Thursday, August 30, 2012

August 2012: What I Read

What a great month for reading.  I'm truly grateful to be a bookworm.

1. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn.  Since I can't really discuss this excellent book because I'll be damned if I'm going to navigate a minefield of potential spoilers,  I'll confine my remarks to how much I love Gillian (that's pronounced with a hard G) Flynn's writing.  She reminds me a lot of Jim Thompson and a little bit of Patricia Highsmith.  She can do plot, characters, setting with one hand tied behind her back.  She gives me cold chills that I don't often get from literature.  Daaaamn.  Read her.  Now.

2. A Simple Plan - Scott Smith.  This is one case in which the movie version is superior to the book.  Both include a lot of murders, but the novel piles up the bodies to the point of silliness.  Still a solid read, though.

3. The End of the Affair - Graham Greene.  I don't know what I was expecting with Graham Greene.  Perhaps a version of W. Somerset Maugham.  He's not that, though.  The End of the Affair is a strange little novel full of love and hate and jealousy and death and God and disbelief and the possible beginnings of a saint.  This is one that will have to settle with me for a while longer.  Meanwhile,  I don't know which Graham Greene to read next.  Flow chart, anyone?

4. Dark Places - Gillian Flynn.  The predecessor to Gone Girl.  Still daaaamn.  I want to say more, but I will not be responsible for tarnishing or taking even the slightest edge off of anyone's Gillian Flynn experience.

5. Half-Empty - David Rakoff.  I discussed this book here, and I want to read more of Rakoff's essays.

6. Lovers' Lane - Rick Geary.  Graphic novel, part of Geary's 20th century crime mysteries series.  I'd never before heard anything about this unsolved murder mystery from 1922.  A New Jersey Episcopal minister who was married and a soprano in his church choir, also married are found brutally murdered in a lovers' lane right on the county line with their own love letters strewn around them.

7. Tough Sh*t - Kevin Smith.  I preferred My Boring-Ass Life, but I'm such a Kevin Smith fan that I would read anything he published.  Favorite parts:  His story of how he got thrown off of an airline flight for being overweight, and his dealings with a strangely prima donna-ish Bruce Willis during the filming of Cop Out.  Many thanks to The Spawn for loaning me this as well as Lover's Lane.

8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules - Jeff Kinney. This is the second one in the series. It was amusing -- I've gotten attached to these characters -- but a weak follow-up to the original.  I much prefer The Ugly Truth.  I've got plans to read the whole series.

9. Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? - Marion Meade.  A first-rate biography of my hero, Dorothy Parker.  Marion Meade has done her research, but she doesn't show it off by blathering on and increasing the page count.  Instead, she crisply summarizes in a way that would make her subject proud.  This biography was obviously the reference point for the script of Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.  I wish that I could find someone who felt as obsessive about the movie as I do and we could while away the hours discussing it frame-by-frame.

10. A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick.  I confess that I read this in one sitting because I had to find out what was going to happen next, but I was put off by the overblown style.  I thought that it would be spare and stripped down like the Wisconsin winter landscape that is its setting.  Well, it was stripped down in one sense -- the three main characters are always taking off their clothes and having lots and lots of sex.  I like dysfunctional families and all their messed-upness, but the novel was a little too weighted down with cheap Victorian (or should I say Edwardian?  The time frame was 1907) melodrama.  Finally, (although this is no fault of Robert Goolrick's) boo to the headless woman cover.  Has that gone out of style yet?

11. Lamb In His Bosom - Caroline Miller.  This is the 1934 Pulitzer Novel winner, and Margaret Mitchell's favorite book, although it is about as far from Gone With The Wind as a book can get.  Lamb In His Bosom tells of a completely different Georgia -- farmers in the backwoods in the years leading up to the civil war.  It was a hardscrabble way of life.  According to the afterword, while writing this book, Caroline Miller visited the elderly farmers in her area on the pretext of buying chickens and vegetables from them while engaging them in conversation about the old ways of doing things.  Miller must have paid rapt attention; some passages of Lamb In His Bosom read like an issue of Foxfire.

The wealthy planters that are a prominent part of Gone With The Wind are seen at a distance in Lamb In His Bosom as troublesome (because of their eagerness for war) and viewed with some contempt mingled with envy because they have slaves to do their work for them.

Most of the adults in the story get their own point-of-view narrative, (which Miller handles expertly; it's so hard to believe that this was a first novel written before she was 30!) but it's mostly the story of Cean Carver Smith and her growth from a shy young bride to a work-worn mother who has experienced practically every calamity nature could throw at her.  Margaret Mitchell wasn't Caroline Miller's only author fan.  If readers take a look at Conrad Richter's The Awakening Land trilogy, they can't help but notice that pioneer woman Sayward Luckett Wheeler bears a strong resemblance to Cean.  It's all good.  I thoroughly recommend Lamb In His Bosom.  It's a deeply satisfying read, and one that more than makes up for my last Pulitzer fiction journey with Philip Roth.

The semester starts up again in September.  As always, this will cut into my reading time.  According to my schedule, I have Mondays off.  I'll make it work for me.


Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Oh how I love Dorothy Parker. I also thought Gone Girl was incredible and had no idea how to review it without ruining something.

Eric P said...

Regarding Greene, many, many years back I took a year and read all of his novels in order. I enjoyed most of them. It has been a while, but if I recall, my favourites were The Quiet American, Monsignor Quixote and Travels with My Aunt.

Jennifer Hartling said...

You had a busy month of reading :) Yay!

A Reliable Wife seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book. I've requested it from my library and I'm wondering what camp I'll find myself in afterwards.

I read The End of the Affair for the first time not long ago. I like your description of it :)

The Relentless Reader