What I’m Reading

for June 2014I read a lot. Not just a lot of books, but many different kinds of book. The photo here is of the books that decorated my nightstand during May, except for one that I already loaned to a friend. That was Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott. The back cover led me to believe that it was a standard murder mystery, but it was not. The way the author told the story of a man whose wife had been murdered reminded me of nineteenth-century novels, especially Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.

 So to deconstruct that pile of books a little. The book on the bottom, Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor, is the final book in a young-adult trilogy. Actually, I hesitate to call it young adult, although certainly that would seem to be the intended audience, since the protagonist, the enigmatic Karou, is seventeen years old. The books, however, have a strong fantasy element that I feel outweigh the young-adult aspects—which include romance. I attended the Newburyport Literary Festival back in April and heard a panel discussion by two YA authors and a YA editor. They commented how back in the 1970s (when those authors and I were teenagers) there were few YA books, and most of us simply read whatever interested us, regardless of intended audience. For me, that often meant dipping into my older brothers’ collection of science fiction and fantasy novels, which were really not intended for teenagers. Yet I found what probably remains for me among the top five books I read during my adolescence: Dragonflight, the first of the three books in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series. McCaffrey spanned that bridge between young adult and adult by creating a protagonist that appealed to young adults and a complex, exciting story that drew in everyone else.

Next, Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. I don’t read much nonfiction, and when I do it tends to be what I call science light. A journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker, Kolbert has an accessible style of writing, and a good sense of when to inject a touch of humor in her rather grim statistics of species extinction. Her research into whether we are currently in the midst of a sixth extinction event was far reaching and convincing. So convincing, I was depressed halfway through the first chapter, which details the alarming dying off of frog species. But it is a very good book.

The third book I actually didn’t get to yet. A Conspiracy of Faith is the third book in a series of crime detective fiction set in Denmark. The main character, Detective Carl Morck, is considered a malcontent by his superior after he survives an ambush that killed a fellow officer and permanently paralyzed another. So Morck is put in charge of the newly formed Department Q—aka, the Department of Lost Causes. Morck and his assistant, a Middle-Eastern immigrant with a murky past, are given long-dead cases to solve, though no one really thinks they will be able to. The criminal aspects of the books are a bit cringe inducing—one friend of mine found the first book too tough—but Morck is both an excellent detective and greatly flawed human being, which helps me get through the gruesome parts.

And finally, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I had just put this book on my to-read list, when a friend loaned it to me. Just as good as I had hoped. What particularly intrigued me is both the voice of the main character and the nonlinear way she tells her story. The book is in the first person, Rosemary’s point of view, but Rosemary ekes out her backstory, both the facts of her past as well as who she really is, at an intriguingly slow pace. Her attitude, a balance of unfazed acceptance of odd events in her life and smart-ass defensiveness, delighted me. And the author tackles a difficult subject, approaching it from a unique angle. Because of all the reader learns through the course of the book, I want to read it again. I’ll know what’s coming and I’ll be able to see how the author handled both foreshadowing and withholding information.

That will have to wait, however. As coincidence would have it, the day after I got We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, I was browsing through the used-book table outside of Water Street Books in Exeter. There was The Jane Austen Book Club by the same author, Karen Joy Fowler. I bought it. But there is the Jussi Adler-Olsen book still to read, and everyone I know who’s read The Goldfinch has said it’s a must read; and there’s the “new” Colum McCann, TransAtlantic, published a year ago now; and the soon-to-be-published Life Drawing by Robin Black.

Yes, indeed, so many books, so little time.

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In which I blog about the days I write and the days I don’t write; about teaching about writing; about reading (which is never enough); and occasionally about music, because sometimes a three-minute song can tell as good a story as a novel.

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