Reading: July: Finishing With Gay’s Hunger

In this entry I will be discussing MODERN GODS, by Nick Laird, THE FALLEN, by Ace Atkins, and HUNGER: A MEMOIR OF (MY) BODY, by Roxane Gay.

I read 19 books in July, during which I needed much distraction as I continued my eight month slog through the medical/insurance establishment in search of answers for the questions; “What disease do I have?” “Will this rash EVER go away?” “Why do so few doctors in Maryland accept my Maryland-assisted insurance that I have to drive an hour to an out-of-state provider to get treated?”

But those are issues for another type of blog-post, and, as a friend recently told me, “I think more people like your live-Tweeting about cooking than like your book blog entries because your cooking Tweets are shorter and funny.”

Okay then, short and funny, like most of my relationships. Got it. Or, wait, short and tragic? Whatever. Here are the final three reads of July.

Modern Gods, Nick Laird, Hardcover, 336pp, June 2017, Viking

I am of two minds about this novel, which is fitting since it feels like two half-novels awkwardly trying to meld into one cohesive whole. Two sisters on very different journeys of re-invention navigate foreign lands — metaphorically and physically — discovering during the treks that people are not at all what they seem, that they themselves may not be what they imagined themselves to be, and so they struggle to come to grips with the recondite realities of emotional connections, love, forgiveness, and the meaning of survival.

Alison Donnelly is about to be remarried. Liz Donnelly is leaving a disappointingly dishonest relationship and heading to Papua New Guinea to investigate a nascent religion for a BBC documentary. Alison’s husband to be has dangerous secrets she refuses to hear until it is impossible to ignore them, while the subject of Liz’s programme, Belef, a Melanesian woman who has gained a following for her pronouncements about the messages she claims to be receiving from a divine source, is also more and less than she appears to be.

There is a lot of marvelous writing and imagery here — the author is also a poet and it shines through — especially in the opening chapters which feel inspired in ways the middle of the novel does not, and the ending feels somewhat contrived and rushed, almost dishonest in its calculation. In short(ish), it feels both as if the author tried too hard and yet, not quite hard enough.

The Fallen (Quinn Colson #7), Ace Atkins, Hardcover, 384pp, July 2017, G.P.Putnam’s Sons

This is my third Ace Atkins novel and he has become a new “regular” for me. The books are fast paced, compellingly plotted, and I find the Quinn Colson world  — a Southern gothic, near Flannery O’Connor collection of misfits operating in a steamy, dangerous, ole boy sort of noir world in which danger and humor compete for air — to be equally delightful and appalling — don’t want to be a spoiler but there is a death in this book, the occurrence of which made me weep. Be warned. In this installment, a series of well-executed bank robberies performed by bandits in Donald Trump masks vex Sheriff Quinn Colson who’s also busy falling for the new old girl in town who knew and crushed on him as a little girl — she’s not little now and she’s not alone in her crushing. Things do and don’t work out, there is plenty of ambiguity and the final pages set up the next installment and I am ready.

Hunger: A Memoir Of (My) Body, Roxane Gay, Hardcover, 320pp, June 2017, Harper Collins

This was devastating. A blunt, searingly honest exploration of what it is to be other, to be caged in cultural presumptions so powerful that you yourself reinforce your incarceration. So many passages in this memoir resonated for me and echoed my own experiences as a queer man who grew up in the 1970s, it felt as if Roxane Gay had accessed the painful and embarrassing places and traumas I had locked away, kept to myself, refused to face, and done some of the work for me. This isn’t just a memoir, it’s an act of extraordinary bravery and service. Warning: it is NOT easy, in fact, it is emotionally draining but also enlightening and thought-provoking and encouraging; Roxane Gay has survived what could have been an overwhelming amount of horror, pain and abuse (physical and emotional), and ugly energy — from herself (to which she freely cops) and others, and the culture at large. If I had the power, I would make every child entering adolescence read this as it would be a benefit to those who feel alone and unseen and not right (and what adolescent doesn’t feel those things?) as well as those who might be bullies, haters, judgey popular kids who think it’s okay to mock and torture others, never having a thought to the long-term (permanent?) damage it can do.

And so it goes . . . goodbye, July . . .

