1.18.2011

what i'm reading, winter break edition

Enough of school today! I must blog!

Here are the books I read over my break from school, thanks to the amazing Mississauga Public Library System.

I actually read Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels, in New Jersey over Thanksgiving. It's well known to Canadians, and was made into a very good movie, but doesn't seem to be as widely known in the US.

As I've mentioned in other contexts, I don't generally read anything Holocaust-related, as I was forcibly overdosed on Holocaust education as a child. But having seen the excellent movie adaptation of this novel, I wanted to read it, and I'm very glad I did. It's a novel about memory, generational bonds, generational conflicts and family secrets. It's also a view into what it might be like to live in an occupied town or village. What is it like for people who are not rounded up, but who are forced to live under the thumb of their oppressors, in their own homes, in their own town, every day? The deprivations, the daily humiliations, the constant fear. Michaels really brought this home for me. Fugitive Pieces was her first novel, quite an amazing debut. Even if you've seen the movie, the book is different enough that I highly recommend it.

A type of book that I love but seldom indulge in - my literary "junk food" - are what I call intelligent thrillers, spy or murder or legal thrillers with something extra, something deeper. Generally that means the author has a keen eye for human motivation, and the characters have depth beyond the stock items of genre fiction. If this appeals to you, one of the best of its kind is Donald Westlake's The Axe.

Over winter break I read two novels of this variety: The Legal Limit by Martin Clark and The Finder by Colin Harrison. Clark's was good - I would have made it about a third shorter - but Harrison's was brilliant. You may know Harrison as the former editor of Harper's magazine; he is married to the writer Kathryn Harrison, best known for the controversial memoir The Kiss. But Colin Harrison writes sharp, insightful New York City thrillers. His plots are intricate and unpredictable, his characters are complex, his dialogue rings true, and his New York City is a the real deal. The Finder was the best of his I've read so far.

I read Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead and wrote about it here. I loved this book and I love Whitehead's writing. I'm quite in awe of his ability to write something so simple, yet so complex.

And I read The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, which I mentioned (along with Fugitive Pieces) in my recent post about resistance. This is an excellent young-adult novel about a teenage girl's rebellion against the polygamous religion-turned-cult her parents belong to and her impending forced marriage. Reading and the public library figure into her liberation. The Chosen One speaks to the need for young people to have in their lives caring adults who are not their parents - what a vital resource that is - and is a reminder to us all to be that resource whenever we have the opportunity.

4 comments:

johngoldfine said...

I never was too high on Donald Westlake, thought 'The Axe' okay, nothing more--but Donald Westlake writing as Richard Stark...a whole nothter kettle of fish. I've been addicted to the Richard Stark Parker series for nearly a half-century, and every year or so reread the whole bunch in one wild weekend of mayhem.

laura k said...

I thought The Axe - for its type, for what it sets out to do - is about as good as it gets.

johngoldfine said...

Maybe it speaks to you so strongly because it's a fable of capitalism run amok, a variation of 'Animal Farm'?

laura k said...

I did like the political undercurrent, but well beyond that, I thought it was a brilliant idea, perfectly executed.