Reading: April and May Reads

{I know, though it has been a month since I posted, this is my second post TODAY. All about reading. Otherwise, life is a bit complicated at the moment and so I am trying to mind my peace, as in, shut up, Charlie, say nothing until the urge to whine has passed. Much love, dears. Much love.}

Bad Charlie, waiting a month between posts. Eleven books since last I summarized, but one of those, Rafe Posey’s The Book of Broken Hymns, I have written about at length. Great length. Two thousand words length. Let me sum that one up for you: Read It Now. (Or, read about it here.)



Click on cover for link

I have been lucky enough to align myself with a few people who funnel me Advance Reader Copies. The latest was a very buzzy August release, Fishbowl, by Bradley Somer. Ian, the goldfish, plummets from the 27th-floor balcony of a highrise and on his way down, the stories of some of the building’s residents are woven into the descent. Don’t be put off by the word “quirky” being used in the reviews of this novel, it’s not a cute gimmick but rather a clever abstracting of the detached society in which we live, with our glimpses and our graspings and our gaping need to connect. Its denouement relies on a reality-stretching amount of coincidence, but that didn’t bother me. I think there is a place for books – for stories – where fortunate synchronicity plays a role; realism is overrated. Give it a read. It’s fast. It’s fun. It’s kind.

Speaking of fun, this past month has suffered rather a dearth. After having gone more than a decade with nary a doctor visit, one more visit to the local clinic and I’ll be considered a resident. Although, I’ve been chastised and semi-banned. You see, I’ve been performing a Camille-esque hacking since mid-April, along with an oft-morphing menu of other symptoms I shall spare you, except for the latest addition of having had to sleep sitting up for the past week, and having now visited the clinic three times without benefit of following up with my “primary care physician”, I’ve been told by the clinic that I MUST see my regular doctor. If only. I have tried to see my regular doctor but appointments are doled out with a stinginess the Grinch might envy. Should one manage to maneuver through the gauntlet and be “seen” it has always been the case that one is being seen by an assistant or a nurse practitioner or some other someone NOT  my primary care physician, a person about whose gender, age, appearance, I am completely clueless.

Where was I? Oh, right, additionally, this chronic near-fever and fatigue has affected my brain. I’ve been doing a lot of light reading rather than diving into literature requiring thought. I’ve not a lot of energy for metaphor, or reality, and a junkie-like need for predictability. So, I’ve done a lot of Harlan Coben  (Just One Look, and Deal Breaker) and John Sandford (Hidden Prey and Gathering Prey) both of whom always give me exactly the continuing characters or twisty-plot suspense that ends with the triumph of good over evil – mostly – I expect. It’s comforting.

Also, I returned to my very favorite series, M.C.Beaton’s Agatha Raisin. This month I managed to limit myself to one adventure with Agatha, number 12, Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came. Great fun, as always, to visit with the sassy, sophisticated, flawed, needy, wishful, aging not completely gracefully, determined, angry, loving, lonely Ms. Raisin. (She reminds me of me in many ways. Except, she has an English cottage and I’m a few months away from living in an appliance carton under a bridge.)

Continuing in the series series, I sampled a new cozy, reading Number 1 in the Lighthouse Mystery Series by Eva Gates (pen name of Vicki Delany) , titled By Book or By Crook. Heroine Lucy Richardson leaves her job as librarian at Harvard to return full-time to the beach community where she spent the best summers of her youth. She gets a job (and an efficiency apartment – everybody has an income, a primary care physician, and a delightful home of their own but me!) at the local library, a converted lighthouse and murder happens. I liked it well enough, but, must everyone have a helpful cat? I’ve known a lot of cats in my days and none of them managed so much as to warn me off the perfectly horrid men with whom I’ve a habit of up-hooking, let alone saving me from being murdered. So, really? Enough with the feline super-powers.

My friends (look how I can still use the plural of that – well, give me time) have asked, “Did you figure out who the killer is?” No. I didn’t. I don’t even try. I can’t even figure out a man is married. I don’t “figure” – I just live. And read. Cat-free. I don’t read cozies for the challenge; I read cozies for the cozy.

This month’s Young Adult choice was Tommy Wallach’s We All Looked Up. An asteroid is hurtling toward the earth, we are all going to die. I feel as if I keep reading this story. It was nicely done. It has its own soundtrack. I’m in a mood, though (in case you hadn’t noticed) and I say enough with the threats of disaster, blow the mother up. I’m ready. I can’t seem to stop coughing so, what the heck. I keep reading Young Adult literature, waiting to get that obsessive-reading-jones I used to get as a child (Harriet, the Spy, and anything by Roald Dahl) where I couldn’t stop and at the end, started again. It isn’t happening for me. Not yet. Not with Young Adult books. Of course, it’s a fact that I am not young, and it’s probably true that I am not adult, so, perhaps I should give this genre up?

