My ipad is now crowded with books. I think I have to accept that, in this land of no lending library, I have become an e-reading person. I’m not happy about this fact, but what to do? The nearest bookstore is a car-drive-traffic-park-mall away (and expensive), while amazon can just magically e-zap to me whatever I want. I figure it’s only a matter of time until Wille Wonka’s vision of TV dinners comes true: I’ll order a bathing suit from amazon, it will appear on my ipad, I will pluck it off the screen and it will become a three dimensional object in my hand (and make me look five pounds thinner, but that’s a post for another time).
I just finished the amazing new biography of Catherine the Great. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, I think because I live in non-fiction; I read to spend time in other peoples’ imaginations. But my friend Karen convinced to get this book and I’m glad I did. It would take a prodigious imagination to come up with a story that resembles Catherine’s – stage a bloodless coup to oust your husband from the throne, take twelve lovers (probably not simultaneously), build an art collection that became the cornerstone of the Hermitage Museum. Plus expanding the national boundaries, attempt to re-write the legal code to be more equitable, introduce Englightenment ideals to an entire country…Let’s face it: Catherine is the original bossypants. The only thing I didn’t find out is whether there’s any truth to the legend about Catherine and her horse. If you know what I’m talking about, don’t look to this book for answers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s probably for the best.
Less highfalutin but still compelling is Stephen King’s latest tome, 11/22/63. Yes, that’s the date Kennedy was shot. It’s a pretty good story about time-travel and consequences and love–but you know what? Stephen King needs an editor. It’s a good novel but it clocks in at 849 pages. That’s only slightly shorter than War and Peace, for god’s sake. When I was reading King’s book, my e-reader made me very happy: carrying around the actual book would count as weight lifting. I could’ve used the book to do bicep curls. And it’s hard to read when you’re doing bicep curls. The book captures the era of the early 1960s perfectly, but the plot sags under its own weight, literally and metaphorically.
Two other writers just came out with new books that don’t quite match their best work, although their best work is so good I shouldn’t quibble, I guess. Usually I loves me some Lee Childs–his Jack Reacher books have been responsible for many a late night as I read just one more page and then suddenly it’s 3AM. But his latest, The Affair, seemed a kind of generic go-by-the-numbers Reacher. Maybe Childs feels as glum as I do that Tom Cruise (a small but mighty fellow) is going to play Reacher, a supposedly massive fellow, in a movie version of One Shot. I can’t remember the plot of The Affair, but it was a serviceable thriller if you find yourself stuck in the terminal at O’Hare with a dead phone battery and nothing else to do. James Lee Burke’s latest detective story, Feast Day of Fools, features Hackberry Holland, who we first met in Rain Gods, a few years back. The novel packs in border politics, illegal immigration, religion, several gruesome murders, and a few torture scenes for good measure–but the gruesomeness feels forced and the plot spirals all over the place. If you’re new to Burke, do yourself a favor and start with his great Dave Robicheaux novels, set in Baton Rouge. The one thing I gleaned from Burke’s book? His novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected one hundred and eleven times over a period of nine years. Then it won a Pulitzer. For those of us with a drawerful of “thanks but no…” letters from agents and publishers, that’s an encouraging tidbit. Continue Reading →