Sunday, July 29, 2012

July's books

I've been tearing through books this summer at a hellbent-for-leather speed, thanks in no small part to how slothful the heat has made me: I hate the feeling of heat rising off my chest and hitting the underside of my chin, so I do nothing as often as I can to avoid that sensation.

This is what I've read in July:

Existence. David Brin.
Aliens from various worlds have been virtually uploaded into an artifact that's found orbiting Earth in a future 40 or so years on. One of the myriad storylines involves a pod of uplifted dolphins, so I'm feeling the need to raid my son's collection to catch up with Brin's earlier works. (I came in towards the end of a Star Wars fans vs. George Lucas show my son was watching on Netflix last week and he said, Look at that poster. That guy's also a fan of the Uplift series. And I said, Maybe that's because he's David Brin, the author.)

Our Friend the Charlatan. George Gissing
I read Born in Exile last month, the story of a lower middle-class intellectual young man with atheistic views who, in order to ingratiate himself with a wealthy clergyman and his family, publishes an article that condemns his own radicalism and commences studying to become a minister. Our Friend the Charlatan tells a story in a similar vein: an Oxford grad loses both his private tutoring position and his allowance from his struggling parents. Plagiarizing the ideas of a French sociologist, he gains the sponsorship of a elderly aristocratic woman and runs for Parliament. I'd recommend anyone new to Gissing to read Born in Exile before Our Friend, but since Gissing's Victorian views on women often infuriate me, I must mention that he allows his "new woman" to most gloriously diss his "coming man" in a most satisfactory manner.

Three Weeks in December. Audrey Schulman
I was a little wary at first. There are definite parallels to Ann Patchett's State of Wonder and I wasn't sure that having an autistic main character wouldn't prove to be anything but a trendy gimmick. But oh, I came to love this book. It's my favorite book of the year so far.

Reply All. Robin Hemley
It's been so long since I've seen a new collection of short stories from Hemley, I thought he'd quit writing them altogether. One story gives a nod to the Plaza-Midwood area of Charlotte, where he once lived.

Eve's Ransom.. George Gissing
Another late-Victorian working-class protagonist. After coming in to enough money to live on for a couple of years, a young man becomes obsessed with the beautiful woman whose photograph he'd spotted in his landlady's album.

The Wise Virgins. Leonard Woolf
Okay, so I meant to read Night and Day, the only novel of Virginia's I've yet to read, but I decided I ought to read Leonard's novel first as background. For some reason, I'd thought Leonard would make a difficult read, but instead I read it all in one day.

The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger
The Wise Virgins was so angsty I decided I'd rather revisit Holden before moving on to Virginia. I'd worried that now that I'm on the flipside of my own children's angsty years, I might have lost some sympathy for Holden, but no. It's bad enough going through that time without also having to deal with a beloved brother's death at the same time.

11/22/63. Stephen King
For book club. It went over well with everyone, including me.

Z. Lauren Baratz-Logsted
A chick lit/contemporary romance retelling of The Great Gatsby with a window washer who fancies himself Zorro taking the part of Gatsby. I took a chance with a book that isn't my usual reading fare because the e-book was free at Amazon, but it just didn't work for me.

Boleto. Alyson Hagy
I've always loved "a boy and his horse" stories since the days of My Friend Flicka and The Red Pony. In this  Graywolf Press version, a young Wyoming man determines to train a Quarter horse filly to play polo out in California. People keep interfering with his dream. Most excellent.

Broken Harbor. Tana French
French is one of the few mystery writers I read regularly, but I still think her first, In the Woods, is her best. Guess I'm just partial to mysteries that don't tie everything up neatly at the end.

Slouching Towards Kalamazoo. Peter De Vries
De Vries is a big favorite with the Readerville/Book Balloon set and this one was touted because of its debate between a minister and the town atheist--they each manage to sway the other to their point-of-view. Mostly it's the story of an erudite 8th grader who gets his teacher pregnant and cannot secure an arbortifactant from local doctors or pharmacy. She moves away and he eventually spends the summers working for and sharing a bed with his new son's grandfather. Yeah, it's a farce. I've got another De Vries on hand to read soon.

The Year We Left Home. Jean Thompson
Interconnected short stories about an Iowa family of Norwegian descent. Most of the stories center around Ryan, who has a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time to his girlfriends.

Ragnarok. A. S. Byatt
For the Slaves of Golconda discussion this coming week.

Walking Lessons. Reynolds Price
A novella based on Price's Christmas visit with a friend working as a VISTA volunteer at a Navajo reservation. Price transforms himself into a character whose wife has just committed suicide and his friend into a man whose Navajo girlfriend (married, with children) has just found out she has MS. I need to read more Price.