Books I have read lately (April 2018)

Continued from here.

Highly recommended

Édouard Louis, Who Killed My Father (originally published in 2018 as Qui a tué mon père). Picked up because of my appreciation for his previous books. Louis tries to explain the reason for his the disintegration of his father, a prominent figure in his first autofiction. The text was interesting if you’d read the earlier book, just because his father was inter alia his torturer as the boy Eddy Bellegueule struggled with his sexuality in the lowest social tier of a small town. Here Louis tries to understand him as typical of a group of the French that the government and the economy has forgotten. No punches are pulled, the father is in no way more sympathetic at the end of the book than he was at the beginning, and yet the readers feels enlightened about (and troubled by) an important facet of French society.

Recommended

Chris Beckett, America City. Found on the library’s new book shelf. In a future dystopian U.S. heavily affected by climate change, masses of internal refugees try to cross the country to safer locations and are rejected by their fellow countrypeople. A conservative politician proposes a program to deal with the problems as he runs for president, and hires a liberal consultant to help him figure out how to make him electable. Lots and lots of snark here — it’s a send up of our own current political problems and a humorous and disturbing imagining of what happens when social media culture becomes the only measure of public opinion.

Nina Revoyr, A Student of History. Also on the new book shelf. A struggling, working class history graduate student at UCLA is hired to transcribe the journals of the elderly doyenne of a storied Los Angeles founding family, encountering about what you’d expect: hidden crimes; wealthy, careless socialites; and his own naivete. If you like Fitzgerald you will probably enjoy this novel, although it’s more direct and blunt. I gather Revoyr is mostly seen as a regional author; I can’t help but think if she were writing about NYC she’d be much more prominent in the literary press.

Diana Evans, Ordinary People. A year in the life: two London couples balance on the tipping point in their marriages. It’s a modern comedy of manners, except that this is the episode after everyone has lived happily every after and has to figure out what to do next. Lots of great observation and I was invested in the characters lives and wanted to know how the story resolved. Picked up because it was mentioned here.

Derek Bissonnette, Soup: The Ultimate Book of Soups and Stews. This is a sort of encyclopedia of soup. After a substantial section on technique (that I skipped), there are dozens of recipes for soups both familiar and new. I made the Mansaf and the Bulgarian Sour Lamb soup before I had to give the book back to the library, and we loved both. See the detailed review at Jennifer Guerrero’s blog., which is why I picked it up. I will probably buy this one.

Kwame Onwuachi, Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir. Recommended at Eater. Coming-of-age memoir of a chef who’s gotten a lot of notice in the U.S. lately. I thought it was interesting to read — and I was at times convinced, at times provoked, by the ways in which the author’s understand of how race affects his life intersects with the patriarchal, abusive hierarchy of kitchens in fine dining restaurants. Recipes included.

Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Porter’s followup was on several “most anticipated” lists, so to avoid the lines, I picked up his debut. A family (father, two boys) dealing with the grief following the mother’s death is visited by a crow who moves in and helps them along. The books is a mixture of story and poem and there are a lot of references to Ted Hughes (a huge turnoff for me, and the reason this book is not “highly recommended”). I’ve been reading a lot of books about grief this year and this has been one of the better ones. I see that it’s also a play now, in London.

Rajeev Balasubramanyan, Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss. Picked because NPR liked it. A disappointed free-market economist (who should have won the Nobel Prize, but didn’t) is told by his doctor to change his life before it’s too late. In process, he leaves England, re-encounters his children and ex-wife and does all sorts of woo-woo things he’d always thought were nonsense. The NPR reviewer is right: what makes this book worth reading, is the satire around both the professor’s convictions and the various things he tries out as he rebuilds his world.

Genre fiction – recommended

Joseph Knox, Sirens. Made a best of 2018 list. First in a series. Aidan Watts, a troubled Manchester (ex-, undercover) policeman is tasked with keeping tabs on the wayward daughter of the Minister for Justice, which provides him with a(nother) way in to the city’s drug and gang scene. I really, really don’t like novels about drugs, but the prose and the resulting atmosphere in this one are so good that I couldn’t stop reading. I’ll definitely be up for his next installment of Manchester noir, which I understand has already appeared.