Because I did find real joy this month (in addition to Rafe Posey) in two non-fiction offerings, both far beyond my skill-set to describe. I’ll do my best.

LoiteringI begin with Loitering: New and Collected Essays by Charles D’Ambrosio [CLICK HERE].  I have not felt this way about a book since first I read Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. (You really ought to read Phillip Lopate’s New York Times review, CLICK HERE) First of all, Mr. D’Ambrosio used words I had to look up. Although I spend hours (days, even) researching words and their origins in dictionaries when I write (it is my very favorite procrastination, this obsession I have with getting to the roots of words to use those that are layered in meaning in my fiction, even though I KNOW maybe one person will EVER consider how long I spent choosing each word) I rarely need to consult a dictionary when reading. Nothing makes me happier as a reader than to be immersed in an arrangement of thoughts which shape is making me think and see in new ways; add to that the introduction of a new word, a word that like a perfect-jigsaw piece is exactly right for the circumstance being limned, and I’m giddy with its unwrapping like Christmas Morning. There is so much greatness in this book, so much insight and honesty, so much literate shaping of experience into the question I ask every day, “What is this shit I’m doing and why the fuck am I doing it?” I get the feeling from D’Ambrosio that we are kindreds in this way, that he and I live on the outside of everything and everyone and every place, looking in, trying to make sense, knowing we will never belong, loitering on the edges and wishing we could – knowing we can’t – connect. The second I finished – I put aside the next in my “TO BE READ – ESSAYS” pile and started this one over. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Please, if you never listen to anything else I say, get this book now.

Life Among the SavagesFinally, my Twitter-inspired read of the month, another non-fiction, although of a very different ilk. In 1953, Shirley Jackson – who I always thought of as author of dark, terrifying fictions – published a memoir called Life Among the Savages [CLICK HERE].

Confession, other than The Lottery, which I read for a short-story class, I have never read Shirley Jackson.

My interest was the result of Benjamin Dreyer’s expression on Twitter of his admiration for Ms. Jackson’s work. Mr. Dreyer (here he is on Twitter) is the sort of erudite, witty, delightful, well-read, bon mot-tossing sophisticate I have always wanted to be. And if I couldn’t be him, I would stalk him. And I do. So, when he said “Shirley Jackson, Shirley Jackson, Shirley Jackson!” I asked my dealer, Marlene at The Curious Iguana [CLICK HERE], to get me some.

WHY DID I WAIT ALL THESE YEARS? Ms. Jackson’s adventures relocating to the country from Manhattan, raising children and husband, learning to drive, re-starting a stubborn furnace, having babies and, oh, how I long for those days – talking about smoking as casually as one talks now about sipping a glass of water – well, I was taken back in time to a kinder, gentler, funnier, and, I think, much simpler place where life’s adventures were ever so much better. Or, so it seems now from here, on the downside and always in despair about what I’ve missed.

It is fascinating to me that a writer whose fiction focused on the lurking dangers in life, the hidden terrors, those things below the surface waiting to grab at one as one walked by in the dark, would manage in memoir to illuminate the light and love and good and humor in the traumas of daily getting-by.

And the voice. Her technique, her sentences, her rhythms, her syntax, her lovely, lithe prose is unparalleled. Maybe I am just terribly dense,  stupid, and out of things and maybe the rest of the literate world has long been reading and re-reading Shirley Jackson and talking about her but WHY WHY WHY WHY have I only just now, here at the end of me, found her?

Well, let’s look on the bright side (if Shirley Jackson could do it, so can I) – I’ve the rest of her oeuvre to which to look forward. And don’t you know, Marlene has been asked to order it for me already!

Oh, Mr. Dreyer, I owe you a debt. Thank you.

And that, my friends, sums up my reading this past month. Sort of. And explains my absence. I am not feeling well. On many levels. And, too, I am trying to figure out what to do with the next part of my life – I need to figure out income and living arrangement – unless, of course, whatever it is this is that is keeping me down is going to put me down for good – with which I am okay.

Shit, I forgot to call the doctor and it’s three o’clock. At this rate, they won’t see me until 2017.

Love and Light, friends.

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