Sometimes you don’t fully understand the extent to which a book makes an impression on you until some time has passed. This was my realization the other day, sitting on big pank and contemplating my bookshelf. The book that caught my eye and that inspired this theory was The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. I read The Imperfectionists close to a year ago and enjoyed it very much, but now, almost a year later, I feel I could give it a still more glowing review. It has benefited from months of positive (rarely acknowledged) reflection. The characters, all connected with a failing English newspaper based in Rome, never really left me when I closed the book for the final time and I find that I think of them often, like old friends long since dispersed by the winds of life who are still conjured up from time to time in the form of “I wonder what happened to Sue.”
The themes, too, I continue to contemplate. It was a timely novel, published in 2008 I believe, revolving around the drama of one newspaper in its final death throws. Rachman is a seasoned journalist, and so you’d expect him to have a thing or two to say on the subject. But despite this very topical subject matter, the novel is very much about people, individual lives all touched by this pipe dream of a newspaper. Like any good journalist, Rachman knows that even the most fact-based news story should have a human heartbeat, and The Imperfectionists has many. We discover in the novel’s final story (it is, in fact, a novel of interconnected short stories) that the newspaper itself, the non-human focus of the book, was not built upon some business-minded vision of disseminating good (English) news to expats in Europe, but upon the unreliable and shifting sands of human emotion, namely, love. Is Rachman making a more general statement about the demise of print news? That it was too human, too imperfect a dream to ever survive the inhuman age of computers?
At it’s core, The Imperfectionists is a book about people in all their volatile, emotional glory. Which is why, all these months later, I still remember the tragic Arthur Gopal, Obituary Writer turned Culture Editor, stunted life-long reader Ornella de Monterecchi, stuck in 1994 because she refuses to miss a single paper, and “Accounts Payable” Abbey Pinnola, who gets a piece of her own medicine when she falls for copydesk Dave, who she’s just fired.
Have you noticed that certain books just stick with you longer than others? Surprising ones, too! Which ones have stuck with you? What were the most memorable books of 2012 for you? I’d love to hear!