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Q: What have you been doing this summer?

A:

_____

Yup. Me too.

Someone wrote that on our paper display in the library where we ask “What are you reading these summer nights?”

I’m totally making that into a shirt. … Because it is true – I have been reading like a nerd all summer long, been plowing through books of all kinds.

I recently got back from a trip to South Florida… visited with friends, family, and most satisfyingly, the pool. In the 9 days I was on vacation, I was able to finish three books (and start a fourth). I do read fast, but they were also fairly short. Their length and interest-keeping ability was perfect for some distract-me-from-the-bumps-on-the-plane reading, some back-from-the-pool-and-totally-exhausted reading, and some it’s-vacation-so-I’ll-read-before-breakfast-at-10am reading.

I started After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh on the plane. It’s a collection of nine short stories that take place in the very near future. Each one explores the way we live after some major calamitous event occurs. Some events are more far-fetched than others (my eyes tend to glaze over when I read the word “zombie”), but it’s not the events themselves that are the focus so much – it’s the human reaction to them, how we adapt and continue, that is interesting . McHugh’s characters are undeniably sympathetic and human; they just happen to be in new and strange circumstances and settings. I couldn’t tell you what every story was about off the top of my head, but reviewing the contents of the book brings back memories from each story, feelings that stuck with me.

Once I finished Apocalypse, I picked up Sherman Alexie’s Flight. This story is about a lost and angry teenager called Zits, who is half white, half native American. He’s an orphan who has seen too many foster homes. He meets another foster kid, and they become good friends – the new guy helps Zits escape from a bad foster home, then puts him up in his place, an abandoned space-cum-shelter. He teaches Zits how to shoot guns and how to be angry. One day, Zits finds himself in a bank, ready to shoot into a crowd of people, just because. He’s ready to pull the trigger, cutting down innocent people waiting in line…

He does – and is instantly transported into the past – he wakes up in the body of an FBI agent who is about to do some dirty dealing with native Americans  in the 70’s, something which resulted in a lot of innocent Americans being killed. He wakes up in a few other people’s bodies, across various time periods and experiencing different points of view. By the end of this short novel, he realizes a lot of things about himself and life. The end seems a bit neat and easy, but the writing is sharp and the message heartfelt. Coincidentally, I was reading this book the same week of the Aurora movie theater shootings, throwing the events in the book and in real life into sharper relief. And, the review of this book in the NY Times was written a few years ago, shortly after the shootings in Virginia Tech. It seems eerie, the similarities of time, but probably really just a reflection how much violence takes place all the time.

The last book of the bunch was Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan. It was a quick read about girls in adolescence. It promised to tell parents how to navigate this treacherous land of female adolescence in this day and age. Each chapter covered a different topic relevant to girlhood: diaries, dating, menstruation, etc. “Covered” is putting it lightly, though; critics have not been impressed:

Jessica Bennet reviewed the book at the Daily Beast; Elizabeth Day weighed in at the Guardian;  and Emma Gilbey Keller gave her two cents at the New York Times.

I thought the book was OK, but in reading the criticisms, I see what they’re getting at. The main thing the book does is to highlight some pivotal moments in female adolescence, and identify some points where parents can pay attention and try not to screw their daughters up too much. Too bad the author only has sons, though – she may have had some real insight if she had had some, well, real insight.

On the way home from my trip, I started Emerald City, a book of short stories by Jennifer Egan. I’ve read everything else of hers and I really like her as an author. Her characters are all flawed, but sympathetic, because really, aren’t we all flawed? It’s how we find our own redemption that matters.  Her tales are a mix of poignant moments and everyday life. Two thumbs up.

Since then, I’ve read:


The Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics.
  An interesting history of the comics that began the comic book craze, it covers the time when comics were first printed in book format and goes up to the mid-fifties, when the Comics Code  was adopted as a way for comics publishers to self-police. Yeah, that happened.

Monster,  by Walter Dean Myers – a teen novel with an accused criminal as the main character. He’s 16 and awaiting trial. The book is written as if he were writing a screenplay about the trial – the kid is really interested in movies & movie-making. As the story unfolds, you can’t help rooting for this young man, who is jailed and in hell. He’s scared, although not necessarily innocent. You wonder where he got lost along the way, and hope to hell your kid isn’t going to end up in the same place.

I read Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. If you like Michael Crichton, you may like this novel. It’s a little thriller, a little biological mystery, a little spooky, too. It’s a pretty fast read, and takes place in the Natural History Museum of NY. Murders happen, chase scenes and conspiracies take place. It’s fun and was the basis for the 1997 movie of the same name.

Made it through both the regular printed novel and the graphic novel (GN)  version of the prequel to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game called Formic Wars: Burning of the Earth. It’s co-authored by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, the GN is illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo. I didn’t want to like the GN, so I read the novelized version of the graphic novel first – it was good. Better than I had expected (I Ioved Ender’s Game). So then I gave the GN a shot – and once I thought, Maybe I’ll like this, I actually did.

