I spent the last two weeks traveling on business, which meant that I was too exhausted at the end of the day to put two words together for a post, but I got LOTS of reading done in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms and lobbies. While I will spare you descriptions of the many in-flight magazines and celebrity tabloids I read during the enforced no-electronics portions of my flights, here are quick summaries of the books that kept me sane as I criss-crossed the country:
The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides
This was fine, I guess? I was interested in all the characters and I wanted to find out what happened, so it was compelling reading. On the other hand, it was really long and nothing much actually happened and there was almost no resolution of any sort and just because I was interested in the characters didn’t mean I liked them. In fact, pretty much everyone in the book was extremely unpleasant or shallow, so it was a bit like watching a very long, slow train wreck as these characters messed up their lives over and over. I had initially written here that I wanted to warn people about an unflattering portrayal of a character with a mental illness, but all of the characters were portrayed in unflattering ways so the manic depressive actually came out pretty well, comparatively speaking. I loved The Virgin Suicides, so Eugenides has credit in the bank with me, but while The Virgin Suicides felt airy and impressionistic, this dense, heavy, weighty novel feels like it was written by someone else entirely. English majors might like it though, since it seems to feature a lot of inside jokes about literary criticism.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Remember how back in the 1970s a French guy strung a tightrope between the two World Trade Center towers and walked back and forth between the buildings, a hundred floors up with no safety net? This novel describes what was happening in the lives of a number of New York residents on that day, and how they were all connected to the wire walker and to each other. Although it does feature the walker (in real life, his name was Philippe Petit and you can watch an amazing documentary about his walk called Man on Wire), the story isn’t really about him at all. It’s really about New York, and America, in the 1970s–Vietnam, crime in the cities, race, immigration, and how all these things play out in the life a few individuals. As a general rule, I don’t like books that follow multiple characters connected only by the thinnest of threads. However, in this book each character is beautiful and heart-breaking and I found that they all looped together in really satisfying ways. Sad, but lovely.
The Thrift Book by India Knight
I think I’ve explained here before that I want India Knight to be my best friend, so I adored this book, even though it is basically just a list of fairly obvious ways to save money. You know, cook at home, make Christmas presents, grow your own herbs, don’t be fooled by fancy skin creams. Knight puts a fun spin on it by focusing not on getting out of debt or being as cheap as possible, but by talking about all the ways her strategies make you feel (to sound English about it) posher and more glamorous by not trying to hard or getting caught up spending on foolish thing. Plus, she’s funny. At one point she refers to playing Scrabble online as her “ongoing Alzheimer’s prevention project,” which is exactly how I think of Words with Friends. However, if you are not trying to befriend or become India Knight, it’s probably not necessary to read this.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Really fun, and absolutely perfect airplane reading. A sci-fi story that manages to be both a puzzle/treasure hunt and a celebration of 80s pop culture. I think is truly aimed at folks a few years older than I am who spent much more time in video arcades, but I loved it and was so absorbed I was able to read it in even the loudest terminals and restaurants.