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Head in the CLOUDS

Anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows I’m kind of a David Mitchell fan, and that Cloud Atlas – his mind-bending, genre-juggling showstopper from 2004 – is one of my All Time Favorite Novels. There’s a movie on the way – this movie –

– and the early word is that it’s a bit of a show-stopper itself. I admit I have my doubts that Cloud Atlas can be adapted to film in a way that does justice to the novel. Hell: I have doubts anyone can make a film that even makes sense out of the novel. If anyone can do it, though, I’d bet on the Wachowski kids, and Tom Twyker. Also… if they fail, any money says it’ll be a staggeringly entertaining failure.

The movie release does give me the excuse I’ve been looking for to revisit the novel, however, and the thought crossed my mind that maybe some of you out there might want to read along with me. So in October I’m going to be hosting a kind of book club. Call it The Hill House Readalong. I cannot supply wine, beer, cupcakes, or a pasta salad. I can provide a reading time-table, a place to talk about the story (two places, actually), encouragement… and a hashtag: #bigreadalong. If we all have fun, we’ll do another big readalong in a couple months. I’ll pick stuff in paperback that will (hopefully) be entertaining, and also useful for folks who care about story, and are interested to examine what makes the good ones hum.

For now, if you want in, pick up a copy of the novel, and get started. You can use the comments thread here to discuss the first 40 pages, but let’s not chatter about anything beyond that until October 5th. You can also bullshit about Cloud Atlas on Twitter using the #bigreadalong hashtag (I said there’d be two places to talk about it). If you get into the specifics of the first forty pages, put the hashtag #bigreadalong1 up front, and no one can complain if you include spoilers. #bigreadalong2 will be for Part II, and so on.

Those first 40 pages are a little challenging. Don’t be intimidated and don’t worry yer in for a long hard slog; trust Mitchell to show you a good time. And remember later you’ll be turning pages fast enough to put you at risk of EXTREME, LIFE-THREATENING papercuts.


Oh, and also, when you get to the bottom of page 39? Do not panic. It’s not a misprint.

Hope summa you will join me (maybe after you finish the new J.K. Rowling). Should be lotser fun.

This entry was posted in Words + Pictures Book Club, Writers Worth Your Time. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Head in the CLOUDS

  1. Patrick says:

    Reading the ebook are you stoping on Wednesday, 20th November?

  2. Katie says:

    Im reading Cloud Atlas right now. Trying as hard as I can to get through “Sloosha’s Crossin'” So worth it though and such a good read. I’m glad that you’re doing a read along! Can’t wait to read your thoughts!

  3. Mark&Mary&Samantha says:

    About to start reading it soon. Will be waiting in line to see it in theaters. Sounds like the Wachowski’s have invested alot of blood, sweat and mola to get this film done.

  4. Draug says:

    Can’t wait to start! The book has been sitting on my shelf for almost a week, taunting me. Now I can at least read the first 40 pages :D

  5. Darren says:

    This is what my goodreads bookclub is reading, so hell yeah.

  6. ToddC says:

    I’ve been reading this the past few weeks and I’m about 40 pages from the end (no, I’m not purposely reversing your book club schedule). This book is amazing, and the 5-minute coming attraction hints that they just may get it right……even though they are jumping between stories in a more hapdash order. I read this in an interview.

    Can’t wait to read all comments and have things I missed pointed out to me like a 2×4 upside the head!


  7. Jason says:

    I’m in. It’s been on my list for a while, now I have a good excuse to go at it.

  8. Cristian says:

    Just started Danielewski’s “Only Revolutions”. I guess I’ll drop that for now and pick up Cloud Atlas, I’ve been meaning to read it anyway and this sounds like fun.

  9. Kyle Burnett says:

    I’ve got the audio version so that I can listen on my three hour commute every day. Can I play too?

  10. Joe Hill says:

    Kyle – you bet. Hopefully it’s not an abridgment tho… you wouldn’t want to cheat yerself.

  11. Maybe post the sentence that you want as the stopping point, to defuse confusion caused by multiple print/e/audio editions.

  12. John Tyler says:

    Funnily enough, I just ordered Cloud Atlas and The Casual Vacancy yesterday from Amazon.

  13. Daisy says:

    I just started Cloud Atlas this morning. Only read a few pages so far but already feel like I can see the island and the people. Also has a bit of a Heart of Darkness feel to how the story is being told to us.

