"Well, coincidence, first of all..."
"Nonsense. Literature does not permit coincidence."
"Maybe not in one book, there can't be coincidence," Joe argued. "But sure, all sorts of myths are alike from all sorts of places..."
Have you been here before? Then you already know I'm not much of a reader. You'll probably be ever so mildly impressed, then, when I tell you I've read not one, not two, but three meaty novels in the past two weeks. Myself? I'm so impressed that I think the three deserve a fancy title: My Summer Reading List for 2010 or some such. And, while it wasn't easy reining in the six-headed ADD beast through 1,393 pages (and I am not talking large-print editions here), I did enjoy all three titles.
This, however, is not so much a book review or book report--to be honest, I'm not sure I remember what the difference is between the two, nor what the proper elements of either one would be--as it is an observation.
To begin, I'll go back to this time last summer, when the world breathlessly awaited the release of The Lost Symbol, a new novel by Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code. I was as breathless as anyone. I loved The DaVinci Code. I had two text copies--one in English, one in Spanish--and the unabridged audio CD in Spanish. I'd read the English one first, then ordered the Spanish versions thinking I would use them together, aided by the English version, to teach myself to read and speak Spanish. This plan was as much for the sake of motivating myself to reread the book (something I never do) as it was to learn Spanish, although at the time I was also preparing for a trip to Mexico. But I digress. I pre-ordered The Lost Symbol, it was delivered soon after the release date, and I put it on my bookshelf to be read at a time when I was certain I'd be able to read non-stop for a couple days or so, long enough to finish it without taking a break to do anything else.
On another occasion last year, I don't remember when exactly, I happened to stop at the dollar store when they had a table of remaindered hardcover books parked right inside the entrance. Like everything else, the books were a dollar, so I took a minute to glance over them. The Lost Constitution looked good--William Martin was "a master storyteller," according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer quote on the cover--and the jacket threw around some eye-catching phrases--"treasure hunt through time" and "early annotated draft of the Constitution stolen and smuggled out of Philadelphia" and "in shocking detail, the Founders unequivocal intentions" caught mine, and hey, it was only a dollar.
Before I could move away from the table, the cover of A Geographer's Library caught my eye also. I picked it up and flipped it over. On the back, an 'advance praise' quote said, "The Geographer's Library is a real reader's book, magnetic and sharply written, with excellent history, a strong narrative, and a mind of its own." Now right away I can hear you thinking, wouldn't that be enough to cause TK to drop that puppy like a hot spud?, because we all know she is not a 'real reader,' and she hates history! But this is the point in the story where I reveal one of the reasons I never go shopping. I hate shopping, for one thing, but for another, there is some sort of gap in my mental apparatus which sometimes causes me to purchase something that makes absolutely no sense a'tall! And hey, it was only a dollar.
So I arrived home that day with two books which I was pretty sure I'd never actually read. I left them laying on the coffee table, on the off chance... but eventually moved them to the shelf below the TV. Their priority dropped, you might say, to about 3" above floor level.
Fast-forward now to mid-June, 2010. After more than three months of daily posts at Before My Time, I had only a few surname posts left to do, but I was dragging my feet when it came right down to it. I had blogger burnout and my energy was being pulled toward creating books, but I didn't feel like actually writing anything. Heck, it was so hot and muggy I didn't feel like doing anything. So, since I was laying around like a limp dripping dishrag anyway, reading a book seemed like a pretty good way to pretend like I was doing something while actually doing nothing.
In the course of writing my surname posts, early American history had come up a lot so my mind was already warmed up to that era, and I really didn't think I had enough mental energy for Dan Brown, so The Lost Constitution seemed like the best choice.
If you've read it, you already know how faulty that bit of logic was, but it doesn't matter. William Martin, it turns out, is a master storyteller, and the book generated all the energy I needed to keep turning the pages. What's more, there was a strong family history/genealogy aspect that figured into the story. History mystery, family saga, political thriller--this turned out to be another book I'd like to reread. But will I have time? Martin wrote seven novels before this one, none of which I've read yet. And now I must!
While I was reading that book, my daughter called and asked me to farm-sit while she and her family take a two-week camping trip. I brought the book to Kentucky with me, thinking I would write a post about it. And, what the heck, I brought along the other two books that have been waiting to be read also, just in case.
And as it happened, the first few days I spent here were so hot and muggy I didn't feel like doing anything. Luckily I was prepared for that, huh? I settled in with The Lost Symbol and some lemonade.
You don't have to hit me over the head more than two or three times before I catch on to stuff, and indeed it didn't take me long to notice that this book, like the one just before it, was a thriller about finding something very old that has been lost. Yeah, I know what you're thinking... both books have 'Lost' right in the title. But you may remember, from several paragraphs ago, how I happened to acquire these particular books--i.e., without much attention to the fine points. The first was chosen largely because of its early American history aspect, and the second because... well, Dan Brown, duh. So the similarities seem like a pretty interesting coincidence to me.
As in The DaVinci Code, symbology and the Freemasons figure prominently in The Lost Symbol. To be perfectly honest, I liked The DaVinci Code--the ultimate genealogy thriller--better, but having said that, I will admit I had no trouble turning the pages of The Lost Symbol. I ate it up in two hot, sticky days.
Two good thrillers in a row and the ongoing hot weather had me firmly settled into a rare reading mood, so I moved right on to The Geographer's Library--you know, the one where I judged the book by the grungy old map on its cover. And as it turns out--this is where my story gets just a little bit creepy--this book is a thriller about the search for a whole bunch of very old stuff that's been lost.
That, if you ask me, is a pretty strange coincidence--randomly choosing three novels, which came out in three different years, reading them one right after the other when I rarely read fiction, and finding that all three are crafted upon the same premise.
What's more, in The Lost Symbol, a recurrent phrase was "as above, so below," and in The Geographer's Library, the same thought was a chapter heading. That's a pretty odd coincidence too.
And the cherry atop this three-scoop sundae of coincidence? It's the title and quoted lines of dialogue which appear at the top of this post. They're from The Geographer's Library, page 300. Now, that's just plain bizarre!
Fasman, Jon. The Geographer's Library. New York: Penguin Press, 2005. (This post opens with a quote from p. 300.)
Martin, William. The Lost Constitution. New York: Forge, 2007.
Brown, Dan. The Lost Symbol: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2009.