This week’s reading:
The Best of Robert Silverberg, Robert Silverberg
The Bride of Lammermoor, Sir Walter Scott
A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon
Dark Voyage, Alan Furst
A Cross of Centuries, ed. Michael Bishop
This week was an absolutely terrific reading week, even if I only got through a relatively small amount of fiction due to midterms. (I read a whole lot of academic stuff, mostly on creativity and motivation, but this year I’m not including school reading in my counts. Maybe next year.)
To start, I love Alan Furst. I do! His books are both dark and humane, putting real people into increasingly difficult situations and full of lovely history that feels both accurate and narratively compelling. My only problem is that his titles sound so similar that I often can’t recall which volumes I’ve read and which I haven’t! But I think I won’t be having that problem with Dark Voyage, as it’s my favorite Furst novel so far. His portrayal of life on a tramp freighter is terrific, and the double-dealing the characters are caught up in is clear but tense. I’m not sure I love the introduction of the (very) secondary character of S. Kolb, but other than that, this is a nearly perfect WWII espionage novel. Go forth and read it, friends!
A Spot of Bother, on the other hand, was quite surprising. I’d read Haddon’s first novel and loved it (did you know I used to be an autism researcher?), so I knew I’d like this one. I just didn’t quite realize it would also be uncomfortable, heartbreaking and hysterically funny. I had a really hard time finishing this book because it spoke to me in a very personal way, and Haddon really doesn’t spare his characters much. I was hugely relieved when he pulled his punches somewhat to construct a happy ending, but at the same time a little disappointed. The picture of life that Haddon constructs doesn’t make me believe that everything turns out all right, even if the story does.
The biggest surprise of the group, though, was A Cross of Centuries. Bishop’s put together an anthology of stories that feature Jesus or a Jesus-like figure, so I knew it would be interesting. But some of those stories, god, they totally blew me away. As a non-Christian, I’m much less interested in knowing what Christianity is than what it means to its practitioners. These stories were immensely revealing about their authors’ deep-held faith (or lack thereof - lots of atheists represented here!). Yes, two of the stories were rather cliche, and another couple went off the overwritten edge, but the rest of the twenty-five stories in this volume were great stories in their own right, as well as tiny windows into the meaning of this country’s dominant religion.
Sadly, all this means that I have to find something delightful to read next, or else next week is going to feel like a let-down. Maybe I’ll just read World War Z again.