Peter Robinson, In the Dark Places; When the Music’s Over; Sleeping in the Ground; Careless Love. Continuing my catchup with this series, whose attractions I described here. I’m all caught up now and it will probably be another year before there’s another one.

Ausma Zehanat Khan, A Deadly Divide. Most recent book in a series I picked up while Flower was in rehab. Getty and Khattak sort out the consequences around a deadly mass shooting in a Quebecois mosque. Tremendously well plotted, and I like the recurring characters, although the book is getting a bit too focused on Khattak’s romantic interest for my taste.

Recommended if something about the book interests you

Nathan Englander, kaddish.com. When an Orthodox father dies, his non-observant son uses a website to pay someone unknown to him to fulfill his duty to say the mourner’s prayer everyday — with unanticipated consequences. Interesting premise, but this read like a Philip Roth novel and I really wish modern Jewish American writers were going elsewhere (maybe they are).

Erin O. White, Given Up for You. Thoughtful memoir of a woman who converts to Catholicism and comes out as a lesbian, roughly simultaneously.

Robert A. Caro, Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing. Memoir of how this important biographer wrote his important, pathbreaking works on Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Moses. I enjoyed this a lot, although it was somewhat spoiled by learning that there was a faithful woman in the background paying the bills, doing the housework, and also serving as Caro’s research assistant.

Ruth Reichl, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir. I’d been hearing for years that Reichl’s memoirs are excellent (she is an important food critic), and so when I saw this on the new books shelf, I picked it up. This turns out to be about her tenure as editor of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine, which didn’t interest me at all. The glimmers of food writing that creep through, however, are wonderful, and I do plan to try one of her other books some time. Recipes included; this must be a thing at the moment.

Graham Norton, Holding. Picked up because Herba liked it. A bumbling policeman in an Irish village is confronted by — gasp — a dead body in his district. And then another. This was fine, but the mystery wasn’t very interesting and while Norton clearly thinks Irish village life is amusing, this book didn’t get past that in its descriptions of its subjects. As I said, it was fine, but I wouldn’t need to read another.

Meh / not recommended

Alison Roman, Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes. Picked up after bookmarking the rhubarb galette in this article. This is apparently a cookbook for foodies who don’t know how to cook, but I doubt it will be of much use to them beyond the pictures. I didn’t find anything I wanted to make.

Nik Sharma, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food. See the detailed review at Jennifer Guerrero’s blog. The principle here is South Asian notes in traditional U.S. cuisines (southern, midwestern) and I liked the idea of putting different spices in an American potato salad but I never really found the recipe in this cookbook that made me want to try it.

Greg Iles, Cemetery Road. A middle-aged man moves back to his rural Mississippi home town to run the family newspaper to discover that the local plutocrats are willing to commit murder and destroy the historical fabric in order to protect their fortunes. I was looking forward to this a lot insofar as Iles has definitive opinions on small towns, and I’ve read a few of his earlier books on planes. But in the end it was just way more “wounded white man” than I could take: his kid is dead, his wife has left him, he has class insecurities, he has a lost love, his favorite history teacher gets murdered — my capacity for sympathy with the character (who never, ever considers any of his privilege) was strained within 30 pp and I abandoned the book around page 100.

Alison Beattie, A Stroke of Luck. A charismatic teacher leaves negative legacies in the lives of his students. Unfortunately after 40 pp. I hadn’t found my “way in” to this novel — or any reason to care about the plot at all. Totally lifeless characters. This was on a number of “most anticipated” lists, but I knew in the 1990s that I didn’t enjoy her novels and I should have stuck with that reaction.

Éric Vuillard, The Order of the Day (Originally published in 2017 as L’ordre du jour). Picked up after it was nominated for the Albertine Prize, and won the Prix Goncourt in 2017. A series of ironic musings on the German industrialists who facilitated the Anschluß, and its events. First, I know too much about this topic, and second, I probably was not ready to read satire about it.