It’s been a long month of doctor visits and disappointments, but, bright side, I got to read 19 books of which three were 5 Star reads, three were 4 Star reads, twelve were 3 star reads, and only one was a 2 Star read. Pretty good. And I booked and did a couple of house/petsits, had some quality times with family and loved ones, and made the best cake I’m ever likely to make (or eat), Beringer’s Brooklyn Blackout Cake, and created a cookie recipe involving four kinds of chocolate, chipotle, and cayenne, called Milamos. So, in addition to reading quite a lot, wow, I did a lot, too. I’m getting a slower start in August, aghast at how slowly time is moving since January when the tragedies of the inauguration and the onset of my still undiagnosed illness occurred. Not original to me, but, these eight months feel like eight years.

Anyway, off to more reading and family-ing and cooking and pill-popping and such. So, Love and Light to my regulars, nice to meet you to my new friends, and here I am, going.

Reading: 33 Books Of My Summer

From June 1 to August 31 I moved for the third time in four years, did six (or was it seven?) house and pet-sitting gigs, visited the doctor repeatedly for a gastrointestinal disorder that has been going on for three years, and read 33 books.

And you know what? I hate moving but I love my new apartment, love living with my sister, am grateful for the house and petsitting jobs, and today visited a gastroenterologist who seems to be determined to help me, which would be enough in itself, but, too, he is almost a dead-ringer for Raza Jaffrey—

 

— after whom I have lusted since I first saw him wasting himself on Katharine McPhee on SMASH, (FULL DISCLOSURE — I was ALWAYS Team-Ivy, and have seen Megan Hilty in multiple Broadway shows as well as in concert — a lot — twice in one night, in fact, when she did THIS —

–holy shit I love her so MUCH! And I am scheduled to see her again with my dear Team-Ivy and gastrointestinal distress cohort, A, in December — I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, A!!!!) and, my dears, to have the luxury of a life in which I can read 33 books over the course of a summer — I am NOT complaining, in fact, I am expressing my gratitude to the universe and to you people for reading me.

And, since this is SUPPOSED to be about the books I have read this summer, ha, here I am, going, offering short summaries of my summery-reads arranged by date read.

Think TwiceTHINK TWICE (Rosato & Associates #11) by Lisa Scottolinethis was my first Lisa Scottoline and I wonder how I have missed her up until now? On the other hand, grateful I now have a lengthy backlist to savor. Well done, fast paced, nicely plotted, moves like a bullet-train.

THE ASSISTANTS by Camille PerriA fast read about those living privileged lives which are not privileged enough; explores in a satirical way the damage done by sexism and classism, but, almost admires the capitalist destruction of self. Torn about it. But, funny, well structured, and, again, very fast.

THE NEST by Cynthia D’Aprix SweeneyMore privileged people dissatisfied with their level of privilege. Why are all the “summer reads” this year so obsessed with the haves who feel they haven’t enough and act execrably because of it?

MOST WANTED by Lisa ScottolineMy second Lisa Scottoline read since “discovering” her earlier in June. This, a plot involving sperm donor being a serial killer and mother-to-be determined to get to the truth of it all. It moves. It goes. It does what you want it to do and gives you what you want. I like that in a sperm donor and a book.

Our Young ManOUR YOUNG MAN by Edmund WhiteI have read almost everything Edmund White has written from A Boy’s Own Story to City Boy to The Joy of Gay Sex to the Proust and Genet biographies. He is a part of my history, a part of the history of all gay men of my generation. He broke ground. He pushed. He pulled. He succeeded. He failed. He blazed trails. And I will honor him and every word he writes for as long as he writes.

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline I liked this. I marvelled at the insight of an author so young, in particular her ability to capture the feeling of the late sixties and early seventies, and the lamenting, ennui, and patina of regret & disappointment coloring the remainder of the lives of survivors of the radicalism & extreme believing of the time. That said, not quite sure it was worth all the summer-buzziness it got, but, there it is. I have come to think nearly all buzzy-books have more to do with who is marketing them as opposed to how well they read, if that makes sense.

Then and NowTHEN & NOW: A MEMOIR by Barbara CookIt’s Barbara Cook, who is such a part of my life, so integral to my experience and the stories of who I am, it is as if she is a close, personal friend. She is that sort of talent, that sort of love, and so whatever she sings, says, offers, acts, writes will always be a five-star event for me.

THE CHILDREN by Ann Leary Fast summer read. I found the ending a bit less than satisfying and the characters’ traits seem sometimes pasted on and pat rather than earned and true, but, all hail a writer who has a plot and moves things along and doesn’t indulge in MFA-fuckery.

