Read These Books (So That I Don't Have to)

Posted by Prince Gomolvilas
ON Thursday, September 06, 2007
The cover of Scott Heim's new novel, We Disappear, has been created, and it's beautiful and haunting, don't you think? Since the book is not released until next year, this gives me plenty of time to mentally prepare myself for the idea of reading his novel. I think I owe it to Scott to at least think about it since, when we take road trips, he is the Thelma to my Louise (or is it the other way around?). And, indeed, the last novel I read (and finished) was Scott's Mysterious Skin, and that was 12 years ago.

In the interim, I've devoured tons of new age self-help books, some sociological non-fiction, true accounts of alien encounters, various magazines, and The Ralph Wiggum Book. Nowadays, it's mostly just metaphysical texts channeled by disembodied entities.

The thing about novels is this. When I return to them after putting them down, I have forgotten much of what happened in previous chapters. So reading a new chapter becomes less of a pleasurable experience and a process of discovery and more of a struggle to remember all the details and characters that I forgot. With non-fiction books, I can pick them up and get right into them because, generally, they don't require you to assimilate all the information as a whole for them to have resonance.

Talking about Scott's new book, of course, begs the question of reading all the novels written by my other friends. Said novels are stacked on my floor right now. Among them are Noel Alumit's Talking to the Moon, Michael Lowenthal's Charity Girl, and John McNally's The Book of Ralph (not to be confused with The Ralph Wiggum Book). Let me tell you why you should read them.

Noel Alumit has won a shitload of awards for his novels, so his fiction must be worth reading. He is also a generous figure in the literary community—bringing people together, regularly showing up to events, etc. His new novel, Talking to the Moon, is crime fiction crossed with Filipino family melodrama. Even James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia) loves it. I saw Noel read from the beginning pages of Talking to the Moon at a book launch, and his writing is inviting and urgent. Often, Noel tries to call me up in the middle of the night to read me chapters of his book, and I scream, "Leave me alone, you dirty Filipino whore," and hang up.

Michael Lowenthal is smarter than I am, and you know that means a lot that I would actually admit to that in a public forum. He's one of those intellectual types who trades the typical literary snobbery for sharp wit and clever self-awareness. His third novel, Charity Girl, explores a little-known chapter in American history. During World War I, 15,000 young women were incarcerated and quarantined by the U.S. government because they were found to have venereal diseases. The modern-day parallels are obvious, but the obscurity of the story is chilling. I saw him read from the book, and his writing is very vivid, demonstrating an expert sense of time and place.

John McNally is a funny guy, and The Book of Ralph must be equally as funny. It's about kids who wreak havoc in Chicago. John was part of a screenwriting fellowship through The Chesterfield Writers' Film Project with me a few years ago, and, when his novel was finally shipped to him, he generously started to pass them out to the group. When he handed me my complimentary copy, I declared, "I'm never gonna read this! But thanks!" Man, I'm a prick sometimes.

Okay. Which one will you read? And will you give me the Cliff's Notes version when you're done?
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  1. Cheryl Said,

    I read Noel's book a few months ago, and I'll gladly testify that it's great. I just put Charity Girl on my Amazon wish list. Who doesn't love a good VD novel?

    If all these smarties can't convince you to read novels, Prince, I doubt I can--but you should read novels! The putting them down and coming back to them factor is one of their pleasures. You don't just experience a world for a couple of hours; you live in it for weeks. Or a year and a half, as was the case with me and Tender Is The Night. But hey, it took place on the beach in the south of France or something. It wasn't a bad place to live.


  2. You see, the novelists I know don't have audio books for some reason. Is it because they are too "literary"?

    I can see myself listening to a book far easier and far faster than curling up with one. But no. The ones I "have to" read are only in printed form.

    Reading is seriously overrated. It's all about cultural relativity, is it not? The hill tribes of Southeast Asia have no need to read!

    And I feel like a hill tribesman most of the time—so that's how I justify my snobbery.


  3. John McNally Said,

    The drawings on the cover of my novel, THE BOOK OF RALPH, pretty much tell the whole story. In this regard, it's even better than an audio book: it takes less time. Glance at the cover, and by osmosis, you know the whole story. The words, therefore, are redundant -- however, if you're the sort of person who laughs especially hard at scenes in the movie that you've already seen a million times in previews, then you'll especially enjoy readng the book, whereupon you will read a passage, pause, start laughing, then think, "No, wait, wait," turn to the cover, see the matching drawing, and then fall out of your chair laughing and laughing. This is the kind of literate society I dream of, by the way.


  4. You see?! John McNally is hilarious!

    And, apparently, he has another book. Goddamn him.


  5. thelastnoel Said,

    Prince, you Thai crack whore, I am so mad at you. Did you know when you click on the title of my novel on your blog, it goes to Scott Heim's book on Amazon?!?!? It should be connected to mine, Talking to the Moon, the LA Times Bestseller, by the humble Noel Alumit. Don't hang up on me when I call you at night. What I read is brilliant. And, don't you know, that Cheryl is a novelist in her own right.


  6. Noel, I have changed the link now, but I purposely put the wrong one to make sure that you are as hopelessly devoted to me and my blog as I am.


  7. Peter Varvel Said,

    I hope to be as self-absorbed, someday, as both you and Noel are!



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