Reading: June (and part of July)

I thought I was a book blogger, but, having read 18 books since the last time I updated you, it appears that I have, uhm, once more in my life failed to meet the expectations set for a particular label – who, me? – and so, oh dear, I guess I am NOT a book blogger – in the very same way I am/was not the pope, a Broadway star, recording artist, writer, brother, lover, friend. I live in a world where I am not. Even when I think I am.

That said, here’s what I’ve been reading – in date order because ratings are not really my thing. I am awash in mad admiration and respect for anyone who manages to get a book published, even if I end up not really loving the pages. I won’t be a hater on an author. Click on the titles for links to the books . . .

Mysterious deaths in a Long Island enclave where privilege and entitlement rule. A summer-read thriller with literary aspirations, enjoyable but I saw the twists coming. Then again, I’m a twist-kind-of-a-guy.

Really loved this gender-role, sexuality, family-life upending novel while reading it – in a “laugh-out-loud” sort of way. I highlighted and underlined and sticky-arrowed passages like:

Lee consulted his old friend Cary. They had grown up as neighbors. Cary was older and and richer and fey, with a hobby of arranging flowers and a habit of getting into difficult situations with straight men.

And this:

“Byrdie, I love you desperately. I want you to have more than I have. Meaning more than the shit nobody else wants.”

“I love you, too. But don’t touch me. There’s people watching.”

And others. Many others. There was a snark and a sneaky warmth. That said, a month after having read it, I had to go back and re-read to remind myself what it was about and so, there’s that. In addition to which, I found its punctuation problematic. I thought it needed commas. Pauses.

I read this because TwitLit people were talking about it. People talked about it being bold and courageous and I am not going to argue about the meaning of bold and courageous, but, I really don’t want to read details about children being sexually abused no matter how important the topic, the aftermath, and whatever else.

This was my only YA read for the past month or so. Gay teen falls for straight best friend. Nicely done debut. Nothing wrong with it. My sadness: how many times gay teens (and adults) fall for straight best friends, and, how many times people – of every stripe – imagine themselves in love with other people who are impossible matches. It isn’t, I think, about gay and straight and male and female and this and that, it is about the ridiculous fairy-tale level expectations we, as a culture, have created about and around “love” and the ways in which we all set ourselves up as failures. But, now, I’m not really talking about this book – which did not address those issues at all – instead, I am talking about my life and my failures and I need to get a grip.

Some of Merlis’s earlier novels – in particular American Studies and An Arrow’s Flight, are favorites of mine. This one was too sad for me, here where I am in my life right now. Full of family members disappointing and betraying one another, a man who lives without a sense of real belonging or being seen, it was all just not what I needed, and, too, I found the voices a bit strained and over-worked.

LOVED IT! Here’s the description from her publishers:

Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker‘s copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer, and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.

Between You & Me features Norris’s laugh-out-loud descriptions of some of the most common and vexing problems in spelling, punctuation, and usage—comma faults, danglers, “who” vs. “whom,” “that” vs. “which,” compound words, gender-neutral language—and her clear explanations of how to handle them. Down-to-earth and always open-minded, she draws on examples from Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and the Lord’s Prayer, as well as from The Honeymooners, The Simpsons, David Foster Wallace, and Gillian Flynn. She takes us to see a copy of Noah Webster’s groundbreaking Blue-Back Speller, on a quest to find out who put the hyphen in Moby-Dick, on a pilgrimage to the world’s only pencil-sharpener museum, and inside the hallowed halls of The New Yorker and her work with such celebrated writers as Pauline Kael, Philip Roth, and George Saunders.

Readers—and writers—will find in Norris neither a scold nor a softie but a wise and witty new friend in love with language and alive to the glories of its use in America, even in the age of autocorrect and spell-check. As Norris writes, “The dictionary is a wonderful thing, but you can’t let it push you around.”

Yep. Read it. Love it. Let it make you a better writer and more appreciative reader.

I am unashamed to say I am a fan of thrillers. I read a lot of John Sandford and Harlan Coben and am always looking for other writers in this genre who have returning characters, histories, a soap opera sort of continuum to which I can retreat when I am in need of entertainment with a formula on which I can rely. It’s comforting. Slaughter is a new favorite, and the characters here – Faith Mitchell, Sara Linton, and Will Trent, are characters to whom I am happy to return (see later in the month).

