1. “Half Blood Blues” by Esi Edugyan
This is a fabulous book that moves between German-occupied Paris in the 1940s and Europe in the early 1990s. Music is central to the story, since the main characters are jazz musicians, struggling to make a living and to escape capture by the Nazis. It’s written in impressive dialogue, which makes the story pop off the page. I couldn’t help reading certain paragraphs out loud, just to feel the shape of the words on my tongue. It was a great read and one that I recommend, especially to musicians!
2. “Parisians: an adventure history of Paris” by Graham Robb
I picked this up right before our trip to Paris in October in hopes of learning some history, but it was a terribly dull book. I plowed through, mostly because I didn’t have any other reading material on the flight home, and I kept hoping it would become more like the “adventure” its title had promised. The subjects of the stories were great, but Robb’s prose was so verbose and tedious that the wildest tales simply put me to sleep. Interestingly, there were plenty of rave reviews online, but mine is not one of them.
3. “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling
Having read all the Harry Potter books (a long time ago), this was completely different than what I expected. It was a good book, but it was also very depressing. I finished with the distinct feeling that people are really horrible; or, to be more precise, completely F-ed up. There wasn’t a single character in the fictional town of Pagford that I liked, or with whom I felt a connection. All of them were dreadful in their own way. It’s a bit exhausting reading a book where there’s not a single likeable character. Perhaps Rowling just needed to escape the happy endings of Harry Potter and do something radically different.
4. “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World” by A.J. Jacobs
This book came recommended by my cousin’s husband, who said it was the best book he read last summer. It’s about a guy who decides to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in order to become smarter. Jacobs intertwines paragraphs about funny, interesting, and weird entries from the Encyclopaedia with his personal life. He’s an entertaining and funny writer, so I often laughed out loud while reading this book, even though I’m not a trivia person.
On another note, it seems trendy for writers to embark on long experiments in order to have something to write about. (Think Eat, Pray, Love [because the author did have a book deal before she left on her ‘spiritual’ journey], The Happiness Project, The Beauty Experiment, Julie and Julia, One Red Paperclip, Super Size Me, A Year of Living Biblically, etc.) While many of these experiment stories are interesting, it can sometimes feel a bit contrived, as if the writer is trying too hard to come up with something to say. That’s how I felt at times reading The Know-It-All.
What have you read this past month? Has any book made a big impression on you recently?