Monday, August 16, 2010

Who Am I?

I recently stumbled across two different books that caught my eye for their similarity in titles and, to a certain extent, themes. Both play with questions of identity and, starting right from the title, make a statement about who the character is.

I am a Japanese Writer by Dany Laferriere: the latest translation from Haiti-Canadian writer Laferriere. The story revolves around a Black writer from Montreal who gets a big advance for a novel he plans to call "I am a Japanese Writer". Somehow, despite not writing a word of this book, he is thrust into the limelight and becomes a celebrity and his (unwritten) book becomes a sensation. The publisher calls it "part postmodern fantasy, part Kafkaesque nightmare and part travelogue to the inner reaches of the self, I AM A JAPANESE WRITER calls into question everything we think we know about what—and who—makes a work of art."

I am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett: This book's title isn't telling us who the character isn't, the main character of this book is actually named "Not Sidney Poitier". The publisher's description offers a succinct look at the title, saying "Not Sidney Poitier is an amiable young man in an absurd country. The sudden death of his mother orphans him at age eleven, leaving him with an unfortunate name, an uncanny resemblance to the famous actor, and, perhaps more fortunate, a staggering number of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corporation" and calling the book "an irresistible comic novel from the master storyteller Percival Everett, and an irreverent take on race, class, and identity in America".

A quick scan of the library catalogue shows that the "I am" title is most popular with children's books - particularly books for young children that explore careers or are meant to teach about animals or other topics. But for books written for adults, the use of the "I am" in a book title usually indicates reflection on the self, both individually or in society. It got me thinking about other books that use the similar statements in the title - here are a few:

I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume: okay this one actually is narrated by a cat, but it's a satirical look life in Japan in the late 19th and early 20th century, so I think it fits the bill. The setting of the novel was concurrent with Soseki's own life, and Soseki is considered an important modern Japanese author.

I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter: the "I am" declaration is a perfect fit for this nonfiction work that examines human consciousness.

I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe: this most recent novel from this iconic American author won mixed reviews for its depiction of 21st Century college culture though the eyes of its female protagonist, the eponymous Charlotte Simmons. More famously, it was also awarded the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction award for 2004.

I am Legend by Richard Matheson: this story of survival after a virus turns the population into zombies/vampires is so good that it inspired two movies: the 2007 film of the same name starring Will Smith and the 1971 classic the Omega Man with Charlton Heston.

i am no one you know by Joyce Carol Oates: a collection of "startling stories that bear witness to the remarkably varies lives of Americans in our time" (book jacket) by one of America's most prolific authors.

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