Where's the book?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Shaking a leg.

Tick, tick, tick...

I’m so far behind. Actually, I’m only a little behind in my reading. It’s the 43rd week of the year (how did that happen?) and I’ve just finished my 42nd book. If I hurry (which I won’t), I can still redeem my book-a-week pledge. But rushing through books—even somewhat less than “great” books—is wrong. Books are meant to be savored, not plowed through like a commuter racing for a train. So I will have to find more time to read, which is hard now that autumn is here and New York is in its glory. Let other cities and towns keep their colorful foliage and harvest festivals. I’ll take a new theater season, new books on shelves, new music and decent movies and the crisp bracing weather that makes you want to go out (and then in) and enjoy it all. This week alone I heard an amazing poet read, saw two terrific movies, went to a wonderful museum exhibit, and walked through Central Park, gloriously arrayed. I adore this city in this season.

So, racing along, four recent books:

#39. The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty. My second Australian book of the year (see here for the first) and a definite page-turner. In a long-abandoned shoebox in the attic, a woman discovers a letter from her husband. On the envelope it reads, “To be opened in the event of my death.” What could it possibly contain? A confession? To an affair? Secret homosexuality? A horrific crime? The letter doesn’t get opened immediately but the secret is eventually revealed, and the wife’s story, as well as the stories of two other women with troubles of their own, are interesting and complex. It’s not profound literature, but despite remarkable levels of pain and problems, it never feels overly contrived. And I learned two new Australian words to add to my list: spruik (pronounced “sprook,” it means to delivery a salesman-like spiel, like a hawker at a carnival) and spunk (which means a handsome fellow, get your mind out of the gutter, please).

#40. The Submission, by Amy Waldman. Such an interesting premise—the city of New York holds anonymous submissions for a 9/11 memorial. The winner turns out to be a Muslim-American architect. Difficulties ensue. It raises interesting issues about the purpose of a memorial in general and a 9/11 memorial in particular, dealing with grief, sensitivity to survivors versus the needs of the city and nation. But despite my intellectual interest, the book often felt cold and contrived, as if Waldman charted it all out in terms of the different “types” she would need and the issues she wanted to raise and then blocked a story around it. It didn’t surprise me that her background is in journalism.

#41. Cartwheel, by Jennifer duBois. Based fairly extensively on the Amanda Knox story, this book examines the psyches, rather than the behaviors, of the different people involved: the girl herself, her parents, her boyfriend, and the prosecuting attorney. Although set in Argentina rather than Italy, the story hews to the facts we’re all familiar with: American girl charged with killing roommate during semester abroad. Just like the real-life story, our beliefs and opinions shift repeatedly, depending on whose version of events we’re hearing. It’s interesting to follow those changes in perception, but just like the real story itself (spoiler alert ahead), we never find out the truth. Did the seemingly naïve American girl actually murder her roommate? I can accept the fact that in real life I may never know the answer. But I expect something more of my fiction. I want the truth. However you define it. 

Central Park in autumn. How could you not love it?

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