Tag Archives: Alejandro Zambra

Multiple Choice (novel)

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I’ve read books where I had to keep a dictionary close at hand (The Name of the Rose) or a notebook to jot down lyrical prose (The Prophet, The English Patient), but with Alejandro Zambra‘s Multiple Choice, you do actually need a pencil and eraser to get through this:

(A) Novel
(B) Nonfiction
(C) Poetry
(D) All of the above
(E) None of the above

 

I’m going to go with (F) Gimmicky. Now, I should point out that “gimmicky” does not necessarily mean bad, boring or trite. On the contrary, I think of the Choose Your Own Adventure series and how – gimmicky though they are in their format – each book is actually fresh, vibrant and engaging. (Someone actually referred to Multiple Choice as an “existential Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel,” which I could not find more egregiously misleading.)

Even if you enjoy taking tests, do you really want to be going back and forth constantly between the answer index in the back of the book and the page you’re reading? Doubly so while you’re taking the subway to work in the morning or getting sleepy at night and lying in bed?

Perhaps it’s more pertinent to ask where any semblance of tension is throughout the prose-poetry novella (option (G)?). Or the lack of any empathy evoked by a wholly absent protagonist.

In short, a book should not be judged on its “newness” alone, but also by its literary merits, even if it’s simply because it’s a page-turner. For example, through their respective Jack Reacher and Robert Langdon series, Lee Child and Dan Brown manage to capture our imagination, as puerile (or gimmicky) as the writing may seem at times.

While I’m always happy to have formed an independent opinion after reading a book for myself, I can safely say that if you’ve already got another book on your shelf waiting to be read, you can skip passing Go on this one and not collect the $3 I received for reselling Multiple Choice to a used bookstore last week.

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A Necessary Return to the Long Novel?

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@Borisk (Boris Kachka) over at vulture.com has come up with some rather hefty books he thinks we should all read. Entitled “26 Very Long Books Worth the Time They’ll Take to Read,” the list for me includes some obvious choices (Don Quixote, War and Peace, A Suitable Boy), some I’ve been meaning to read for years (Infinite Jest, Bleak House, The Stand), some surprises (Middlemarch [yawn], 1Q84 [The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was a much “bigger” book, if a much smaller published work]), and some I simply have to disagree with (Life and Fate, Underworld).

Still, on this day of reflection, I can’t help but wonder if our collective blasé/anti-establishment/angry mood couldn’t best be tempered by a serious sit-down with a tome heavy enough to buoy a ship in stormy weather and insightful enough to make us actually “think” (yes, it’s in quotation marks).

As Kachka points out, “Binge-watching is easy; just drag the laptop into bed and go. But savoring a book of, say, 800 pages or longer is a project.”

Although my book club would draw and quarter me if I suggested it, especially after our last pick, Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice (128 pages), perhaps it is time for all of us to make at least one book a year one of those tomes we’ve been promising ourselves for years we’d read. For me, that starts with what is currently on my bedside table, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, a paltry 608 pages. I know, I know. Weak. But it’s a start.

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