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How to Read Two Books at Once
The only thing better than reading a book is reading two books. You don’t hold a book in each hand; you read a story-within-a-story, a novel-within-a-novel. It’s a fairly simple literary technique--a character in the book reads or writes or finds or remembers a book of his or her own and you, the reader, read them both--but the result is an intricate web of stories that weave in and out of each other, merging and dividing and running parallel to ultimately compliment each other. And the reader gets two stories for the price of one, the best of both worlds, and some of the most creative and innovative novels ever written.   Print this list Print this list
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Contributed by KaliO     |    Comment on this list (2)     |     5226 views

Cover Art: The blind assassin /
The blind assassin
Atwood, Margaret, 1939-
Winner of the prestigious Booker Prize, The Blind Assassin is one of recent literature’s most successful variations on the novel within the novel. It’s the story of two privileged sisters who share a secluded, uneven upbringing in the years between World War I and World War II. Laura, the younger sister, dies when her car goes off a bridge. Iris, the elder, is the survivor—of Laura, of her parents, of her husband, and of her history, which she narrates to us in all its failed glory. Iris is an old woman when she looks back on her life; she’s writing her memoirs to record the truths of her life. One of those truths is her sister’s book, published posthumously and titled The Blind Assassin. We get Laura’s novel in small doses scattered among Iris’s memories. It’s the story of a young socialite and her passionate affair with a blue-collar man—and there’s a bonus story-within-a-story here too, as the nameless man spins a science-fiction tale of violence and romance for his equally nameless lover. Every storyline within author Margaret Atwood’s pages is gripping, but it is Iris--long-since disillusioned by the cruel and subtle realities of life--who really has our attention. Atwood writes Iris with a sharp intelligence and a sympathetic eye, but it is through all the combined and nested stories that we fully understand how often we purposely overlook what’s in plain sight, and how poignantly we regret it when we see the truth at last.
Adult Fiction ATWOOD
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Cover Art: If on a winter's night a traveler /
If on a winter's night a traveler
Calvino, Italo.
This book opens by telling both you and the character of The Reader what the experience of reading If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino is like. After a few pages, however, The Reader realizes that his copy of this book has a printer’s error. He goes back to the bookstore to get a new copy, meets Another Reader who has the same problem and flirts with her, and is told that all the Calvino books are hopeless misprinted and what he’s been reading is actually a book by Polish writer. The Reader goes home with what he hopes is finally the right volume, reads for a few pages, and then discovers that no, this book is the wrong book too. Back to the bookstore, back to another tantalizing interaction with Another Reader, and back home again with a new book that’s supposed to be the book he’s been trying to read all along—but isn’t. This happens ten times (talk about novels within novels!) and we, the readers (not The Readers), are very content to go along for the ride. It may sound confusing, but the real author Italo Calvino (who died in 1985) has long been known as a master of avant-garde and experimental fiction. It’s not every writer who can begin ten separate novels that differ in tone and style and genre and still make them entertaining; it’s not every writer who can marry the solitary (and at times frustrating) act of reading with a story about a blooming romance that’s sparked by that very same solitary (and at times frustrating) act of reading. But Calvino does it—with wit, with charm, and with superior skill.
Adult Fiction CALVINO
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Cover Art: Lord Byron's novel : the evening land /
Lord Byron's novel : the evening land
Crowley, John, 1942-
It was a dark and stormy night. Sitting around the fire in the rainy gloom of 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her poet-boyfriend Percy Shelley, and their host told ghost stories to scare the bejeezus out of each other. Mary later became Mary Shelley and her ghost story became the legendary masterpiece Frankenstein. Shelley himself, we know, quickly gave up his ghost story to encourage his new wife to publish hers. Their host on that fateful night was none other than poet extraordinaire Lord Byron. He wrote a few hundred words about the mysterious death of an old man, and left it at that—or did he? Thus we reach the premise of John Crowley’s Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land. We get to read this long-lost novel, painstakingly imagined by Crowley, as a mad, gothic story about the sensational life of one Ali Sane. It is accompanied by thoughtful footnotes from Byron’s daughter Ada, who, besides saving her estranged father’s manuscript from her scorned mother, was a brilliant mathematician in her own right. And finally, we read emails to and from Alexandra "Smith" Novak. Alexandra is researching Ada’s life for a website about women scientists, and she stumbles across a series of complex numerical columns that Ada wrote in the mid-19th century. To decode this mystery, Alexandra must turn to her own estranged father, who is also an expert Byron scholar. This circular plot pairs the romantic style of Lord Byron with modern communications and advanced math—no easy feat. But Crowley almost perfectly mimics Byron, and he breathes real life into the characters of Ada and Alexandra as they attempt to reconnect and recreate a vision of their lives that they never fully had. Rewriting an actual lost novel is one of the more intricate ways to incorporate a story within a story, but Crowley is well up to the challenge.
