve now read through 25% of the books from The Bestseller Code’s book list and I feel like we’re finally getting into novels that deserve being on the list.  I thoroughly enjoyed the last book, And The Mountains Echoed, and found The Cuckoo’s Calling to be equally entertaining, albeit a very different manner of entertainment.  I can only hope our next book in the reading challenge, The White Tiger, will keep up this streak of enjoyable reading.

If you enjoyed reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, will you be reading the rest of the Cormoran Strike series?  I know I will!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 75. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008) – Discussion begins October 16, 2017
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker Prize

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Analysis of The Cuckoo’s Calling

Let’s take a look at The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (pen name for J. K. Rowling) from a writer’s perspective (The discussion began here).

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling* by Robert Galbraith

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling writes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith for this series. She also wrote The Casual Vacancy, which is another title on The Bestseller Code list.  This fact makes J.K. Rowling the only author with two novels in our Bestseller 100 reading challenge.

Summary:  When a supermodel falls to her death, her brother doesn’t believe that it is suicide. He hires private investigator Cormoran Strike to find out the truth.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in a series. The second is The Silkworm and third is Career of Evil. According to Rowling, the fourth is in the works (with the working title Lethal White). The series may extend to ten books.

The series has also been adapted for television by the BBC. (Caution:  Don’t watch this trailer if you don’t want to see actors in the roles you’ve envisioned when you read the book.)

Character

J. K. Rowling rules when it comes to creating memorable characters. Each person is a distinctive individual. No clones in her books.

Some of the characters in this particular novel seem to be subtly (and not so subtly) named after birds. The cuckoo in the title is type of bird, as well as a pet nickname of the supermodel who falls to her death, Lula Landry.

The first major character we meet is Robin.

 British Robin J. K. Rowling
Photo credit: Gidzy via Visual hunt / CC BY

We’ll assume that’s a British robin. Although we meet her first, Robin fills the role of sidekick.

Private investigator Cormoran Strike is the protagonist. Search his first name and Google guesses we were looking for a cormorant (a water bird), although it is also the name of some obscure Cornish giant. His surname, Strike, is awfully close to shrike, which is another type of bird. Okay, maybe we’re stretching things, but is Wardle a warbler?

By the way, Lula is supposed to have been wearing angels wings during a photo shoot prior to her death, but they do look a lot like bird wings in the trailer for the show above.

Okay, that was a bit of fun.

Point of View

One of the uncommon aspects of the novel is J. K. Rowling’s use of the third-person omniscient perspective, but in a way that mimics third person limited. The abrupt changes from point of view (POV) one character to another would probably not fly with most writing critique groups these days, where true third person limited reigns supreme.

For example, on page 123 (in the paperback version), we have Robin’s POV in one paragraph.

By the time she had marched through the usual chaos and debris to Denmark Street, extracted the key from behind the cistern as instructed, and been snubbed yet again by a superior-sounding girl in Freddie Bestigui’s office, Robin was in a thoroughly bad temper.

With a faint wisp  of transition, the next sentence we’re in Strike’s POV.

Though he did not know it, Strike was, at that very moment, passing the scene of the most romantic moments of Robin’s life. The steps below the statue of Eros were…

It was interesting to see how such a famous and prolific author handled the difficulty of following more than one character. In her hands, it was not as confusing as it could be.

Setting

The Cuckoo’s Calling is set in London and environs. Most of the setting is treated casually, as if described by someone who familiar with the place. This makes sense because Cormoran Strike is a local and he wouldn’t spend a lot of time describing his surroundings. Still, readers do get a sense of place as the characters visit pubs and struggle through a snowstorm or two.

General Discussion

As mysteries go, this one was satisfying one. There were plenty of potential suspects, red herrings, and the big reveal at the end was quite surprising. It moves at a good pace, giving readers a chance to accumulate and mull over clues.

