November 8, 2009

Crack Books

I need a new crack book.

No, that isn't the technological lovechild of a "crackberry" and and macbook (although that would be kind of cool). It's actually a witty new term I just invented, which describes a book that is so riveting, so addictive, so thrilling, a book that sucks you so deeply into its world and doesn't let you back into yours until you've devoured every last page, that it's comparable to crack. Not that I know anything about what crack is like. But word gets around.

I've read a lot of books. I've read some bad books, a few boring books, and a lot of good books. But I've only read a few crack books. Now before we start, let me get one thing straight: crack books aren't necessarily good literature. They might be emotionally gripping, but stand no chance when it comes to literary standards of style and form (like anything by Dan Brown). But they can also be completely riveting, and still be works of literary genius (like anything by Paul Auster). The same principle applies to movies. Lots of movies are gripping, but they usually aren't regarded as classic cinematographic works. And classics are usually anything but thrilling - take Citizen Kane (snore), or  Roman Holiday, for example. "Classic" and "thriller" tend to be mutually exclusive, but, like with books, there are some exceptions -  Hitchcock, like Auster, definitely managed to pull off some classy thrillers. 

That being said, three crack books I've read in the last few years come to mind right away, in no particular order (or rather, in the order that I read them):

The Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova

Oracle Night
by Paul Auster (whom I very strongly recommend)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics
by Marisha Pessel

Now I'm not here to duke it out with you about whether these books are "good" or not. The literary styles and talent of the authors vary as much as the content of the novels, and I had my praise for and bones to pick with all three. But all three books did have one thing in common. I couldn't put them down. When I read Oracle Night, I sat outside in a cafe and read the whole book, cover to cover, in one afternoon. And when I was finished, and I had to get back on my scooter and drive home, I felt as if I'd had four drinks. It took me a good half hour to comfortably re-enter my own world. It was like getting the wind knocked out of my head. With The Historian, lying in my bed at four in the morning, I actually had a few moments where I was afraid Dracula was going to come find me. Seriously. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, for a split second, actually had me believing the Night Watchmen were a real terrorist group.

Now I'm a logical, sane, well-adjusted person. I know I can't get drunk off of a book. I know Dracula isn't real and coming back from medieval Romania to suck my blood. I know there isn't some crazy anarchist-communist terrorist group secretly responsible for all the prominent assassinations in the last half century. I know all those things. But a crack book -  a good crack book - can make you forget what you know. At least for a little while. And that is what I call entertainment.

Sure, these books probably won't make it into the next generation of freshman English curricula (although I would gladly take a university course on Paul Auster). They aren't Chaucer or Shakespeare or Salinger. But does that make them any less good? I'd watch Angels and Demons over Citizen Kane any day. And while I love reading the classics (I've read Pride and Prejudice and Little Women and Gone With the Wind multiple times each), I love me a good crack book. And speaking of crack books, I'm all out. Anyone know of a good one I can score?


alexandra said...

ok, DON'T LAUGH. i just read the twilight series! talk about crack book...i knew it was bad for me but i just had to have more! they're cheesy and ridiculous and all that, but i read all four of them in quick succession. don't judge meeeeee!

Julia said...

you're lucky. i've lived outside of the US too long to know enough about them to be able to judge you. and there's no picking up fleeting references to it here in italy (unless I were hanging out with pre-pubescent girls). Oh wait. I think I did just judge you a little bit! :)

Kate said...

the road is a pretty awesome crack book. i read it in an afternoon, and literally felt like i was in a post-apocalyptic world. VERY well written, tough to put down. i think you'd really like it...

Lily said...

Life of Pi.

GREAT book. I recommend it to everybody. Not too heavy, not too light, and exceptionally well written!

Kate said...

i second life of pi - a really great piece of canadian literature (shocking, i know!).

Julia said...

I've read it already. I liked it a lot. And there were definitely some addictive parts.

And speaking of canadian literature, Alice Munro is one of my all time favorite authors - nothing shocking about good writers from the great white north!

Jeni said...

Paul Auster is my absolute favourite author too - New York Trilogy is amazing.

I found your blog via 20somethings blog roll & followers group!

Kate said...

i just thought of another book you would love - the book of negroes. again, it's by a canadian! it's an incredibly well written book about a woman who was kidnapped and forced into the slave trade, and then her trip back to africa. it's phenomenal, and a great historical novel. everyone i know who read it adored it, even people who don't really like reading.

Julia said...

I'll look for it! Who's the author?

I can't wait to get back to an English Language bookstore! I'll be like a fat kid in a candy shop!

Kate said...

lawrence hill