Monday, February 13, 2017

What I'm Reading Now

Even though we're in the thick of the semester now, bearing down on midterm, I am still swallowing books whole. I think this is my way of dealing with the horrors of the Trump regime. Literary Xanax.

Anyway! Here's some of what I've gobbled over the past month:

Laurie Frankel, This Is How It Always Is

I forget how I found this book -- maybe the NYTimes recommended list? However I found it, the rec was right. This one's excellent. Told from the point of view of the mother of five children who is also a doctor of emergency medicine when we first meet her, the writing here is great, and the characters, including of all five children, AND their friends, so well developed they all become real to us. Wonderful use of setting, also -- we move from Wisconsin to San Francisco to Thailand in the course of the novel, and Frankel gives us each place perfectly.

What's it about? Yeah, that's another reason to love it. Rosie and Penn have five sons -- except their youngest son, Claude, begins telling them when he's three that he's a girl. (Penn is a stay-at-home dad and a writer, by the way, though he's not the one writing this book.) The novel deals with their struggle to understand what to do -- and not like that, they always try to do the right thing -- and to deal with the fallout of their decisions. This is a great book, and not just about having a trans kid. It's a great book about being human.

Larry McMurtry, Moving On

I had read this before, maybe twenty-five years ago, when I was a young pup in graduate school. I remembered like it then, and I remembered it as a big fat book, which, when it came from the library (I had to request it), indeed it was, nearly 800 pages long. Published in 1970, it's a book about a certain sort of life which is entirely gone now, the desultory life of young married women in the early 1960s: women without jobs, women with nothing to do but be married to their young husbands, and maybe take care of their young children.

Patsy and Emma are the two main characters, though other young women appear and disappear from the story. There's no real plot, just dinners made and eaten, trips to the park and laundromat, sex and fights with various men and husbands. Still, it's compulsively readable, not in the least because it's such a clear look at this specific sort of world. Two or three times during the book, someone is reading Middlemarch, and I suspect McMurtry is throwing us a hint there, at what sort of book he's aiming at producing. I don't know if he pulls that off, but I do like this book very much.

Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star 

On the strength of how much I liked Moving On, I read or re-read all of these. Meh. McMurtry when he's good is pretty good. But as he gets older, he starts to write parodies of himself. Stick to his younger work.

Stephen King, Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch, Lisey's Story, Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Again, meh. It's Stephen King. Compulsively readable, but no insights into the human condition here. I will say King is getting better instead of worse as he grows older -- there's some nice work in Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

Bram Stoker, Dracula

I'm reading this because I'm teaching it. It's interesting mainly for the window it provides into the fucked-up worldview of the late 19th century. Not recommended.

Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human

Dr. Skull got me the Library of America Classic Novels of Science Fiction for Hanukkah this year, and this is one of the novels in that collection. I have a vague memory of having read this novel in my adolescence, when I first started reading SF. But aside from a few scenes, I remember almost nothing about it. It's classic SF, all right. Freakish monster children, vicious adults, and very readable. Not sure I'm recommending this one, but I did enjoy it. And I can see how it influenced my own SF -- its about a group of kids (well, one adult, too) who have paranormal powers, who kind of mesh their minds in order to become a new lifeform. I've tried to write that story or stories like that several times, and never pulled it off.

Short stories:

The Unladylike Education of Agatha Tremain, by Stephanie Burgis

A fantasy story, magic-fantasy with F/F romance toward the end, this one is fun, even if the middle gets tense. Great main character.

Zombie, by Chuck Palahniuk

I don't know if I like this one, exactly. I taught it in my Zombies, Vampires, and the Apocalypse class. It's an interesting story.

Zombies in Winter, Naomi Kritzer

This one, OTOH -- yeah, read this one.

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