For some of the less satisfying aspects of the novel, one has to wonder if J. K. Rowling added them intentionally because she was trying to sound as if she was a male writing his debut work. For example, Robin shows promise at first as a spunky assistant, but is soon relegated to discovering Strike’s backstory and giving Strike someone to bounce ideas off of. The rest of her time is spent in passive-aggressive battles with her controlling fiancé, Matthew, who seems to be included in the book solely to prevent Cormoran from wanting to have a relationship with her. (Cormoran had a fiancée who was much hotter than Robin, but they broke up.)

I liked that Cormoran was large, flabby, and had unruly hair. It made him unique. However, he didn’t seem to have any characteristics that would justify his luck in having intimate relationships with extraordinarily beautiful women/supermodels. He didn’t have wads of money, a particularly charismatic personality, or an outstanding talent.  It seemed incongruous. Was that part of some debut-male-author disguise Rowling invented? (On the other hand, if he had been described like the actor Tom Burke, who plays him in the BBC series, I could have fully understood his success. Tom Burke has gorgeous eyes. )

Despite a few minor quibbles, The Cuckoo’s Calling is an enjoyable, entertaining novel overall. It definitely qualifies as one of the best of the bestsellers.

 

Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 75. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008) – Discussion begins October 16, 2017
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker Prize

#BestsellerCode100: Number 76. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling* by Robert Galbraith

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym used by J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. She also wrote The Casual Vacancy, another title on The Bestseller Code list.  This makes J.K. Rowling the only author with two novels in our best of the bestsellers challenge.

Summary:  When a supermodel falls to her death, her brother doesn’t believe that it is suicide. He hires private investigator Cormoran Strike to find out the truth.

This is the first in a series. The Silkworm is the second novel and Career of Evil is the third novel in the series.

Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith? Feel free to add a link to your review here.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 75. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008) – Discussion begins October 16, 2017
Literary fiction, won the Man Booker Prize

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Thoughts About And The Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini is a breathtaking novel. Let’s take some time to examine it from a writer’s perspective. (If you want to read more, our discussion started here.)

This post contains spoilers.

 

And the Mountains Echoed

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: The novel starts in 1952, when an Afghan father sells his little daughter, Pari to a wealthy couple. This devastates her older brother who has raised Pari from the time their mother died. The story reveals the waves of events that radiate out from this traumatic beginning.

And the Mountains Echoed is Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, published in 2013. A medical doctor by training, his previous novels were The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Khaled Hosseini is a masterful, masterful storyteller. In this novel, he explores some fairly complicated writing techniques, including telling the story from multiple characters perspectives, using both first and third person points of view, and mixing in some scenes that are epistolary (a letter, an obituary, and an interview).

Genre

Even though some have labeled it as historical fiction,  And the Mountains Echoed doesn’t read exactly like that genre. It starts in 1952, but only because that is when the initiating events took place. The time the novel is set in never seems as important as the place, which is initially Afghanistan. Also, some sections are written in the present tense, which gives it a modern tone.

Others have called it a drama, or more specifically, a generational drama. Given its serious, realistic tone, that seems like a better fit.

Although it lacks the interior journey of literary fiction, it does contain some of the elements, such as the use of symbols, themes, and moving back and forth in time rather than sticking to chronological order.

 

What do the feathers symbolize?

Characters

At the heart of the story are Pari, the young girl who is sold to another family, and Abdullah, the older brother who mourns her loss. Pari’s father Saboor sells Pari so his new wife Parwana and her children have a better chance of survival. To give the story more depth, next we learn Parwana has made her own tragic choices.  We also discover Parwana’s brother Nabi has his less-than-noble personal reasons for encouraging Pari’s sale to his employers. For the rest of the book we wonder if the two siblings will ever find one another again.

The story deviates from the main characters’ arc in the middle. We learn Dr. Markos Varvaris’s back story in one chapter, and the sad, surprising story of cousins Timur and Idris Bashiri in another. In fact, although the plot does follow Pari, she has no memory of what happened to her, with only a vague feeling of missing something. Because of that, her scenes become rather superficial and years of her life are summarized in a few paragraphs. It is also surprising that for much of the middle we lose track of Abdullah altogether, yet he is the one most effected by the loss of his sister. What happened to him? How did he cope? Somehow his life gets hidden behind a sea of others.