I read The New York Times review of this (click here) which made me think I would love this book; its world, its milieu, its decadent, out-there wild Waugh/Mitford society whorl.

mad boy nytimes

I was wrong. It was far less interesting than I thought it would be. The story was riveting but the way in which it was told, less so. Difficult, even, to follow.

After somehow not having read Shirley Jackson, I am catching up. This novel is much touted by many very wise and erudite folk and I enjoyed it, but, confession – FOR ME – it pales in comparison to the memoir-esque Life Among the Savages, which I just read last month. Her next memoir-esque, Raising Demons, is on my to-be-read stack, but I’m delaying it because there are no more after that and, well, I want more.

I read about this in either People or Entertainment Weekly, and then someone mentioned on Twitter and I thought, “Okay, another erudite thriller and twins!” I’ve always had a thing about twins – not THAT kind of a thing, I just like stories involving them – not THOSE kinds of stories – jeesh, you people and your filthy minds. I prefer conjoined twins but one can’t have everything. I should have known when this book was compared to The Girl on the Train not to fall for it. I didn’t much care for that novel either. And, well, this wasn’t really my cup of tea, in particular, I am not fond of novels where one is teased with supernatural possibilities but then there is never an actual commitment – meaning, for me, it felt like this was a couple of different books with no final decision made about what book it really was meant to be. If only the twins had been conjoined.

Wow. Just, wow. I cannot do justice to this book. Atkinson has pulled off a virtuosic feat of authorial technique, imagination, and playing god (perhaps those three are all one thing, seen from different angles – wait – that’s this book!) with characters who die, but not really, and events that we see from different perspectives with very different endings. Is this a book about writing? About metaphysics? About psychic intuition? About one woman imagining who she might have been? About an author playing with her remarkable skills for the amusement of a faithful and breathless audience of readers? Doesn’t matter. It’s a brilliant story (a couple of brilliant stories) made more marvelous by gorgeous writing, fantastical structure, and the technique of an artist at her peak of power. Read it. Now. I beg you.

I read a lot of book bloggers and follow a lot of TwitLit types, so when Kerry McHugh at Entomology of a Bookworm (click here) said she was going to explore the Romance Genre, I followed along and decided I would as well. Not only would I follow her example, I would – in fact – read the exact books she decided to try. This was the first. I had a good time. It, like the thrillers I read, was a predictable, quantifiable entity. And I learned what HEA means – HAPPILY EVER AFTER. I know at the end of these books there will be a love match and while I am completely and one-hundred-per cent certain such things NEVER work out in real life and hopes for same are the root of most evil, I am totally okay with them in books.

This novel was getting loads of buzz everywhere. I heard about it on Twitter, in blogs, magazines, all over the place, everywhere I spend virtual-world-time it seemed to be coming at me. So, I bought it. So, I loved it a lot. First of all, it had a nun in it. If you know me (and some of you, thank you so much, do) then you know that despite my near pathological distrust of organized religion, some of my dearest friends work in churches and I have a long-standing thing about nuns – as in, I love reading about and watching movies about them. Let’s not get into it, let me just share a scene here in which Sister Tee has just handed Mazie a rosary. Listen to this:

I said: I told you this soul’s not yours for the saving.

She said: I’m not worried about your soul. I’m worried that you’re sad. You could just think of this as a pretty thing you could hold on to sometimes that will make you feel better. Sometimes that’s all it is to me. But please, Mazie, don’t tell anyone I said that.

I promised I wouldn’t. My promise is gold. I said she was my friend now, and she agreed I was hers, too.

And it is a pretty thing to hold on to, it’s true. I left it behind in the cage though. It’s becoming a home of a kind to me. I didn’t mean to get comfortable there. I didn’t mean to be there so long. But there I am. Here I am.

The cage to which Mazie refers is a ticket cage in a Depression-Era movie palace she eventually owns and opens up to the homeless. A mixture of diary, memory profile, gossip, research paper, and self-examination, this book is gorgeous and Attenberg turns many a beautiful phrase, by the ends of which you are caught breathless, full of “a-ha” and “I must read that again.” Glorious. Truly.

This one was another that had a lot of TwitLit buzz. And it was blurbed by Edmund White and Michael Cunningham. It is instructive, I think, to remember that Michael Cunningham – whose writing I worship – said that we should read James Franco’s book. I will leave it at that.

