Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Mid-Month Book Roundup

A good friend, a poet and a self-professed literary snob, has been listening to the Stephanie Plum mystery series while she exercises and cleans her house. She sent me a copy of the first, One For the Money, for my birthday last month, and, deciding I needed a quick read after finishing the hefty Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell on Sunday night, I sped through it on Monday.

Well. I think my friend has the right idea, listening to them while the mind is half-engaged in other matters. I don't listen to books on tape--my commute is only a few minutes long and I usually listen to music turned up loud when I clean and I watch dvds of my favorite shows if and when I exercise--but I think I'd appreciate Janet Evanovich's style much more while listening to the wisecracks than while reading them.

I don't have to like the characters to find a book engaging or worthwhile, but I realize now just how important the writing is in making me want to spend time with them. Some other writer, I'm sure, could have made me care about down-on-her-luck Stephanie, someone could have provided her with a little more complexity, or provided me with a style that contained more than fast food empty-calories.



I swear I would be a fan of mysteries if they were all as wonderful as Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. Of course, Case Histories is as much an Anne Tyler novel as it is a mystery, or, I should say, what an Anne Tyler novel would be like if her characters had experienced sexual abuse. Interesting characters who develop. Interiority. Non-chronological placement of plot revelations instead of Evanovich's tired stupid trick of letting the bad guy spill his guts--onto tape, no less--right before he unsuccessfully attempts to kill the heroine.

Case Histories is one I'll reread. And when I do, I'll have the background music on hand: Jackson Brodie and I have identical (and impeccable) taste in music.


Susanna Clarke intends other novels set in the world she created in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and that's a good thing. I'm not a big fantasy fan by any means, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the characters in this one, and it's been fun discussing it with S. (lots of stuff worth discussing with him), its intended audience.

Joan Silber's Ideas of Heaven is a loose "ring" of interconnected short stories--connections usually hinge on a character in one showing up in another, with common threads of heartache, loss and an interest in Buddhism snaking through them as well. I've already returned this one to the library, but the story on the Boxer Rebellion and the concluding story in the collection were my favorites.

I'm reading with great enjoyment Russell Shorto's The Island at the Center of the World and trying to decide whether I'll start Margot Livesey's Banishing Verona (a character with Asperger's is why I'm interested) or plunge into David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. I would really like a chunk of uninterrupted time to give to the Mitchell, so I may be holding off on it for awhile more.

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