Books I have read lately (July 2019)

Continued from here. July was dominated by the changes we were trying to make here (cleaning, sorting, introduction of the “senior helper,” neuro-psych evaluation) and other stuff (more discussions with the accountant). Continued preoccupation with Rocketman / Elton John is reflected. I made a list of things to read for my new “public history” course but I haven’t started reading it yet and it’s getting pressing. In the vein of cleaning — I decluttered my library queue and reoriented my priorities, taking a lot of the stuff recommended in the literary press out of it. I’ve found in the last two months that my patience has been tested by self-consciously literary writing. If it doesn’t grab me immediately, it gets tossed very quickly in the “return” pile. The library is doing a new thing (it’s called “Lucky Day”) where they reserve some copies of books that have long waiting lists on a special shelf so that you can walk in and just discover a “hot read.” I think I’m going to use this library feature more and be more judicious about what’s in my queue.

Highly recommended

Chanelle Benz, The Gone Dead. A young woman whose father was a famous (murdered) civil rights movement poet returns to his home in the Mississippi Delta when her grandmother dies and she inherits his house. Since the novel concerns her attempts to uncover the circumstances of her father’s death, it is being classified in some places as a mystery, but it’s much more a highly successful, eerily atmospheric treatment of the legacy of the movement in the Deep South. Finely drawn characters add to the success of the work. (Lucky Day)


Pajtim Statovci, The Crossing (originally published as Tiranan sydän). A young boy growing up in Communist Albania flees to Italy with a friend after his father’s death. Bujar is trying to find a place where his sexuality will be accepted and Agim is wrestling with his national identity. The first half of the novel, about traditional Albania, is incredibly moving. (New books shelf)

Barbara Bourland, Fake Like Me. A contemporary NYC on the artist on the cusp of great success suffers a fire in her studio and is forced to recreate, secretly, a series of artworks she has already sold. In doing so she uncovers the secrets of an artists’ collective who had strongly inspired her when starting out. There’s a fair amount of slagging commentary on the pretentiousness of today’s art market here, but most of it is create by the narrative rather than via direct exposition. The protagonist speaks up for the necessity of an artist’s sincerity in art, which pleased me. (New books shelf)

Marci Dermansky, Very Nice. A satire about what happens when a college student sleeps with her creative writing professor, then brings home his dog to her mother’s house for the summer. Her mother is suffering both from an impending divorce from the student’s father and the recent death of her own pet. Then, the professor shows up and begins an affair with the mother. Every single piety of political correctness comes into view in this work — and it’s amazing to me that the author could sustain the deadpan tone of the narrative for so long. Hard to read with a straight face. Very au jour and in three years no one will remember why any of this was funny. (New books shelf)

Lori Roy, Gone Too Long. Upon her father’s death, a woman living in a small Georgia town discovers the full truth about her father’s relationship with the KKK. The plot sounds a bit lame (and it would sound lamer if I gave you the full details — I didn’t find the plot, a sort of Gothic-ish whodunit — all that plausible), but the mood the author creates drew me in — along with the emotions of a fantastic female protagonist. (New books shelf)

Recommended – genre fiction

Malin Persson Giolito, Quicksand (originally published as Störst av allt). A high school student on trial for her participation in a school shooting explains how it happened. Not a whodunit but rather a howithappened focusing on the many sins of wealthy Swedish society. Having read quite a bit of Scandi noir I wasn’t all that impacted by the social critique here, but I found it interesting to read a book in which there was was not one single truly likable character. (An earlier book from an author who has a new one out now.)

Boris Akunin, The Winter Queen (originally published as Азазель). First in a series of novels written around Erast Fandorin, a police detective in Imperial Russia. In this one, he uncovers an anarchist style conspiracy. If Tolstoy had written detective novels, this is what he’d have come up with. The plot is less interesting than the sympathetic and colorful characters, but it’s the narrative style that sucked me in. Will be reading more of them. (An earlier book from an author who has a new one out now.)

