Sunday, July 05, 2009

Books I'm Not Reading -- The City and the City

Way back in 2007, I instituted a feature on this blog that has since fallen into silence: Books I'm Not Reading. Nobody else seems to be covering this hot topic, so I believe it's time for another installment!

As a reviewer, I receive dozens of books each month that I can't/won't/shouldn't read. It doesn't mean that they're bad books, necessarily, just that there are only so many hours in the day, so much space in the newspaper and who over the age of 13 really, really needs to read the latest GI Joe novelization, even if it is written by Max Allan Collins? So nine-tenths of the books I get wind up in Postal Service containers down in The Chronicle basement and never receive any kind of mention from me at all, not even in casual conversation. Books I'm Not Reading therefore sheds light on some of the recent releases that, for one reason or another, get short shrift from me.

Sometimes it all comes down to bad timing. I was, for example, all prepared to read and review "The City and the City," the latest from China Mieville, author of "The Scar" and "Un Lun Dun." But I made the tactical error of trying to do so while on jury duty.

Back in May, I spent about a week trundling back and forth to the Superior Court in Hayward, worried that I would be stuck on a jury for up to a month. Traveling by bus and BART and being forced to sit for hours with nothing better to do, I did manage to whip through two science fiction/fantasy thrillers in quick succession, "Fragment" by Warren Fahy and "The Lovers" by John Connolly. But "The City and the City" was a different story.

While nominally a murder mystery, Mieville's book has a fantastical element that requires a good deal of special attention on the part of the reader. In an off-hand Tweet, I referred to it as "Gorky Park as written by Italo Calvino," and that's not far off. Unfortunately, I didn't seem to have the patience for "The City..." while on jury duty. Somehow, I kept losing my thread of concentration.

Eventually, the defendant in my trial took a plea, and I was released from my duties. But even then, I wasn't able to finish Mieville's novel. The Books editor at The Chronicle wanted me to review "The Strain" by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan in my next column, plus read 18+ graphic novels for a special feature on comics. And even though I kept a bookmark at around page 150 of "The City and the City," I never got back to it.

Maybe I will later this summer. I feel kind of bad, because I was intrigued by what I read, and I've certainly heard lots of good things about the novel. But I'm pretty sure I've lost the necessary momentum. Sorry, China.

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