Monday, January 2, 2012

Reading My Way into 2012

This week turned out to be a bonanza, reading-wise -- nearly every book I brought home from the library was at least readable!  I started with a nonfiction selection midweek (I try not to get into fiction during the workweek, because it doesn't do to get too attached when one is busy) called Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.  By Alexandra Fuller, it is the companion book to Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, and is a memoir of much of her life and her mother's life living as a white African.  Nearly everyone in this book is certifiable, which is what gives the book its entertainment value.  Yes, I know mental instability is no joke, but Fuller certainly seems to find a lot of humor in the rampant manic-depressive behavior of her relatives.  Most of the book just verges on the unbelievable, but it's an engrossing read all the same.

Speaking of humor, I recently rediscovered a mystery series by Donna Leon that I'm finding hilarious.  Her Commissario Guido Brunetti series, set in Venice, is full of Venetian atmosphere, as well as Italian in-jokes.  I'm sorry to say that most Americans are not going to fully appreciate the humor; I think you really have to either be Italian or know Italian culture intimately to get the "laugh out loud" benefit of these books.  However, they are written nicely, have interesting characters, and feature compelling mysteries that are not too complex to be solved by the reader.  I'm currently enjoying Acqua Alta; I have no idea of the order in which they are written but it does not seem to matter.

If you enjoy the books of Fannie Flagg (previously reviewed here), you'll appreciate The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, by Jenny Wingfield.  Set in the American South in the 1950's, featuring a cast of incredibly quirky characters, this book bears a great deal of similarity to Flagg's stories.  One difference, however, is that while Flagg's villains border on the ridiculous, Wingfield's villains are far more seriously evil.  There's a happy ending, but not quite as rainbow tinted as you'd find in a Flagg book.

I know you're probably waiting for this week's chick-lit selection, and here it is --  Kindred Spirits, by Sarah Strohmeyer.  It has all the usual ingredients:  four friends, martini recipes, memories, at least one family feud, and everyone has something to hide.  The predictability is downright soothing.  As an antidote, one can turn to a somewhat more literary selection, and this one comes with a pedigree.  The Silver Lotus is written by Thomas Steinbeck, the son of John Steinbeck.  Flipped open at random, this book seems as though it would be dreadfully boring, but attempt it from the beginning and you won't want to put it down.  Oddly, the entire book is written as a narrative; there is no dialogue whatsoever.  Steinbeck simply tells the story of Lady Yee, a very unusual Chinese woman of the turn of the century.  This story is strangely compelling, even though it's not suspenseful or even exciting.  I can't really explain it; perhaps talented writing is all it takes?  Let me know what you think.

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