Recommended if something about it interests you

Tom Doyle, Captain Fantastic: Elton John’s Stellar Trip through the 70s. Picked up because of my sudden interest in the artist’s life. A biography written from the jumping off point of some interviews that the biographer didn’t feel were adequately exploited in an article he wrote. At this point I’m rarely reading anything new about EJ, but this book is quite sympathetic, even if it runs the risk of masking the serious problems in the subject’s life by the point at which it loses (in 1979, after the second phase of EJ’s career). I liked John more after having read this one. (library catalog search)

Tom Doyle, Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s. Picked up because I liked Doyle’s later book (above) on Elton John. This one begins with the end of The Beatles and runs (more or less) to the end of Wings. It was also based on a series of interviews done by the biographer. I hadn’t ever thought a lot about McCartney, but I definitely liked him less after reading this book. The book makes quite clear its subject’s arrogance, particularly on the topic of drug enforcement.

Keith Hayward, Tin Pan Alley: The Rise of Elton John. This is a milieu study / business history of Elton’s John’s appearance and the shift in England’s pop song-writing culture from the system of writing songs that were marketed to artists, to the rise of the singer-songwriter(s) who performed their own material — a moment that Elton John appeared at just the right moment to capitalize on. If you like the nitty gritty of how music was made and you’re interested in all the names that either didn’t make it or kind of made it, this is the book for you. However, for the same reason, it wouldn’t be a good first biography to read. (Google search)

Eliza Griswold, Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America. Story of a family that’s just hanging on and sells fracking rights on their farm. Really depressing story and I appreciate the honest, structural approach to what’s going on in Appalachia. Told economically and without pathos. (Chosen from this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners)

Meh / not recommended

Mary Beth Keane, Ask Again, Yes. Very formulaic novel about two neighboring Irish American families in the NYC suburbs with a clichéd, predictable and not very plausible plot. A coincidental entwining leads to a tragedy that resonates into the next generation. I am puzzled about why this book is getting so much attention. (Recommended in Lithub)

Lisa Taddeo, Three Women. This was billed as a non-fiction exploration of the erotic lives of contemporary American women. It’s actually only about three women, the things they were exemplifying did not seem very typical to me (I mean, seriously, is a teenager’s crush on a teacher who sexually abuses her really typical of female sexuality in the US? Or a woman who commits adultery in order to entice her husband?) and I only got interested in one of the stories so I read those chapters, but the writing style (very 1960s confessional poet) really put me off. (Lucky Day)

Harlan Coben, Run Away. A father tries to locate his runaway, drug addicted daughter in the environs of New York City, at first hiding it from his wife, then involving her in the increasingly frightening search. Definite airplane read — stereotypical characters. Coben has the formula down but it’s not a very interesting formula. (Picked up due to Armitage’s involvement in The Stranger.)

Kevin Alexander, Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and its End. A survey of how restaurant eating changed in the wake of the 2008 recession, this book argues that the changes (food trucks, farm to table, regional cuisines) are now over. Potentially interesting if you don’t already read the foodie press, but the total neglect of anything that happens outside the coasts, Nashville and Atlanta is disappointing. (Recommended in Eater)

~ by Servetus on August 12, 2019.

10 Responses to “Books I have read lately (July 2019)”

  1. Harlan Coben = if you know one, you know all of them


  2. Already added The Gone Dead to my wishlist on your recommendation. The Winter Queen sound intriguing, too. I have recently re-discovered my love for genre fiction, first and foremost for my old loves Fantasy and Sci-Fi. It’s not that I had stopped reading genre fiction, but I’m wondering whether I’ve not been a bit snobbish and overemphasized “literary merit”. That’s a hugely subjective thing anyway. Diving back into Tad Williams’s books gives me so much at the moment 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had wanted to read more literary fiction when I started writing these posts — I wanted to see what was being published and what was being praised. I’ve discovered that i have a very hard time with quite a bit of what the contemporary literary press really loves, and for fairly ‘blatant’ reasons — i.e., I read it and have a relatively quick negative reaction to it. I read an article recently that graduate programs in writing are good at producing a pretty good novelist, but not a great one (the great ones are born, not made), but the writers seem to pick up so much ideology and mannerism in those programs. It ended up making me think that the literary fiction machine is way overproducing its audience — the only way you could keep up with it would be if you devoted your life to it.

      At the moment I only want to read stuff that I don’t want to put down. So if I read 70 pp of something but then don’t feel like continuing, I’m really not in the mood to struggle through something. I think I need that positive feeling in my life and literary fiction isn’t providing it at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] found myself fascinated by this film over the summer, and it got me into reading lots of biographies of Elton John. One thing one quickly learns is that much of what Elton John has said about his […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: