Since July, when last I blogged about my reading, I’ve finished 25 books, and gotten my first library card in 30 years, the getting of which has changed my reading habits – again. With library access, I am more likely to try something new, take a chance on a recommendation about which I’ve doubts, choose to try something not 100% my usual-thing. When I am paying for books, I need be cognizant that my declining years are fast approaching and even a cardboard box has upkeep costs. So, I’m trying to buy only those things I know I am going to want to keep for long, slow reading, or re-reading, or to write in, or, too, classics I have long meant to acquire, and, of course, those written by Twitter-pals (or, you know, authors I stalk) who I know could use the sales.
So, I will try not to bore you with needlessly long recaps of all 25 books I’ve finished (you could follow me on GoodReads – click here – if you really want to know; in fact, DO, because I only have 21 friends there) but, I do want to talk about some at least a bit.
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One of my goals this year was to read across genre, outside my comfort zone. I spend so much time advocating for all sorts of equality, it struck me as hypocritical that I was pooh-poohing whole categories of writing. So, now, I try to “get around” as they used to say in high school – and play with all the groups.
I continued my exploration of romance writing (because, god knows, real-life romance is completely out of the question), tasting two supernatural-sort-of-other-world-beasty-creature novels; Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson and Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison. They were kicky enough and fun, but, I think, much to my surprise, I’m more of a regency guy. I’m number 2 in library-line for Deanna Raybourn‘s (follow her here on Twitter, she’s a delight) newest, A Curious Beginning, and am eager to get to that.
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Speaking of Twitter-folk-I-follow; new pal, Barbara Rogan (follow her here on Twitter, she’s pretty delightful too) wrote a literary-world mystery which I enjoyed immensely and am hoping is the first in a series: A Dangerous Fiction: A Mystery. I loved its insider knowledge of the publishing world and its clever plotting and vivid characters.
I also allowed myself two more in the Agatha Raisin series; #13: Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate; and #14: Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House. If you’ve not yet become addicted to M.C.Beaton’s delightful Agatha, quick, drop everything and get started.
I like my series – as you can tell – they are comfort books — like grilled cheese sandwich and tomato-basil soup between covers — full of friends and characters to whom I can return, authors who will deliver what I expect with well-wrought prose and fast-paced, interesting plotting. So, I read a John Sandford and a Harlan Coben and a Rhys Bowen (from Her Royal Spyness series) and an Alan Bradley (from his Flavia de Luce series) too.
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And, speaking of series, if I had to choose a favorite (and I can’t, because books and authors are like my children, my dear ones, I love them all in different ways for different reasons) I might choose The Inspector Gamache world gifted to us from the brilliant Louise Penny. The latest installment is The Nature of the Beast, the eleventh book featuring Inspector Gamache and I am crazy for him and all the others who live in Three Pines. Especially Ruth. I feel as if I, too, live there, or, rather, am privileged to visit each time Ms. Penny blesses us with another episode. You must start from the first because you really do develop relationships with these characters and feel as if you live among them; you cry with them, you grow with them, you ache for them, you love them. This is truly a beautiful and wondrous reality Ms. Penny has crafted, full of imperfect, fantastic, annoying, delightful, cantankerous, giving, sad, glorious, mysterious, needy, funny, human folks – like you, like me, like family.
I also read my first Lawrence Block, about whom many have raved. I liked it. I will be reading another. Has he made regular status yet? Not sure.
And another series first, Tagged For Death: A Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery #1 by Sherry Harris. I envy people with the ability to invent these worlds and work the outlines required for these cozies but I guess garage sales just aren’t my things. I’m going to stick to the ones about bookstores – which is no reflection on the author, rather, I don’t like candy with nuts either – doesn’t mean nuts aren’t tasty to lots of people.
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I also read my second, third, and fourth Andrew Smith novels. I had read Grasshopper Jungle a while ago and quite enjoyed it. Then, I met a dear friend of Duchess Goldblatt, Anne, who works on Mr. Smith’s books. She spoke so highly of him and I adored her so much, I determined to read more of his work. I started with Winger and moved immediately into its sequel, Stand-Off. Both take place in boarding schools – with which I have been obsessed ever since my mother refused in my youth (fourth grade) to allow the nuns and priest of St. Peter’s to send me away to Jesuit school (can you imagine what I’d be now, had I gone? Thank you, Mom.) – and fall into the YA Genre. I am not YA, but I enjoy YA, and I think Mr. Smith a very gifted fellow. And what a great name. The books move incredibly quickly, loads of plot and interest, and I find the dialogue to be true to the way my nieces and nephews near that age speak. I followed these up with the first in a series of his, The Marbury Lens. So, Mr. Smith wins the prize in this installment for most books by one author. If you’d ask me to recommend one, I’d say my favorite of them was Grasshopper Jungle.
