Posts tagged books
Posts tagged books
Finally read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and really liked it. It was much more complex than I had expected and refreshingly original, a hard trick to pull off in a WWII book. Great crossover potential. I’d love to attend a book group discussion about it.
Does this count as New Adult? There’s some pretty intense violence in the book and a good deal of moral ambiguity, but nobody really talks about blow jobs, so I am guessing the answer is no.
This week Erin and I led a open book discussion about Stitches by David Small, the first time a graphic novel was chosen for one of these public discussions, and we weren’t sure who to expect. To our surprise, it was primarily attended by some of our regular seniors, who LOVED the book. We had a fantastic discussion and I was really struck by their passion for the book, and how they talked about it, and also how they talked about how they were recommending it to other people.
And now converting seniors into graphic novel readers is one of my professional goals, so I have started working on a list of recommendations specifically for their interests, based on my extrapolations from our book group discussion. The standard best graphic novels for new readers list is not going to work here. Some of my takeaways from that discussion:
Using those thoughts, here’s a preliminary list of recommendations:
So that is what I have for now. I want to keep building it. What would you add?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I love Law & Order. Especially SVU, but I’ll watch any of it. It’s why I can’t have cable. But Law & Order is not perfect. And the main reason is because Christopher Meloni is not on it any longer. No, only kidding. The main reason is that it is about as subtle as a Mack truck.
This is why I so treasure books like The Good Nurse, by Charles Graeber, and the way they are invested in finding answers to human depravity without melodrama. This is true crime so gruesome I don’t think Law & Order has even attempted an inspired-by episode about Charles Cullen, known as “The Angel of Death.” It would need to be a multi-part episode. Cullen was a nurse who skipped from hospital to hospital in the tri-state area for years, killing vulnerable patients with drug cocktails so haphazardly that he doesn’t even remember all of them, for reasons he can’t really define. On Law & Order, this could go one of two ways: a twisted mercy killer, or a sadistic sociopath.
The truth is much more complicated. And Graeber, with the help of many previously unknown resources, including interviews with the informant who was the linchpin of Cullen’s trial, does an amazing job of unraveling the truth of the matter, as well as anybody can in this circumstance. Cullen is clearly a bad man, but Graeber is not interested in the morality play of scolding him. He is interested in understanding him. He gets pretty close to doing so. And that’s why this book is scary as hell.
Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham: the first time I have truly felt guilty about a guilty pleasure.
You may already know this: Anne Perry, a bestselling mystery novelist, was once a girl named Juliet, and a murderess herself. If you have seen Heavenly Creatures, you know the crazy story of Juliet and Pauline already: two teenage girls in 1950s New Zealand who were obsessed with each other worked themselves into a frenzy when they suspected their parents would separate them, and beat one’s mum to death with half a brick in a sock. They were caught almost immediately and the subsequent trial and news coverage were titillating for all the same reasons we watch SVU today: teenagers! lesbianism! bad poetry! diaries! secret marriages! And this book, like good true crime, holds many of those same SVU pleasures by recounting it all.
The book’s outlining of their friendship and obsession is steady and frightening. I don’t think I’ve ever been obsessed with a friend in the way that Pauline and Juliet were obsessed with each other, and much of the trial focused on just exactly what type of mental illness they had, so I guess most people can’t understand that element and need it to be diagnosible. But I do remember what it feels like to feel completely disconnected from the adult world while longing desperately to join it, so I found it hard to write Juliet and Pauline off as complete nutjobs. Their conviction and imprisonment seemed just, but as I read through the trial I hoped they might be able to restart their lives quietly, even though I knew that Anne Perry would eventually become famous.
Unfortunately, the story becomes even more chilling after their release as it follows them from prison to the present-day, and this is where my love for Anne Perry became uncomfortable. Even accounting for the natural propensity of the true crime writer for dramatics (Graham resists better than most, but still), I have to say: she does not seem like a good person. Pauline, whose mother is the one who was killed, seems like a sad, desperate person. Juliet/Anne just creeps me out. And despite having had a female life partner for decades now, she still denies she is a lesbian, possibly because she converted to Mormonism. Which I guess could be true, but just seems really sad. I dunno.
These last few chapters are much scarier than the ones in which the girls plan and execute a brutal matricide. One’s penchant for redemption is denied. And my habit of reading each of Anne Perry’s books and supporting her wildly successful career for years now makes me a little queasy, in part because of her very own prose.
One of the only flaws of this book is Graham’s short deconstruction of the text of Perry’s first book, The Cater Street Hangman. I hate to spoil it for you, but it was published in the late 70s, so you’ve had your chance—the serial killer turns out to be a vicar’s wife who is a repressed lesbian, obsessed with sin. Any true crime writer would be unable to resist the temptation of comparison.
I re-read it myself yesterday out of curiosity and it did not hold up as well as I’d hoped. A truly absurd amount of clothing descriptions! But the real trouble was that after having read many excerpts of Perry’s adolescent writing in Graham’s book, I could not deny the links between this book and those inventions. In her newer books, she has a very different voice. She has become a very strong writer over the years. But the echoes of Juliet Hulme are distinct in Cater Street. I have known about Anne Perry’s past for a few years (as this book outlines, she was discovered in 1994, and hadn’t taken many pains to stay hidden) but have always compartmentalized those actions as Juliet’s, and the books as Anne’s. I’m not sure I can do that anymore.
Speaking of temptation, though—ask me again how I feel when her next book comes out.
Having loved The Interestings and then being enraptured by Meg Wolitzer at her event at WORD, I am now going back and reading all her previous books. The Position is fantastically funny and such a great read. I think Wolitzer might be the master of the ensemble book, which is no small thing. There are also a few really great sex scenes in here. I know! In literary fiction! Can you imagine?!
After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey looks like a book, but it is so fast and absorbing that you will swear it is a magazine feature. (As Hainey is the deputy editor of GQ, this makes sense.) Hainey’s father, a newspaperman’s newspaperman, died when he was 6; the circumstances were vague, bothering Hainey more and more as he grew up. In this book, he sets out on a quest for clarity, starting with an unlikely line in an obituary and spiraling out into the past and present. Think Mike Royko meets John Jeremiah Sullivan, with a truly satisfying ending.
Every time I read a Will Eisner book, I’m reminded why they named the most prestigious award in comics after him. I wish there was an award given out for effective, meaningful dialogue, in any medium, so it could also be named after him. We could also invent an award for “true insight into American history” and name it after him. Just pure genius.
I don’t always love quiet books, but Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi is so beautifully written that I fell for it, hard. When people talk about writing as a craft, they’re talking about writing like Selasi’s. I finished this book on the train and then worked on some writing of my own; this ended up mirroring an experience I usually have during the Olympics while watching ice skating, because they make it look simple to skate backwards in a circle and then launch their body into a triple whateverthehell, and then I stand up to go get more tea and skate myself down the hall in my socks, humming, and then trip on the floor and bruise a knee. She makes it look easy because the prose is basically perfect, so there’s no comparison, until you crash back to reality in your own journal. A beautiful family saga of sorts that brings not just her characters, but also contemporary Africa and the United States, to pulsing, vibrant life.