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Summer Reading

Whether the weather reflects it or not, summer, around here is over. I know because we tallied our pages for our summer reading contest and I would like everyone to know that I have regained bragging rights, plus a fondue dinner at some cooler date. T.R. read 2,194 pages and I read 8,330.

But the details!! What did we read?

T. went for some long books this time, so there were fewer in total. He polished off The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear and Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, both by Walter Moers who has so much imagination that I’m sure he is never, ever bored. Both books are charming and funny, smart and wacky. Naomi Novik did us both the favor of completing a new Temeraire book, which we both read, Tongues of Serpents. Both of us love these dragon books with their well-balanced characters, inventive plots, and satisfying prose. After that, T.R. fell into an anthology, edited by George R.R. Martin and someone else I’m too lazy to look up, called Warriors. He wanted it to read more about the hedge knight from the graphic novel. I don’t know if he’s reached that story yet, but he is only on page 530 of the enormous tome. I guess that’s a thumbs-up.

After my shameful performance over the last few contests, I came rushing back, having rediscovered the joys of beach reading. Different people doubtless have different ideas about what beach reading is. Most of the time I think pretty much anything with print in it is eligible for reading at the beach, but this time the following books made my list:

I have now read the collected works of Barry Eisler, with the exception of Fault Line, which I must still order for myself. His books are thrillers with lots of violence and enough sex to rule them right out as read-alouds for people of my retiring disposition. The plots are exciting and the characters well-drawn. Why I so much enjoyed reading books about a person who is good at killing people is unclear, but I did, very much.

Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money made me laugh out loud. Then I tried to explain to my mom why I was laughing and she looked at me like I was nuts, so perhaps my sense of humor is peculiar. Her characters are in-your-face and the chaos that ensues seems both wonderful and inevitable. Oh, yeah, and there is a mystery to be solved. Will be reading more.

I read Anne Perry’s Seven Dials. I’ll be reading more of her work, too. I loved the period setting and the graceful writing. Resourceful women do good things. Disaster is averted!

Elizabeth George’s A Great Deliverance disturbed the heck out of me. It is not a story for people who do not like Bad Things happening to children. And I am one of those people. And I thought it was brilliant. And I’m going to read more of her books. I’m not the genre police or anything, but I would describe this as a novel that happens to have a murder in it rather than as a murder novel.

First to Die by James Patterson is yet another mystery (I deeply eschew the romance novel side of beach reading. I got that out of my system in high school, thanks, and can I please read more about the crime scene?). I loved the strong women and the self-referential plot.

I read Tana French’s new book, Faithful Place, not at the beach, but it would qualify for this list. She is a talented woman and I would like her to write more. Her books are very atmospheric. The feeling of penetrating a closed system in the dysfunctional families of Faithful Place was creepy and heartbreaking. Good story.

The continued slow exploration of Mark Twain brings me to my “religion” section. I read Letters from the Earth over a pretty long while, often in small chunks before church. Now that’s an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Mark Twain does to organized religion what organized religion has often done to people later determined to be saints. He’s incredibly funny, deeply cynical, and perhaps slightly more polemical than would be most effective. Where C.S. Lewis’s demonic correspondence is convicting in a polite and traditional way, Twain’s Lucifer writes words that sear. Remind me never to piss him off.

I’ve already written some about my slow progress through The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. I am pleased to announce that I have made it through. He was an interesting man. He made me think quite a bit and roiled up my thoughts. I’m not sure we’d actually get along, but I was glad for the chance to meet him. He is nothing if not smart and subtle. After a bunch of passages about suffering and how good it is for the soul, he would suddenly break out with something so comforting that I stopped in my tracks. I will need to read him again, but not for a while.

A year ago, while my mom was undergoing her cancer treatment, I met a man in the waiting room who recommended William Paul Young’s book The Shack. I liked the man and bought the book, but I was afraid to read it. I didn’t want my sense of this very kind, very dedicated man tarnished by some cheap-ass, right-wing religious mush. Friends, people are now much more stupid than they were back in the days of St. John of the Cross. The book covered a lot of the same territory as his did using much smaller words. It addresses evil and where God is in the dark nights. But I had enough of the cute novel format. Look! A nice heaven with people of all different colors in it! Some of them are even women! I didn’t hate it, but Mark Twain sure would have.

I hadn’t read a food-related book in a while. Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates was a good one. The “estates” in question had their front lawns replaced with gardens as an art installation with social implications. Too much conformity makes me itch, so that part was a bit of preaching to the choir. I am the kind of person who is thankful for the person in the neighborhood who paints the house purple both for the visual relief and for the confirmation that going my own way will work. I have no plans to uproot the front yard, which isn’t grass anyway, but my determination to fruit-and-vegetable the back has been reinforced. Adventures in rototilling, coming soon.

Apparently due to all those mystery-thrillers, I read only a couple of kid/young adult books. I enjoyed Carl Hiasson’s Hoot a lot, both for the writing itself and for the reminder that everyone can (and does!) change the world.

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau is the sequel to The City of Ember. The problems of different cultures and scarce resources drive the plot forward. Characters deal with what it is to belong and what they’re willing to do to achieve that. And, lest it sound boring, there are forays through an apocalyptic landscape, poison oak attacks, and fire. Strong women also feature prominently.

Also only a couple of graphic novels this time around. The Losers just didn’t fire my imagination. There is nothing wrong with it. I just didn’t love it. This explains why it took me months to get around to finishing it.

I’m not sure if “graphic novel” is the right term for Maira Kalman’s book The Principles of Uncertainty. But it seems like the most sensible term, so I’m going with it. A beautiful book that is hard to explain. Go get it. (And thanks to Elizabeth for giving it to me!)

Elizabeth also gave me Connie Willis’s Bellwether, which made me laugh out loud. Nutty scientists, incompetent assistants, and sheep. What more does a person need?

I often find myself reluctant to start Jasper Fforde’s books. And then they get me. His most recent, Shades of Grey, posits a totalitarian society with an obsession with hierarchy by color, a paucity of spoons, and carnivorous plants. Deep social commentary ensues. Also a love story, the death of the last rabbit, and paint theft as a form of social justice.

Vox was the next book in my slow survey of Nicholson Baker. Eh. I like him better when he’s not writing about sex. His technique is brilliant, his observations funny and true, but I felt like I needed to shower after reading and hold on to a real person.

I am sad to say that I was disappointed in Anne Lamott’s new book, Imperfect Birds. It lacked focus. It ended in the middle. I love the characters and was glad to see them again, but the book felt a little like seeing people at a reunion who used to be so amazing and now have declined into a meager, frustrated existence, their brilliance snuffed out. The writing itself is crafted well, although the editor did not catch some repetitions of almost the same passages at different points in the book. It is none of my business, but I hope that Anne Lamott is okay. She is one of the people I’m really glad to share the planet with.

The last book on my list is Laurie Sheck’s A Monster’s Notes. This is the best book I read out of all of these. The book is written from the perspective of Frankenstein’s monster. I loved Frankenstein for all of its exploration of what it is to be human. This book continues that work. It is so smart, so wise, so damn cool.

Now you’re safe from book reports until Christmas time!

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Aug. 29th, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
from HAT
I love your line: "the book felt a little like seeing people at a reunion who used to be so amazing and now have declined into a meager, frustrated existence, their brilliance snuffed out."

You inspire me by being an amazing writer and prolific reader!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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