Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Nice Long Reading List At Last

For the past few months, I've been picking out books, reading the first few chapters (or pages) and then  tossing the book away in disgust or boredom.  I never used to do this -- I always viewed starting a book as a commitment that should not be broken, no matter how idiotic or boring the story, but I've come to the conclusion that life is too short to waste on a book I'm not enjoying.

This week, I got lucky.  One book after another was engaging, funny, illuminating, and held my interest until the end.  I'll start with The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  By Jonas Jonasson, a Swedish writer, this book is a Forrest Gump-like tale of an elderly man fleeing his 100th birthday party, while giving the reader a retrospective on his very fascinating century of life.  Very improbable, very silly, very very funny.  You can move on to more serious fare with The Resistance, by Peter Steiner.  Told in flashback form, this book explores the complicated relationship of the French with their German occupiers during World War II.  I liked this book precisely because it did not attempt to simplify the fuzzy lines between resistants and collaborators.

While you're in historical mode, pick up Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter.  This book shifts back and forth between past and present, and goes from a postwar Italian fishing village to Hollywood and back.  It's a fairly complicated story, but heartwarming and with well-drawn characters.  The Lost Prince, by Selden Edwards, is historical but in a very strange form -- the protagonist mysteriously possesses a diary that predicts the future, and it is her task to make sure it happens.  It's not the most engaging book I've ever read, and the characters are more wooden than you'd expect, but it keeps you reading until the last page.  It helps, though, if you know a bit about history because it doesn't explain much.

In the category of oddball but interesting is Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  By Marisha Pessl, this is a really good read; there are no physics involved in this book, don't fret.  No one here is what he/she seems.  It's also illustrated.  I'll say no more; go ahead and read it.  The Double Game, by Dan Fesperman, is a terrific take on a spy novel, but no one seems to know who he/she is working for or why.  Or do they?  Again, things are not what they seem.

Gold, by Chris Cleave, takes us up to the present with two Olympian athletes who are central to the story.  Kate and Zoe are competitive bikers, friends, and sometime enemies.  Add a husband (Kate's), a child (Sophie, and she's very ill), and an obsession with Star Wars, and there's your compelling read.  Enjoy!