I read that collection of letters back in the summer heat, in the same weeks that I read Kate Harris' Lands of Lost Borders: Adventures on the Silk Road. Since I'm so far behind here, I'll just tell you that I recommend this highly if you're at all interested in traveling vicariously -- across Western China, and then from Turkey across to the Himalayas? by bicycle? through blistering heat and then bone-chilling cold (snow included)? often lacking the proper permissions and documentation? Harris writes brilliantly, not only about her travels themselves -- the geographies, cultures, peoples that she observes -- but also about the philosophical underpinnings of her worldview, of why she travels. Here's a review from The Globe and Mail, and here's a radio interview with Harris.
Some of you commented, at my last post, about having read Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing and being most impressed by it. I agree -- the novel uses to great effect a narrative structure that often falls flat, the trick of having one generation succeed another over two or three hundred years. Annie Proulx did this with Barkskins and as much as I've loved her other writing, I thought the book ever so ponderous and it was hard for me to care for characters who walked across the (figurative) stage too quickly. Gyasi, though, a first-time novelist at that, deftly connects us to a character in each time period and ensures that the line between that character and those of other generations is tight enough and strong enough to keep us caring. The human lineage is the story here, genealogy having been so damaged through the violence of slavery. But while Gyasi works to illuminate the big story, the overall destruction, she never sacrifices a character to a cause, and although her characters must quickly give way to the next generation's, they are nevertheless given enough time to let us know and care about them. Recommended!
I picked up Rebecca Scherm's Unbecoming from the bookshelf of the AirBnB we rented in Lyon back in May (see how far behind I am?!) . This is another debut novel, a mystery that was nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel, and I would definitely read another by Scherm. The book is as much philosophical or psychological, in some ways (à la Ruth Rendell), as who-done-it (or, better, what did she do?), and asks some interesting questions about identity. Even better, it places these questions in the context of a fascinating world -- that of art and antiques restoration in Paris. Oh My!! Here's a brief review for you.
Joanna Cannon's The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a delightful mystery, set in one unseasonably hot summer in late '70s suburban England. Deliciously full of a neighbourhood's secrets, which two girls, on the threshhold of puberty, decide to investigate so as to find a disappeared wife. . . The mystery and the coming-of-age, that tension between innocence and experience, the girls' navigation between morality and religion and social righteousness and nastiness. . . Very enjoyable and thought-provoking to boot.
This barely gets me to the end of my summer reading and here we are halfway through fall. I will try my best to get back here soon, but you know how likely that is. Before I go, I'll just mention a few books I've read recently and happily recommend: Michael Ondaatje's Warlight ; Miriam Toews' Women Talking; and Patrick DeWitt's French Exit; Tom Rachman's The Italian Teacher; and C. S. Anderson's The End of the Alphabet.