Books to Try Out This Summer
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Book reviews? Yeah, I used to do book reviews on this blog too, huh? Well, seeing as I read a lot of books in between music shows and photo editing binges, I do in fact have a few books I can recommend at the moment, that I finished over the past few weeks. I like writing brief book review recommendations, so this may be a more regular thing again for the rest of this year.
Clive Cussler & Craig Dirgo- The Sea Hunters
A collection of short non-fiction accounts of Clive Cussler’s adventures looking for sunken ships, and one vanished locomotive, combined with segments of short historical fiction bringing to life the last hours of the various wrecks Cussler and his associates located. As a Colorado native, I particularly loved the chapters pertaining to the train wrecked out east of Denver- that is a part of Colorado I know fairly well, but I had only heard a few fragments of ghost stories about the lost locomotive before reading this book. The chapters are short enough that this makes for great errands/waiting room reading.
John Grisham- The King of Torts
While not one of Grisham’s best books about lawyers and the complicated US legal system, it does offer an entertaining glimpse at the messy world of tort law. I grew up listening to my lawyer father talking about torts, contracts and other exciting topics in US law, so perhaps I am not always the best judge when it comes to jargon, but I think this book is one that anyone could get into regardless of their initial understanding of tort-litigation. If you are not at all interested in the legal side of this story, it is also a story of how a nice normal fellow can get drawn in to a life of greed and corruption, a rise and fall of the common man story that most of us can sympathize with. And, for a 470pg paperback book, King of Torts is also a remarkably easy and fast read.
John Grisham- Calico Joe
If the US legal system is not your thing at all, but you like Grisham’s writing style, Calico Joe may be a great option. Certainly this is a good summer read, being all about baseball. It is also a book about fathers and reconciliation, and about growing up and seeing your parents as adults, not just as good or bad parents. This is not Grisham’s usual book-topic, but his solid characterization and straightforward storytelling are as solid as ever. This one is also a short book, at only 262 pages, so it is a fast read and fits nicely in one’s purse or the front pocket of a backpack for long bus-rides and waiting-lines.
David Payne- Confessions of a Taoist on Wall Street
If longer, denser, more epic books are more your thing, this David Payne book is a great option. A bastard son of an American pilot is left to grow up in a Chinese Taoist monastery, and on discovering his father is a Wall Street billionaire he leaves the monastery to seek out the key that will unite the Dow of Wall Street with the Tao he knows already. This book probably ought to be a bit longer than it already is (my copy is 848pgs, definitely not a short fast read) and some segments of this story seem unduly rushed or compressed, but even so this is a fun book for its meditations on how the Tao and the Dow really are related. This is not a fast read, and especially if you are not as familiar with Taoism and Taoist teachings this may be a book to read slowly and savor.
Stephen King- Hearts in Atlantis
Another long (672pg) heavy book, Hearts in Atlantis captures some of the thoughts and feelings that emerged during and after the Vietnam War era in the US. There are creepy bad things in some parts of this book, but overall this is more a human drama than King’s usual horror masterpieces. The first part of this book intersects with King’s Dark Tower series, so those readers who have delved into that long series might get a bit more out of that section, but this book certainly still stands alone. To me it seemed like a somewhat darker, occasionally creepier version of the world Ray Bradbury writes, and Bradbury fans would do well to try out this book.
Stephen King- Pet Sematary
A shorter Stephen King book, this one has the scary demonic bad-guys that one expects from a Stephen King story. It is also a story of how a father’s best intentions can lead to very bad things, in this case a demonic undead killer cat, among other things. It is also a story about love, and how we can live with the horrific undead versions of those we love if it means we don’t have to lose them completely. At 410 pages this book is fast enough to go by very quickly and easily, with lots of memorable scenes and imagery.
Iris Murdoch- The Good Apprentice
This modern classic is a bit hard to follow at times, but makes up for its convolutedness by its lovely scenes and decadently luscious characters. Edward, a young man who inadvertently causes his friend’s death (by giving him a drug-laced sandwich) is sent off to stay with his estranged father’s wife and daughters. He finds himself mired in a honey trap of sorts, with a father who seems at times to depend on the women caring for him, but who also seems trapped and a fellow victim of the lovely ladies whose strange lifestyle is more mirage than reality the longer Edward remains there. There is a lot of philosophy and wisdom blended in with this odd story, so if you reach the end of this 522 page book having not quite grasped all the twists and turns of the plotline, it is still a pleasant and rewarding read.
Samuel Richardson- Pamela
A much older classic, Pamela is one of the early romantic novels that significantly influenced romantic fiction ever since it was first published in 1740. Despite the fact that this is a book about a female servant girl, by a man, this book is surprisingly insightful when it comes to gender issues and class issues for women in the 18th Century. This book feels modern enough that it is easy to relate to the characters, even if some of the details of households in those days are unfamiliar to us nowadays. The copy I have, from Penguin Classics, has an excellent if lengthy introduction that gives some useful background, too. This was a very popular and well-known book when it first came out, one of the first true best-sellers of the mass-market book-publishing market. At 516 pages, it is not much shorter than The Good Apprentice, but Pamela is written as a series of letters, so it can be read more easily, a couple short chapters at a time.
Ursula Hegi- Salt Dancers
This is another book, like Calico Joe, that is about dysfunctional families and reconciliation, but Hegi’s book is from a woman’s perspective. Julia, finding herself pregnant and not interested in marrying the father, heads off to the Pacific Northwest to find her parents. This is a short book, only 232 pages long, and a fairly fast read, but offers a lot of stuff to think about. Hegi examines how we remember our childhoods, and the extent to which we shuffle our memories to fit the stories we hear and tell later. And, of course, as Julia finds her parents she goes through the process of learning to see her parents as adults, people who made choices much like she is making, not just bad parents. Regardless of how good or bad or complicated our childhoods were, we all have to eventually go through this transition and be able to see Mom and Dad as the human beings they always have been. This well-crafted book offers some insight into this transition.