Some “Beautiful Ruins,” Indeed . . .

Dana Thompson

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How do you feel about e-readers? These newfangled devices that allow you to press buttons instead of turn pages and download nearly any book in thirty seconds?

Skeptical?

Yeah. I’m feeling that.

Maybe I’m just quoting every snobby book purist ever, but isn’t there something to the feel of paper between your fingers? Isn’t the weight of a book just somehow really satisfying? And maybe I’m getting a little lazy now, but isn’t it a bit of a pain to have to press a bunch of buttons rather than flip through the pages to find that one passage you can’t quite remember?

Confession time: I have an e-reader myself. It was a present. Anyway, to be honest . . . I love it. It’s not that new color-and-touchscreen model, though. It’s not even the model before that. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my guy is the very first of its kind to come from Barnes & Noble.

That’s right. It’s retro.

Although I was on the waitlist to get one of the VERY very first ones (okay, okay, you got me! I was really excited about this!), it has to be said that Marcus (I have this thing about naming my electronic devices) died a very tragic death while I was on vacation in Hawaii with my family. I was led to believe that it was because I had left it out in the sun while taking a snorkeling break, but it wasn’t until months later that I learned that my new nook (Marcus II)’s predecessor had in fact been murdered by my sister, who emerged from the ocean sopping wet and sat right squarely down on his little screen. Which of course highlights yet ANOTHER shortcoming of the e-reader. My old-school copy of “The Hobbit” was dropped in a pool once and I still read that thing, no problem.

However, despite all the ribbing I’m giving these devices, I have to say that they are incredibly handy when you are home alone during a rainstorm and you’ve read every book in the house (read: every book in the house looks boring). Or, as happened a couple of days ago to me, when your mother comes up to you and says, “Dana! There’s this great book you have to read before you go back to school!” and you happen to live seventy miles from the nearest bookstore.

Image courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

That book happened to be “Beautiful Ruins,” the latest novel by Spokane’s very own Jess Walter, whose singularly clever and insightful writing style is sometimes a bit jarring for my taste (his novel “The Zero” is told from the perspective of a policeman with a serious brain injury. Took me the whole book and then some to figure out what the cow was going on). “Beautiful Ruins,” although endeavoring to tell at least three different stories in one book, manages to pull off this fracturing much more successfully. Jumping from Italy in the sixties (where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are filming “Cleopatra”) to Hollywood and the UK in the present day, it tells a tale of years-old love and responsibility while simultaneously questioning what it means to be an artist in a world where everything is “pitched”––movie scripts, lifestyles, material goods. And it’s all written with Walter’s trademark dry and surprising humor, exemplified when he likens a heavily-botoxed and tanned film producer to a 9-year-old Filipino girl. All in all, “Beautiful Ruins” was a spectacular way to end my summer and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic––albeit quick––read.

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