Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Books I read in September and October

I seem to have read more than usual lately: not least because for a few days I did nothing but read, wanting to get through some of the several dozen books I'd got in Bangalore's wonderful bookstores (Blossom and Bookworm) and which I had no room to pack and haul home. I also wanted to read a couple of books on the shelves of the friends who were generously hosting me.

Crime novels

It was a good time for crime. (Sorry.)

Ministry of Fear and Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Ministry of Fear not only kept me awake while waiting for a late evening flight at the end of a looong day (and week), but I was so engrossed I read on the airport shuttle and in queues and forgot to turn on my phone till I was at the baggage carousel. Brighton Rock was probably even better: unfortunately my copy got stolen (I'd foolishly kept it on the table outside my hotel room) before I could finish it. But I've finally read Graham Greene and now I want to read all his books. 

Miss Silver Intervenes by Patricia Wentworth
I love elderly women detectives in cosy mysteries. Miss Silver is great fun, and I want to read more Wentworth too.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
This book has been on my wishlist forever (since I read Jai's post on it: read this if you want a review). It's about a handsome young man who preys on rich young women — narrated mostly from his perspective. It's a gripping read.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler
This is only my second Chandler, but I thoroughly enjoyed it (much more than I did The Big Sleep). It's so stereotypical noir it sometimes reads like a parody, but the plot and writing are so taut it works really well.

Final Curtain and Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh
I enjoyed both of these, even though the mysteries were somewhat predictable. Marsh is a master of the cozy mystery, kind of like Christies with a slower pace and more meat.

Myth/fantasy/magical realism

Haroon and the Sea of Stories and The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
I think Rushdie should write more (or maybe exclusively) children's stories. There's something about his sense of humour and his imagination which works wonderfully in a child's fantasy universe. On the other hand, I eyerolled at manifestations of these traits in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which I worked at for weeks and finally gave up because it was such a plod (and it's some 600 pages too). Haroun, though, is wonderful: it still has satirical references to the real world but is the kind of Indian fantasy we don't have enough of, with a hero who travels to a fantasy world, (SPOILERS AHEAD) rescues it from destruction through bravery and empathy, falls in love with a plucky girl, and in the process fixes not just his family's problems but that of the entire city. I'm going to buy copies for the kids in my life.

However, The Ground Beneath Her Feet has some wonderful sentences, such as this one: "Suppose that it's only when you dare to let go that your real life begins?"

The Liberation of Sita by Volga
This much celebrated book is a collection of short stories on the same theme that reads 
much like a novel. It's a retelling of the Ramayan from Sita's perspective, and what's beautiful is that it gives Sita a sisterhood. Surpanakha, Ahalya, and Urmila mentor Sita and offer their affection. I think the translation is a bit clunky at times, but overall it was an easy read, and I'm sending it to my mother.

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud
The last of Lockwood & Co, a fun YA ghost hunting series with a girl hero/narrator, perfect for a day spent in bed waiting for the cramps to go away. (Stroud is awesome at humour, at fantasy, at teenage angst; romance is not his thing.) But if you haven't read him yet, try the Bartimaeus series: I'm a big fan.

Corridor by Sarnath Bannerjee

Weird, interesting graphic novel set in Delhi.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
If you've read any Coates at all, you know what to expect. This book uses the memoir format to delve into the black experience — including, of course, racism — in the USA. It's brilliant, like all of his writing. Have you read My President Was Black? I finally finished this long essay on Obama and American politics last week.

Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? by John Sutherland
Illustration of Amelia EarhartSutherland explores mystifying asides in classic literature: such as how did Lady Catherine de Bourgh hear a rumour of Elizabeth's engagement to Darcy, when gossipmaestro Mrs Bennet had no idea? (SPOILER: In this case the answer he offers is Charlotte Collins nee Lucas. I don't agree: Charlotte was not so mean-spirited as to try to sabotage Lizzy's relationship: from what I remember she seemed genuinely happy at the prospect of her friend making such a brilliant match.) The essays were overall less exciting than I'd hoped. 

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls Also a great concept but somewhat disappointing experience. Highlighting 100 women who "rebelled" is important, and the illustrations are magnificent (the one above is of Amelia Earheart). But the writing is less than perfect, and lacks nuance, perhaps limited by the one-page-per-woman format. I'm leery of a feminist book that glorifies, for example, Margaret Thatcher, without even hinting at problems. 

Everything else

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Bernard
What a beautiful book this is. The best kind of YA romance: two wonderful young people, strong friendships, complicated family relationships, and enough emo love to give me all the feels. 

The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
I'd read the first Neapolitan Novel last year; I gobbled up the rest last month. So much to love; such brilliant, interesting, selfish, principled women characters.

Sula by Toni Morrison
This is my third Morrison, and I think I like it third too, after The Bluest Eye, which is brilliant and beautiful and I want to reread often, and Beloved. But it's a complex tale of black women's lives and female friendships and female violence.

Ordinary Love by Jane Smiley
A novella about motherhood and family. Smiley is great at family relationships, and I enjoyed rereading this one, though my favourite of hers (I've only read three) remains A Thousand Acres, a retelling of King Lear set in a contemporary farm.
Cover of A Necklace of Skulls
Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
This is... not what I expected? It's sort of a mix of historical thriller and erotica without any actual sex. It was strictly okay.

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham
Typical dudeliterary novel with "ideal" young man and lots of annoying rich people, including the narrator (who is less rich but super annoying). It was well written and enjoyable, despite my occasional eyerolling.

A Necklace of Skulls 
by Eunice de Souza

Found this treasure in my friends' home and greedily devoured it in one afternoon. I'm not a great reader of poetry, but the poems here are so accessible, so simple, without being simplistic. The poem 'Untitled' gut-punched me, even though I have no one to feel that way about. (TW: grief, death.) 

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