Tuesday, December 07, 2021

What I'm Reading Now

Jodi Picoult, Wish You Were Here

I started out feeling meh about this one -- the main character, in the first few chapters, is sort of unlikeable, and honestly I thought it was way too soon to write a book about Covid-19. But within 50 pages, I was all in. This is a really good book.

The main character, Diana, is working for Sotheby's when the pandemic kicks off, consulting on impressionist paintings; she and her boyfriend. Finn, are about to head off on vacation to the Galapagos Islands. But he's a resident, and he has to cancel his vacation to deal with the surge of Covid-19 patients. You go without me, he says.

Next thing we know, Diana is arriving at the Galapagos, except the island is locked down due to the pandemic. She can't get a signal, and can't make calls or send emails, though she does receive them, mainly from Finn. While she wanders the island, meeting a troubled fourteen year old and her father, Finn sends her a series of more and more horrifying emails, detailing his experiences dealing with first surge of the pandemic. The contrast between the quiet beauty of the locked-down island of Isabel and the horror of the island of Manhattan works perfectly, as does the (spoiler) midway through.

This is probably Picoult's best book. Brilliant writing, excellent use of detail, and with a deeply satisfying ending. I read it straight through in one day. Highly recommend.

Neal Stephenson, Termination Shock

I dnf'd this one, as I do most of Stephenson's fiction. He can't stick the landing, though I don't always know why. Lots of good ideas, but while that was enough for science fiction in the 1940s, it really isn't now.

In this case, he really had too many characters and I found it hard to care about any of them. Even the feral hog hunter, who was probably my favorite character, was mostly a cipher. The queen, who should have been doing a lot, did almost nothing. I'm still not sure what Laks was doing in the book. I mean, I liked some of the episodes involving him, but what did he have to do with climate change? (I admit this might have been revealed in the last hundred pages of the book, but I could not go on.

Here's another take on the novel.

Stephen King, The Shining

This is a re-read -- I read this first when I was probably 15 years old, and have read it a couple of times since then. The story, basically, of a haunted hotel. The real story is how abuse gets passed down from generation to generation, and how hard it is to climb out of that abuse.

I remember reading somewhere that King thinks the father in this story, Jack, was actually a good guy and a good father, who just got taken over by the hotel. That's not the case, of course -- Jack is abusive to his kid and his wife even before he takes a job at the Overlook. It's more the story of how abuse can continue to fuck us up years after the event, and how hard it is to fight against that.

Also about what alcoholism can do to someone, about which King knows plenty.

There's also an interesting strand in the story, about Wendy not being able to leave Jack because where would she go, and what would she do? Women, as we all know, cannot make a living or support themselves. (This, even though Wendy was supporting all of them while Jack finished school.) It's true she has a five year old son, which might limit her options somewhat; but King's own mother was a single mother who support herself and her two kids for years. So you would think King would have known better. Very much a product of its time in that regard. 

A side note: on twitter recently someone made herself famous by advising that we should all give away books once we had read them, since we'd never "consult" them again. When people pointed out that many of us re-read novels, this person wondered why anyone would ever re-read a novel. I've heard this from before from other people -- why would you read something you've already read? -- and it's always puzzled me. You re-read to enjoy the novel on a deeper level, clearly, the same way you listen to a sing more than once. 

This person claimed to have a degree in English literature, and I am puzzled. Surely the joys of re-reading is what brings us all to the study of literature?

Maybe not. 


Jenny F. Scientist said...

All the books I really love, I have copies of so I can read them again and again....

Maybe if you're only reading literature (LITERATURE!) out of a sense of obligation and/or moral superiority it decreases the desire to re-read it? I mean, I was forced to read Silas Marner in school, but darned if I've ever read again (I am willing to concede it may be important literature but once was enough).

delagar said...

I'm never going to re-read Silas Marner either!

I have read Middlemarch multiple times, though. It's amazing.