Category Archives: Fiction

Louise Penny x Three; Or, Send me Suggestions of What to Read (When grossly overtired)

Folks. I decided I wasn’t distracted enough from reading by the Burning of the World and so I went and had a(nother) baby. And *now* I remember a new kind of distraction. The sort where earnest efforts for ‘an hour of concentrated deep reading’ are laughable, and the most comfortable way to read is holding a phone (because one hand) that is constantly dinging and vibrating to let me know that someone out there wants to get in touch, or that another catastrophe is upon us. And you’ll recall I’d already decided to let this be a summer of reading I can or want to read, rather than any ideas of what I should read.

And so I read three Louise Penny novels back-to-back A Better Man, The Nature of the Beast and The Long Way Home and I have to say that reading three in sequence is Not a Good Idea as this reader realized that there are only so many times a protagonist can be described as having ‘kind eyes’ before you lose patience, and only so many brie and pear sandwiches before you begin to wonder about cholesterol levels. Maybe it was a problem of reading the books out of sequence, but I also had a hard time keeping track of why some of the secondary characters were doing what they were doing (why was Clara mourning her husband? did he die? or leave her? or both?). Not that we’re ever meant to have a strong connection with these secondary characters, they are all parodies of themselves, and all hopelessly generous and thoughtful in an entirely out-of-time-and-place way.

Which is not to say I didn’t have a good time reading the books. I did. Just with diminishing returns and rapidly declining interest (which may or may not have correlation with increased time spent awake in the middle of the night and a choice between reading and showering or eating – which, let’s be clear, you can read and eat at the same time, so why would any one bother with showering?).

All this to say I think I’ll be taking a break from Louise Penny for the foreseeable future. I just got A Little Life back out from the library, and maybe re-reading that will prove focusing. Or I’ll be back here in a week telling you about the magazine I read. Whatever else I need to stop refreshing my news apps and checking Twitter because I promise there’s nothing comforting or enjoyably distracting about that at any time of day. Or, of course, you can send me your recommendations for what to read when you are grossly overtired and despair for the world. And are addicted to news apps and podcasts and should really, really, just. stop.

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Several Missed Attempts, then Louise Penny: How I read Now

Some libraries are reporting the genres most read during this Moment, and no surprise mysteries and romances (along with kids books) are coming out on top. Something about an escape? Or a tidy resolution? Or a distance from reality? Whatever the reason, it’s holding true for me, too.

I tried – resolutely – to read More Serious things. I read 200 pages of Alice Munro’s For the Love of a Good Woman before giving up because while it was excellent writing and masterful storytelling, it was also too far removed. I started to think ‘inconsequential,’ but that’s not it – Munro’s stories do the genius thing of taking the particular individual and demonstrating how absolutely consequential one person, one action, one choice can be. More that the collection was so gentle in its context: small towns where gossip and betrayal were/are the worst there is to imagine.

So I pivoted. I thought I’d try another pandemic, in another not-so-distant time: AIDS under Thatcher in Alan Hollinghurt’s 2004 Booker Prize winner The Line of Beauty. Again I committed about 250 pages (which was only about half) to this read, continuing to hope that the protagonist, plot or context would become compelling but… no. Something to be said for how HIV/AIDS hangs in the background, unnamed for the first 250 pages I read, but lurking for the reader in the present. Something marginally interesting in the relationship between the protagonist and his host family (he rents a room in the mansion of a Conservative MP), but in the end, neither protagonist or plot did much to inspire concentration or interest.

One more attempt in the form of Isabelle Allende’s City of the Beasts and here I didn’t make it past page 10.

So I gave in/gave up/admitted that what I most wanted to read was Louise Penny. I picked up How the Light Gets In and I read it in a day. Turns out that when the genre is distracting and absorbing and distant, I can still read. Phew.

And I want to read because despite my distraction, reading is mindful activity for me. Forget the hundreds of apps encouraging meditation, or the articles espousing focus and deliberate engagement with media, for me all I’ve ever wanted and needed for mindful activity is a book. To be fair, lately I’ve had to be sure to put my phone in another room, and I’ve never been able to read on a tablet or laptop as the lure of the Internets is too much for me, even with a great book. But put a physical book in my hands and I can – at least with the Not So Serious but Seriously Enjoyable – take myself away in moments of focus and calm.

So yes. I expect you’ll be Judging Me for what I read this summer. I’m just going to read what feels good instead of what I think I should enjoy, and what I very much do enjoy in other times. And I’m okay with it. For now.

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The Devil’s Star: Norwegian murder mysteries FTW

Mum: FTW means “for the win.”

Everyone else: Struggling to read and concentrate? Yeah, me too. But not so with this super absorbing, super ridiculous murder mystery by Jo Nesbo. Having not read anything by them before, I didn’t realize I was dropping into book five of an established series, though I figured it out quickly (because I am So Smart) with references to past cases and dead partners, but WHATEVER, the narrative doesn’t at all depend on knowing these past instalments. I would say, though, that after I finished it and decided to read some more that I felt I knew a sufficient amount about our protagonist detective, Harry, that I didn’t want to read the first four novels, but would instead carry on with the series with book six. Which HAPPY DAY my library carries in electronic format. (Which SAD DAY means that reading on my screen equals I’m 6000x more likely to end up shopping on Amazon which is what I spend Way Too Much Time doing every day anyway.)

Anyway, on to the substance of the book. I don’t really know what to tell you without telling you important details. I guess it’s important to know that Harry is a super smart detective with a troubled past and personal struggles aka: the ideal and archetypal Man Detective. That the plot is twisty and turny enough to be surprising and fun, but not so twisty and turny that you can’t figure out what’s what and form some (obviously wrong) theories about what is happening. And while there is the requisite and troubling number of naked dead women, the book balances this out – a little? – by not making the murders super sexual and including a token male victim.

So anyway. Go ahead and enjoy a distracting read. I even stayed up to finish this one. Which would be more impressive if I wasn’t beset with insomnia of Epic Proportions, BUT WHATEVER.

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Such a Fun Age: I’m done with Reese’s List

I’m sure Reese’s List serves an important purpose for some readers, but for this reader, I’m done. I tried Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age because it promised to be light and distracting and a good read. It was none of those things. I wouldn’t swear off a celebrity endorsement list for Just One Book, but reviewing the selections to date, the only one I’ve read and liked is Little Fires Everywhere and everything else has been Suspect.

Following an African-American babysitter (note not a nanny) as she works for a rich white family, the narrative explores the misplaced ‘good’ intentions of white people and white spaces and the ways race and inequality play out in caregiving. While this is an interesting premise, the book falls short in a few critical ways:  Emira, our protagonist, has motivations and character development that are opaque and explored at a surface level, the novel does little to expand its themes beyond the particular example of This Family, and white readers are invited to distance themselves from the shenanigans of Alix, our white mom in a way that allows Alix to be an object of scorn, rather than one of meaningful self-reflection. We get to shake our heads in dismay at the plentiful ways Alix gaffs, makes appalling assumptions, oversteps and displays her ignorance – all while allowing ourselves to see Alix as distant. It could be I’m not doing enough work to self-reflect, I mean, I am a white mom who employs babysitters and nannies, and even while trying to see myself in Alix I just found her too ridiculous to be an empathetic point of connection.

So yeah. Not worth buying in a moment when libraries are closed, and when they open, not one I’d suggest you go and get. That said… if you are in the greater Guelph area, too bad, I’ve already lent it out.

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Filed under Bestseller, Fiction