Wednesday, September 8, 2010

the message

Yesterday I finished Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger, and it completely blew me away.

Now, I love a lot of books. In fact, it's rare that I dislike a book at all. But there are some that just strike you on a whole different level, and I Am the Messenger is one of those.

It wasn't because of the plot. For example, a few books before this I read Ben Mezrich's Busting Vegas. Now, I'm not knocking this book in any way. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and literally grinned the entire time I was reading (when I wasn't cringing-- things get dicey, no pun intended). But even if Mezrich didn't have a mastery of storytelling, I was already predisposed to love it, just like I was predisposed to love Ocean's 11, even it wasn't the greatest movie ever made. Trying to beat the casinos? Perfection. But even though I Am the Messenger, the story of underachieving, underage cab driver Ed Kennedy, whose life is turned upside down when he begins receiving mysterious messages forcing him to act in his community, had a completely engrossing storyline, it wasn't that that affected me so deeply.

It wasn't the characters, either, though they were quirky, complex, entertaining, and real. While there was no passionate crush this time, I certainly had a favorite character, and during this character's climax I literally welled up with tears of happiness. Yes. My favorite character literally made me cry tears of joy, and it still wasn't the characters that kept me reeling all day with the power of the novel.

It was the writing. Writing that lets you know you're in the shadow of true genius. Writing so phenomenal that you miss subway stops because you can't pull yourself out of the story. Writing so beautiful that you're emotionally on edge the rest of the day. Writing so amazing that you (I) realize all over again exactly why being an author is the most important thing in the world.

I could go on for pages about it, of course. I could write about how unique his style is; how I love that the senses are used in unconventional ways for stunning description, like tasting joy; how the carefully placed breaks only emphasize the power of the words themselves. But I won't, because, as you may have guessed by now, this isn't a book review.

Even if you hadn't guessed, you may have been thinking that the titles I mentioned sound familiar. Well, you're right.

Ben Mezrich is a New York Times bestselling author of many books, including Bringing Down the House (another great read), the basis for the movie 21, and The Accidental Billionaires (on my to-read list), the basis for the movie The Social Network.

And, of course, there's Markus Zusak. I Am the Messenger won several awards, but you're probably thinking of The Book Thief, another stunning read (and incredible bestseller) about a girl growing up in WWII... narrated by Death himself.

You may be wondering what's going on here. After all, isn't this a blog about saving mid-list authors?

Technically, yes. Absolutely. But it's more than that, too. Because specifically, it's not about contracts, or sales, or the business of publishing, or even the mid-list and the writers who reside there. It's about the written word, and the power it can hold. It's about those beautiful moments of clarity when your life is personally affected by a book. When a manuscript grabs a hold of you and doesn't let go for years. And it doesn't matter whether the writer is bestselling Richard Adams or mid-list Hilari Bell. The point is that even after reading Adams' Watership Down 15 times (the hailed "modern classic" and "modern epic" is one of my all-time favorites),my heart still beats faster with nerves every time I get to the chapter "Fear in the Dark" -- even though there shouldn't be any suspense, because I not only know what happens, I can quote it. The point is that I couldn't read another book for two days after finishing Bell's Player's Ruse, because the ending was such an emotionally charged whirlwind involving a character written so well I have a bordering-on-unhealthy crush on him.

So the point of this blog is not to fight for an abstract, the vague "mid-list." The point is to make sure that the books that affect us don't fade into oblivion. And sometimes they don't need our help, because they sell like Harry Potter books. Sometimes, they are Harry Potter books.But sometimes these books are on the mid-list, which is suffering. So we have to make sure that they survive to touch someone else's life, and we have to make sure the category of mid-list survives, so that more authors are given the opportunity to change our lives.

And that's why I made this blog. I'm going to continue reading whatever strikes my fancy, both best-seller and mid-list, but I'm only going to review mid-list books. Not only that, though-- the mid-list books that I really stand behind,the ones that really made me laugh, or think, or feel.

The ones that really deserve it.

And remember, you can help too: support your favorite mid-list authors, spread the word, follow me on twitter, and email an original review to for a guest spot on my blog. And keep reading. As nerdy as it sounds, having your eyes fill with tears of joy is everything it's cracked up to be.

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