The Nix

I really didn’t want to read Nathan Hill’s 620 page novel this summer; I think the nix made me do it.

shopping    A Nix is a Norwegian mischief maker, a mythical spirit character who can be dangerous.  In Nathan Hill’s novel The Nix, a house spirit from Norwegian folktales is only the seasoning adding to the overall flavor of his expansive examination of pretty much everything politically and socially in the 1960s leading to an overwhelming examination of what is wrong with today, politically and socially.  The “meat” of his story, however, is about how people overcome their fears and guilt, relate to one another, and are never, ever, who you think they are.

Although Hill’s long Faulkner-like paragraphs ramble to include every detail of scenes I often did not want to know so much about,  his  characters are funny, human, pathetic, happy, and miserable – all at once – reminiscent of John Updike or Philip Roth.   His ability to suddenly jolt with information through switchbacks from the late 1960s to the almost present kept me riveted.  His surprises came at times just when I was about to stop reading, but then could not.

What was the book about?  So many reviews have been written, some as rambling as the novel itself.  In his review for NPR, Jason Sheehan encapsulated the plot:

Hill’s novel is the story of Samuel. Of the boy who became him and the man that he is in 2011, in an Occupy Wall Street America, where he is obsessed with an online videogame called World Of Elfscape and failing at pretty much everything else. But when his vanished mother suddenly reappears on every TV screen in America — this forgotten ’60s hippie radical now emerging as a viral sensation with a handful of gravel and no good explanation — he is given a chance to write a book about her. A hatchet-job in which he, the abandoned son, is contractually obligated to savage his own mother in lurid, tell-all fashion…

The Nix is about a lot of things — about politics and online gaming, about the tenuous friendships of adult men and the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It is a vicious, black-hearted and beautiful satire of youth and middle-age, feminine hygiene products, frozen foods and social media. But more than anything, it is a treatise on the ways that the past molds us and breaks us and never lets us go. How it haunts us all.

Read Sheehan’s complete review here  

Not everyone will agree that reading a novel over 600 pages is worth the time – remember The Goldfinch?  I liked that book too. But, for me, The Nix became a book I had to finish – not only to find out how lives finally resolved, but just to catch more of the humor and wisdom between the lines.  Not for everyone, but I’m glad I listened to a fellow reader and fell in.


West of the Moon

9781419708961_p0_v1_s260x420A contender for the Newbery Award, Margi Preus’ West of the Moon channels the enchantment of a Norwegian fairy tale of a white bear who turns into a prince in her story of  a Norwegian girl who finds her way to the New World.  Unfortunately, the old goatherd who bargains for orphaned thirteen year old Astri is no prince, and the poor girl finds herself dreaming of freedom while shoveling out dung and keeping house among the goats.  With a mix of historical background and magical story telling, Preus weaves a tale for young readers that manages to inform while capturing the imagination.

When Astri is faced with marriage to the old goatherd, she orchestrates a daring escape, rescues her little sister from the cruel stepmother, and sails to America for a new life.  A real girl, Astri questions her own worth, as she is forced to lie and cheat to protect herself and her future, but her inner star shines through, and the reader knows she will be a success as she grows into her own.

Entertaining, informative, and a pleasure to read – West of the Moon should at least be on the short list for next year’s awards.  For me, it was a welcome respite.

An Ark Full of Books

Library of Congress Reading Room

Although the Library of Congress stores over 100 million copies of books, journals, and films, the collection does not house every book published.  In his article for the New York Times – In a Flood Tide of Digital Data, an Ark Full of Books and Film – David Streitfeld describes Brewster Kahle, a wealthy entrepreneur with the determination to create his own repository, a back-up collection in case of disaster.

Comparing the fledgling project of 500,000 volumes to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, Kahle hopes eventually to collect 10 million books in his archive from donations of books discarded from libraries, universities, and individuals. The Burlingame public library donated three hundred linear feet of Scientific American, Time, Vogue, and other periodicals to create space for their computer lab.

Preserving the physical books is Kahle’s way of offering a time capsule for future readers; as a man who made his money by digitizing Web pages, he has more faith in the real book than electronic versions.  What does that say about the future of e-books?


I’m reading Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters – a crime thriller about a suave Norwegian headhunter, Roger Brown, who moonlights as an art thief to supplement his income and fund his expensive life style.  Using information he accesses through interviews of prospective clients, Brown breaks into their houses to steal their art.  He’s successful until he meets Clas Greve, who owns a priceless Rubens.   The steady civilized plot suddenly explodes when Brown finds something (no spoiler here) under Greve’s bed, and his life changes into a series of shock waves.

Although the book was first published in Norway in 2008, it was not available in the United States until 2011.  Dubbed the new Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Nesbø offers suspense and surprising plot twists.

So far, I’m happily reading into the night – skipping over the disgusting outhouse scene.  Having just read his children’s book, Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder, I wonder if Nesbø  has thought of any escapes other than through feces – yuck.

Read reviews of other books by Nesbø:

The Snowman

 Although I live in a climate where no snowman could survive – unless he were made of shave ice – Jo Nesbø’s  tale of a serial killer in The Snowman is so real, I keep looking for one to pop up.

Harry Hole, the Norwegian police detective, has a mold problem in his apartment, and I’m wondering if this has anything to do with the cold-blooded murderer he is tracking. Of course, the killer has sent him a note too – a clue that will lead to the Snowman.

With his intrepid team, Harry pursues the killer, as more body parts – and snowmen – appear in the cold Norwegian landscape at each new snowfall; one shows up in a freezer; another on an ice rink. The deadly pursuit keeps going, and sometimes it’s hard to keep all the victims and suspects straight.  One of my favorite characters is Tresko- the poker-player with the terrible foot odor – fis (literally means toe fish, but Harry Hole calls it toe-fart), who spots the liar’s “tells” by observing the potential killer on TV.

“What separates the best from the rest is the ability to read others.”

Every time I think it’s over, it’s not, and the story has another exciting twist.  The killer is evil with a vendetta  – and the suspense is killing me.

Although this tale is from Norway, the gruesome details resemble Swedish writer Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, but  Harry Hole has been around in Jo Nesbø’s fiction since 1997.  This was my first encounter with the Oslo investigator, but five others preceded The Snowman – with the next in this exciting series already translated and ready for release – The Leopard.