Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reading Report: summer 2011

English Creek- Ivan Doig.  This one is excellent.  It's kind of a guy book-- it's a coming of age story about Jick McCaskill, the son of a forest ranger on a fictional Montana national forest, during one tumultuous summer. Many things happen, some big, but also many small moments, about fishing and haying and the Fourth of July.  It's beautifully written, and it beautifully describes a moment in the history of the American West that has almost completely vanished.  The McCaskill family is well-established; their existence is not the homesteaders' precarious struggle for survival.  But still it is the summer of 1939, and money is scarce.  World War II hasn't started yet.  There are cars and trucks, but mostly Jick and his dad get around on horseback. 

It takes place in a fictional Montana county that, if it were real, would be located a couple of hours from where we live.  The occasional references to real places made it fun to read, and since Doig is a native Montanan, he gets it exactly, precisely, right:  the breathtaking, addictive scenery; the way the clear, cold air can clear your head.  It's not a book for everyone, but if you like horses, or fishing, or have any interest in the history of the West, it's well worth reading.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Dubliners- James Joyce.  This one was "sort of" for school.  It's one of Joyce's earliest works, and it's far easier to read than his later stuff.  There are characters in Ulysses who show up first in Dubliners, so I thought it would be an interesting read.  And it is.  In the same way that your opinion of some modern, out-there, abstract artist is improved when you see her early work and realize that wow, she really can draw, these short stories prove that Joyce is truly a great writer, and not just someone who was out to bamboozle people with the most complicated work he could possibly think up-- which is sometimes what you think when you're slogging through Ulysses and about to throw up your hands in exasperation. 

Back Spin- Harlan Coben. This is the 4th in the Myron Bolitar series, and it's my least favorite so far.  It's about a golf player who finally reaches the top of the leader board at the USOpen again after choking at a similar point many years before.  On the eve of his big moment, his son is kidnapped.  I hadn't read one of this series since last summer, and while it was good enough to make me look forward to moving on to the 5th, it didn't have nearly the impact of the last one I read.  It is just too complicated.  There were not one, not two, but three big reveals at the end.  And the goofy humor that is Myron's trademark seemed overdone and intrusive instead of quirky and endearing.  But it surely kept me absorbed through a couple of days of vacation-- I had to force myself to put it down at one point and rejoin the family because I'd become so immersed in it I was in danger of being disowned.

Making Waves- Tawna Fenske.  I've been a regular reader of Tawna's blog for several months now, mainly because she makes me laugh early in the morning, which is similar in difficulty level to making Atilla the Hun cuddle baby chicks.  So I was excited to read Making Waves, her debut novel, which she's been blogging about for a long time.  It's well worth reading.  The opening scene, where Juli, the heroine, is helping her mother make the most bizarre jello salad you've ever heard of (and I've seen some strange ones), is absolutely hilarious in an understated, brilliant kind of way.  And Juli's first interaction with the hero, Alex, is similarly clever.  I'm in awe that this is a first novel.  It's maybe a little uneven, and the pacing runs in fits and starts, but it is as much fun as I've had reading a book in a long time.  Perfect beach or plane read.  Good job, Tawna!  After reading her blog I feel like we're friends, even though she has no idea who I am.

This has also been my summer of Georgette Heyer.  I think I've read about a dozen of hers now.  Fortunately for me, she's written about 30 novels, so I haven't even come close to reading them all.  Some of them I've liked better than others, but none of them has been awful (although some of the really early ones, like These Old Shades, come close).  My favorites so far are Cotillion, The Nonesuch, Bath Tangle, A Civil Contract, and The Unknown Ajax.  Heyer takes some getting used to if you're used to contemporary romance novels.  She uses exclamation points with abandon.  There is no steamy sex.  And there are rarely big, detailed denouements.  The first few I read I found enormously unsatisfying because the resolution of the relationship between the hero and heroine took place in about two paragraphs on the very last page.  But once you get used to that, you start to see how subtly she sets things up, the little ways that the characters gradually learn to appreciate each other, instead of the sledgehammer effect of so many contemporary novels.  I've become so enamored of Heyer's restraint that it has ruined contemporary novels for me.  I tried reading a few other authors I've enjoyed in the past recently, and they pale by comparison.  Which is why none of them (except Making Waves) are getting reviewed here, not even the one I just finished, which I disliked so intensely that I'm tempted to wax eloquent.  But it's not worth it.


  1. I interrupt this reading report to say - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BARB!!!!
    As you were.


  2. Happy Birthday! I am looking forward to reading Making Waves, so I am glad you think that it's as good as I had hoped.

  3. I'm late, I'm late, I'm late but never too late to wish you a belated Happiest of Birthdays! Hope it was lovely.

  4. Yet another Happy Birthday! I hope it was fabulous. (Also, that's quite the reading list.)

  5. Thanks, dear readers! I had such a nice day yesterday that I don't mind at all stretching out to another day. I will write more about the big five-oh later this week. You guys are the greatest!

  6. Hmmm. I'm reading Ulysses right now and kind of wishing I had started The Dubliners before.

    Hope you had a good birthday, birthday buddy!

  7. Alex-- the Gifford annotations help, and also Harry Blamires' Guide. I have them both if you want to borrow them for a couple of weeks, but I'll need them again by the end of August. Maybe they'd have them at the FVCC library? To be entirely honest, I often read the Sparknotes chapter summaries before I started the chapter just so I could figure out what the heck was going on.

    I did have a great birthday! hope you did too!

  8. Thanks. Just finished. Took me a lot longer than expected to finish, though. Haha. Have to remember to put the Dubliners on the list.