Reading: So many holds, so little time

I’ve read eight books since last I book-blogged and I am close to catching up with my hold list from the library. Which I have STOPPED adding to so that I might get to a stack of books I own which have been patiently awaiting my attention. I’ll try to keep this short. Here goes.

The Moviegoer, Walker Percy, paperback, 242pp, originally published 1961

This won the 1962 National Book Award for reasons that escape me. I found the title character, Binx Bolling, to be unbearably idiotic and misogynist. I thought the writing was dull and clunky, the symbolism heavy-handed. Not for me.

A Most Novel Revenge (Amory Ames #3), Ashley Weaver, Hardcover, 320pp, October 2016, Minotaur Books

I read the first Amory Ames mystery in March of last year, somehow missed the second, and picked up this, the third, on a whim from the library when I was there to get some holds. WHY DID I PICK UP ANOTHER BOOK WHEN I HAVE SO MANY HOLDS? Well, I love cozy 1930’s English mysteries about wealthy folk and add to that milieu a novelist and libertines, compare the sleuthing main character, Amory, and her husband to Nora and Nick Charles, and, well, I’m hooked. I confess, however, that when I picked this up I had no idea I’d read the first in the series, and, even as I read, I did not recall the first. It was only when adding it to my Goodreads list I realized I’d read the beginning of the series, and even on reading the synopsis, I only vaguely recalled it. BUT, that’s okay. This one was fun, a light, witty, amusing, distracting bob-bon, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it beats the hell out of The Moviegoer.

Faithful, Alice Hoffman, Hardcover, 258pp, November 2016, Simon & Schuster

I don’t know how the only other book I’ve read by Alice Hoffman is The Story Sisters, but there it is. I saw her speak at Frederick’s Speaker Series, and I am devoted to the film of her novel, Practical Magic. I quite liked this. Alice Hoffman walks the line between thaumaturgy and daily reality, conjuring happy endings from tragic circumstances. She writes with a great faith in the resiliency of the human spirit, and her heroine, Shelby Richmond, lives a journey riveting, heartbreaking, and hope-giving in this book. We need happy endings right now, so I just might pick up some more of Alice Hoffman’s work — once I get through my holds and my own patiently waiting books.

Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries, Andy Cohen, Hardcover, 357pp, December 2016, St. Martin’s Press

Okay, sue me, I am addicted to a number of Bravo’s Real Housewives of … series, which are produced by Andy Cohen. He makes me laugh. And I figure that if Anderson Cooper is best buddies with him, he must be a good time. So, I got this — also on a whim while picking up holds — and for the first half or so, I was amused. Then, what felt to me like a real lack of appreciation for the privilege in which he lives started to wear me out. Which, I suspect, has an equal amount to do with my envy of someone who can buy and remodel apartments in New York City while I can’t pay off a tax bill for which I am being dunned or afford rent on the near hovel in which I live. That said, this book is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and that’s a good thing.

Lincoln In The Bardo, George Saunders, Hardcover, 343pp, February 2017, Random House

This book has been buzzed about for months, received rave reviews, and was much loved by people whose opinions I respect. It is indeed imaginative and very different from most things I read or have ever read. Does that make it the masterpiece people are calling it? I don’t know. I liked it. The writing is — no question — quite beautiful and brilliant and ingenious and poetic and dramatic and often riveting. The plot is to do with Lincoln’s son Willie, who stays in limbo with other souls refusing to face the realities of their deaths, and President Lincoln returns to the crypt to hold and mourn his dead son. But that is misleading, as it is really a framework for a much larger exploration of the lives and deaths and disappointments and delusions of an entire culture which manages in its fanciful, ferocious execution to be startlingly relevant to the current state of the world, this country, human consciousness. Definitely a should read for everyone. (But I STILL say the books of the year are LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK by Kathleen Rooney [CLICK IT HERE]  & RUNNING by Cara Hoffman [CLICK IT HERE].)

Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller, Hardcover, 350pp, February 2017, Tin House Books

I have long followed Claire Fuller on Twitter — when I was on all the time, before this hiatus I am taking, we Tweeted in the same circles. I hesitate sometimes to read books by people who I “know” — but, deep breath and sigh of relief, reading Claire Fuller was a rewarding decision. And, apparently I am not the only one to think so, as the HOLD LIST at the library for this book was longer than the one for Lincoln In The Bardo.