  14. Songwarmonger says:

    I think this is a lovely idea. Luckily I had already decided to read Cloud Atlas before the movie is released. It has only been in my reading pile on my bedside table for 7years!
    Interesting that you made a point of mentioning page 39, I did briefly wonder if my copy was missing some pages.

    I know I’m not supposed to mention anything too far ahead plotwise according to the rules of Book Club, but…
    I did come across the following line that made me instantly think of Locke and Key HeadGames and I wondered whether it had sparked the idea of an “unlockable head” in your mind.
    “If one of Renwick’s Austrian doctors opened up her head, a whole beehive of neuroses would swarm out”

    Anyway I’m loving the book and all it’s wonderful and fascinating characters so far.

  15. Songwarmonger says:

    Sorry about the stray apostrophe.

  16. Joe Hill says:

    Always love when one book seems to point the away to another. “The Journal of Adam Ewing” makes me want to read COLLAPSE by Jared Diamond and VANISHED KINGDOMS by Norman Davies. Fact: big history nerd here.

  17. Joel Allyn says:

    I am really looking forward to this. I have avoided all trailers and articles on the book/movie to avoid any type of spoilers, as per Mr. Hill’s advice. Thank you Joe for shepherding all of us wandering readers into a place where we can discuss what I suspect will be a great adventure together.
    My current requests at the local library:

    The casual vacancy / J.K. Rowling.

    Fragile things : short fictions and wonders / Neil Gaiman.

    Good omens : the nice and accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter, witch / Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman.

    Cloud atlas / David Mitchell.

  18. Hmmm. It’s a race with Amazon Spain, but I might have Cloud Atlas by October 2nd. Been looking forward to reading this for years.

  19. When I finished Cloud Atlas 2 weeks ago, I turned back to the first page and started reading again. I haven’t done that with a novel since I read Naked Lunch 20 years ago…

    Once you know the themes of the book, they’re very obvious the second time through. There’s a phrase right there on p. 1 (I won’t give it away to first time readers) that summarizes one of the book’s major concerns.

  20. Danielle says:

    I’ve had this on my “to read” list for a little over a year. I’m glad to have an excuse to finally get around to it!

  21. Stevie Dow says:

    Just started reading “Cloud Atlas”. A very compelling read, hard to put down from the first words.

  22. Daisy says:

    Hmmm Danielle, I have a feeling I know which sentence. I liked the way it was written as soon as I read it. Made me kind of smirk.

  23. Joe Hill says:

    Aw, it’s just on the first page – we can talk about the sentence. Also, it’s awesome:

    “In days gone by this Arcadian strand was a cannibals’ banqueting hall, yes, where the strong engorged themselves on the weak.”

    The Arcadian strand is a South Pacific beach, but I kinder think is also Mitchell’s description of the whole damn ball o wax.

  24. Korsen says:

    Just picked up a my copy. I kinda like how the book jacket doesn’t really tell you anything about the plot or story. Not sure the last time I read a book without having any idea what I’m going to be reading about. Exciting.

  25. Korsen says:

    Also, I am not a bad Italian stereotype, despite the first sentence of my previous post.

  26. Ken says:

    never been in a book club….looks like a good place ta start..

  27. Jenn says:

    Getting started tonight!

  28. BK says:

    Ah, I suck at analysis, but what I love about the Adam Ewing section: growing up in New Zealand, I spent many hours at school poring over botany and geography texts that read pretty much the same. Except … except Mitchell is so skilful that he manages to thread that exacting eye for detail with a compelling story. Joe’s right: it’s such a slow burner of a chapter. Hard work to begin with, but by the time it (abruptly) cuts out, you’re gutted, and have to fight the urge to flick ahead to discover what happens next.

  29. Kurt says:

    @ Jonathan Ball: We’re stopping at the beginning of “Letters from Zedelghem”

    My wife and I listened to this in audiobook form in 2008. I was planning to re-read prior to the movie’s release, so this club was nicely synergistic. I’ve completed the first assignment.

    My first reaction is that it definitely brings in a lot of the ideas that I believe run throughout the book. Obviously, we shouldn’t bandy those about so as to avoid spoilers for the new readers, but it will be interesting to start connecting the dots as we go.

