David Mitchell

A copy of David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet just found its way into my shop yesterday, which reminded me how much I enjoyed his Cloud Atlas. It was originally released in the UK in hardcover in 2004, and printed in paperback in the US the same year. What I like about this book is the unique tilt of the narrative — several different characters are protagonists, in what is almost a series of short stories, but not quite. These pieces, though disparate in time and place, are linked in creative ways. Furthermore, each piece is returned to in the second half of the book to tie up all the plot elements (with the exception of the piece directly in the middle, which is quite a bit longer and acts as a sort of hinge).

Mitchell’s ability to switch effortlessly between different voices in his narrative is apparent — he seems equally equipped to tackle historical fiction and the resultant linguistic patterns, to paint bleak futuristic societies, and to pen a compelling thriller. Perhaps this is why I am not surprised that his latest book is set in 19th century Japan or that, despite this not in any way resembling my usual reading choices, I am excited to read it.

This brings up what I think is a very important point, and one that I feel confident in saying many do not realize in their lives as readers. Books, rather than being sources for the comfort of the familiar, can also be a place to discover how compelling it is to experience something new. Reading outside one’s usual genre, trying new authors, purposely selecting a book because you know the theme is one you do not personally agree with — these are ways to challenge ourselves, expand our horizons, and become better people. The best books I have read are ones that have redefined the reading experience for me, whether by use of language, treatment of themes, uniqueness of characters, skill of narrative, or some other notable quality. It is important to read widely, and it is alright if you do not love, or even enjoy, everything you read. Can you imagine if you were only able to smell things that were pleasant? It would seem better, probably — until the first time you accidentally ate spoiled meat.

Was Cloud Atlas the best book I ever read. Certainly not. But am I glad I read it? Absolutely — glad enough that I ordered a hardcover copy, which now shares a shelf with some other favorites. So, if a book ‘winks’ at you from the shelf, or the synopsis on the back seems intriguing, take the leap. Give it a try. After all, isn’t that what life is about?

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:26 AM  Leave a Comment  
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