Thursday, March 17, 2005

The first paragraph hook

"What Harbinger Singh really wanted was a book. Sometimes, when he was being most honest, he would admit he didn't care very much about the subject. He wanted a book he had written. He didn't know why, and he didn't much care. It could be about bluefish for all it really mattered. Some days though he was more high-minded. He wanted to write a book, or so he'd tell himself, about one critical dimension of life. Love, maybe, or racism, politics or war. On ocassion he imagined all of these unfolding into a great cosmological epic, a very long book, just enough to be considered weighty, with conscious, pyrotechnical prose, characters who talked and sweated elegantly, free spirits who constantly made love with one another inside old red wheel barrows and on moist, green banks of deep lagoons."

The first paragraph -- those words which either hook or repel prospective readers but hardly ever leave us unmoved. The title and the cover first seduced me, lying oh so casually among the other new hardcovers in our local Borders:

Of course, I skimmed through the flap copy, which was if not titillating at least promising enough to flip to the mythical first paragraph. Yes, fellow reader, I was hooked!

And then came the second paragraph (Ay, qué triste despertar...): "Singh himself was a lover of computers. But he made his living in law. Mostly tax law, though he wrote an ocassional will..." The ellipsis is mine; I'll spare you the rest of the paragraph, and in fact, the rest of the book. Such a promising beginning... I've made it through nine chapters and the writing is more second paragraph dive than first paragraph hook. So I'm wondering, is it worth it to finish this novel (yes, even though 'reviewers' all gushed about the author's comic touch and "amazing" prose)? Should I skim through it? Or just consign it to the furthest corner of the already bulging shelves of the storage closet?

While I ponder the fate of Esther Cohen's Book Doctor ($23!), I flip through the March issue of W magazine, which I subscribe to for the stunning, oversize pictures of jewelry (not for the inevitable photo spreads of emaciated, spaced out models in expensive --and ever more bizarre-- designer clothing). W has interesting page design, very architectural, and my attention was caught by a couple of sentences floating in the middle of a page of text: "'Writing it was like peeling off a layer of skin,' says IllumBerg of Tea on the Blue Sofa. 'I'm giving my deepest soul here.'" Of course, I had to read more. I mean, what kind of name is IllumBerg anyway? And what did someone who spouts such drivel could possibly write? Must read to find out!

The article doesn't explain the name, but it does explain that IllumBerg is Natasha IllumBerg, "the only licensed big-game hunter in East Africa," whom the accompanying picture shows is also a very attractive blonde (who had been having a secret affair with a married man who just happened to be murdered at the front gate of her home by person(s) unknown). This heartbreak is the stimulus for Tea on the Blue Sofa, a novel based on her tragic affair with the love of her life (starts the article: "Their secret affair had been going on for just five months..."). Nice to know that you can plumb such depth of love in five months of clandestine romance... I think I'll pass on this literary gem, especially since the interviewer/reviewer/author of the W piece seems to have such trouble remembering that IllumBerg chose to write a novel, not a memoir.

Still undecided about Book Doctor. Thankfully I've got Pullman's The Subtle Knife to keep me occupied!

In case you want to make up your own mind:

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