Roundabout book review

December 22, 2009

While climbing near Las Vegas, the other B and I happened upon a lovely used bookstore. Of course, since it was Vegas the bookstore was in a strip mall next to Dottie’s Spirits and Gaming. But, whatever. I was impressed to find an independent bookstore in the land of Humvees and Beamers.

I walked into the bookstore with the hope that the dusty shelves would hold our October read (see RevDrLiz’s post here). Although it was not to be, the kind (yet rusty) book peddler was happy to assist me in my search.

It went a little something like this:

“Do you guys happen to have The Arsonist’s Guide to Writers Homes in New England?”

“Arsonist’s Guide? Hmm…” He looked around, scratched his balding head. Then, his eyes lit. “You know, I think we have that. Yep, it’s in home repairs.”

I was touched by his seemingly authentic desire to help, and vaguely intrigued by the assumption that a guide to arson would be in the home repairs section.

“Um…Actually, it’s a novel.”

“Oh.” I sensed chagrin. Obviously, a novel about arson was far less exciting than the prospect of a diminutive arsonist getting her start in his shop. “Well all right then, let’s take a look, shall we?”

While the other B baked in the car, the owner and I waded through piles of Mary Higgins Clark, looked beneath filthy paperbacks (the smutty cover wasn’t the filthy part) and ran our fingers over the ‘new’ fiction section that showcased novels printed when I was prenatal.

It was like a treasure hunt. The Arsonist’s Guide, although only a few years old, could have been in his shop, and the possibility filled him with energy and me with amusement. Sadly, even our combined forces couldn’t find the book in question.

Rather than leave empty-handed, I picked up a different book: A Confederacy of Dunces. I bought it, got a wink and an eye twinkle from the peddler, and left happy.

A Confederacy of Dunces, written by John Kennedy Toole, was published 11 years after his suicide in 1980. According to the foreword, by writer Walker Percy, Toole’s mother begged him to take on her son’s book. Ever reluctant, Percy only agreed to read the book after she stormed his office. Once he started reading it, he recognized it as a masterpiece and got it published.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, and I was pleasantly surprised from beginning to end. Through a thick layer of satire, Toole describes the people and city of New Orleans, mostly via the yellowing eyes of the very large Ignatius J. Riley. Ignatius spends much of his time writing his genius thoughts down on notebooks that litter his bedroom floor, until his mother decides that it is time for Ignatius to get a job.

There is a constant stream of conversation, peppered with the city’s dialect and Ignatius’s own crisp tone. The parade of characters ranges from an irate hot dog vendor to a flamboyant homosexual, and all of them are annoyed with Ignatius at some point during the story. Not that you can blame them. He is fat, lazy, pretentious, delusional and…brilliant?

You’ll have to read it to find out.

Although touted as a comedy, Toole’s social commentary isn’t a slapstick show designed for pure entertainment, it is a statement of how the most ridiculous, the most painful events of our lives are connected to the lives of other people leading equally ridiculous and painful lives. It is sad and amazing, and I loved it.

Read A Confederacy of Dunces. Let me know what you think.


5 Responses to “Roundabout book review”

  1. revdrliz Says:

    I spend all my time recording my genius thoughts in my laptop, surrounded by the books and notebooks and junk that litter my floor (also: clothing, backpacks, maps). I’m concerned that my dad will decide that I need to get a job. I see Dunces referenced so often that I’m starting to feel undereducated, not having experienced it.
    I haven’t finished Arsonist’s guide yet either- you still have time left on your treasure hunt. Maybe it *is* in the home repairs section.

  2. lizalester Says:

    Dad read your review and said, “She’s really funny! I like her style.” But he refuses to leave comments so I have to pass it on second hand. Lurkers! ERm…I am also a lurker. Alas.

  3. bridgid Says:

    First – you have to read it. This book is a must. If nothing else, then you will understand the references that I have begun to make. (I especially appreciate the way Ignatius feels about musical television specials.)

    Next – Thanks to your dad for reading. And thinking that I am funny. Lurk on!

  4. verdejez Says:

    i’ve always wanted to read this book. thanks for writing the review! i will have to fit it in after i finish the book i’m currently working on and all the genetics reading i’m doing.

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