30 Books in 30 Days: 8.4.11

Look at Me by Jennifer Egan

This is one of my favorite books of all time.  There are a couple of elements that make this so.  First, Jennifer Egan writes about intellectual issues that I care about–issues that could be covered in a nice non-fiction essay–but puts them in the form of fiction.  This is a really interesting way to make topics that I might expect to read about in a grad school class relevant and palatable to the fiction reader.  For example, this book is rich in description of the fading historical landscape.  Descriptions of crumbling old signs for factories and stores where real goods were made are contrasted with the increasingly non-tangible world of the internet and virtual communication.  I have long held a fascination with fading industrial towns and have enjoyed photographing the ghostly and beautiful images left by manufacturers signs.  Egan in fact shows that this is not just a phenomenon for photography but that these fading industrial worlds have real impact upon the ways we see ourselves and understand each other.  The loss of the real and the invasion of the virtual is one of the major themes of her book.  Other elements that make this a great book:  detailed writing evoking a range of very different characters, all who come alive on the page.  From a super model to a restless midwestern teenager to a brooding intellectual to a terror suspect, Egan shows the dangerous and intriguing ways in which these lives intersect.  Truly a book of our times and of the future, I recommend this wholeheartedly.  (NOTE:  this book has some similarities to Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, a novel which I will cover in a future post.)

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