The premise: Twelve years after Ingrid Coleman disappeared from her marriage and family, her husband thinks he has seen her. She has left letters to her husband, Gil, a philandering author, in the thousands of books he owns — one of which has ended up in a second-hand bookshop; he is holding said book in that bookshop, having discovered the letter inside, when he thinks he has seen Ingrid through the window and chases after her, taking a serious fall. His daughter, Flora, who has never believed her mother dead, comes home to take care of her father and discovers (along with us) the truths and deceptions and secrets of her family.

Jumping back and forth between present day and Ingrid’s letters from the past, Claire Fuller illuminates a tessellation of detail and particulars in a fast moving but slow reveal which makes for compelling and engrossing reading. This book also happened to have a few things I love dearly: crazy authors, obsessive collectors of books, and erudite writers of letters. I resented every moment I was forced to spend away from this book once I’d started it, so, make sure you have ample time for reading.

I am rather thrilled that I’ve Claire Fuller’s first novel to look forward to, Our Endless Numbered Days.

The Night Ocean, Paul La Farge, Hardcover, 400pp, March 2017, Penguin Press

Too long. An amalgamation of fact, fiction, history, rumor, research, imagination, reporting, and fabrication, The Night Ocean purports to be the story of (fictional) Charlie Willet, author of a book exploring the relationship between (real) H.P.Lovecraft and (real) Robert Barlow, but it turns out Willet has been duped and becomes obsessively determined to untangle the web of deceptions and impostures surrounding the lives and legacies of Lovecraft and Barlow, one of whom might or might not be dead, or have talked to Willet, who, himself, like Barlow (maybe?) committed suicide. Or did he? What might have been fascinating non-fiction reportage or intriguing fiction, becomes a confusing admixture of neither and both and it ultimately feels repetitive, confusing, and TOO LONG.

The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit, Michael Finkel, Hardcover, 224pp, March 2017, Knopf Publishing Group

Having spent the last seven years downsizing my life, recently reducing even more my contacts with the world, and seriously contemplating deeper retreat into solitude, finding less and less purpose or reason in the acquisitive, grasping culture in which we live or the measurements by which that culture judges success and achievement, I was fascinated by the premise of this book.

In 1986 a 20-year-old hikes into the woods of Maine, where he lives in near-complete solitude for almost 30 years until he is arrested during the final of the thousands of burglaries he had committed over the decades in order to feed, clothe, and warm himself.

Once he is captured people are divided in their feelings about him and the years of thievery, the fear he caused among the population from whom he repeatedly stole. There is fury and anger, and there is sympathy and admiration. There is speculation he is autistic, mentally ill, a genius, a fraud, a savant.

What there is not is any clear — or even vague — answer as to why he did what he did. Michael Finkel is near relentless in his effort to connect with Chris Knight, but the not-quite-hermit is uninterested in being explained, or explaining himself. He did what he did and it was what it was and the need of modern culture to psychoanalyze and parse every emotion and action, to determine a why and bestow a label, is part of what Knight was determined to leave behind — or, so it seems to me. He is not — was not — interested in the sort of mass-market introspection and categorizing which defines modern society, he wanted just to be.

Once he was forcibly returned to the “real world” he understandably had a difficult time merging back into a structure where he is ruled by statutes and etiquette and niceties he had eschewed for most of his adult life.

Michael Finkel tells the story and quotes Thoreau and psychologists and experts aplenty — too many, in fact — and so this ends up feeling bereft of emotional heft and more of a stretched-thin research project or magazine article, padded with expert opinion that does little to illuminate what we really want to know; Why did he do it? What effect did it have on his family? Who is this man? Exploration of which might have made this book better resonate with that part of all of us that wishes to disappear, be left alone, enjoy some silence.

AND IN CONCLUSION . . .

So, that’s it and there it is, the eight books I have read so far in March. I tried to keep it short, and I suppose, for me, 1700 words is pretty short. Now, back to my stacks. Love and Light, dear ones. Here I am, going.

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