My grades are in, my wrapping is done (much earlier than usual!), I’m nearly done updating my course schedule for next term, my stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Time to catch up on blogging! I’m thinking about my “reading year in review” post and my reading goals for next year, but in the meantime, here are some things I’ve been reading (and listening to) this fall.
Lots and Lots of Mysteries
This has once again become my genre of choice. Some highlights:
I listened to all of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series except for the final book, The Terrorists, which my library doesn’t have. I’ve read them all before, so I listened to them out of order, depending on what was available. Jumping around seemed to make me more aware of how the series becomes more political over time (it was written in the 60s and 70s). This series is less dark (or maybe just less gory) than contemporary Nordic crime, and reflects a society in the midst of change, with some criticism of a militarized and inept police force that felt quite timely.
I also listened to a couple of Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen books, but these are very dark and gory and I decided not to go on. Misogynist serial killers are not what I need these days. Hanne is a good character, though–I like a competent female cop.
I read The Marx Sisters by Barry Maitland and loved the setting, quirky Jerusalem Lane in London, and the elderly sisters at the center of the case with their connection to Karl Marx. I wasn’t that interested in the detectives, though, and don’t know if I’ll try another. (I stumbled across this in my library’s new books, but it’s actually a reissue and the first in a 12-book series.)
Another book where the setting was the most appealing part was Elly Griffith’s Blood Card, the third of her series set among fading variety stars in post-war Brighton. The ties of all the mysteries to magic and the theatre are fun, but the characters are pretty flat. I find that her contemporary series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway has much more interesting character development.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dick Francis’ Break In. I’ve been guided in my introduction to Francis by Rohan’s top ten post, and she has not steered me wrong yet! Francis’ smart women and honorable men are very appealing. My library does not have the sequel, Bolt, but my local used book store obliged, and I picked up Proof as well.
I read Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man, set in 1919 Calcutta, after seeing it on the Publishers Weekly best mysteries of the year list. Captain Sam Wyndham, traumatized by WWI and his wife’s death in the flu epidemic, is a newcomer to Calcutta. Sam is a fairly familiar type of character, and I found myself wishing that his Indian Sergeant, “Surrender-not” Bannerjee, had been the narrator instead. Still, Mukherjee’s take on the Raj of this period is, not surprisingly, far less romanticized than that of other mysteries set in this period, like Barbara Cleverly’s (which I did also like). PW has a brief interview with the author addressing that. The book has some issues–it didn’t create an entirely convincing period atmosphere or fully develop its characters–but a good twisty plot.
Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar is a novella translated (by Srinath Perur) from the South Indian language Kannada. In her review, Deborah Smith comments that the book is “fascinatingly different from much Indian writing in English,” and if you think of Indian fiction as “epic” or about abject poverty, that’s a reasonable take. The cover blurb describes Shanbhag as an “Indian Chekhov,” and that too seemed reasonable by the time I finished the book. Narrated by an aimless, passive young man, Ghachar Ghochar focuses on one family and takes place mostly in their house(s), reflecting on their complex, deeply dependent relationships and the mess that new-found prosperity gets them into. Shanbhag is a master of telling details that gradually reveal the truths the narrator has avoided looking at. I loved this book, which I just read–a good reason not to make a “best of” list before the very end of the year!
Here, too, I’ve been reading and listening to things off of best-of and awards lists. The best of the bunch, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, makes a masterful case that residential segregation is the result of deliberate government policy and law, at all levels, not of individual prejudices. This book is enraging and necessary.
Frances FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals is a sweeping (1740s to the present sweeping) history of evangelicalism in America and the role of evangelicals in politics, particularly in recent decades. It gave me a much better sense of parts of US history and of evangelical doctrine, theology, and divisions, than I had before. It can be a bit dry, but it’s even-handed and thorough.
I found David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon a bit disappointing, maybe because the superlatives heaped on it inflated my expectations unfairly. Or maybe it was the audiobook narrators: I liked it better when I upped them to 1.25 speed. The book tells the story of a series of mysterious murders of oil-rich Osage in the 1920s, which eventually became one of the first major cases of the fledgling FBI. Grann’s research is meticulous and he uncovers new information–including interviewing Osage people who remind us that these events aren’t just a fascinating historical mystery but have left scars on the community to this day. I think I wanted more cultural context or maybe the writing didn’t engage me. It’s certainly a powerful story.
I’m re-reading (for the umpteenth time) Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, prompted by a Twitter readalong that I’m not really participating in. Still love it. Re-reading via audio: Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison, because listening to Gaudy Night during a recent nasty illness/maybe migraine made me crave more Peter and Harriet (why doesn’t Audible have Have His Carcass?). Finally, I’m reading Kapka Kassabova’s Border because of Rebecca Hussey’s praise for it–she discusses it in this Book Riot post, but I think tweets got my attention.
Hope to be back between Christmas and New Year’s to ponder 2017 in reading and look ahead to 2018. Happy Holidays and good reading!