I recently finished The City & The City by China Miéville. This was really good, better than I expected, rich and gripping, actually. It’s science-ish fiction, slightly metaphysical, but really it’s a look at the boundary lines that separate two city-states in a made-up place in Eastern Europe. The two cities, really two separate countries, went through a split at some point, and the geography was divided in two, the people not allowed to see the other country’s citizens, buildings, cars, etc. Basically, anything that is in country A cannot be seen or touched by those in country B. A girl is murdered, though, and the investigation leads to evidence in both countries, plus a question of conspiracy involving a mythical third country. It’s crazy. But it’s good, and if you like detective novels at all, you’ll love the main character. This book is a detective story, it’s social commentary, it’s light criticism of academia – it’s rich and deep and grabs you from the start.

Finally, I just finished The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. I really liked the Bourne movies, and plan to see the newest “Legacy” movie that’s out now, but I wanted to get a little refresher and thought I’d give the books a try. I was not disappointed. The movie took out a plot that makes up most of the book – in it, an assassin called Carlos is hunting Jason Bourne in addition to the US government. It’s a fun read, though I get a little lost in the wordy descriptions of the fight scenes. Either way, Matt Damon was good in the book, too.

Phew. That’s it so far. So, yeah… that’s me, I’m just reading.

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So. We had a hurricane. In Connecticut.

I moved over 1,300 miles, from South Florida to the shoreline of Connecticut… and got hit by a hurricane. I was without water and power for five days. It was interesting and definitely an eye opening experience (toilets use THAT much water???).

Ironically, I had been visiting friends and family in South Florida and flew home two days before the storm was set to hit there… then it veered, and apparently followed me up the coast. Whoops – sorry ’bout that, CT.

While I was in Florida, I did get some reading done – more than I actually got done in the post-hurricane days (was too busy driving around charging my phone and looking for hot showers). I finished Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

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Murder on the Orient Express is the book we chose for the Shoreline Book Group – if you’ve read it or want to, feel free to join the group (on Facebook) and share your thoughts. I’m not a huge mystery reader, but I’m glad I finally read an Agatha Christie novel. I got through about half of it, then put it down to read Goon Squad. Once Goon Squad was done (sooo good!!), I picked Murder back up, and plowed through to the end.

I thought it was a gentle read, but I was a little jarred by the characterization of the Americans – the one American woman was portrayed as being completely obnoxious. There were some other stereotypes that were used – about how Italians are hot-headed and whose preferred method of murder is stabbing. That was perhaps a sign of the times, but I didn’t really like it.

I also thought the ending was a little too simple and easy – maybe I’m just used to the complicated plots of today’s thrillers. All in all, I’m glad I read it, but I doubt I’ll be picking up another Christie novel anytime soon.

I did some digging on this Agatha Christie novel and found a literary criticism published in the 40s on the mystery novel in general by Raymond Chandler, a famous and prolific mystery writer. He ripped mystery novels and their writers apart, and had a mention about Ms. Christie and her detective Hercule Poirot. The entire article is interesting and worth checking out.

Chandler writes:

And there is a scheme of Agatha Christie’s featuring M. Hercule Poirot, that ingenius Belgian who talks in a literal translation of school-boy French, wherein, by duly messing around with his “little gray cells,” M. Poirot decides that nobody on a certain through sleeper could have done the murder alone, therefore everybody did it together, breaking the process down into a series of simple operations, like assembling an egg-beater. This is the type that is guaranteed to knock the keenest mind for a loop. Only a halfwit could guess it.

 

For our Shoreline group, I’ve also suggested the A Visit from the Goon Squadas the next read. The book is captivating, well-written, and very imaginative. Each chapter is different – about a different person, in a different time and/or in a different style (one chapter is entirely told through a diary done in powerpoint slides). Each character is flawed and heroic – the author loves each character deeply, but is not afraid to show the darker sides. I cried through the last three chapters, just because the entire book was so moving to me – it’s not necessarily sad, but the idea of the passage of time and the things you lose (and gain) along the way – that gets me every time.Maybe I’m feeling just feeling sentimental right now, but this book got to me. It’s all about time: how time affects people, or doesn’t; how, over time, we go in and out of each other’s lives, either directly or indirectly… it’s also about people, how they relate to each other; how they affect each other (or don’t); how we’re all connected, and how little moments can drastically change lives.

I’m definitely going to check out more of Egan’s works – I really like her writing style, her choices of words and the way she represents her

character. Yay for a new author to read!

Did anyone get any reading done while the lights were out? Before or after? Has your interest in survival/disaster books been piqued (the night following the storm, I was in bed thinking about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, wondering what I would do if the power never came back on)?