This week’s reading:
This Book Will Save Your Life, A. M. Homes
The Two-Income Trap, Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi
Roald Dahl’s Ghost Stories, ed. Roald Dahl
The Tent, Margaret Atwood
Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Company, Maria Amparo Escandon
The Secrets of a Fire King, Kim Edwards
Death Match, Lincoln Child
Soon I Will Be Invincible, Austin Grossman
This was, overall, a pretty terrific reading week. I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted; despite being on sort-of vacation, I’m finding that I have a ton of commitments that I didn’t get to during the semester, and which are coming back to haunt me now. Not that it’s a bad thing - I went to DC for a TV show that I’m involved in and had a lot of conversations about a Jewish learning site I’m helping design - but it means my reading isn’t at its usual insane vacation levels.
I couldn’t tell you which of the books I read this week was my favorite. There’s at least four that are making my long-term favorites list! I expected Austin’s book to be terrific, and Malka recommended the Escandon, so I knew it would be good, but I also was totally shocked by how good the Homes and Edwards books were. In fact, despite the fact that I love Atwood’s work, I don’t think The Tent even makes my top five; the other mind-blower was The Two-Income Trap, even though it’s harder for a non-fiction book to make my faves. So yeah. Good reading week.
The Homes impressed me because I’m usually turned off by the whole ‘modern tale of anomie and depression’ genre. I just find it so hopeless, particularly when the writer is trying to Comment On Our Modern World. And I’d read some of her short stories, which I really wanted to like but failed to. I’m really glad I gave her another chance, though, because this book was just beautiful. It’s about a man whose life is literally falling apart around him - his house, his body, his relationships - and what he has to do to construct a new life for himself. It’s hallucinatory and slightly surreal, but never hits an emotionally false note. I really believed in the main character and why he’d ended up with the problems he did, but I also stayed right with him through the whole process of redemption and believed every minute of that, too.
Similarly, I expected the Edwards book to be rather trite, considering the way her novel’s being promoted. (Very Oprah.) I picked it up nonetheless, mostly because I loved the title and the cover art, but also partly because I was in the mood for short stories at the time. Well, these were just lovely - at least most of them. Every book’s got a few duds (”Spring, Mountain, Sea,” for example), but the vast majority of the stories were compact, beautifully written, and took some original tack on the usual old themes of love, hate, death, regret, loss and the like. For example, the woman who cleaned Marie Curie’s laboratories looks back, dying of cancer, on her life in the shadows of a woman of science, herself pushed aside for so much of her career. They’re beautifully constructed, and Edwards has a lovely knack for last lines. There are stories here I’d reread immediately.
Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Company read like Tom Robbins crossed with Gabriel Garcia Marquez - light but profound, bizarre but totally believable. It’s a woman in a Mexican prison, telling her life story, interspersed with tales of her prison life. It was just terrific.
Unfortunately I have to head out for Shabbat now (I’m going out to Western Massachusetts for a graduation); a number of these books (the Escandon and Grossman, particularly) deserve more attention, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to post more about them when I get back. Shabbat Shalom!