Friday, January 16, 2015

Diving into My Box of Books

My version of Black Friday comes every summer when the Westport, Redding and Pequot libraries in Connecticut hold their gigantic tent sales. Over the years I've made some great finds, especially in foreign language books with emotional or historical interest -- an 1862 Hebrew-German prayer book from Stuttgart, Germany, a 1938 volume of Yiddish poetry by Peretz Markish, who was executed in Stalin's Russia in 1952.
This summer, I stormed the tents but saved my big purchase for the last day of the Redding sale, when I could get a box of books for $5. At that price, I could scoop up books I ordinarily wouldn't even notice, just because I could. Here's the haul of my awesome Box of Books, with notes on what I've read, what I thought of them, and what comes next:

The O'Hara Generation, John O'Hara. I'd heard of O'Hara but after watching the film treatment of his novel Butterfield 8 with Elizabeth Taylor, I wanted to get a taste of him. I'm now reading this book of short stories written over 30 years, and they are grabbing me with their ability to evoke a time and place, with his knack for capturing speech patterns. The stories can be haunting in their depictions of middle- and upper-class bleakness.
The Brigade: An Epic Story of Vengeance, Salvation and WWII, Howard Blum: This was a great book that filled in my knowledge of the Jewish experience during and after World War II, when Jewish execution squads hunted down SS and Gestapo members. Blum is a meticulous reporter and a vibrant writer. The book will stay in my library as a resource for blog posts and other writing projects.
Good in Bed, Jennifer Weiner: I've always read about Weiner, Princeton '91, and decided to take a read of her breakthrough first novel. As rom com it worked, with all the requisite highs and lows and satisfying ending.

Mexican High, Liza Monroy. This was a huge surprise. Based on the author's experiences as a student at an international school, Mexican High is set at a time when I had actually been in Mexico City on vacation in December 1993. Well-written, surprising and gripping, it gave me some insights into the lifestyles of the upper upper classes in Mexico. It worked a lot better than other books I've read or tried to read set in Mexico, like Under the Volcano, which bog down in their attempts to capture and comprehend the sun-bleached mysteries of Mexico.

Nature Girl, Carl Hiaasen: I greatly enjoyed Hiaasen's two other comic crime novels set in South Florida, Bad Monkey and Skinny Dip. He had me chortling with laughter with his snappy prose and outrageous situations. Nature Girl, however, seemed more labored, without the strong crime angle and with too many characters bumping into one another. Maybe a little Carl Hiaasen goes a long way; I'll try some of his other works.

Alex Cross, James Patterson: I wanted to read something by the renowned crime writer, so I scooped this up. An easy read, a familiar setting (Washington, DC) and an intriguing bad guy made this worthwhile, although I don't feel a burning desire to read more in the Cross series. Espionage novels are more my game.

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffengegger: I like time travel books but this one didn't grab me at all. I took a break then started up again, mostly skimming through the hundreds of pages of rather inert prose that bogs down a story that could have moved faster. The book picked up some momentum near the end and I'd look at the sequel if it ever appears.

Still in the box:

Bangkok Haunts, John Burdett (I enjoyed his novel Bangkok 8)
Bullett Park, John Cheever (suburban lives)
The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly
The Reversal, Michael Connelly
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
The Time of Our Singing, Richard Powers
Body Surfing, Anita Shreve (always horny, angst-ridden baby boomers. I can relate)
My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult
Joy in the Morning, Betty Smith (I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
Next up: Skeleton Crew, Stephen King

Car Stories

[For an open-mic performance of this essay, follow this link .] My name is Van. I’m named after a car, the 1950s British racecar called ...