Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dave's Summer Reading

This year's summer reading list began with Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, the 2001 National Book Award winner.  Franzen is this year's keynote speaker at the AJC Decatur Book Festival, and I wanted to start getting into the groove.  Freedom, his new novel, will be published just days before his appearance here.  I'm very much looking forward to both the book and the talk.  The Corrections deals with the Lamberts, a rather typical family: a retired Midwestern couple and three adult children who have each fled to the east coast.  They're a somewhat dysfunctional family, but that's what makes it similar to most.  Franzen takes his time in narrating the lives of all five and intertwining their stories up to the present.

Since then, I've kicked in to travel mode.  When I'm traveling, I enjoy travel writing.

Going back some 30 years, Paul Theroux has been one of my favorite authors.  We share a certain kinship.  The Great Railway Bazaar, The Patagonean Express, The Kingdom by the Sea (in which Theroux walks the shores and borders of the UK; I think it's his best), Riding the Iron Rooster, and The Happy Isles of Oceania are just a few of his titles that I've really, really enjoyed.  (I am also a fan of his fiction.)

At a conference in May I briefly met Ian Frazier and received an advance copy of Travels in Siberia, which is due out in October.  I read enough of it to know I wasn't terribly interested in Siberia, but enough to appreciate Frazier's writing.  So I picked up a copy of his Great Plains from 2001.  His journeys in a van are interspersed with tales of history and geography.  Frazier particularly has an interest in Plains Indian tribes.  While Theroux is more linear in his writing and in his traveling, Frazier appears happy to meander.  It works for him.  Very good writing.  Enjoyable reading.

(I'll pass along Travels in Siberia to the first person who requests it.  And if your name is Dave, you can tell people he personalized it to you!)

My next stop was in Oelwein, Iowa as chronicled in Nick Reding's Methland: Death and Life of an American Small Town.  No, it's not a travel book, though it did take me back to a part of the country in which I once lived but no longer often visit.  Reding chronicles the relentless debilitation of methamphetamine amid the relentlessly declining economic base in our heartland, and of Oelwein's efforts to turn things around.

I am generally not a fan of science fiction.  Or fantasy.  Or anything to do with werewolves, zombies, vampires, etc.  I also have trouble with a lot of YA.  So I journeyed to The Discomfort Zone and began reading Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, also to be published in October.  This is a first novel by Lish McBride who rather daringly weaves two stories together -- one told in the first person and one in the third person and both with flair and humor.  She has an impressive voice, and I'm feeling that she has a substantial career ahead of her.

Books of short stories are great to read while traveling where ten or fifteen pages without interruption is often all you get.  Simon Van Booy's The Secret Lives of People in Love is filled with dark, life-affirming tales in which death tends to play a major role.  (His wife died from Marfan Syndrome a couple of years ago.)  Van Booy's style is sparse but evocative and his characters are pure.  It is wonderful writing.

I really enjoyed Dennis Lehane's last novel, The Given Day, a 700+ page work of historical fiction.  He's back this year with Moonlight Mile, which brings back private investigators Patrich McKenzie and Angie Gennaro.  Three short chapters in and I'm hooked.  Lehane can shift so successfully between genres because he has a great ear and is such a superb storyteller.  Moonlight Mile comes out in November.

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