I thought I’d give a few reading updates here, between checking the weather forecast, as tomorrow we are getting a storm they are calling potentially historic in its horribleness. Tomorrow is also my first day of class for the spring semester, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to meet my classes or not. Fun times!
First, I want to mention a short story collection, The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns. I don’t usually accept review copies these days, but this collection looked intriguing, partly because they are linked short stories, and I’ve had very good luck with that form. There’s something about it that works for me; I like how you get a wide-ranging view of a community or group of people, with stories that can connect in satisfying ways but that also offer variety. Figuring out all the connections among the pieces is fun. Burns’s collection did not stand out as far as the writing went; I thought some parts were awkward or confusing, but I found myself drawn into the world Burns describes and not wanting to put the book down. The stories are set in New Zealand and tell about life during colonial times. They mostly describe the British settlers’ experiences, with an emphasis on domestic life. Some of the stories give a glimpse into Maori response to the British presence as well. The writing, while not impressive, didn’t get in the way of the stories, so I think anyone who is interested in the place and time would appreciate this.
Then I want to recommend strongly that everyone go out and get yourselves a copy of Meghan Daum’s essay collection The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion. I LOVED this book. If you like essays, you need to read this. If you like good nonfiction writing, read this. If you like good writing, read this. Daum is entertaining, funny, and brutally honest about herself and her thoughts/feelings/opinions. She is a writer who can make any subject interesting. Her essay about her mother is devastating (it’s called “Matricide”). Her essay about not wanting to have children describes the kind of ambivalence I wish it were easier to discuss. Her essay on Joni Mitchell is just … amazing (as is Zadie Smith’s essay on Joni Mitchell, “Some Notes on Attunement” — maybe Joni Mitchell is someone I should like??). Her essay on brushes with celebrity in L.A. is so funny. We need to hear more from Daum. More, please!
Also, The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld was very good; I didn’t quite get the point of … well … the enchanted part, but it deals with prison life and death row beautifully. It’s a novel very much about an issue, but it didn’t feel reductive or oversimplified or preachy. That was surely hard to pull off. I listened to Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You on audio and liked it very much; she captures complex family life extremely well.
And finally, Ruth Rendell’s A Judgment in Stone was enjoyable, although perhaps not Rendell’s best? Do any Rendell fans have a sense of whether this one was typical? It has a chatty narrator who comments directly on the action and hypothesizes on characters’ motivations. This is highly unusual in contemporary crime fiction, and I liked it, to an extent, but at times all the commentary seemed to go too far. At times it felt just a little gimmicky. But still, it was a good story, very creepy, and I do like chatty narrators. I’ll be reading more Rendell, and also Rendell as Barbara Vine, in the future.
Happy reading everyone!