Monday, July 14, 2014

Reading, lately

I had a pretty good run this time around! And I may have overcome my Didion aversion, although I'm not sure we're ever going to be on close terms.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway - Self-destructive, drug addicted, semi-psychic detective with a biting sense of humor. Loved these. If you're looking for a straightforward (or realistic) murder mystery, these probably won't be your thing, but I fell into them deep. The writing is great, the character is unusual, the cover art is awesome. And of course, now I'm left impatiently waiting for a third one. I would never have found these if it weren't for a reader recommendation.

The Last Thing He Wanted - In an attempt to get myself to appreciate Joan Didion, after two failed attempts, I checked out every Didion novel the library had available at the moment and dove right in. For the first couple chapters I was resistant because her voice is so strong and to be honest, it can drive me a little batty. The loooong sentences with complex construction that leave me hunting around for clauses. The frequent use of "it seems" or "it occurs" that distract me from the narrative. The constant repetition that still leaves me feeling like we're circling around a point instead of driving it home.* But then I fell into the story and was able to let go of Didion (mostly - it's fiction but there are an awful lot of references that sound drawn from Didion's actual life) and the writing actually started to work for me. The novel centers around a female protagonist who ends up being an accidental pivot point in an international incident on an unidentified Caribbean island. The plot is complex and dark.

A Book of Common Prayer - Since I was already warmed up to Didion's writing style I decided to keep going and I was able to get caught up in this immediately. Again, the main character is a female on a foreign island who becomes embroiled in political issues. I enjoyed this quite a bit and found the protagonist really intriguing.

The Year of Magical Thinking - I did not enjoy Blue Nights, which is Didion's other book on her experience of loss. The Year of Magical Thinking felt completely different to me. There isn't as much of Didion's signature voice and it's laid out in a much more straightforward way. I found Blue Nights incredibly painful/irritating to read because I hated the constant circling (and the weird obsession with referencing expensive clothes/restaurants/neighborhoods). This book is easier to manage and I found myself sympathizing with Didion. I can totally understand her obsession with attempting to control uncontrollable situations by marshaling as many facts as possible and it felt like the most relatable trait she has, as far as I'm concerned.

Run River - This ended up being my favorite of the Didion binge. It's a dark drama based in personal conflicts rather than political ones, which is always more appealing to me, Philistine that I am. None of the characters are particularly appealing, but why do they have to be (is what I ask myself every time I voice this complaint about a book)? They are interesting, which is more important.

Little Failure - It was hard not to take a break from Didion the second this became available, but I was afraid of getting derailed. It's probably good that I waited because this book is amazing. I knew it would be funny (it is) but somehow I wasn't expecting the raw emotion and unflinching exploration. Shteyngart doesn't pull any punches when it comes to himself or his relationship to his parents and yet in the end it's surprisingly tender. Now I want to re-read all his novels.

* I know, I know! Didion is a literary icon and I am an idiot for not appreciating her unique voice immediately. All of these books later and I'll admit that some aspects of her writing style still grate on me, so I guess I'm just have to live with that failing.


  1. I am a HUGE Shteyngart fan. I also waited on Little Failure as I was finishing up other books, but it was such a treat. I was sad to have missed his book tour--he was in Portland while I was out of town. I'll need to reread his novels, now, too.

  2. I always enjoy your suggestions! It looks like I'm going to be busy this summer.

  3. i love your literary reviews and often look for these books when trying to find something to read.

  4. Hurrah! I'm so glad you read and enjoyed Claire's a great feeling when someone takes a recommendation and likes it. I too am biting my nails waiting for book number 3 and I really, really, REALLY want to know what happened to Tracy. I almost think that mystery might never be solved, like the Silette mystery. ARGH now I'm even more excited!

  5. I want a master list created by prolific readers of "authors I should like, but don't" - I bet a lot would show up more than once:)

  6. little failure was so, so good - like you and tamara, i too need to go back and reread the novels. i read blue nights and magical thinking within a few weeks of each other and ended up feeling weird about both; i wonder if spreading them out (or reading them in the order you did) would have yielded better results. in other didion news, i can report that i did not attempt to roll into hawaii barefoot as she always did (nor did i interact with whiskey or a leotard) while on my press trip last month.

  7. I enjoyed your literary suggestions and reviews very much! It's great to find a blogger that talks about books!

  8. Try Didion's /Play It As It Lays/ -- sooo good, albeit pretty depressing. Still, really, really good.


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