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DH: This is my second post on DM’s How to Read the Air. Perhaps by the time that I finish this survey, I’ll have figured out what that great title means. You write about a book several times because you are peeling the onion. But there has to be an onion to peel. The praise is in the treatment, the attention that the book receives. Saying “I loved this book!” is silly. Talk it up. Books are the malls (agoras, if you prefer) of a literate society. When the mail packet from England arrived in NY harbor with the latest installment of the new Dickens serial, don’t imagine that the eager readers who snapped it up just read the content and then sat on their asses. They talked about it. And because the plot unfurled like a slow growing vine, everybody was on the same page when they talked about it.

And I think that was part of the point of lengthy Victorian novels. Their book talk was as measured out as the pacing that CD decided on for his storytelling. Our community has missed out on that. And don’t say that TV series perform that function. Even the most sophisticated series, most likely written by a committee, granted, of the talented…is trite in comparison to what Dickens could do with Little Dorrit in 1855. You may not think that’s so. But you’ve been listening to DM’s voice being watered down for your consumption for one hundred and fifty-five years. You have to restore Dicken’s words to the effect that they had on impact two centuries ago when every word that he wrote was fresh.

The central topic of How to Read the Air is marriage. And that’s my hope for the commercial success of this novel. Most readers won’t find the background material that helps explain the dysfunctional ticking of that marriage all that interesting. It’s my guess that DM has some issues that he is working out in this story. I wish he would forget about that

It’s wonderfully ironic that when Jonas and Angela realize that they are having some growing issues with their relationship, their half-thought out solution is to get married. But Jonas and Angela, as young adults, are always acting out the roles that they think they are supposed to play. This is very Updike of them. Read John Updike The Early Stories which is a blueprint of martial role-playing.

I greatly appreciated DM’s fine remark that you have to be in a relationship to understand that locations can become “haunted” (my word) with decisive emotional events that have taken place there. The writer is talking about the couple’s home. And aren’t there places in your own home, in my case one is the end of a cabinet in the dining room, where you will never forget what was said there? The atmosphere lingers, like a faint smoke or an odd feint of light.

DM’s remark is interesting enough. But then he points out that Jonas and Angela have a studio apartment. The small living space becomes emotionally charged with their conversations. No wonder Angela and Jonas begin a long dance of finding excuses to be out of the apartment. Their conversations at home become an electrically charged field that either repels or attracts the spouses as if they were moths. The reader greatly looks forward to eavesdropping on these conversations. DM is a master at dialogue with shadows.

But there have to be characters that can cast a shadow. My greatest confidence in Dinaw Megestu as a author is that he can write characters. Angela is a bit easier to understand. She’s had an insecure family background. Now she is a young lawyer at a white shoe firm. She’s  anxious to make it and wants a stable marriage as part of a rock solid foundation on the anthill of Manhattan.

Jonas is the puzzle and DM’s great character creation. He has not been swallowed by the whale so much as it seems as if he is trying to swallow one. He’s drowning in adult commitments that he is not ready to make. Emotionally. he’s a child who doesn’t want to tell the truth, or stand out, or get emotional. Jonas wants to distill all the emotional terror of life into a fine nectar or subtle Bordeaux that can be sipped, appreciated as if he was a connoisseur of adulthood.

That doesn’t work for Angela. She wants the five year plan to material and martial success. She wants a life trajectory that will give her confidence that the walls won’t come tumbling down.

The great DM lobs volleys of conversational shots into this scenario as if he he were an authorial Roger Federer. It’s martial tennis without any nets or balls. I’ll try to sum up what I think about How to Read the Air in one last shot some other time.

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3G1B is the collaboration of four friends and colleagues in the book business. Together, they review books and stories, interview authors, and maintain an ongoing conversation about publishing, bookselling, writing, pr, and nearly anything else.

JONATHAN EVISON is the author of All About Lulu and West of Here and TNB's Executive Editor. He likes rabbits. He also likes being the ambiguous fourth guy in the “Three Guys” triumvirate. He is the founder of the secret society, The Fiction Files (if he told, he’d have to kill you). He has a website, but it’s old. Just google him.

DENNIS HARITOU has bought books for Barnes and Noble for seven years, for warehouse clubs for five, and has led a book club. He is currently Director of Merchandise at Bookazine.

JASON CHAMBERS has been in the book business for over fifteen years, including tenures as General Manager/Buyer at Book Peddlers in Athens, GA, and seven years as a Buyer and Merchandise Manager at Bookazine. He now works as an bookstore consultant and occasional web designer.

JASON RICE has worked in the book business for ten years at Random House in sales and marketing and Barnes & Noble as a community relations manager. Currently he is an Assistant Sales Manager and Buyer at Bookazine. His fiction has appeared in several literary magazines online and in print. He was once the pseudonymous book reviewer Frank Bascombe for Ain’t It Cool News. He’s taught photography to American students in the South of France, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, and for a long time worked very hard in the film & television business in NYC. Production experience includes the television shows Pete & Pete, Can We Shop ( Joan Rivers' old shopping show), and the films The Pallbearer, Flirting With Disaster, and countless commercials---even a Christina Applegate movie that went straight to video.

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