    The prose in the first section is so evocative of the writing of both the period and the sort of maritime memoir style. So different from the other Mitchell book that I’ve read, Black Swan Green.

  30. Joe Hill says:


    The Adam Ewing section of the book really nicely echoes THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET.

    I’m rereading too, and I agree: the Ewing section is just full of vignettes about the strong preying on the weak, from the Maori enslaving the Moriori, to the sweet young kid Rafael who is being abused by the older sailors on The Prophetess.

    Note: here in the comments thread, at least until October 5th, I consider talking about the first part of the book fair game, but let’s not go past THE PACIFIC JOURNAL OF ADAM EWING until then.

  31. Stevie Dow says:

    Hurrying to read “Cloud Atlas” before the Movie release reminds of all the times I did that with S.K. Books. Always seem to like the Books better.

  32. Betsy Boo says:

    Great idea Joe. I wish I could participate but the rest of October is pretty booked for me…and not with a very pleasant task, I might add. Just know that I read CLOUD ATLAS and LOVED it and I’ll be with you guys in spirit. Speaking of the movie, our town will be showing it in IMAX and I’m hoping I will be able to see it thus.

    Read “In the Tall Grass” and please don’t be upset with me but it kinda crossed a line for me. That’s not to say that it wasn’t well written & extremely compelling, but I just couldn’t stomach “that part” very well. Liked the preview for NOS4A2 tho. Looking forward to it.

  33. Betsy Boo says:

    I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.

  34. Vicki B. says:

    Tom HANKS is in it. I think he’ll do it justice if he came that close to doing ‘The Green Mile’ justice.
    And I’m not saying that just b/c I’d like to go to bed with Tom Hanks, whom I know is married. It’s a silly schoolgirl fantasy, but if you give up every fantasy you have you might as well give up your imagination WITH it.
    I still think Tom Hanks will do ANYthing justice. I’ve seen his movies. He seems like he takes his work VERY seriously. And he looks good while doing so.
    He’s also awesome. He did that feature film about Obama and took GARBAGE from Republicans on his Facebook page until he flat-out told one of them, “Watch your mouth or stay off my page.”

    I don’t believe famous people should have to put up with verbal abuse just b/c they have a different opinion and act on what they believe.
    My dad’s voting for Mitt Romney and he NEVER goes around acting like that. And both my mom and dad raised us to NOT talk that way. I have no idea why he’s voting for Mitt Romney, but at least he isn’t trying to cram it down people’s throat.
    I’ve never met a calmer more in-control person than my dad. I’m like my mom; obviously. She was emotional, I’m emotional, but we’re emotional in different ways.

    I’ve never read the book, but books are almost always better than movies, unless it’s a Stephen King movie. I’ve never understood why all of HIS books very closely match the movie. It should be that way with ALL movies. But not having read the book, I don’t want to see the movie first. I’d rather read the book first so I have my OWN image of what a character looks like. Movies completely ruin your ability to sit there and imagine a character, b/c movies are visual in a different way.
    And with that I’ll let someone else talk.

  35. Potty Mouth says:

    Personally I think Mitc-hell is a racist English prick. He used the N-word 5 times in Cloud Atlas alone. And that book was written in 2004, not 1804. That’s just not acceptable these days. But yer free to like whoever the fuck you want. Nuff said.

  36. Joe Hill says:

    Use of the most outrageous word in the English language hardly makes someone a racist. And in fact, my memory of his use of that particular word is that it was brought into play at historically appropriate moments. It would be playing false with the reader to pretend that the folks in 1850 thought and discussed race along the same lines as people in the modern day.

  37. Joe Hill says:

    Betsy Boo,

    Why shouldn’t you have said that? Your responses don’t have to be excused and I’m comfortable with the idea that not everyone is going to like everything I write.

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  39. Betsy Boo says:

    I don’t know if you’ll see this, Joe, but I really felt bad about saying what I said. From the first time I read HSB I thought you were the best writer I’ve read in ages and I’ve always wanted you to know that. My Mama, God rest her soul, told me once that if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all and to come here on your site and say that “In the Tall Grass” crossed a line for me went against that. And I really worried that I might have hurt your feelings. You have always been so kind to me. My signed copies of your books are my MOST treasured possessions and I am so grateful that you did that for me. Geez, you’re an awesome guy. Glad you’re not mad at me.

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