The second in my exploration of the Romance Genre – although this one I read about on a blog-post and I wish I could remember where, but, I can’t. I actually sort-of loved this book. It’s the third in the Wicked Deceptions series and I may just need to read the others. Sophie is a cross-dressing warrior for justice for the underclass, especially the underclass who serve under those of the upper class, if you get my drift. I don’t know why the sex in these books always catches me off-guard, but it does. Every time I read one of the throbbing passages, I am surprised – and delighted. And man oh man, along with the throbbing, I love me an HEA!

Follow up to Fallen, which I’d read a few weeks earlier. The history of Will’s boss, Amanda Wagner. Again, we know what we’re getting and we get it. The endings are not what I would call happy, but, the good people do usually come close to winning. Even though the win requires some loss. Which is, after all, usually the deal IRL.

Another fantastic, five-star kind of read for me. Once I read the NPR write-up (read here), I was hooked. (And I immediately followed Mr. Bakopoulos on Twitter – CLICK here he is.) Every character in this novel from the philandering main couple to the sage-ish with a twist older lady, Ruth, touched me on heart or soul level. I understood the whys and the sorrows of them. This novel better limns the journey from the joyful expectations of youth to the sad, mournful acceptance of age than anything I have ever read. Mr. Bakopoulos is a seer, a sage, a diviner of the million quotidian tragedies that amass in later life into a burden of despair and disappointment too heavy to carry, too complicated to parse, too eviscerating to forgive; here is a novel that shows how love turns into numbness, how expectations unmet become grudges unspoken. This book made me sad, made me recognize myself (and many others) and I could not put it down. Listen:

“I was alive and then I was dying,” Ruth says. “Who knows when that transition takes place? It’s different for everyone. And that would have happened anywhere. Everything else is insignificant.”

“You started to die when? When you got married?”

“I’ll sound terrible saying this, but yes. That’s when some people, usually women, start dying.”

And this:

Don Lowry has succumbed to the Shadow; he’s cast it over his children now,and they’ll feel it too for the rest of their lives. It is not something one can undo. He should have seen it coming, but even if he had, he would have felt powerless to stop it.

And this, oh dear god, this:

“It’s been too long,” she whispers behind them. “Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we stay away so long from the places that make us whole?”

If you can read those three articulations of the dashed hopes and anguish of adulthood without wanting to weep, then you have a soul even deader than is mine. Such writing, such a gift, Mr. Bakopoulos is one of my new favorite authors.

(It was re-named The Murder Man for U.S. release – I got my copy for one cent from a British supplier via the demon, giant, on-line book-seller which shall not be named) Parsons is another author who falls into the thriller genre, this one of the British school. Enjoyed it. Twisty – although I called some of the twists including the final one, but, a fast read and gripping enough and with that ambiguous half-happy/half-fuck-you ending that means we’ll be seeing the main character, DC Max Wolfe, again. In fact, I believe another in the series has already been published. So, there.

Okay, caught up, and swearing (once again) that I will try NOT to allow a month to elapse between book-updates. Feel free to share your recommendations with me. I’m always looking for something wonderful to read.

Love and light, dears.

3 thoughts on “Reading: June (and part of July)

  1. Oh my, you’ve just added SO MANY new books to my already teetering and tottering stacks of books to read. First off, so glad to see you read and loved Saint Mazie and Life After Life. I adore both of those (for completely different reasons and in very different ways). I haven’t read the Hoyt book from my romance stack yet; I started with the Guhrke, which I liked, though the ending was more than a wee bit predictable. And, last but obviously not least, you’re not alone in being late to the Shirley Jackson train; I’ve never read anything by her myself. Maybe I’ll consider Life Among the Savages before We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I was planning to read first of hers. Just as soon as I find more hours in my days, that is.

    • Isn’t that the truth? I am currently in THE NAKEDS, very much liking and determined – because of everyone’s comments – to read Hanya Yanagihara’s A LITTLE LIFE next – although I tried to start it once before and had massive issues with so many characters, so early, so stopped after a few pages – but it may have been my distracted state. It is next – unless I opt to do WICKED AS THEY COME, which seems really intriguing to me – we shall see. I want more time!

      • I haven’t read A Little Life either–I’ve heard so many good things that I am worried about the hype machine at this point, and also I keep hearing that it is crushing and devastating and I just haven’t been in the right headspace for that kind of reading lately. And if I do pick it up, I want to do it justice!

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