THE DEADLY DANCE (Agatha Raisin # 15) by M.C.Beaton

I love Agatha, and in this episode she begins her own detective agency, which has given her a welcome increase in the bite and spark which was very much on display in earlier installments and which had faded into a less interesting near-nastiness in the last couple — although I still loved visiting with her in those, too. But, hoorah for this turn!

GRACE: A NOVEL by Natasha DeonThe writing was well-calibrated in that “I’ve been workshopped a lot” sort of way, but I found it difficult to follow the time-jumping narration, its back and forthing, perhaps because its voices were all too much the same, needing more individuation. And I thought it went on longer than it needed to. And it was very hard to take, its tragedies were painful to bear.

THE UNDERGROUND MAN (Lew Archer # 16) by Ross MacdonaldMy first Macdonald, though this is 16th in Lew Archer series. It transcends the faux-detective-noir-ish sort of genre: he is a true pro at this, a master. The plot was twisty, the characters well-defined, the writing phenomenally evocative. Had I not read Eudora Welty’s review of it, and known her fondness from MEANWHILE THERE ARE LETTERS — the brilliant collection of the correspondence between the two — I’d have missed Mr. Macdonald’s work.

They May Not Mean to But They DoTHEY MAY NOT MEAN TO, BUT THEY DO by Cathleen SchineI loved this book. Quite the brilliant exploration of the love, guilt, manipulation, anger, joy, forgiveness, and insanity of being family. The insight into an octogenarian main character was a refreshing change of pace from the usual senior character portrayals in fiction. Read this if you have parents. Or kids. Or, a family.  ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

THE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN by Lisa JewellWell constructed, suspense-thriller-ish novel, fast read with a young adult vibe, great for a hot summer day. Again, though, maybe a little more media-buzzed/hyped than warranted.

SWEETBITTER by Stephanie DanlerA very fast read & well done, the writing is lovely, here and there one comes across a stunning insight, but, in the end, it felt cheated and posed, like one of its major characters, Simone. Somehow not all it was pretending to be, a little pretentious and too much muchness. Still, I do recommend you read it, but, again, buzzy-hype warning.

Some Enchanted EveningsSOME ENCHANTED EVENINGS: THE GLITTERY LIFE AND TIMES OF MARY MARTIN by David Kaufmanmy dear aunt, Sissie, adored Mary Martin, and thus, so did I. She was and is a legend, the likes of which we won’t see again. Annoyed this book did things like call Rose in GYPSY Mama Rose, and misspell Minnie in HELLO, DOLLY! as Mini. Sloppy for a book about musical theatre. And the author seemed determined from the outset to prove that Mary Martin really wasn’t as nice as she pretended to be, making sure to find lots of people who had issues with her. A bit bitchy, I think, but, still, I devour anything with old-Broadway gossip so, I loved it, though it felt somewhat disrespectful to do so.

THE INNOCENTS (Quinn Colson #6) by Ace Atkins

I didn’t read the first 5, nor have I read any previous Ace Atkins, but this was a great noir. Dark, full of uncomfortably real, small-town, small-mind ignorance and hate to which Quinn Colson stands up. I liked it. Fast read. Well done.

MODERN LOVERS by Emma StraubThis is an easy read, short chapters, many interesting characters, well constructed. What kept me from 4-starring was its lack of exploration of the possibility of happiness outside coupledom, or, the absence of an examination of how that cultural assumption might be a kind of bigotry/hindrance. But, as far as buzz-hype-y summer books, this one came rather closer to deserving the noise than did most of the others.

Excellent LombardsTHE EXCELLENT LOMBARDS by Jane HamiltonI am a fan of Jane Hamilton; reading her is akin to hearing a great & beloved friend share a personal story. I enjoyed this book very much, until the last few pages, by which I was a bit confused and then felt abandoned, as if the story had no ending, as if I’d been left hanging. I needed (wanted?) more closure, which is perhaps more about me than about the book, and even with that I am saying ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK (Amelia Peabody #1) by Elizabeth PetersI liked this but I did not love it the way I expected to. I expected to because so many of my Twitterati pals love this series. I will probably try the next one at some point and see if it grows on me.

TRYING TO FLOAT: COMING OF AGE IN THE CHELSEA HOTEL by Nicolaia RipsFurther proof one should wait until one is older to write a memoir. I expected from copy and write-ups it would be about characters in the hotel, but, not really. It was about a young girl’s journey, which is fine, but not how it was marketed.

