Spring (ha!) update

by Sunita

Spring is supposedly here, but there is snow on the ground and the temperature is below freezing. In April! This is so, so wrong.

It’s been ages since I posted here. Work has been very busy, and whatever writing I’ve accomplished has been in other venues, mostly work-related. I’ve been reading a lot, though, which has been greatly facilitated by staying off the internet in general and social media in particular.

My January plans included multiple reading challenges, Muriel Spark readalongs, autobuy romance authors, and manga. How am I doing?

Reading challenges: These are going well. I followed the Tournament of Books again this year, reading more than half the shortlist. I was happy to see Fever Dream take it all, especially since it beat Lincoln in the Bardo in the finals, but a lot of other books I thought were excellent were taken down, sometimes in early rounds with judgments I totally disagreed with. Which is par for the course, honestly: the TOB longlist is one I always look forward to, but the shortlist and tournament decisions are rarely in sync with my preferences. I did read some very good books I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, though, and I think everyone should read White Tears and Sing, Unburied, Sing.

My Muriel Spark readalong started well but then got overtaken by TOB reading and library-hold books. I really enjoyed what I did read, though, so I plan to get back to her novels. Mid-century women authors deserve a lot more attention than they get. The intelligence, insight, and acerbity they provide are hard to find elsewhere in one package.

I haven’t been reading romance much. Mysteries have filled in the comfort-read slot for the moment. I’ve reread a few  early John Le Carré novels, as planned, a Dick Francis, the first Martin Beck mystery, and the first in Mick Herron’s Slough House series. Hard as it is to admit, I think I’m just burned out on the romance genre. The new books and authors aren’t working for me (I’ve DNF’d quite a few highly regarded romances across different subgenres) and even my beloved autobuys aren’t doing the trick. It’s OK, it’s happened before when the zeitgeist and I were on non-overlapping tracks. I’ll come back. In the meantime, though, I don’t have much to say in or about Romanceland.

I fell off the manga wagon in March; just not enough time. I’ll get back to it when things slow down a bit, but I had to cancel my subscription. I still have plenty in the TBR, though.

As usual, my book challenges have me reading novels I wouldn’t ordinarily have chosen but have enjoyed immensely:

  • I finally read Charles Dickens’ Hard Times and absolutely loved it. This was the book I chose to fulfill a “assigned book you hated/DNF’d” category. It’s the first Dickens book I’ve really liked and now I don’t even know who I am anymore.
  • For the “celebrity book club pick” category I put a hold on Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage and it was amazingly good. It’s the story of a marriage and a lot more. It’s set in middle-class black Atlanta and explores what happens when the husband is convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Highly recommended.
  • Someone recommended Frankenstein in Baghdad and I picked it up on a whim (I don’t like horror and this has a monster as a main character). It was excellent. It’s a Frankenstein story updated to war-torn, mid-2000s Baghdad, set in a once prosperous but now decaying neighborhood. There is definitely a monster, as well as a cast of varied, nuanced characters. It’s depressing, poignant, funny, and infuriating by turns. Give it a try.
  • I read a couple of recent talked-up books by French authors: The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani and The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis. Both were worthwhile, and it was interesting to compare highly praised French novels with their American counterparts. The writing, in particular, is much less obviously impressive (and obvious) than I usually find in American lit fic novels. There are some lovely passages and turns of phrase, but at other times the writing is flat and verging on clunky (and it’s not the result of translation decisions, because I checked the original French in both cases). Surprisingly, though, it was kind of a relief from the self-conscious style of so many MFA/NYC books by US writers in the same age and class cohorts.

Now I’m buried in two very long novels which couldn’t be more different (except that they are both written by men and both have plenty of violence): Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. The former is a reread for a readalong with Keishon and the latter is a two-month read in one of the Goodreads groups I follow. The McMurtry has long been one of my favorites, but I’m noticing (and judging) the depictions of women and non-white characters a lot more this time, and it’s occasionally taking me out of the story. The Bolaño is unlike anything I’ve read, and I rarely know where it’s going, but it’s compulsively readable. Let’s see how I do when I get to the Ciudad Juarez serial killer section, though.

I’m tracking my reading on Goodreads and commenting there, but I’m not around on social media much otherwise. Readers of this blog know I’ve been beating the drum about the problems with social media for quite a while, and while I’m glad to see the rest of the world paying more attention, nothing much will change unless (a) a LOT of us leave social media, or (b) the government gets serious about effective regulation. Sadly, I think the former is more likely than the latter, despite the huge collective action hurdles required. The only silver lining is that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR) legislation goes into effect in a couple of months. Maybe that will help. In the meantime, check your privacy settings! Everywhere!