I’ve got 10 books on the roundup for March, but I must confess up front. I didn’t read all ten. Some I read, and some I started to read, but put down unfinished. I’ve included all of them just for the record:
Swamplandia by Karen Russell was a surprising tale, not in and of itself, but because someone working at my local library had put a “Fantasy” tag on the spine. So I thought it was a fantasy novel. Fun, right? This was a great novel, but NOT a fantasy. In fact it got a bit grim, to tell the truth. And I kept lightheartedly reading, thinking “Sure, things are dire, but it’s a fantasy novel. A wizard or fairy godmother will come along any moment.” No. This is a wonderfully written story of an unusual family unraveling after the death of the mother in the opening. Not fantasy. But good.
A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is more of a fantasy novel than Swamplandia, but enough of that. A Tale for the Time Being is now one of my all-time favorite books. A woman, Ruth, finds a journal washed up on the shores of a Northwestern island. The tale travels two lines: The story of Ruth and the story Ruth reads in the journal. I loved the characters, the complexity, the Zen and the quantum physics. Highly recommended!
Influx by Daniel Suarez is a thoroughly satisfying sci-fi tale that provides one of many possible answers to the question of my generation: “Where’s my jetpack?” Here’s my favorite quote from the beginning of Influx:
“Mankind was on the moon in the 1960’s, Jon. That was half a century ago. Nuclear power. The transistor. The laser. All existed even back then. Do you really think the pinnacle of innovation since that time is Facebook?”
Suarez creates a possible reality in which a bureau, originally established to prevent social disruption from too-fast technological change, becomes itself out of control. Very fun read. Fast paced, not overly technical.
N-W by Zadie Smith was not a novel I thought I’d love as much as I did. I’d read some other books by Smith and didn’t love them, but they were good. But N-W hooked me. It’s full of interesting characters joined together by place and fate. Each section written in a different style took me deeper into one character or another, eventually pulling all of them together. Very nicely done and great read.
What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller. A schoolteacher has an affair with one of her underage students and everything, of course, falls apart. But the tale is not told in a straightforward way. Instead it twists in on itself and eventually seems to be about something else entirely. I began to loathe the protagonist but loved the book!
A Cottage In Portugal by Richard Hewitt. I picked up this book at the library because I’m heading to Portugal soon, in fact to the town the book is set in. I thought it would be fun to read about an American couple renovating a house in Sintra. It wasn’t fun. The reading, not the renovation. But perhaps the renovation wasn’t fun either. I don’t know because I put the book down. I couldn’t stand the smug arrogance of the American protagonist. Oh well.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is an historical novel set in 17th century Amsterdam. It’s lush and detailed and entertaining to read, but I was a bit disappointed in the end. I had put it on my list and was excited to read it, but had forgotten what it was about. I like to do that – to read a book unclear on the genre or plot and discover it as I go along. By the time I finished The Miniaturist all I could say for sure was that it was historical. It was almost other things, interesting things, but it only hinted at them. It didn’t deliver. Nevertheless, I still recommend it. Maybe you’ll see what I missed!
The Peripheral by William Gibson shouldn’t even be on this list. Of the books I didn’t finish, I read the least of this one. Is it rude of me to include it? Reviews are mixed on this one, so I thought I’d add my two cents: I had a hard time getting into it. Perhaps I’ve gotten lazier as I get older, but I like my sci-fi just slightly more accessible. I saw a glimpse of really cool ideas, but I had to work too hard to figure out what was going on, so I quit and moved on to the next book.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood is now my favorite Atwood book. The Oryx and Crake series was fantastic, but The Handmaid’s Tale was queen of my Atwood kingdom until now. The Blind Assassin is not only great Atwood, it’s a great book, period. It is the story of a woman’s life spanning the 1900’s in Canada, slowly unfurling. The perspective is profound.
No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late by Ayun Halliday is a collection of short travel tales. Halliday is a great storyteller. She made me laugh out loud. She reminded me of all the stupid stuff I did when traveling in my youth. I was left with a great regret that I didn’t take notes on my own stories. This is a great book to read for armchair travel of the sort that makes you happy you’re in your armchair, but not so much so that you won’t, maybe, get out there again.