We’re in the throes of vacation season, which also means we’re in the throes of vacation reads. Comedy to noir, cutting-edge journalism to children’s adventure stories, we’ve made sure our book picks are as memorable as the trips we’re taking them on!
I’m currently reading The Shamshine Blind by Paz Pardo, which, as the marketing copy describes it, is “a beguiling blend of noir detective story and science fiction.” Looking up the full description will do it better justice than me trying to summarize it here. I can’t remember where I saw a review of it, but it looked like the kind of book that’s right up my alley, and 3/4 of the way through I can confirm that is indeed!
I have started reading Lifting the Veil: The Biography of Sir John Tavener by Piers Dudgeon. Tavener’s prodigious musical compositions include the Song for Athene, which was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana. So far, I have read only the chapters covering his childhood and his youthful dedication to music. The biographer is convinced that Tavener’s path in life was determined by the women with whom he was dealing, who included his mother, his second wife, and a Russian Orthodox abbess. Clearly this author is hellbent on proving his thesis, but, at any rate, the information that he provides is interesting. And—who knows?—the thesis may be correct.
I just finished a fantasy duology, Wizard-Knight, by Gene Wolfe. He blends Norse and Arthurian legends together and composes a delightfully complex story out of them. The story follows a knight, Sir Able of the High Heart, who pursues the love of the fairy queen Disiri. He meets giants, monster dogs, fair maidens, witches, talking cats, and all sorts of colorful creatures along the way.
I just finished Maureen Ryan’s Burn it Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call to Change for Hollywood. The first part of the book is a survey of the malfeasance and toxic working conditions that take place on Hollywood sets as TV shows get made. She explores how Hollywood studios have bought into the myth of creative geniuses whose excesses and bad behavior are an acceptable trade off to make good TV and how HR policies, even in the wake of #MeToo are designed to protect the people at the top of the hierarchy and keep the machine going. The second part of the book gives the reins over to a Rabbi, a psychologist, and a social worker to describe constructively what change might actually look like in the workplace.
I’m reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection of short stories Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life, published in 1894. (A red lamp traditionally shone outside doctors’ offices, much like blue lamps hung outside British police stations.) The cover page describes him as author of The White Company, The Refugees, and Micah Clarke, which perhaps shows Doyle’s love-hate relationship with Sherlock Holmes, who does not merit a mention. Doyle also designed the cover, not something that publishers encourage in authors.
The book contains a story in which Doyle describes my birthplace thus:
“It was a dull October morning, and heavy, rolling fog-wreaths lay low over the wet grey roofs of the Woolwich houses. Down in the long, brick-lined streets all was sodden and greasy and cheerless. From the high dark buildings of the arsenal came the whirr of many wheels, the thudding of weights, and the buzz and babel of human toil. Beyond, the dwellings of the workingmen, smoke-stained and unlovely, radiated away in a lessening perspective of narrowing road and dwindling wall.”
Clearly, he wasn’t a big fan, though Woolwich and its arsenal would later serve as the backdrop for the Sherlock story “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans.”
I recently picked up a copy of the late, great Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal—a satirical fantasy novel about a conman who gets roped into becoming a postmaster. I’ve been meaning to get into Pratchett’s work, and most especially his absurdist Discworld books, for years now, so this is a momentous read indeed. Reservations about a protagonist named Moist aside, I’m really enjoying it—giggling to myself on the train like a crazy person enjoying it.
Like Olivia, I have also been reading Terry Pratchett, specifically Mort, which is the first volume of his Death series in the Discworld novels. In this darkly humorous story, Death takes on an apprentice, the titular Mortimer. All goes well up until Mortimer falls for a princess fated to die young. With his job, his lady love and the future itself hanging in the balance, Mortimer must quite literally race against time to save the life of his new friend—but is that really what Death’s apprentice is supposed to do?
I am now reading Loss and Gain: The Story of a Convert by John Henry Newman, who is most known as a preacher and historian of theology, but doesn’t do badly at writing a novel about intellectuals arguing at Oxford about Catholicism. Specifically, it’s the Ignatius Press critical edition, which has such lovely footnotes as “We of Oxford refer to Cambridge as ‘the sister university.’ Like Voldemort, we never speak its name.”
My bedtime reading is What Does It Mean to Believe: Faith in the Thought of Joseph Ratzinger by Fr. Daniel Cardó, which attracted me in part because it is short. I’ve also started Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety by Gregory Popcak, and I’m sorry to say that one member of my family would answer yes to most of the questions about warning signs of anxiety—our dog. My family has also gotten me started on the audiobook of A Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, book 1 in a series about the various Princes Charming banding together to learn how to become real heroes and also figure out which princesses are really the right ones for them—they’ve finished the series and love it, so I’m now required to hear it, too. But what I’m reading to my child at bedtime is the first book of Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood, in which I have given the blasé lord of Ashton Place an Australian-type accent, for some reason.