On the plus side, although there are many characters to remember, they are so vividly written that they will stick with you.

Discussion

Adding “little mysteries” can create depth and interest in a novel. What that means is not to state facts or events outright, but hint at them. Leave a question in the reader’s mind and answer it within the next few pages. These aren’t necessarily big plot details, but can be small things for reader’s to discover like colorful gems.

This is a formidable technique in Hosseini’s hands. For example, in the beginning we’re not quite sure why the little family is traveling to Kabul.  The story the father tells in the first scene is revealing, obviously, but the reader isn’t sure until looking back at it. In fact, at first we’re not even sure who is telling the story.

In another example, Nila says as her parting words,

“It was you, Nabi,”…”It was always you. Didn’t you know?”

What does she mean? Did she secretly love Nabi? She never acted on it if she was. Nabi was confused by her words and so was the reader. Later, Hosseini reveals that it is Nila’s husband Suleman who is in love with Nabi. The revelation has stronger impact because the question was in the reader’s mind.

And the Mountains Echoed is a gift for readers and writers alike. It is powerful, imaginative, enlightening and pulls on your emotions. It is definitely one of the best of the bestsellers.

Have you read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 76. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013) – Discussion begins October 2, 2017
Crime fiction/Mystery by J.K. Rowling writing under a pseudonym

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Hosseini is the author of bestsellers The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both set in Hosseini’s homeland, Afghanistan. In And The Mountains Echoed, he returns yet again to Afghanistan and chronicles the lives of interconnected families and friends over the span of several generations and across multiple continents.  And The Mountains Echoed is about sacrifice, honor, betrayal, love, and, above all, about how the choices an individual makes can impact others for generations to come.

This post does contain spoilers.

And The Mountains Echoed* by Khaled Hosseini

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Sacrifice

Khalid Hosseini is a storyteller who weaves fables and myths into his novels. In the first chapter of And The Mountains Echoed, a father tells his ten-year-old son Abdullah and three-year-old daughter Pari the story of a div (a supernatural entity with disagreeable characteristics) that forces families to give up one of their children in order to save the lives of all the children in the family. It’s a story of making unthinkable choices and sacrifices all for the sake of love of family, and presages the sacrifice this father makes in the very next chapter when he sells his daughter Pari to a wealthy Afghan family. In doing so, he potentially garners the means to enable the rest of his children to survive the upcoming harsh winter.

This sacrifice of the daughter, and splitting up of the previously inseparable siblings Abdullah and Pari, provides the backdrop for the rest of the novel. Almost every subsequent chapter relates how this event impacted the life of another person from their viewpoint, telling their story. There are a couple of chapters about individuals who are only peripherally connected to Abdullah and Pari (“fairy” in Farsi), and those chapters don’t seem to be quite as compelling as the rest of the book. Their stories are important, though, and lend to the overall themes of sacrifice and choices.

Viewpoints

Even though there are chapters that I didn’t find as compelling as others, I enjoyed reading the different viewpoints that each of these chapters bring to the story. Each viewpoint added a new, previously unseen dimension to the story, whether they were directly connected to Abdullah and Pari or not. We learn from Nabi, the children’s uncle, that he originated the idea of the adoption as a way to become emotionally closer to his employer’s wife, an idea that backfires almost immediately. Nila Wahdati, Pari’s adoptive mother, is one of the stories more complex and tragic characters. She’s a French-Afghan poet trying to maintain her independence as a woman and a writer of passionate poetry in patriarchal Afghan society.

The alternating viewpoints lends a rhythm to the story, a cadence that the computer algorithm from The Bestseller Code has shown us is an important component in predicting a bestseller. Each chapter is a story within the overall story, with a beginning, a peak, and an ending. And each story brings us a little further along in understanding the effects of Abdullah’s and Pari’s separation.

