Catching Up – Three Quick Reviews

Beat The Backlist Books 14, 15, and 16

Life has been hectic and I have been neglecting to do things that are good for myself.  I haven’t had any long soaks in the tub lately, I haven’t been taking the time to reflect on what I am grateful for each day, and I haven’t been blogging.  The one thing I have made time for in between work deadlines and little league games is reading.  And because I am who I am (read – a crazy person), I am starting to get anxious about my reading getting too far ahead of my writing.  Why do I make these rules for myself?  See parenthetical reference to craziness above.

So, even though I know it is crazy, I feel a compulsion to set some thoughts down in writing before jumping into my next book.

What I’ve been reading:

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (published January 2011)

This is my new favorite book ever and I want to make time to write about it properly, but for now I will just say that the writing is exquisite and then list a few things that make this book amazing.

  1. References to other books – The narrator is a librarian and she uses works of fiction as a lens through which to view her own experiences.  The works referenced vary widely from Lolita to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, but none of them are obscure so you can just enjoy them and not worry about feeling like you are not well read enough.
  2. The sins of the father – Rebecca Makkai’s writing has a recurring theme about carrying the weight of the choices made by our parents and grandparents.  She also plays with childrens’ perceptions of and experiences with these adults and how that compares to the truth of the adults’ histories.  Her own grandfather was a Hungarian politician who infamously wrote anti-semitic legislation as Nazism was spreading across Europe.  It is clear from her work that she has struggled to reconcile this truth with the man that she knew and she does an artful job of depicting characters with similar family dynamics.
  3. Inner monologue – Books told from the first person don’t always work for me.  I want omniscience, but Lucy Hull the accidental librarian with no plan and a poorly formed sense of self provides the perfect perspective from which to observe her accidental kidnapping of a probably gay kid whose parents are trying to ungayify him.
  4. The personal is political – I just love Lucy’s beliefs and her willingness to fall on a sword for them even in the absence of proof that a bonafide injustice is occurring.
  5. Lists – the book has lots of lists.  I like lists.

Read this “interview” with the author about The Borrower.  If that doesn’t make you want to read this book, then nothing will.  Also if you like short stories, she wrote a powerful collection called Music for Wartime that I reviewed here.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (published May 2016)

I read this book about a plane crash and the fallout afterwards while on an airplane.  I think I already mentioned above that I am kind of crazy.  Just file this away as article B in the evidence inventory.  I love flying.  I love looking out of the window and seeing the tiny houses and cars miles below.  I love being above the clouds.  I will always choose a window seat over an aisle seat and you are just going to have to deal with the flight attendant handing me my coffee across your seat or getting up if I have to go use the port-a-potty in the sky.  I also love flying because it provides hours of uninterrupted reading time.  I never sign up for the in-flight wifi.  Your emails can wait.  Planes are for reading.

What I happened to be reading as I was flying to and from Ft. Lauderdale last week was Before The Fall.  This book was really fun.  Scott Burroughs is a recovering alcoholic painter whose life may be finally falling into place when he is invited by a wealthy friend to take a 30 minute ride on a private jet from Martha’s Vineyard to Teterboro airport near New York City.  When the plane crashes Scott finds himself injured in the cold Atlantic Ocean at night with the only other survivor, a four-year old boy named JJ.  Scott manages to get himself and the child to shore.  What he needs is time for healing and reflection on his harrowing experience, but what he gets is the predatory curiosity of the 24 hour news cycle.  As he tries to protect his privacy and recover from his ordeal he finds himself at the center of a mystery.

What caused the plane to crash?  Was it mechanical failure, human error, or an act of deliberate sabotage?  As the histories of the passengers and crew are revealed, we learn that some of them were potential targets of dangerous individuals or even enemy states.  And what about the painter himself?  Is he a victim or a suspect?  The story is cleverly told in flashbacks and in the present from the perspectives of the survivor, the federal investigator, and sensationalist media coverage.

The Education of Dixie Dupree by Donna Everhart (published October 2016)

Don’t read this book.  Seriously.  You maybe shouldn’t even read this review.  It’s that bad.

I read this for my book club and the best thing I can say about it is that now I know not to read anything else by Donna Everhart.  Here is a short list of why this book is a total waste of time.

  1. The writing – Everhart just can’t find her voice.  Is she an adult reflecting on childhood or is she a kid telling a story from the recent past?  She ends up doing neither convincingly.
  2. Abuse – There is both physical and sexual abuse of a child in this story and both are depicted in graphic detail.  I’m not squeamish.  If the details contribute to better understanding the characters or advance the story meaningfully, then I am okay with reading them, but in this case it felt gratuitous.
  3. The characters – Only the mother’s character is well developed and even with all of that development, she still didn’t ring true.  The others are one-dimensional.
  4. The ending – tied up all neatly in a bow, everybody heals from their absolutely horrific ordeals nearly immediately.

Phew!  Now that this is done, I can get back to reading!  Next up: The Orenda by Joseph Boyden


One thought on “Catching Up – Three Quick Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s