Thursday, January 08, 2015

What A Strange Reading Week It's Been

This is a potato that came in a bag I bought 3 years ago. I didn't eat it. I showed it to everyone who came over.


I've had a good reading week to start the year, but my list looks strange. 'All over the place' doesn't even begin to describe it:

I started out the year with The Book of Margery Kempe, which is generally considered to be the first autobiography in English. This book has been on my shelves for years, so it was a matter of read & release and also flexing my reading muscles a little by reaching back before the 19th century.  I thought of my old pal Faulker Guy.  When Faulkner Guy's not being FG, he's Medieval Guy or Old English Guy. He's the one that told me something along the lines of 'Middle Ages reading is the pause that refreshes.'  Margery Kempe was anything but refreshing. Mystic or crazy or both? Pages and pages of rather lively conversations with The Holy Family, weeping, crying aloud, trying to fend off her husband (after fourteen children) and other men so that she can take back her chastity, the trip to the Holy Land, people disparaging her and sometimes trying to burn her at the stake...the summarizing is much more fun than the reading. I'm glad I read The Book of Margery Kempe.  I'm just as glad I'll never have to read it again.  For my Book Blackout Bingo, this will cover the PASSION square.  If you're in doubt, consider the part in which God/Jesus gets married to Margery then He tells her that they can get into bed together and she can put the arms of her soul around Him and kiss His hands and feet and do everything she used to do with her husband.

After Margery, I scuttled back to the 21st century as fast as my little bookworm legs would carry me. Lionel Shriver's So Much For That is a novel that I half-expected to give up on, but I couldn't put it down. Shepard Knacker, who is a couple of years short of fifty has scrimped and saved to retire early to East Africa. On the day he quits his job and decides to leave, his wife informs him that she's got cancer and will be needing him to return to work because she will need his health insurance. This book was written a few years ago, but the harsh home truths about the U.S. healthcare system still apply. So Much For That is ranty and occasionally grotesque with loads of black humor, and readers know how it's all going to go down, but then suddenly they don't, and *that's* where I couldn't stop reading. If you bring this book home, unpack your strong stomach.  SMFT was a library book from my beloved BEL, but I checked it out in the waning hours of 2014, so I didn't stray from The TBR Double Dog Dare.

A couple of years ago, I went through a stage in which I was feverishly reading and collecting "Evil Children" books.  After I finished The Bad Seed and something else I can't remember (Daughter of Darkness, maybe? The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane?), the urge was gone, and Let's Go Play at the Adams' began gathering dust on my TBR shelf. Again, in the spirit of read & release, I began reading this 1974 well-written but unremittingly bleak and evil story based on a real murder case. Even though the book is technically good, the subject matter is so disturbing and nightmarish that I hate to release it. I almost want to throw it away. Author Mendhal Johnson died shortly after Let's Go Play... was published.  I shouldn't wonder.  Book Blackout Bingo: the UNSETTLING square gets covered.

After wallowing in darkness for a few hours, I suddenly remembered that I had Let's Go Play at the Adams' 2 in the cloud on my Kindle. Written by Peter Francis, an ardent fan of Mendhal Johnson's book, Let's Play...2 flashes-forward twenty years from the events detailed in the first novel.  For readers of that first novel, this is more of a 'howdunit' as an FBI agent is called to a crime scene that leads him to another murder with similar hallmarks. Of course he stumbled over every red herring on this long and winding road, and the plot was bogged down by a couple of romantic subplots and the idioms were puzzlingly, inexplicably British, but by the end, the reader has got the catharsis that wasn't there at the end of the original novel. Perhaps that's why Peter Francis was compelled to write a sequel.

Even though death is a major theme in Anne Tyler's The Beginner's Goodbye, it is Anne Tyler, and compared to the harsh, horrifying and crazy stuff I had read so far in 2015, it was like letting the light in. After a tree falls on Aaron Woolcott's wife and kills her, Aaron is haunted by her at intervals, in which he examines the trajectory of their marriage as well as the process of grief and how others play a part in helping and healing.  Aaron seems like a younger brother or cousin of Macon Leary from The Accidental Tourist -- they both go to live with their sisters after tragedy befalls them, they both have a finicky air about them, and they even have similar jobs -- Macon wrote travel guides for an "Accidental Tourist" series while Aaron is the publisher of a series of "Beginner" books, which resemble the Idiot's Guide or Dummies series. And of course, everyone is from Baltimore. What really thrilled me about The Beginner's Goodbye was a couple of glimpses of Luke Tull from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Luke (resembling his Uncle Ezra in every possible way) is a friend of Aaron's and as a way to distract Aaron from his grief, invites him for dinner at the restaurant every week, although the place is just referred to as "the" restaurant.  But it's The Homesick Restaurant!  I know! [Edited to add: Luke Tull also gets the profound summing up about life towards the close of the novel.] Can't wait for Tyler's new book, coming out next month.

Looking at what books came before, anyone would wonder: What next?  Well, I really went off the rails and read a book of Korean poetry, Between Sound and Silence by Chang-Soo Ko. Call it a palate cleanser.  I didn't think I'd like it, but I did, so I want to give full props by giving Between Sound and Silence its own blog post, which will be coming up in a few days. I always feel a little awkward when talking about poetry. Overly pretentious. This may take a while.

2 comments:

Unruly Reader said...

Yowser -- two Book Bingo Blackout squares already done. Nice! And you went for the good ones: PASSION and UNSETTLING. I just hope the rest of the year doesn't seem drab...

jamesreadsbooks.com said...

Isn't it interesting how our reading can fall into patterns. When I was a kid, I spent one summer reading books about kids on desert islands. In college, I ended up reading lots of books addicts and addiction one year. A few years ago I read a long line of YA novels that featured pirates. I swear I never did any of these on purpose; one book just led to another.

Like potato chips, I guess..