Title Echoes

The Bestseller Code tells us that the choice of a title can be a very important component in creating a bestseller. In several interviews, Hosseini explains the significance of the title And The Mountains Echoed. Here’s an quote from Hosseini from an interview by The Huffington Post:

Just as a mountain would echo back a shout, the fateful acts committed before the mountains too emit an echo. They have a rippling effect, expanding outward, touching lives further and further away. I liked the idea of a decision or an act echoing through both place and time, altering the fates of characters both living and not yet born.

The echoes of the sacrifice of Pari reverberate down through the generations in And The Mountains Echoed. In each chapter, the main character faces his/her own penultimate moment of choice, to make that sacrifice or not. Will they sacrifice themselves and their happiness for the good of the family or will they follow their own dreams and desires and abandon their family duties and obligations?

And The Mountains Echoed is a heartwarming story about the strength of familial love. It is filled with interesting, flawed, sometimes tragic characters who will remain with you long after you finish the last page. It’s a story you won’t regret reading.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 76. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013) – Discussion begins October 2, 2017
Crime fiction/Mystery by J.K. Rowling writing under a pseudonym

#BestsellerCode100: Number 77. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, 77.  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

And the Mountains Echoed

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: The novel starts in 1952, when an Afghan father sells his little daughter, separating her from the brother who has raised her. It follows the waves of events that radiate out from this traumatic beginning.

This is Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, published in 2013. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t published any since? A medical doctor by training, his previous novels were The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

 

Have you read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 76. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013) – Discussion begins October 2, 2017
Crime fiction/Mystery by J.K. Rowling writing under a pseudonym

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  The full title of this book is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, A Modest Bestiary.  Bestiaries, a collection of stories using anthropomorphic animals to deliver moral or religious lessons, were a popular literary format in the Middle Ages.  Interestingly, the title used for UK publication is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, A Wicked Bestiary.  I wonder why the publishers thought “modest” would sell better in the US than “wicked.”  Personally, I think wicked describes these stories much more aptly than modest.

This post does contain spoilers.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Anthropomorphic Animals

In August we read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, which featured a dog, Enzo, as the main character.  As I mentioned in my review, I really liked The Art of Racing in the Rain and the fact that we were inside the mind of a dog, reliving his story from his viewpoint, worked for me.  I cared about Enzo and really hoped he would achieve his goal of being reincarnated as a race car driver.  But throughout the book, Enzo was a dog, with all the limitations of a dog.  He couldn’t actually speak to humans, he couldn’t act in any way that was outside the norms of being a dog.

In Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk we have animals that act as humans, talk as humans, interact with other animals as humans, all while still being animals, and this didn’t work at all for me.  Take the story of “The Mouse and The Snake” that Roberta mentioned in her review.  Early in the story the mouse is talking about her snake to a friend:

She’d then describe how he slept at the foot of her bed and woke her each morning with a kiss.

Um, I’m sorry, but snakes can’t kiss.

Also, if the animals in these stories are able to talk and act like humans, why are not ALL of the animals doing so?  In this same story, the mouse tries to teach the snake to talk.

In those first few months, their lunch was followed by a speech-therapy session.  “Can you say, ‘Hello, mouse friend’? Can you say, ‘I love you’?”

Eventually she saw the chauvinism of her attempt.  Why should he learn to speak like a rodent.  Why not the other way around?  Hence she made it her business to try and master snake.  After weeks of getting nowhere she split her tongue with a razor.  This didn’t make it any easier to communicate, but it did give them something else in common.

In all the other stories, the animals just magically understand each other.  Squirrels talk to chipmunks.  Owls talk to hippos.  Cows talk to turkeys.  There’s no mention of learning another language – they just all understand each other.  But not in this story.

Where’s The Hilarity?

