Sunday, November 28, 2010

Three to Catch Up

This is not getting easier, this keeping up with recording some thoughts about my reading. I seem to get further and further behind. For example, although I finished it over a month ago, I haven't told you about the surprisingly well written and very affecting Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Why surprising? Genova holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard and writes a column for the National Alzheimer's Association. This made me suspicious that her novel about a cognitive psych prof at Harvard who develops early-onset Alzheimer's would be able to move beyond the formulaic. It does, though. It's sad, terrifying, and rather beautiful in spots as well. And it speaks as much about long-term marriages and mother-adult child relationships as it does about Alzheimer's, as much about the resilience of the human spirit as about the gradual decay of a brilliant mind.

From that I moved to something much lighter, a mystery novel by Quentin Jardine, Famous Last Words. I've read a few of these Bob Skinner books and enjoyed them -- the father-daughter relationship takes an interesting twist here and Skinner shows himself to be very human in his responses. But the book's greatest fun comes from the play it makes with the setting of the Edinburgh Book Fair's collection of mystery writers and its borrowing of real-life writers' names for so many of its characters. For example, the phone is brightly answered at one point with something along the lines of "Hello, Peedy James, may I help you?"

Then I read Doug Saunders' important analysis of rural-to-urban migration in the late-20th and 21st-century, Arrival City. I highly recommend this for the way it integrates an impressive body of scholarship from numerous fields, particularly Human and Urban Geography, as well as Political Science and Economics. The breadth is global, as the topic demands, but personalized by individuals and their families trying to move, in one or two generations, from a rural village lifestyle to one which might seem squalid to us but which, Saunders convincingly points out, offers the hope of integration into an urban, educated, middle class. Interestingly, one of my 1st-year students right now comes from one of the cities Saunders discusses, Shenzhen, China. The student tells me that his family has made three major city moves in his lifetime from the rural village in which his parents were born, and they've been successful enough in Shenzhen that they could send him to study here with hopes that he will bring the family into the middle class. Looking at these various arrival cities through Saunders' eyes makes me feel slightly more optimistic than I previously have about global inequities -- that is, if the recommendations he makes (reinforcing, repeating those made by scholars both on the ground and in the academy) are adopted by policy makers and urban planners.

I'm still two novels behind, and I'll try to catch those up in the next week. What about you? Are the winter days and nights giving you more or less reading time? Of course, some of you are in beach weather right now, right? So any time for beach books? I'd love to hear what pages you're turning. . .


  1. Hmmm. I read trash while on holidays - Steven King (Under the Dome), Lee Child (which I didn't enjoy) and then Wally Lamb (The Hour I First Believed). Spouse gave me a book of Alice Munro short stories (Too Much Happiness) for my birthday and I've been loving them. Next on the pile is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, highly recommended to me by several people.

  2. Which Lee Child? Have you read others or was this the first attempt? And why didn't you enjoy it? I'm surprised how much I generally do like the Jack Reacher series, although I was a bit annoyed about the one I just finished.
    Alice Munro is pretty fabulous, isn't she?!
    And I do want to read Thousand Autumns, given that Cloud Atlas was such a marvel.

  3. I read 61 Hours. I guess I just found Jack Reacher a bit unbelievable and thus annoying. I did think the weather was well written though! And yes, Alice Munro is marvellous. I always forget how great good short stories are. I have to confess I haven't read Cloud Atlas, although everyone says it's brilliant. My brother is reading it at the moment, so it's bound to come my way ...

  4. I've got that one in a stack of new books. Sounds as if you haven't read any Reacher books before and as if he's not for you. I wouldn't say I find him particularly believable, and with the last one I read my feminist hackles were raised (probably more by Lee Child than by Reacher), but Pater and I generally enjoy the details involved with the plotting, as well as Child's attention to politics, industrial, military, and governmental. And he can do settings well, I think.

  5. Yes, I totally agree re the settings - so well evoked. And I do love a good conspiracy, so it ticked that box as well!