Next Book Buzz
The popularity of book clubs and community-wide reading programs, such as One Read, reinforces Nicholson’s assertion. People like to know someone else is out there, thinking about the same things they are. In honor of the slate of One Read events coming up next month, I go meta and present four books about book clubs:
“The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe
A friend once asked me what I would do if I knew this was my last day to live. Without hesitation, I answered, “Read faster.” Will Schwalbe’s mom was of the same mind-set. This is the non-fiction account of the two-person book club he and his mother formed in the final months of her life, as he sat with her through chemo treatments. Both avid readers, they’d always bonded through literature. Their tastes were wide-ranging, and each chapter is titled after a book they discussed.
“The Jane Austen Book Club” by Karen Joy Fowler
Six acquaintances meet to discuss Austen’s novels, even as their own lives play out similarly to the plots they discuss. The club organizer, Jocelyn, is a figure much like Jane Austen’s “Emma.” She delights in organizing and planning the lives of others. Since Fowler’s story is set in 21st-century California, there are also modern elements, including divorce.
“The Cherry Cola Book Club” by Ashton Lee
I’m automatically in favor of any book where a librarian is the hero. Maura Beth Mayhew runs the public library in the fictional town of Cherico, Mississippi. She starts the Cherry Cola Book Club in an effort to increase circulation numbers and save the library from city council members who see it as an expendable luxury.
“Read and Buried” by Erika Chase
Things are going well for the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straw Society, until their guest author is murdered. It turns out Derek Alton was not only a mystery author but also a mysterious character with dark secrets. Now the book club members have their own whodunit to solve.
We read about book clubs to know that we are not alone in our desire to discuss what we’ve read.
I’m a fan of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer ” like small children are fans of candy. I credit Buffy with getting me hooked on the Horror-Fantasy genre. As for many Buffy devotees, my favorite character in the series is Spike, played by the handsome James Marsters. When I learned that Marsters was involved with Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, a series that revolves around a modern day wizard in Chicago, I jumped on these books like Harry Potter jumps to conclusions before he has all the facts.
Marsters is the reader for most of the audiobook versions of The Dresden Files, and he is the perfect narrator to play Harry Dresden, a private eye solving all manner of supernatural crimes and battling a variety of fantastical creatures. Marsters’ voice is gruff, sarcastic and appropriately self-deprecating to allow for humor without humiliation. Harry is down-to-earth and a well-rounded character.
Newcomers to this series should be aware of one major pitfall, however, which I personally find very distracting: its women. It seems that most of the women are sexualized, vapid or motherly. The only woman that comes close to being strong and independent is Murphy, but she is described as a tiny cheerleader. This successfully undermines the reader’s ability to take her seriously. This wouldn’t bother me so much if there weren’t also tons of male characters that are tough, complex and miles more capable of handling situations than the women. In the three books that I read, only a third of the characters are women, and of those women, nearly half of them are highly sexualized.
Complaints about female characters aside, Jim Butcher is a master of plot. He obeys the writing rule that states when you drive your character up a tree, throw stones at him. The reader actually doesn’t know what will happen next or how Dresden will get out of the current jam, but when he does, the method is not only surprising but also delightfully well thought out. Butcher is a talented writer, and if you’re looking for a fantasy adventure noir-inspired novel, then the Dresden Files are for you! Start with the first in the series, “Storm Front.”
If there’s one thing hilarious jokes have taught me, it’s that chickens will use any number of ridiculous excuses to cross a road. The second thing they’ve taught me is that lawyers are dangerous cads always on the lookout for ways to further their self-interest and stick gum under your door handles. Occasionally books contradict some previously held wisdom, like that clowns aren’t ancient monsters in disguise or that a child can’t survive in the wilderness with only a hatchet. Sergio de la Pava’s ”A Naked Singularity“ managed the immense task of convincing me that not all jokes are absolute unbendable truths, that some lawyers might be not only good people that don’t constantly walk into bars but also in fact downright heroic, and that there is only one right way to make empanadas.
Sergio de la Pava is, in addition to being a writer that wins awards and is worthy of the sort of praise that leaves vocal chords frayed and blogging fingers exhausted, a lawyer, and not the sort to dispose of his gum improperly. His narrator, Casi, is a brilliant and devoted public defender. He takes an out-of-state case pro bono so that he can save a man with the mind of a child from death row. He loves his family, including a young niece that refuses to speak and a young nephew constantly peppering him with typical childish questions like, “What happens to the homeless when they die?” He’s the sort of gentleman who insists on committing a heist with swords instead of guns. He’s an expert on the history of boxing and manages to make it interesting even to a gentleman like me who prefers to settle disagreements with handshakes and dove races.
When people write about “A Naked Singularity,” they, in addition to praising the tar out of it, tell of its journey from repeatedly rejected manuscript to self-published anonymity to something a few people are praising the tar out of to being published by a prestigious publisher, but, given space constraints, I’m not even going to mention that.
A gentleman is generous, so I understand there may be those that get to caterwauling about the recommendation of a writer with only one novel. First, in just a couple of months the library will have his second novel, “Personae.” Won’t you join me on the waiting list? Two, this isn’t your regular “one novel.” It’s nearly 700 dense and hilarious pages. There’s some legal thriller stuff, some straight up thriller stuff, and there’s a neighbor immersing himself in constant “The Honeymooners” reruns in an experiment he hopes will turn one of its characters into a real person. Perhaps my favorite chapter, Chapter 10, manages to weave a series of digressions around a clockwork that tumbles them back into each other until by the end you finally find out what happened with the angry monkey.
This is the sort of novel that dominates you while you read it and doesn’t disappear when you’re done. This is a novel readers will talk about until society crumbles and books are nothing but what the more hygienic mutants use for toilet paper. This is a Great American Novel.