I finished two very different books this weekend. One was a heady, philosophical novel about time and memory. The other was a raucous YA filled with action and fourteen-year-olds running their own little world. One thing I will never tire of in my reading life is variety, and these two books certainly gave me that.
Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending is a masterfully crafted novel that meditates on youth and aging, while also revealing how much we construct our own versions of our lives, and the trouble that might come when we’re confronted with the lies we’ve told ourselves. I love the way Barnes pushed me to think about my own memories, and to question the truth of those memories. The novel peppers in some philosophy, and it asks questions about history—both personal and global. We all live a story, and we tell that story to ourselves, but how reliable is that version of the truth? The Sense of an Ending is a novel about a man forced to confront the gap in between the version of his life he’s told himself, and the one that really existed. The results for the protagonist are not always pleasant, but they make both him and the reader think. I love that in a book. Sometimes I’m not sure what more I could ask for. Plus there’s a surprise at the end, in a book where I wasn’t expecting a surprise.
I also love a book I can’t put down, even when I feel a little goofy about it. I’ve got mixed feelings about the whole concept of what constitutes “literary” fiction (I actually got in a big debate about it with my first-year MFA mentor), but I think it’s safe to say that most critics would call The Sense of an Ending literary, but Michael Grant’s Gone, not so much. But, as Michael Grant says on his website, his goal wasn’t a meditation on history and memory, but a book that a young reader could not put down, a book that would leave him or her craving the next chapter. Gone is definitely unputdownable. It’s a novel based on a big What If: What if all of a sudden everyone in a certain area over the age of fifteen disappears—or, in Gone lingo—poofs? It’s a world enclosed by a dome and run by fourteen-year-olds, some of whom happen to be mutating and acquiring amazing powers. It’s a world with bullies (some toting guns) and talking coyotes and Big Macs made with waffles or bagels instead of bread. Welcome to the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone). Gone is a big, giant book that a teen reader could plow right through, and now I totally get why I’ve seen it in the hands of so many middle-schoolers over the past few years. Michael Grant knows a good What If question when he sees one.
So, a bit of literary wandering into time and memory and a bit of running around the Fallout Alley Youth Zone…a gratifying, if unusual, combination of reading adventures.