Theodora Goss, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. I’d found the sequel on the new book shelf so decided to start with the first one in the series. When Dr. Jekyll’s widow dies, his daughter discovers Mr. Hyde’s daughter in a convent; then they meet up with Holmes and Watson and they discover a bunch of women created by mostly nineteenth-century mad scientists (Frankenstein, Moreau, Rappacini). I didn’t get much further than that because the writing style alienated me: the author has the characters who are not present kibitzing and commenting on the story as it unfolds. I might have been interested in the premise were it not for the constant, bizarre interruptions to the narrative. Abandoned after 70 pp.

Maylis de Kerangal, The Cook (Originally published in 2016 as Un chemin de tables). Picked up after seeing a recommendation on the BBC. I really didn’t get it — this is just a straight narrative of someone becoming a chef. I’ve read a lot of books about cooks lately, so that maybe made it less interesting. Anyway, it was blessedly short.

Halle Butler, The New Me. Found on the library’s new book shelf. An unpleasant, bored, and boring young woman in a temp job loses it. I mean — that’s really the whole story. I get that this was supposed to be a sarcastic commentary on the job market for millennials but honestly, I could see why no one wanted to hire her and even her friends didn’t want to spend time with her. Abandoned after 100 pp.

~ by Servetus on May 6, 2019.

19 Responses to “Books I have read lately (April 2018)”

  1. Thanks for the link love and all the recommendations!
    I’ll have to check out Ausma Zehanat Khan, Joseph Knox and Diana Evans.

    Like

    • I think you’ll like the Khan books if you like either Louise Penny or the early Elizabeth George novels — they have similar dynamics, I think. I would only read Knox if you like noir. I usually don’t like it (apart from the real classics) but maybe I’m changing my mind. I’ve got a Glasgow noir novel half done and I’m loving it. What this nonstop desire to read mysteries all of a sudden says about me?

      Like

      • Good to know, I really liked the early books from George.

        Maybe an urge to kill someone and therfore the need to research how to get away with it? 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • Unausgelebte Rachefantasien? 🙂

          I think some of it has to do with the fact that they do exercise my brain a little. (Although I find myself ever angrier if I know the solution to a crime before the characters do)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. My book club read the Graham Norton book and had the same reaction as you – it was fine

    Like

    • He is a funny guy — I’d have guessed the book would have been a bit more like that. Or a bit more “Irish atmosphere.” I mean, I’ve never been to Ireland so how would I know, but I read a decent number of Irish novelists and this felt a bit bland in comparison.

      Like

  3. About “Who Killed My Father”, the book is adapted into a theater drama play.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Servetus! I’m glad you loved the Soup book, too. I’m going to have to pick up Notes from a Young Black Chef. I’m loving the “recipes included” trend as well.

    Like

    • Onwuachi won a Beard Award tonight, so I’m sure he’ll sell a few more thousand copies. It was definitely worth reading although I don’t know that I agreed with his read on everything.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was considering Greg Iles for my list. I think I read a positive review about Natchez Burning somewhere. Can you recommend a good starting point?

    Like

  6. I’ve ordered Cara Hunter (from a previous post). I’ll also take your rec to seek out the earlier Peter Robinson. I read his Abattoir Blues – and Banks was definitely the least interesting character in the book! But I really like Annie Cabbot. Very much in the Havers mode.

    I’m East Indian but I also found the recipes in the Nik Sharma book to be bizarre.

    Thanks so much for sharing your reading list. It’s inspiring!

    Like

    • There’s one that is really suspenseful — it’s the one right after Annie and Peter break up — that I thought was excellent at the time (now of course more than a decade ago). After that they were less good.

      I’m glad to have some affirmation on Nik Sharma. I could totally see the appeal of the idea (midwestern food has a pretty limited spice palette) and also of his approach of simplifying the spice palette (one thing midwesterners typically object to in many Asian foods is all those things happening in the mouth at once), but the solutions he was proposing just didn’t really work for me conceptually.

      Thanks for continuing to read! I feel like I owe you an update on the “All Canada Show.” It’s not the first time I’ve been. It’s like a big expo for Canada tourism so yes, one can experience all the cliché Canadian things, foods and flannel shirts and so on, and then there are stands for various resorts and services and places, and then they have classes on how to succeed with various kinds of game pursuit. We went to one on salmon fishing this time.

      Like

  7. […] from here. Hopefully I’ll finish writing this before the subsequent month is […]

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