I read a number of buzzy novels about which I’d heard from Twitter-folk. Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise, which I liked but from which I expected more being as it had a Sondheim lyric for a title. Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun was fun-ish, and clearly a set-up for a series, but, again, I expected more. H.S. Cross’s Wilberforce was one I almost gave up on, but didn’t because it was about boarding school – and you know, I have that thing — but I found it about a third too long and a quarter too obtuse and what I wanted was far less. I also could have used less of the forced Southern-y, eccentric charm heaped onto Annie Barrows The Truth According to Us – which had a great title, anyway. And, Jules Moulin’s Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes was fast and sort-of sexy and completely rom-com-y and ready for filming and completely unbelievable but I didn’t care, happy ending, hot guy loves me sort of okay, never gonna happen but what the hell this is what I want to believe in sometimes alone in my big old bed in my fifties – if I was Goldilocks, this one was just right.
I’ve had some huge disappointments in the past few months (I’m not JUST talking about my life) and learned what DNF means – Did Not Finish. Three very huge, touted books for which I had waited and wanted and pre-ordered and dove into just flabbergasted me. I could not finish Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, Larry Kramer’s The American People, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. NOW PLEASE UNDERSTAND – I am not denigrating the authors, I am sure the failure is mine – but Giant I found just too slow and repetitive to make it past page fifty; American People was in need of massive cutting – or so I thought – I had real difficulty following who was who and what was what when and why any of it was going on; and clearly I am an ignoramus for not liking A Little Life – it keeps winning award after award and many a genius loves it, but, for me, it was so relentlessly dark, hopeless, brutal, as to be unkind – I felt violated, I felt some of it was uncalled for, the unceasing ugliness of it was too much for me – no matter how lovely the prose. Life is hard enough without reading 700 pages of agony and sorrow and abuse. I just couldn’t.
I did and could do the first in the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novel series, My Brilliant Friend. Again, it must be me, but despite Mr. Wood in The New Yorker, and loads of TwitLit people I respect and admire, and NPR, and on and on, LOVING this book, this series, I could just barely stay awake and stick with it. I finished it, but won’t be reading books two through four.
For pure, solid, reliable, take-me-away fun, I picked up a P.G.Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves. Loved. Laughed. Smiled. Was taken away – as I wanted to be.
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I did some non-fiction too. A memoir-ish quick read, The Whipping Boy, by Allen Kurzweil, also much about boarding school and the lifelong effect of having been bullied there. (Having typed that, I’m a BIT concerned about just how many of these 25 books had to do with boarding schools. Hmmm.) A hilarious collection of essays by Isaac Oliver called Intimacy Idiot – he is a gay man who has had many of the same experiences as have I and I wish I had written this. Truly funny. Not so funny, but absolutely brilliant, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. No doubt part of my appreciation of this book is that I’m in my fifties, my Mom is in her eighties and we’ve been to the emergency room once after a fall, and for surgery this past week to clear an artery, and regularly visiting offices of all kinds of doctors, and, too, had recently to move her from one assisted living place to another where she is far less autonomous and far less happy and I am guilt ridden and terrified and cannot understand how we, as a nation, do not have better systems in place to care for those near death. Read this book. Now.
As fate would have it, I also read Being Mortal because I was pretty sure I was dying. I’d lost 15 pounds in three weeks, no one seemed to be able to tell me what was wrong, all my body could manage was to expel, never contain, and, during that illness of my own, I found out my Mom needed a surgery that had a high probability of causing a stroke – although the probability of stroke without the surgery was 99% – so, yes. Well, Mom survived and should (fingers crossed) be back in her own room tomorrow night and I was cured – until yesterday, when apparently the parasite that had taken up residence in my intestine and was meant to be evicted by a combination of anti-and-probiotics, returned. Ha, along with my boarding school theme, I guess my Guts are home to a bunch of nasty parasite-plebes causing me GREAT DISTRESS.
So, I will try to write about books more often and before I finish another twenty-five. But these GutMonsters are trying to kill me, and they wear me out pretty badly, pretty quickly. I was out today for about an hour and when I got home, bam, down for the count. Got back up, made dinner, did the dishes, finished this. So, not going to surrender but, jeesh, whatever this is – it needs to go away.
Love and Light kids. Happy reading.