This Year’s Reading (so far)
Back Story by David Mitchell
Unsurprising that David Mitchell (the comedian) is a good writer. Using the bouts of walking he undertook to help his bad back as a structure for this memoir is a good idea. Geography supports chronology nicely and place ties to memory in a real and quite moving way. When I got to the end bit, where he meets his now-wife, I genuinely teared up:
“There’s a down side to all this—and I don’t mean not being able to drink beer in the bath or scratch my balls during dinner, because she insists on both. Neither do I mean the fact that we won’t be living in Kilburn, although I’ll miss it. But Harlesden it has to be—she insists.
The down side is the fear. The fear of something happening to her, the pressure of there being two bodies in the world that I want to keep from harm and only being able to watchfully inhabit one of them. I wonder if you know what I mean. I hope you do, for your sake.”
p. 322, Back Story
My pal Alli from college, who knows me better than any human alive, gave me this for Christmas after attempting to give it to me for my birthday. (That copy somehow went awry. Dear person who ended up with this: I hope you enjoy the read.) David Mitchell (the comedian) is one of my very favorite comedians, one half of That Mitchell & Webb Look and Peep Show. Here he is, as the leader of a shadowy organization realizing the limitations of Evilspeak-
Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell
George Orwell is one pithy dude. After this little collection (one of those little Penguin productions with a truly awesome cover) I think I’m going to seek out more of his journalism/nonfiction. These pieces are charming in their unstinting and surprisingly, occasionally affectionate portraits of the lives (and incidental reading habits of the midcentury British public.)
The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson
Überviolent crime fiction isn’t usually my thing but Thuglit founder Todd Robinson turns what, in anyone else’s hands, would be a fairly standard plot and imbues it with heart and purpose. A hulking bouncer with a heart of gold in Robinson’s capable hands is by turns loyal, violent, and mournful in the pursuit of a missing girl in Boston. I devoured it in one setting. (Full disclosure: he’s represented by my agency, though not by me.)
Girls In White Dresses by Jennifer Close
Jennifer Close’s debut novel-in-stories follows the twenties years in the life of a group of college friends—twenties as in their twenties, not the 1920s. I read my sister’s copy, which might have been a mistake, because I kept wanting to underline passages and write “I know girl, I know” in the margins. From marriages to careers to pregnancies to that annoying girl in your college class who somehow has it better than you do, almost everything hit uncomfortably close for me. All my twentysomething friends should expect copies of this book at their birthdays this year.
How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton
I read this book because of the New York Times review and found it occasionally funny but mostly kind of facile—maybe because it clearly isn’t aimed at me. “Facile” might be a bit strong, because de Botton is clearly an intelligent guy and is an engaging writer—but how else to describe the suggestion that we as a society substitute the erotic admiration of Boticelli Madonnas for hardcore pornography, or treat the assertion that finding intelligence AND physical attractiveness is something radical that no one has ever considered before? No, this book isn’t for me because it almost exclusively focuses on sex in monogamous relationships, married or not. And though I wasn’t looking for it I couldn’t exactly find any mention of application of his theories to non-heterosexual couples, so not sure how universal this tract is. After I finished I remembered where I had heard his name before—the actor Tom Hiddleston follows him on twitter, and since I follow Tom Hiddleston, sometimes his RTs would show up in my feed. I am not immune to the power of a celebrity plug, people! I followed de Botton after reading the NYT review- he’s very earnest, I’ll give him that. Not sure if this is convincing me to seek out his other works.
From this week (but not this year):
The City and the City by China Mieville
Oh my GOD I loved this book. SO MUCH. Read it on the plane back from Houston with the help of some in-flight pinot grigio. So engaging, so clever, at every turn doing something I didn’t expect. The intricacies of life in the two cities, the fear of Breach, the magic of unseeing something that is right in front of you.
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Barry
This is a very clever book- the jacket copy describes it as “if Wes Anderson wrote Kafka,” and I’m not sure how far off the mark that is. Maybe I should read some Kafka to make sure. The Manual of Detection really is my kind of read in a lot of ways, and perhaps reading this and The City and the City back to back was a mistake, because they both have a kind of alienating, paranoid feel—this one about a man, Charles Unwin, who works as a clerk in a massive, labyrinthine detective agency, who is accidentally promoted and must investigate his predecessor’s death. Barry is an engaging writer and I dogeared a lot of the pages in this one before lending it to my sister, who tells me she was enjoying it before she accidentally left it in the seatback pocket on her flight. (Jetblue, let me know if this turns up!)