Recent Reads

October 17, 2011 | No Comments

I’ve been off-line for a while, working on other projects, but still reading as much as I can. I was getting ready to shelve the books I’ve chomped through these last few months, and thought that, although I can’t think of a strong stand-out, a few merit mention.
I’m an enormous fan of Joan Didion’s creative non-fiction, so I recently tried her best-known novel, Play it As it Lays (1970). The writing is impeccable, no surprise there, but I didn’t enjoy it – a subjective response entirely due to a disinterest in the subject matter – I always have a hard time with books about folks who are slowly drowning in a drink / drug induced mire of sexual and moral lethargy. I’m not the least offended by the subject matter – it bores me. Didion’s writing though, is masterful.
Prior to Didion, I read Cynthia Ozick’s short story, The Shawl (1980), together with its companion piece, Rosa, about the aftermath of the Holocaust on a woman who survived – powerful, affecting, concise. Continuing along my Hilary Mantel and Jane Gardam pilgrimage, I read Mantel’s 1985 bleak comic novel, Every Day is Mother’s Day (1985), about your average dysfunctional family requiring social worker intervention, (the follow up to (2008) which is sitting in my ‘to read’ pile), and Gardam’s short story collection, The People on Privilege Hill , which takes me dangerously close to having read Gardam’s entire oeuvre, so I can only implore her to hurry up.
Chalcot Crescent (2009) is Fay Weldon’s 29th novel, and I’m ashamed to say, the first I’ve read. It’s an odd book, lucid and brilliant here, slow and confusing there. I sense Ms. Weldon’s as sharp as a tack though, and I need to ferret around some of her other works.
On the thriller front, I’m happy to recommend some ol’ reliables, Ian Rankin’s first outing in his new series with Detective Malcom Fox, The Complaints (2009) – his writing is so fluid, so compact, that you soar over the pages – and The End of the Wasp Season (2011) by Denise Mina, a nice grizzly starring her heavily-pregnant Glasgow copper, Alex Morrow. “But aren’t these both Scottish writers, Susan?” I hear you say. “Isn’t this a wee bit biased?” Damned right, on both counts.