Two more books, two more sets of first two pages
I'm still fascinated by the idea that a book makes a series of promises in its first two pages, as well as the idea that you can use that information to choose books that make promises you want to keep – so we're going to take a look at two more two-page sets and see what we learn.
On the subject of paying attention to a book's promises – Pip Williams' The Dictionary of Lost Words was a DNF after 50 pages. I knew, after the first two, that the story would be too familiar for me to want to spend the time with it. (I would have loved this book when I was fifteen years old, searching the grownup section of the library for a book like The Witch of Blackbird Pond; it came too late for me, but might be right on time for another reader.)
Larry and I were both disappointed with Cory Doctorow's Red Team Blues (as with the Williams, it was a little too much like a lot of books we'd already read), so I wanted to go back to the first Doctorow novel I ever loved: Makers, which I read shortly after it was published in 2009.
The paragraphs are medium-length; I see a lot of quotation marks and a handful of em dashes, and just enough acronyms to let me know that this book is about – and for – people who like their information communicated efficiently.
I also see alliteration and assonance, the words jumping off the page even before I start to put them into context. Grimes from the NYT and Gomes from the WSJ. Kettlewell, Kodak/Duracell, Kodacell.
This book already looks like a pleasure to read, although I'll admit that some of that bias comes from already having read it. When I reread the first two pages carefully, I see a story that promises reality vs. simulacrum, creative vs. corporate, a group of people who have mostly stopped doing the work coming together to make something that can be sold. I love stories about people who do the work. I love makers.
Larry and I both wanted to read Blake Crouch's Recursion, if only for its title – and although we love recursion as much as we love makers, we did not enjoy this book as much as we were hoping to.
Let's see if I could have predicted this before I brought Recursion home:
A few long paragraphs, a lot of short ones. A story that begins in media res, Poe Building, Art Deco, Crown Vic, telling you what to imagine instead of describing it. Pushes through the revolving door. The elevator races upward.
We don't know what it feels like to push through the revolving door.
We don't know what it smells like in the elevator.
We won't get any adjectives until the bottom of the first page – cold, bitter-smelling coffee – and even then we're only asked to provide a simple sense memory. Something we can create without thinking, skimming the surface of our minds.
The book practically skims itself, our brains filling in the missing details by recalling movies and TV shows. We're doing half the work, here – but just half, and because of that we're left feeling a bit empty, as if we were promised a sandwich and given a smear of cheese-flavored powder squeezed between two round crackers.
If I had read the first two pages first, neither of us would have read the last ones.
Tomorrow I'm going to look at the first two pages of two of our current bestsellers – Emily Henry's Happy Place and Rebecca Yarros' Fourth Wing – so be prepared!