Adult Fiction CROWLEY
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Cover Art: Everything is illuminated : a novel /
Everything is illuminated : a novel
Foer, Jonathan Safran, 1977-
Everything is Illuminated begins with the comically fractured English stylings of one Alex Perchov, a cocky young Ukrainian man who manages to think he’s God’s gift to women even while his cranky grandfather hollers at him and his grandfather’s faux-seeing eye dog slobbers nearby. But Alex is irresistible as he narrates the story of how he translated for “the hero,” an American student named Jonathon Safran Foer (yep, just like the author) who searched for the Ukrainian woman who may (or may not) have saved his Jewish grandfather during World War II. Alex sends his musings on their travels back to Jonathon and receives chapters of a novel that Jonathon is writing, a novel about the history of a small Eastern European village that begins in 1791 and is as chock-full of quirky characters and haunting histories as the real story of finding (or not finding) the Ukrainian woman. For the villagers of the novel-within-the-novel, the horrors of World War II are waiting in the future; for Alex and Jonathon, those same horrors are ready to rear their heads from the ugly past at every turn. Despite the overshadowing presence of war and tragedy, Everything is Illuminated is at heart a kitschy, endearing work that blends fables and magical realism into the kind of truly original story that we all long to read.
Adult Fiction FOER
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Cover Art: The art of detection /
The art of detection
King, Laurie R.
Inspector Kate Martinelli has seen a lot of strange things in her years as a San Francisco detective, but the murder of Philip Gilbert might just take the cake. Mr. Gilbert’s body was found in an old gun emplacement in the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate Park. Since Gilbert made his living as a Sherlock Holmes connoisseur (even his home is decked out as a replica of Holmes’ Victorian study at 221B Baker Street), it’s a pretty odd place to get killed. The link becomes clear, however, when a manuscript that may be an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes to light. Gilbert bought the document for a scant $30; it may be worth millions and that may be motive for murder. Kate reads the story for clues: In Prohibition-era San Francisco, “Mr. Sigurson” (one of the aliases Conan Doyle used for Holmes) investigates the murder of a transvestite’s military lover. As the connections between the murders (one in the fictional past of the short story, and one in Kate’s all-too-real present) add up, the no-nonsense inspector follows leads and interviews suspects. She also banters with her gruff police partner Al Hawkin, shares quiet moments with her life partner Leonora, and parents their precocious three-year-old daughter. Author Laurie R. King infuses both stories with her trademark precision and atmosphere—Holmes frequents the gritty dives of 1920s San Francisco while Kate investigates her modern city’s diverse inhabitants. Both mysteries are compelling, and the way they ultimately weave together is storytelling at its finest.
Adult Fiction KING
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Cover Art: The history of love /
The history of love
Krauss, Nicole.
Leo Gursky is an old man waiting for the last big event of his life: his death. He’s so alone in the world that he goes out and makes a minor spectacle of himself—dropping his change, spilling his popcorn—just to make sure someone has noticed him. Alma Singer is a fourteen-year-old girl trying to find a cure for the permanent sadness her mother’s been wrapped in ever since the death of her father seven years ago. Alma thinks the answer might lie in the book her mother is translating, an obscure story called The History of Love. The narration alternates between Leo and Alma and the reader also gets glimpses of the moving, elegantly written History of Love and its mysterious author. As the threads of the storyline weave together in the most intimate ways, the novel becomes unputdownable. Leo and Alma are an unlikely pair—Leo pines for his long-lost love; Alma’s little brother thinks he’s the Messiah; Leo escaped to America from Nazi-occupied Poland; Alma’s hobby is identifying edible wild plants—but they are both survivors of great personal loss. Author Nicole Krauss writes about her characters with tenderness and real feeling, and it doesn’t take long before we’re deeply invested in their lives. So invested, in fact, that we’ll be thinking about the beautiful interlocking stories of The History of Love long after we’ve turned the last page.
Adult Fiction KRAUSS
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Cover Art: Lincoln's dreams /
Lincoln's dreams
Willis, Connie.
Jeff is a researcher for a Civil War-era historical fiction writer. This means he spends his days looking up the history of generals’ horses or finding exactly where President Lincoln’s sons are buried. When Jeff meets Annie, the patient of an old friend who works at a sleep institute, everything he knows about history is turned on its head. Annie is having nightmares, terrible dreams about the Civil War. Her doctor thinks they’re a symptom of a psychiatric problem, but Jeff is not convinced: there are details in Annie’s dreams that she couldn’t possibly know. As Jeff and Annie explore Annie’s dreams, they come to believe that they aren’t hers at all—they are the dreams of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Whisking Annie out of the reaches of both the doctor and the history writer, Jeff and fragile, stubborn Annie drive up and down the east coast, alternately visiting and escaping the Civil War sites, and try to find a way to bring both Annie and Lee some measure of peace at last. Along the way, the couple tries to distract themselves with Jeff’s employer’s new book—a historical novel about a simple southern man who finds himself drowning in the horrors of the Civil War. Lincoln’s Dreams is, like all author Connie Willis’ books, chock-full of historical details and overflowing with absorbing suspense.
Adult Fiction WILLIS
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Comments
On Sep 13, 2009 at 3:48, Emily Lloyd wrote:
You might also like Mark Z Danielewski's *House of Leaves* or J.M. Coetzee's *Diary of a Bad Year*.
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On Sep 14, 2009 at 1:32, KaliO wrote:
Thanks! I'll look for those.
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