Pleasure reading

A loyal Moonraking reader (thanks Judith) asked why it had been so long since I updated.  Oddly, I checked my stats and visits have been high lately despite no new updates.  Is it all random Google visits?  Who is out there?  To be honest, I think I crave more interactivity and lately have been more likely to take my random observations to Facebook.  But, I will see if I can get my blogging mojo back.

I’ll briefly mention some of the pleasure reading I’ve been doing lately.

My big recommendation is Lorrie Moore’s The Gate at the Stairs (I must say I dislike that title which seems very generic to me).  I’m a longtime fan of her short stories.  In preparation for reading the new one, while I waited to get my library copy, I read one of her two previous novels, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, which is excellent although not as memorable as the new one.  The Gate at the Stairs actually could easily be accused of being contrived in all kinds of way in terms of plot but the “voice” of the narrating protagonist is so funny and moving that I didn’t care so much.  Sentence by sentence it’s consistently sharp, resourceful & hilarious.  Very self-aware about language, fascinated by puns and wordplay and nuances of speech and idiolects.  A novel about race and adoption, about childcare in relation to class and power, a girl’s coming of age novel.  Also it all takes place in a Midwestern college town (Madison) so that was another plus.

In 1996 or 1997 I called up “the Connection” (Boston NPR talk show) and asked a question on-air to Lorrie Moore.  I had only read a few of her stories from Self-Help and asked some question about her uses of semi-experimental fictional form that kind of missed the point of her work, I think, and seemed mildly to annoy her.  Since that experience I’ve always thought of her as a bit imperious and intimidating, but I heard an interview with her last month that made her sound charming and almost kind of girlish.

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig.  New York Review of Books reissue of this novella, the last work Zweig wrote before his 1942 suicide.  Made me want to play chess again… just in case I’m put in solitary confinement by the Nazis.  I’ve never read Zweig and this made me want to read more.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer last year, has been recommended highly by various family members I respect, and is about characters in Maine, but I didn’t like it quite as much as I hoped I would.  It’s definitely good and involving fiction, well-observed, it draws you in; the character of Olive K. herself is kind of great — she’s a really difficult and in some ways unpleasant lady — but somehow I found it all just a little… predictable, or trying too hard to do what “good fiction” is supposed to do.  And/or, I liked some of the stories much more than others (it’s a kind of Winesburg Ohio-esque story cycle, with the Kitteridges coming in and out of the stories).  Also I have to say that I think that aspects of this novel may be pitched especially to an over-60 or so readership (hey, we have Y.A. fiction, why not Older Adult fiction?)

Wobble to Death — this is Peter Lovesey’s 1970 Victorian mystery, the debut of Sergeant Cribb.  The plot revolves around a competitive race-walking event in London in 1879 at which contestants keep dropping off.  I spent the whole time I read this thinking, “am I really reading a mystery about Victorian competitive race-walking?”

Arnaldur Indriðason’s Arctic Chill.  I am in the middle of this moody Icelandic mystery, by the author of Jar City which I read a year or two ago.  Very Henning Mankell-esque, a bit derivative maybe (the detective’s relationship with his daughter seemed a little too close), but/and totally gripping and enjoyable.  A bit more stripped down and focused, more of a straight procedural maybe, not as ambitious in terms of depicting a whole society.  Very similar dynamics involving immigrants in the closed Nordic society — here a young Thai boy is found murdered and the detective is probing into the life he and his immigrant mother and brother have lived, the racism they’ve faced, and so on.

5 thoughts on “Pleasure reading”

  1. Thanks Ivan, as always, for the recommendations for good reads. Just finished William Trevor’s new book and need a new one…

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