Friday, February 01, 2013

Read in January

It's been a dark and cold month, but that's the way January usually is. I keep finding things other than books to distract me -- I spent much of this month playing Lego Lord of the Rings on the new Wii U, for example, which was usually entertaining and only occasionally frustrating -- but books are not the only thing in life. (At least, that's what people keep telling me.)

Here's what I did read this month:

Walter Mosley, The Long Fall (1/2) -- The first book in a new mystery series (new as of 2009) by the author of the excellent Easy Rawlins novels (and of the smutty, odd Killing Johnny Fry), set in New York, with a deeply morally conflicted hero. Mosley is a great writer -- not just a good crime novelist, but one of our best today period -- and particularly interesting for white guys like me to read, with his thoughtful, deep takes on American racial divides. It doesn't do to talk too much about the plot of a mystery, but this book has a good 'un.

Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts 1985-1986 (1/4) -- I've covered this series -- and Schulz's amazing fifty-year run on Peanuts -- in extensive detail before, and there isn't much I could say about these two years in the mid '80s that I didn't say about the previous two years in the mid '80s. Yes, this isn't Schulz's best work -- so it's A Winter's Tale rather than Macbeth, The Cat-Nappers rather than The Code of the Woosters. It's only disappointing in comparison with those heights, which isn't entirely Schulz's fault.

S. Gross, Your Mother Is a Remarkable Woman (1/6)

Lisa Lutz, Curse of the Spellmans (1/7) -- Second in the humorous mystery series, after The Spellman Files. These books are fast-moving, deeply enjoyable, regularly funny, decent mysteries, and even seem to have real character development going on. (The publisher compares them to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, which is a huge slander on Lutz's heroine Izzy Spellman -- Izzy is smart and competent and has real skills, albeit also an intensely compulsive nature and a hatred of self-reflection. If Izzy is still unable to control herself in another five books, I'll admit the comparison, but not before that -- and I don't expect it to happen; Lutz is clearly moving her characters and situations forward.) Again, talking about the plot of a mystery is not a good idea -- but these books both go quickly and stick with you.

Nigel Auchterlounie, Spleenal (1/7)

Julia Wertz, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories (1/13)

Nare Silver, The Signal and the Noise (1/17)

Susan Hill, Howards End Is on the Landing (1/22) -- Susan Hill may be a dark, cutting novelist, telling stories full of nasty doings and the horrors that mankind can get up to -- I've never read her novels, so it may be so. But, on the basis of this book, I highly doubt it. Hill spent a year reading only books that she already had in her (apparently large and wonderful, thoroughly English country) home, and wrote this book about the experience. There's quite a bit about the books she loves, about writers now forgotten, about the Great Books, about the joys of re-reading, and various other booky topics. There's also a few bits of autobiography, mostly concerned with Hill's very early days in the literary world -- her first novel was published in the early '60s, when she was a 19-year-old college student, and I'm afraid she does talk about how nice all of those older literary gentlemen were to poor young her without seeming to realize why they were so nice -- but she does stick to her topic most of the time. And she's entertaining about it, if quite English in an old-fashioned sense: country, Anglican, serious, pull-up-your-socks kind of English. This is exactly the kind of book you'd expect from a sixtyish British female novelist writing about the books she likes to read, and, as long as that's something you're likely to enjoy, Howards End Is on the Landing is delightful.

Lisa Lutz, Revenge of the Spellmans (1/24) -- Third in the series; see above for my spiel. I'm now two books behind, and I hope that the status will not remain quo when I catch up with the series in another month or three. (There's one sure way for a mystery series to kill itself: flash-freeze the background and characters, so that nothing ever changes or grows, no one seems to get any older, and the same comedy bits can get trotted out like clockwork in each book. So far, Lutz does not seem to be falling into that trap, which is especially keen for funny writers -- the audience wants the same old stuff over and over, since they liked it the first time, and writers must be cruel and sure, like a shark, and always move forward.)

Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (1/29)

Chester Brown, Ed the Happy Clown (1/30)

Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan, Demo, Vol. II (1/31) -- Ten years after the first series of Demo stories, more or less,Wood & Cloonan came back for six more stories of unusual young people and their travails. (See my review of the first collection.) This clutch is even further from superheroism than the first one -- only two of the protagonists here have anything I'd call a power of any kind, and the others are different from regular humanity in only neurological ways as far as I can see -- but they're still well-observed stories about odd people trying to live around or with their oddnesses, and Cloonan's art is still lovely, particular, and expressive, with excellent use of blacks and lots of specific faces for these very specific people. The stories are all separate, like the first grouping, and the getalt is still a weird combination of real-folks characterization and high-tension superhero storytelling, as if Demo is trying to straddle the divide between Spider-Man and R. Crumb all by itself.

I may need to dive into a reading project soon, to shake the doldrums off. Since I have three candidates in my head (and in various degrees of readiness on my shelves), I may need to put that up to a vote here. And if I say "I may need" a few more times, I'll become completely vague and unable to make a decision, so I'll quit there.

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