Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A book worth a cup of coffee

If you're a regular reader, you might have caught my cantankerous rant slightly contrarian post a few weeks ago, in which I listed a few of the heralded books of the year that I had no interest in reading.  Miss Betty here at the library noticed and challenged me to overcome my apathy about Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists.  We have often discussed books and have had similar reactions to many books, so Betty's recommendation alone would've had me rethinking my aversion to the book.  But then she took it a step further: she was so sure I would like the book that she bet me a cup of coffee I would like it.  This was serious -- I do not mess around when it comes to coffee, which Betty everyone who's known me for ten minutes knows, so I accepted the caffeine-infused gauntlet that had just been thrown. 

Well, dear reader, I now know what Betty takes in her coffee.  I'll admit: for the first chapter, I thought that I was surely going to be sipping on my brew from atop my high horse.  After a slow start, though, I started to understand the story and before I knew it, I was nearly finished.  The Imperfectionists is about the people who comprise the staff (and one reader) of an English-language newspaper in Italy.  Just as the paper struggles to maintain its relevance in the 24-hour-news-cycle 21st century, each of the individuals profiled is struggling to maintain relevance in his or her own personal life.  Some were more likable than others, but each struggled with this sense of relevancy.  Intertwined between the chapters, Rachman tells the story of the newspaper's creation and its successes and failures over the subsequent years.

The Imperfectionists reads a bit more like a collection of short stories connected by an inky thread.  The book reminds me of the idea that we are all extras in the movie of someone else's life.  The short story feel serves to strengthen, rather than diminish, the book's message of discovering the personalities that lie behind the surface of the extras who surround us.  It's a great book, and I now publicly, gladly, concede it merits the buzz surrounding it.  It also goes great with a cup of coffee.   

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