Many years back, I hovered around an internet message board also frequented by a fellow named Dan Schmidt -- who tracked his reading with a series of short, online book reviews. No idea what's happened to him since, and his web page doesn't seem to have been updated since 2000, another internet ghost town -- but I enjoyed his "Book Diary," and it's one of the things that prompted me, years later, to start foisting my book choices on everyone.
#21 - "The Gold Bug Variations" by Richard Powers
Right -- I've already raved about this. Allow me to rave a bit more. Unimaginably beautiful. It's three parallel storylines -- in the 1950s, scientist Stuart Ressler closes in on the secrets of DNA, and discovers love; in the 1980s, librarian Jan O'Deigh meets art historian Frank Todd, and they draw Ressler out of a self-imposed exile; and three years on in the '80s, post-Ressler's death, O'Deigh tries to recreate his discoveries.
It's complex as hell. There's long stretches that presume some more-than-basic knowledge of biology, as well as classical music. And these aren't just throwaway passages -- they're elaborate metaphors for each other, and for the overriding theme of what it is to be human and love. It's slow going, but oh so rewarding. And as mentioned before, it's got me listening to "The Goldberg Variations" in hopes of picking up just some of the deeper meaning ascribed to that piece. (I'm not, but I remain hopeful.)
There are a few passages right at the middle that are just breathtaking, one of those rare moments where I found myself completely in thrall to the writer. But that's nothing compared to the last chapter. I'll say nothing other than if you read this and find it slow going, you are amply rewarded (at least I was: there was a hundred-dollar bill taped to the last page). Cynical and curmudgeonly as I may be, this book does leave you feeling that humans are pretty marvelous creatures, and shitty as relationships may be, when you feel that click, they're worthwhile.
Read this. I'm telling you. Just brush up on your Mendel first.