This past spring, I read so many books I had to split the reviews up into 2 posts. Summer? Let’s just say that the state of my reading list reflects how summer went for me. But THAT’S OK. Summer is the season of beach reads and page turners and “guilty pleasures,” so I certainly won’t feel guilty about how many books I did or did not read.
(I should note that there are 2 other books not included here that I tried to read, but I abandoned them both around the 50-page mark. Life’s just too short for books you aren’t diggin’, friends.)
Desert Notes by Barry Lopez
After driving to Washington desert country this spring, I decided to finally, FINALLY pick up this book. Lopez is like some sort of demigod among nature writers, and any environmentally minded lit major beams at the very mention of Desert Notes. I’m actually rather surprised I never read it in college, given the number of professors I had who were in love with Western American literature. Apparently I needed a trip to the desert to be in the right state of mind to pick this one up. (A good book is not only good based on its own merits, but based on where you are in your own life, as well.)
And after all that lead-up, the book was… good? A very different read for me. Objectively beautiful writing. There’s no plot to speak of; it’s the power of words and descriptions that draws you in, dreamy and wandering. While this type of writing may not be my typical cup of tea, it’s still good to branch out and see what other genres have to offer. It inspired me to write a short, weird little travelogue — you never know what may inspire future work. And now I would REALLY like to go check out the Alvord desert, the desert that inspired this book.
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
While browsing Austin Kleon’s blog, I found this snippet he wrote about Leonard: “His books are my reset button, where I turn when I’ve stalled out and I’m bored with my books, and I just want something awesome that won’t annoy the shit out of me or leave me hanging.” I felt the need for a reading reset, so I decided to give Kleon’s method a shot. And I have to say, it pretty much did the trick — this was just a plain ol’ fun book. Good dialogue, likable characters, simple prose that drives the plot forward. Many people would classify this as a “junk food” book, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty damn good writing.
My only qualm — the whole time I was reading, I couldn’t get the movie version out of my head. I haven’t seen Get Shorty in a LONG TIME — yet with each line I read, there were John Travolta and Gene Hackman, delivering all the dialogue. Which is not the WORST thing in the world, but I like to form my own visions of book characters. Next Leonard book I pick up, I’m going to choose one where I haven’t seen the movie.
California by Edan Lepucki
Oh man. This book. I have feelings about this book.
I was one of the many people who pre-ordered this much-hyped book after Stephen Colbert promoted it on his show. I ordered it for two reasons: 1) any boost for independent bookstores is awesome, and I wanted to be a part of that (I chose to order from Parnassus Books, myself); and 2) the book itself actually sounded totally up my ally. Dystopian speculative fiction set in California? Yes, please!
California starts out strong enough — Lepucki has an interesting writing style, fairly straightforward but with the occasional poetics thrown in for good measure. She did a good job depicting the relationship between Cal and Frida, the young husband and wife at the center of the book — their relationship is far from perfect, but it is believable. And then… things started to turn a little south. As it nears the finale, the book begins to suffer from “showing vs. telling” (one of my biggest writing pet peeves), but I was willing to look past that to see where it went. It IS an intriguing plot line — I flew through the whole thing pretty quickly.
But the ending. Oh god, I HATED the ending. I can’t remember the last time I actively disliked a book ending so much. I finished and may have actually said out loud, “THAT’S IT?” I won’t spoil anything here, because that would just be lame — but if anyone else out there has read this book, I’m very curious to hear other’s reactions.
All that said — I would still be interested to read a second book from Lepucki. This one had a bit of “first novel” syndrome about it, but she’s clearly a talented writer.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Speaking of Parnassus Books — a friend of mine recently went to Nashville, and I told her she should visit this bookstore. Tara, bless her, DID stop in, and while she was there texted me: “Which Ann Patchett books should I buy?” You see, novelist Ann Patchett co-founded Parnassus Books. I had to confess that I had not read any Patchett, but that This is the Story of a Happy Marriage was well-reviewed on Goodreads. After this shameful exchange, I decided I should remedy this and picked up the book myself.
I can now retroactively recommend this book with 100% confidence. Patchett is primarily a fiction writer, but for years she earned her bread-and-butter by writing nonfiction magazine articles. She selected and organized the best of those articles for This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, while also writing two new stories for the compilation — one about writing called “The Getaway Car” (highly recommended for all you writer folk out there), and another story about the birth of Parnassus Books. The other articles focus on marriage, divorce, dogs, re-marriage, family, friendship. If these seem like broad themes — well, yes, they are, but Patchett writes about them with such specificity that they seem new. She’s an incredibly talented writer, and beyond that? She just seems like a nice person. You finish a story and think, “Why are Ann Patchett and I not friends? We’d be great friends.” I’ll definitely be picking up more of her work.
(Can I mention, too, how much I adore that book cover? Great design, that.)
What did you read over the summer? Any delicious guilty-pleasure reads? I’ve kicked off my fall reading list with Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, so I think the next season is off to a good start…