2016 is off to a slow start. After reading 41 books in 2015, and 53 (!) in 2014, my resolution for 2016 was different: To finally read those two big books that have been sitting on my to-read pile (actually, they mainly are my to-read pile) since forever. War & Peace and The Power Broker probably weigh a collective 20 pounds, and if I ever lose my hand weights I can easily substitute them for strength exercise purposes. But they are there to be read, and as God is my witness, read them I will.
But I needed a short break from the two massive books that ended 2015 before embarking on the Tolstoyian journey (also I was traveling, and packing War & Peace would put me over the luggage weight limit before I even packed a pair of pants), so I began the year with these three. Right now it's mid-March and I am mid-W&P. I don't think it's ever taken me this long to read a book, but in addition to being over 1200 pages, the pages are densely packed, the print is small, and the book is, well, not exactly a page-turner. So I may not be back for a while. Pray for me.
#1 A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. The concept sounded promising, since the plot could easily have been something cooked up by Trollope. A council member in a small town in the English countryside dies suddenly, and the battle over his seat is rich with gossip and rivalries. While entertaining enough, the complete absence of anyone worth caring about made the book less compelling than it should have been. Surely not everyone in a typical town in Britain is duplicitous, venal, hostile, and mendacious? Are there no even semi-decent people left in the country? More than just wanting someone to root for, it became difficult to believe that so many awful people could have congregated in one place. Did Rowling use up all her compassionate imagination on Hogwarts?
#2 To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie. The latest in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery series, this one starts with a literal bang: a bomb goes off in historic St. Pancras Station. There was too much information on history and architecture for my taste, and a few resolutions that didn't quite feel like resolutions, but I always enjoy a visit with Duncan and Gemma and their absurdly ever-growing home life (his kid, her kid, a kid they adopted together, dogs, cats, fish...and always more and more--this one added a passel of kittens!).
#3 The Apartment by Greg Baxter. An unnamed European city, an unnamed narrator...two strikes against this book before I've even started. But to my surprise, I enjoyed it very much. The narrator is an American veteran who has served in Iraq, and become wealthy by providing some sort of intelligence services to the military. The action takes place in the course of just one day, as he searches for an apartment to rent along with a woman he has met. There are side trips, memories, interesting encounters, hints at a future relationship, and overall the sense that the narrator, haunted by what he has experienced, is deciding whether or not he wishes to continue with life. The book is beautifully written, ultimately wise, and emotionally gripping.