Thursday, May 11, 2017

Still Reading. . . Memoirs and Mysteries and a Historical Novel and . . .

Not ready to give up on this blog completely, yet, but for the time being keeping up two blogs is unrealistic if I'm to honour my commitment to my personal writing project.  I hope I'll be able to add something more substantive from time to time because I do so enjoy the conversation that extended posts tend to stimulate. But for now, I'm going to accept my limitations and simply keep the space open by listing current or recent reading whenever I think of it and/or find a moment or two.

I don't think I've yet mentioned reading three mysteries by Peter May, all set on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. One of you spurred my memory about them in a fairly recent comment I can't seem to track down, and before that, back in 2015, Sue wrote one of her informative and engaging book posts about them.  I enjoyed The Black House very much, The Lewis Man almost as much, and although I felt the series was running out of steam by The Chess Men, there was much to keep me turning pages in that title as well.

I've also read a few more Donna Leon mysteries, partly justifying them by my upcoming trip to Venice: Willful Behaviour, Uniform Justice, and Doctored Evidence. All good, although I do sometimes wonder how ex-pat Leon's opinions about her adopted country are taken by its natives. . . She clearly loves Venice and the Venetians, but she is scathing about corruption, environmental irresponsibility, and bureaucratic inefficiencies, just for a start. . . Her My Venice and Other Essays is especially fun for spotting some of the inspirations, in her personal, everyday life, for some characters or settings or premises of her mystery novels.

One of you, commenting as "Unknown," recommended Patrick Modiano to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed his Paris Nocturne, so thank you! I would have loved to write more about the book's tone, almost oneiric, its weaving through memory (interestingly, the same mix of focus on a difficult father and on a past or present female love as we see in Knausgaard, but on an entirely different scale, weight, so much slighter, and yet. . . .).
I've just got a copy of his Les Boulevards de Ceinture from the library, as a good way to ramp up my French before we land in Paris in two weeks. (toward the same goal, I've just finished Jean-Christophe Rufin's L'Immortelle Randonée: Compostelle Malgré Moi, the most thoughtful and perhaps realistic book I've so far read about the pilgrimage route to Santiago).

Ta-Nahesi Coates' memoir, The Beautiful Struggle, is an important book about growing up African-American with a father determined to impart what that meant in terms of intellectual and political heritage. That heritage pitted against the drives of adolescence, the pull of the popular and of peers, what that meant in neighbourhoods constructed -- both in reality and in the cultural imagination -- as Black. So much I didn't know that I found so illuminating. Also fascinating for me was, once again, the way the particular and the general or universal meet in challenging commonalities. I recommend this one.

Also read Ann Granger's Mud, Muck, and Dead Things, passed on from my daughter who'd picked it up at her neighbourhood Little Library. If you fancy a vicarious hike through the Cotswolds, like a good mystery novel, and particularly enjoy a female detective as protagonist, this will please you.

Michael Christie's If I Fall, If I Die was one I'd read reviews of a year or two ago, and then happened across on the library shelf -- Not sure that it should have pushed its way to the top of my list by biblio-impulse, but it was well-written and entertaining and the premise was intriguing.  Adolescent boy who's been raised inside by an agoraphobic mother decides to push aside her fear of risk and leaves his homeschooled universe for the dangers of school and gangs and skateboarding and, inadvertently, a serious drug-dealing syndicate connected to a Missing Persons mystery.  #readswellwith Emma Donoghue's Room.

Roberta Rich's A Trial in Venice was another example of the dangers of visiting a library. I'll never get through my always-evolving list if I keep letting impulse check-outs jump the queue. This historical novel is apparently a sequel to The Midwife of Venice which I haven't read.  Again, well-written, apparently well-researched, chosen to give me a sense of the historical background of the city whose streets we'll be walking in a few weeks.  Enjoyable if not particularly important. Recommended as a rainy-day read or for the beach.

And there we go. Lurching from one belated lick-and-a-promise post to the next. Those of you who are still checking in, thank you for your patience. Comments always welcome, especially feedback on books we've both read or recommendations on ones you have and I shouldd....


11 comments:

  1. I think that I have to read Peter May's work. I read The Midwife of Venice so I will reserve A Trial in Venice when I get home. I've read more Andrea Camilieri books since I have been here but I will catch up with Donna Leon. It is interesting to share book ideas of all sorts. I have to read Hillbilly Elegy for a summer meeting. Should be interesting.

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    1. Hillbilly Elegy's on my For Later shelf at the VPL. I've heard many good things about it.

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  2. I just completed The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. Although I struggled with the first 100 pages it was with it. I enjoyed her exploration of the Catholic Church's place in Irish life, how it sustained and constrained daily life. This is not a plot driven book- until it is. I can see where some might object to her religious musings, but I found her the rare author who is able to expose flaws in organized religion while still acknowledging the sustaining nature it occupies in daily life.

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    1. I couldn't help but think how tough it must have been for Donoghue to publish a novel after the success of The Room. This book falters in ways that the former never did, but she created some convincing characters with clear individual voices. I disliked the Nightingale nurse in those first 50-100 pages, but was intrigued to see how her character was allowed to bring her training and strengths to bear to overcome an overly hasty, if natural enough, assumption. I think you're spot-on about her acknowledgement of the sustenance the poor Irish in the novel obviously drew from an organised religion that many readers might have been content enough to see more starkly represented (as did the protagonist, perhaps to the end).

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  3. I will have to add The Midwife of Venice and Mud,Muck and Dead things to my goodreads list. Love your musings on books you've read, nice to get ideas!

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    1. It is good to get new reading ideas, isn't it?

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  4. I watched an interview with Donna Leon once. She is very funny. Her books are not translated into Italian so that she can be somewhat invisible.

    Ali

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    1. I'd love to see that interview. How wise of her to embrace anonymity by eschewing translation and publication in Italian!

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    2. Just type "Dona Leon interviews" on You Tube. There are also German produced films based on her books(I think I've mentioned it here before). I've seen one or two although it is peculiar to hear Comissario Brunetti speaking German,but the sights are amazing
      Dottoressa

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  5. Just check out this blog to see the validity of Leon's comments on Venice - and Italy's - corruption problems: http://veneziablog.blogspot.co.uk
    And highly recommend Tim Parks' two books, Italian Neighbours and Italian Education. You'll be overwhelmed with recommendations but just one: Cantina del Vino Gia Schiavi - lovely atmospheric bar opposite San Barnaba. Enjoy! Best wishes
    Elizabeth

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    1. I'll have a look, thanks. And I have a daughter living in Rome with her family, so I get some corroboration there.
      I loved Tim Parks book Italian Ways on the train system there, and have been meaning to read the other two titles you've reminded me of -- thanks! And for the bar recommendation -- I'll put it on the list.

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