I read the hardcover copy of this book and on the back of the jacket there are several short blurbs from other reviewers mentioning how much this book made them laugh, or how funny they found it to be.  I failed to find any humor at all.  It’s bizarre, it’s dark, it’s strange, it’s horrifying, but funny it is not.  There was more than one story where I simply had to put the book down and not read anymore due to the horrific ending.  Yes, these stories illuminate the oddities and inconsistencies of humans and human interaction, point out the hypocrisy and pretenses that we all have, but does that make them worth reading?  For me, it did not.  More often than not, Sedaris’s intended messages were lost on me.  If anyone can explain the meaning behind the last story, “The Grieving Owl,” I’d be happy to hear it.

The Bestseller List

The bigger question is, why did the computer algorithm pick this particular book to include on it’s list of 100 Bestsellers.  I can see how faithful readers of David Sedaris might have made it a bestseller by purchasing the book when it was first published simply because they loved his other books.  But why did the computer pick it over so many other bestsellers?  After all, we’re not reading and reviewing all of these books just for the fun of it.  These are books specifically chosen by the computer algorithm mentioned in The Bestseller Code, Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel.  So what did the computer algorithm see that I did not?

The Bestseller Code discusses the similarities between two of the top-selling authors of today, John Grisham and Danielle Steel:

But perhaps the most interesting similarity between Grisham and Steel is that their to-shared topic also happens to be the topic our model found most useful in identifying bestsellers.  It is the topic that is most overrepresented in bestselling books when compared to non-bestsellers, and thus it has considerable predictive power…. It is more specifically about human closeness and human connection.  Scenes that display this most important indicator of bestselling are all about people communicating in moments of shared intimacy, shared chemistry, and shared bonds.

Perhaps it is fair to speculate that the portion of the American public that actually reads fiction likes to read more or less about itself.

The stories in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk are 100% about human connection, shared intimacy, and shared bonds.  Perhaps the computer algorithm was better able than I to overlook the inconsistencies of animals doing human things and simply see the stories as human stories.  Flawed humans, but humans all the same.

What did you think of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk?  If you’ve read any of David Sedaris’s other books, how would you rate this one compared to those?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

77.  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013) – Discussion begins September 18, 2017
Genre:  Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Seeking Meaning In Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris is a bit different from the other books we’ve read so far for The Bestseller Code 100 Challenge. For that reason, this review is also going to be a change of pace.

This post contains spoilers.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: This small book is a collection of short, fable-like stories featuring anthropomorphic animals. Regardless of the format, these are most definitely not tales for children.

Rather than reviewing every short story in the book, I thought I’d pick out one and delve into it more deeply.

The Mouse and the Snake

Number six out of a total of sixteen stories, this fable featured a mouse who kept a baby corn snake as a pet. She adopted the snake when she saw it hatching from an egg. Over time, the mouse became extremely attached to it, even to the point where she began to shun other relationships. She justified bringing home baby toads for it to eat, and lied about the mole she’d captured. One day a mother toad and mother mole stopped by looking for their offspring, but no one answered the door. Just as well, because the snake had eaten its mouse benefactor and would have eaten the two of them as well if it had the opportunity.

Like most of the short stories in the book, this one has a dark edginess. Bad things happen. It may be that Sedaris choose to feature animals as characters to give some distance and perspective to the events, but they are still hard to swallow (sorry).

Each of these stories has layers of meaning. For example, we could interpret the love of the mouse for the snake to represent a bad relationship, when we love people who aren’t good for us. These unhealthy relationships can make us do terrible things and aren’t likely to end well.

You could also interpret the snake to mean a destructive habit, like drug use or alcoholism. Drug or alcohol abuse can make a person do things they wouldn’t normally do, and the addict can’t always see the harm of their actions. Sometimes the addiction (snake) wins.

Although it isn’t a pleasant book to read, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is complex and at times profound. Each story is short and quick, but the collection is likely to stay with you long after you finish.

Have you read Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time after the discussion starts.

77.  And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013) – Discussion begins September 18, 2017
Genre:  Historical fiction

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