Reading List– October

December 1st, 2007

This may be unendurably boring, but here goes anyway. I read endlessly. I think reading is something writers should do; it’s the most painless way to learn how things work. (Much less painful, for example, than writing 300 pages about a central character the reader doesn’t like.) Anyway, this is going to be a regular feature: What Tim’s Reading. And just to make the whole thing more pretentious, I’m going to rate the books from 1 star to 5, with 5 stars being sensational and 1 being Robert Tanenbaum.

And I’ll start with the month of October.

Spook Country, William Gibson, 5 stars: a wildly inventive and superlatively paranoid thriller — like Pattern Recognition in that Gibson seems to be channeling Raymond Chandler via Thomas Pynchon. A completely credible universe — today’s, a bit cranked up — and fascinating characters. Terrifically well-written.

The 47th Samurai, Stephen Hunter, 3.5 stars: I love Stephen Hunter and I love Bob Lee Swagger and I love novels about Japan. But here’s a Stephen Hunter novel about Bob Lee Swagger in Japan that didn’t really make it for me. After an absolutely wonderful setup — Bob Lee returning to Japan the Samurai sword his father took from a Japanese soldier in WWII — the whole thing falls apart when Bob Lee, in something like three weeks, becomes the world’s greatest Japanese swordman. Incredible, and not in a positive way.

Long Spoon Street, Anne Perry, 4 stars: Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, in a truly complicated story of police corruption and public malfeasance. Perry is so good at this (both with this series and the William Monk books) that it’s possible to begin to take her for granted, but we shouldn’t. Nobody does Victorian mysteries better. I marginally prefer the Monk books, but I’ll read anything she writes.

The Witch’s Boy, Michael Gruber, 4 stars: A young adult novel, inventive, learned, rich in atmosphere, and proposing a fascinating idea of what actually constitutes magic, but marred (for me) by a protagonist who remains almost completely unsympathetic for about twice as long as he should. I kept reading, but mainly to watch Gruber at work rather than out of identification with the character. For me, that’s fatal.

Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo, 5 stars: Heartbreaking and joyous and beautiful, an enormous picture of life and striving and dreams and reality and compromise, painted on the tiny canvas of a small town that almost nobody ever leaves. Just thrillingly good, but be prepared for the narrative to move at its own stately pace. Russo, for me, is one of the four or five best living American novelists.

Chinese Lessons, John Pomfret, 4.5 stars: One of the best books about modern China, in which Pomfret introduces us to half a dozen men and women he went to college with in Beijing in the early 80s. Then he shows us what they went through (and some of it is hair-raising) during the absolute upending of Chinese life since the arrival of capitalism there. Some of them thrive, some just endure, and some are true to themselves in ways that have nothing to do with money or status and will probably bring tears to your eyes.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Kaori Ekumi, 5 stars: An unstable young woman and a gay man join forces in a marriage of convenience that ultimately proves to be more than that, despite every obstacle the two of them can throw in their own way. Alternating narratives (his and hers) tell the story of two people who are aiming at happiness without knowing what it looks like. The book is worth reading for its tone alone, and cheers for the translator.

Fury, Robert Tanenbaum, 1 star: The newest installment in the Butch Karp/Marlene Ciampi series that was such a delight when Michael Gruber was ghosting it. I tossed this one after about 75 pages. If anyone got farther in and found something to like, please let me know.

November next week.

Suggest something for me to read.

6 Responses to “Reading List– October”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    That is an impressive list for a month, especially considering how much you write! I just got Twinkle Twinkle and I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Oh, and I just realized you’ve given Bridge of Sighs five stars. I’ve had that one on my bedside table for a month or so now too. Glad to hear that you liked it.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, twice, Lisa —

    November’s list is much longer. I only started keeping a record in the middle of October. I really do read practically every moment I’m not writing: when I get up, while I drink coffee, when I eat meals, in bed. And I almost never watch TV, which helps.

    Hope you like both “Bridge of Sighs” and “Twinkle Twinkle.”

  4. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Thanks for the list, Tim. I just love to find out what other people are reading! I stopped at the library on the way home last night and put a few on reserve. While I was there, I was pleasantly surprised to see “A Nail Through the Heart” on the returns counter. I’ve been on the reserve list for that one for about a month now. The librarian told me your book is “quite popular.”

    I started reading the back cover in traffic on the way home, but good sense prevailed and I put it away so I can enjoy it properly when I get home tonight. A glass of wine, flannel jammies and a new book – my idea of heaven.

  5. Sphinx Ink Says:

    I love reading other people’s reading lists, especially when they’re writers. Who can speak better than another writer about the flaws in a book–or about its virtues? It’s also refreshing to find other people who are compulsive readers, as I have been all my life.

    (I must admit, over the last few months I have taken to watching TV more than reading, which I can only guess is a reaction to certain extreme stresses I’m dealing with right now…Guess my brain just needs to rest.)

    Anyway, your list is interesting. I look forward to seeing your future book reports.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks for dropping in and taking the time to leave a comment. I’ve been remiss in not visiting your site, and all I can claim is overwork — I’m doing something like 3000 words a day because they’re there, and I worry about the day they won’t be.

    I read pretty much everything, and I never (or almost never) watch TV, so I’ve got more time to creep between the covers, so to speak.

    Wait’ll you see the December list.

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