AN INNOCENT FASHION by R.J.HernandezI began to suspect about halfway in this novel of mordant wit & fashion publishing industry insider roman a clef surface, was a much deeper look at society, class, and the illusions and delusions of millenials (and all of us) which would turn out to have a less than happy ending. I think, in fact, it is one of the saddest stories I have read in some time. Well written, yes, but ultimately bleak.

ROBERT J. PARKER’S KICKBACK (Spenser #43) by Ace AtkinsI am newly addicted to Ace Atkins. He is smart, witty, and moves a story. Things happen and the voices in which he writes always interest and amuse and compel. Nice work.  

BELGRAVIA by Julian Fellowes I wanted it to be Downton Abbey. It wasn’t. A bit predictable and it felt, to me, and I’m sorry to be negative, calculated: a formula written for reasons other than the author being compelled to tell a cracking good tale.

IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam HaslettA family, a history of mental illness, well written. Moved when I read it, three weeks later I had forgotten the plot and had to read reviews to remind myself. Maybe the intense relationships/actions within a family destroyed by depression caused me to block it out. Maybe not.  Nice cover design.

LOST GIRLS: AN UNSOLVED AMERICAN MYSTERY by Robert KolkerRecommended by a number of people I follow on Twitter. I found it confusing — the structure and jumping about was extremely difficult to follow — and, finally, it felt as if the whole enterprise was without thesis or point, really. As in, whatever he meant to do, didn’t — for me — get done. And I think it would have benefitted from stronger editing.

SWEET LAMB OF HEAVEN by Lydia MilletNot for me. I read books from every genre, and I am fine with authors playing with those, but this seemed an ill-conceived mish-mash of indecision about what it ultimately wanted to be and say, what story it meant to tell, and I ended up feeling disappointed and annoyed.

YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan AbbottAnother hot-buzzy-summer read, especially because it came out during Olympics season and was set in competitive gymnastics milieu. I worked around competition parents for many years; those kids, those teachers, those parents, nuts and totally capable of murder. Fast read. Fun. Sad. The real crime is the ruination of kids for distorted, so-called American dream.

DAMAGED (Rosato & DiNunzio #4) by Lisa Scottoline –  Obviously, this summer I became a fan of Ms. Scottoline’s. Her plotting, pacing, and characters are reliably fine and this novel also offered lots of relevant information about the foster care system; and, perhaps slightly unbelievable but much welcome happy endings for everyone. I’m good with that.

THE LOST GIRLS by Heather YoungI wanted to like this more than I did. I wish I had an in-depth understanding of why it didn’t capture me as it ought, but I don’t. Taking nothing away from the writing, which really was quite good, but somehow I knew too early what was going to happen & I felt a bit emotionally manipulated, and maybe by August 21, when I read it, I was exhausted by so many “buzzy” summer reads being just not nearly as fun and hype-worthy as I’d been press-repped into believing they’d be. Which is maybe why my next book was —

perfect paragonTHE PERFECT PARAGON (Agatha Raisin #16) She is one of my reliable loves, Agatha Raisin, as is her fabulous author, M.C.Beaton. I have all of the books, up through 25 waiting to be read (I’m saving up for 26 and soon to be released 27) but am rationing myself. It’s a real comfort knowing 17 awaits me when next I need a visit with someone on whom I can count, and my dear Agatha is always SUCH A DELIGHT!

UNDER THE HARROW by Flynn BerryA promising debut; I like being unable to tell whether or not the narrator is reliable; I thought the ending was a bit unearned, as in, perhaps too facile. But so admire the ability of authors to build mysteries, what a gift.

Penny, Louise A Great Reckoning 2A GREAT RECKONING (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12) by Louise PennyI cannot briefly express my love for this book, for all the Gamache books, for the artistry of Louise Penny, so, check my blog earlier this week for a complete review, just click here: A GREAT RECKONING — my appreciation. ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

PARADISE LODGE by Nina StibbeThis was — sorry to use such overused words — a charming and delightful read. Funny. Touching. Lovely tale of a fifteen-year-old young person coming into her own while working in a home for the elderly. Truly enjoyable.

So, there it is. I’ve managed to write about 33 books in under 2500 words, which, if you know me at all, must be some sort of miracle at work. Oh, right, I am, after all, MiracleCharlie. One day I’ll talk about how I got that name, but for now, here I am, going, off to finish reading an old Nabokov I’d missed and a new Tama Janowitz memoir which is — so far — delighting me. Happy Labor Day, dear ones. Much Love and Light and HAPPY READING!