Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bestseller Blues

I worked at a Barnes and Noble for five years while I was in high school and college – it was actually my first job, and as first jobs go, it wasn’t bad at all. I worked with the books, so it wasn’t usually a food job (except when I had to sub in the cafe), and I like shelving and organizing things, getting a huge discount on books, counting down cash register drawers (I am so fast on the ten-key you wouldn’t believe), and sometimes getting free books that didn’t sell and had their covers ripped off to be returned to the publishers. The problem with free books is that I want all of them. I would pick up books that I had no chance in hell of ever wanting to read, just because I didn’t want them to get thrown away.

Over the years, I have weeded many of these from my collection, but for some reason As the Crow Flies by Jeffrey Archer (1991) stayed with me. I’m thinking I decided to keep it because the back cover mentioned World War I, and I was really interested in fictional reflections on WWI for awhile after I took a class that explored that in college. I’m not really sure.

Either way, I still have it – it is really thick and has been taking up some prime real estate in the "A" section of my book shelves, and last week it came up on my patented Library Thing random book generator as the next book I was going to read. Since I generally follow the arbitrary rules I set for myself, I decided to give it a shot -- even though it is 789 pages long, and the blurb about the author notes that "all his novels… have attained bestseller status." I have a prejudice against bestselling novels from my time as a bookseller. Sticking all those stupid 20% off B&N stickers on every week and then pulling them off the next week was a huge drag.

This book ended up being not as bad as I was expecting. Actually, I got rather into it – my theory is that anything that is 789 pages long is going to grab your interest. It’s like watching a soap opera. You watch one episode and you laugh at how poorly written and dumb it is. Then you watch another episode with slightly less scoffing. After a week you can’t wait to find out what is going to happen next with Darcy and Trevor. So it is with As the Crow Flies.

The story follows Charlie Trumper, the grandson of a fruit and vegetable cart man from Whitechapel who fights in WWI, builds up his business, marries his childhood friend and business partner, gets really rich, helps with the WWII war effort, moves up a few classes, and ends up opening the first department store in Britain. All this time he is also fighting a battle of revenge and misunderstanding that begins when his childhood friend and business partner, Becky, falls for the lines of a rich military man, sleeps with him before they are married, and finds out she is pregnant while he is serving in India. The rich guy is a total douche (of course), and his mother is even more calculating in exacting her revenge on this poor girl who would deign to drag her son’s name in the mud. This battle extends through the greater part of the 20th century.

One particularly engaging part of this book is the structure – the narrator changes in each section, and the time period for each section moves back to overlap with the section before, and then moves ahead into unexplored territory. We get the perspectives of Charlie and Becky, but also the douchey rich guy, his mom, the illegitimate son, and the son’s fiancé. I thought the structure really worked well, and helped to hide some of the obvious tricks of the plot (which, in all honesty, are rather satisfying to figure out before they happen and then be rewarded when it all turns out just as you expected.)

So now, I need your help. This book is not going back on my bookshelf – I’m glad I read it, but I don’t want to read it anymore. Plus I need the space it took up so I can put my giant L. Frank Baum Oz collection up there. But, it doesn’t have a cover so I can sell it to Half Price or even give it to Goodwill. Does anyone want it? Please say yes, as the whole reason I grabbed the book in the first place is so that it wouldn’t be thrown away. I swear it is an entertaining read – particularly if you are a fast reader who isn’t too high and mighty for a bit of bestselling historical fiction. After you take it, you can throw it away if you want, but just don’t let me know about it.

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