[Unless David Duhr reads 80 books in the year 2013, he's committed to reading publicly from Fifty Shades of Grey while wearing a hot-pink onesie. Follow the Book Rush here.]
Let’s just skip the banter and the blah blah and get to the capsule reviews, shall we?
I knocked out ten more books in October, a couple of which I’d already made some headway into earlier in the year. Two months and sixteen books to go. It’s gonna be tight, and I’ll have one, maybe two, lengthy novels to read for review. Thankfully November and December involve a fair amount of travel, which means a fair amount of reading time. I’m going to need every free moment I can get.
Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, Stuart Dybek
You know those books that are so good you wish your name was on them? This is one of mine. Dybek’s debut story collection is masterful, and I regret that it took me this long to read it for the first time. There’s not a dud in the bunch. I don’t think Dybek is capable of writing a dud. Next up, The Coast of Chicago. And then everything else he’s ever written. (N.B. George Saunders credits Dybek’s “Hot Ice” as the story which influenced his career more than any other.)
Mattaponi Queen, Belle Boggs
Another debut story collection, this one takes us to the Mattaponi Indian Reservation in Virginia. Boggs’ writing isn’t up my alley, but since I see no point in shitting on a quiet small-press offering, I’ll leave off.
The Magic Barrel, Bernard Malamud
1959’s National Book Award winner, this collection is almost as good as the Dybek, and similar in style and content. I shall be reading much, much more Malamud.
Coffee Will Make You Black, April Sinclair
I never decided if this novel is YA or adult, or if it exists in some hazy in-between. Not that classification matters, because either way it’s an engaging coming-of-age (sorry) tale of a young girl in 60s Chicago. Sexual awakening, burgeoning political and racial awareness, and a non-twee ending. It works especially well after reading the Dybek, as his stories are also set in other-side-of-the-tracks 60s Chicago. Not that Sinclair is speaking to Dybek, but the two share some themes.
A Mirror For Witches, Esther Forbes
The more Esther Forbes I read, the more criminal I think it is that she’s so forgotten. Outside of Johnny Tremain, you won’t find her books anywhere but a used bookstore. This 1928 novel, set in a small town between Boston and Salem, is the fictionalized witch trial of one Doll Bilby, and is Forbes’ indirect commentary on the 1692 Salem trials. Critic D.G. Myers writes, “That American schoolchildren learn about the period instead from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, that dreary piece of agit-prop, is a scandal.” I agree.
The Ten Thousand Things, Maria Dermoût
Another excellent salvage project from New York Review Books, which has quickly become one of my favorite publishers. It took me a while to get into this one, a Dutch novel originally pubbed in 1955, but once I did I fell in love with it.
Set in the Spice Islands (a.k.a. the Moluccas) of Indonesia … well hell, the flap copy does a better job than I ever could: “Felicia finds herself wedded to an uncanny and dangerous world, full of mystery and violence, where objects tell tales, the dead come and go, and the past is as potent as the present.”
Give it time to develop and you won’t be sorry. Actually, what do I know about your reading likes and dislikes? Maybe you’ll be sorry. But I wasn’t.
Literary Rogues, Andrew Shaffer
This is an entertaining, often amusing writeup of literature’s dopers and pervs. Shaffer isn’t shy about inserting some personality into the writing, which is what keeps this from being boilerplate. He touches on most of the usual suspects, Hemingway, Byron, Burroughs, et. al. The book dries up a bit when he brings us to present day with Bret Easton Ellis and Elizabeth Wurtzel, but my opinion is colored by the fact that I don’t give half an ounce of dry shit about Bret Easton Ellis and Elizabeth Wurtzel.
Monsieur Pain, Roberto Bolaño
I figured it was time to read some Bolaño, but fuck if I was going to start with The Savage Detectives or 2666, weighing in at 656 and 912 pages, respectively. I’ve got a deadline, people! If you’re a City of Glass fan, this one will work well for you. It’s a slim novel (Bolaño’s first to be published, in 1984, but the second one he wrote) set in 1938 Paris, just before the Krauts invade, and involves a mesmerist called on to help cure a (real-life) Peruvian poet afflicted with a deadly case of the hiccups. Monsieur Pain accepts a bribe to stay away from the case, but curiosity gets the best of him. It’s a hallucinatory, occasionally nightmarish trip through a Paris where it’s always raining—but the reader knows that the real storm is on its way.
Sula, Toni Morrison
I just can’t get enough Toni Morrison. I’m about to read Jazz for the umpteenth time, and this was my third, maybe fourth, reading of Sula. And it won’t be my last. This 1973 novel covers the friendship between Sula and Nel, two women in rural Ohio in the teens, 20s, and 30s. If you get hooked—and you should—you can read this in a day. A good day.
World Series, John Tunis
Last month I wrote about The Kid From Tomkinsville, a YA baseball novel from the late 30s. This is Tunis’ follow-up, which begins with Roy Tucker and gang falling behind the Indians three games to one in the 19(vague) World Series. It’s a better book than the first, and is particularly amusing for highlighting that era’s “hum baby hum baby” baseball chatter. Tunis’ Dodgers series is said to have influenced Malamud’s The Natural and Mark Harris’ Bang the Drum Slowly. And Wikipedia never lies. There are (I think) six more books in this Dodgers series, and I shall read them and report back to you.