Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Book of Air and Shadows

Jess and I got a nice book, Bird Songs by Les Beletsky as our belated anniversary gift to each other off of Amazon. It has over 250 bird songs recorded into it, so you just select the number of the bird you want to hear, press a button, and you can hear all sorts of birdsongs. I discovered that the annoying cowbird has the beautiful watery voice that I had fallen in love with. Now we're having fun listening to the birds sing outside and trying to identify them.

I'm enjoying the three-day weekend. Jess is working on the second of two major essays due today as the finals in this series of classes. I worked around the house yesterday, but today I'm having a flare-up so I'm taking it easy by reading and relaxing. I'm also enjoying NOT having country music blasting outside my bedroom window at 6:30 am. A new roof is being put on the house, and the roofers show up every morning at 6:30 am. I don't mind the time. It's best to get as much work done before the day gets too hot. What I do mind is their radio blasting out their music so loudly that I can't hear the TV inside, but I can make out every lyric of the songs. They're supposed to be working for another week or so yet. Pray for my sanity and their well-being.

The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber is another entry in the recently popular genre of literary mysteries. Similar to The DaVinci Code, but without the religious controversy, and The Rule of Four, but without the factual existence of the document, Gruber writes a fast-paced thriller that makes fun of its own pretensions. Al Crosetti works as the resident computer guy for a NY rare bookdealer. After a fire damages some 17th century books, he and a co-worker discovered manuscripts bound into the covers alluding to every literature professor's secret dream: a lost work of Shakespeare. It sends Al and his family, plus an intellectual property attorney named Jake Mishkin and his family on a frightening journey meeting Russian mafia, Jewish mafia, Polish spies and ineffective police officers. Narration alternates between the 17th century letters, 3rd person Crosetti, and 1st person through the unreliable Jake Mishkin. Crosetti, a wannabe film student, relates to life through the lens of cinema and often makes observations about what would happen next if this were a movie. Even Jake rants about the possibility of being a fictitious character in a clever conceit of Gruber's. While a clever reader can put several of the puzzle pieces together before the characters, that's ok. It's so rare that an author actually allows a reader to have most of the pieces and give them the chance to figure things out without having a major disclosure thrown in at the end. Also, most of the characters are so busy protecting their own backs and lying to the other characters, they don't have the knowledge that the reader does. Gruber creates growing suspense even in the fragments of the old letters, and he fills the book with fascinating characters: even the minor ones deserve a book of their own. He also manages to switch the reader's sympathy (without realizing it) from Jake to Crosetti by the end of the book. I had a hard time putting this book down.

One of the characters, I forget which, makes a comment about how art has changed over the ages, it was originally a form of worship, but when people stopped believing in God, they looked to their art as something to believe in. While the book is a fun summer read, this may be the most profound statement in it. If you think about art pre-Darwin, it was often about worshipping God, but as people lost their faith in God (or any higher power) the art itself became the focus of worship. This brings us to the place we are today where stating that a piece of art of ugly or that you don't get it, assigns you the stigma of heretic, where works that offend are revered no matter their actual artistic merit, and any artist who claims belief in God automatically loses credibility in the market.

Molly brought her flute home today for the last time. She's taken band for three years, but I've never heard her play by herself. I am so impressed by her musical ability. It comes to her so naturally, and she's dropping band in high school. It's sad that because she has so many required classes that she's unable to fit it in her schedule anymore. At least I can hear her playing it now and will encourage her to keep playing, even just for my own enjoyment.