Thursday, August 9, 2012

not-wise books

"There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery."
— Czesław Miłosz

I have little to complain of in my life right now, other than Darcy's chewing of his bug bites / hot spots until they become infected, and the subsequent necessity of The Cone. (Darcy is also not at all sure what he thinks of Berowne, and is therefore acting out a bit.) So I am not reading only wise books. Far from it.

(Let's face it, I don't read wise books when I am in pain and misery either. Re-reading the complete works of Tony Hillerman got me through radiation.)

Over the past weekend, I went up to Vermont and spent some time with my older brother and his girlfriend. Picking nicknames for my brothers has been difficult; the most obvious brother-pair in Shakespeare is Guiderius and Arviragus, from Cymbeline*, but they are really, really stupid. Sweet, but dumb as a bag of hammers. My brothers are both brilliant, so that will not do; and the dynastic brother pairs from the history plays frequently kill each other.

So I ended up choosing Oliver and Orlando as the nicknames. Yes, Oliver tries to have Orlando killed, and to my knowledge my older brother has never hired anyone to wrestle my younger brother to death, but they end up reconciled. Plus then my older brother's girlfriend can be Celia and my sister-in-law Rosalind.

Anyway, that was a long-winded excuse to be able to write "Celia" instead of "my brother's girlfriend" when I tell you that Celia was appalled to read an earlier entry and see that I had given up on Massie's Catherine the Great. She asked how far I had gotten and then said, "Once she's empress it gets good! Really!" So, because I still had it out from the library on the Kindle, I gave it another go. And wow, she was right. It became quite fascinating, and Massie stopped talking about the ladies and their terrible susceptibility to flattery, and I learned a ton and am very glad I returned to it.

Then I read the total fluff which was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It wasn't bad, and in fact was rather sweet if glaringly predictable in its sweetness, but if you're going to write an epistolary novel with more than one letter-writer, you have to be able to write in different voices, and Shaffer and Barrows don't manage that at all. Despite the fact that there were two actual authors, every letter sounded identical. That solo voice was an endearing one, but it was irritating to be expected to believe that it was the voice of a dozen different characters. Between that and the love interest's odd first name, I didn't actually realize the character was a man until about twenty pages after his introduction.

Next was The Bedlam Detective, by Stephen Gallagher. It's a historical thriller in which a former Pinkerton detective has moved to England and started working for the Bethlem hospital, verifying people as insane. He is sent to the moors (if the location was more specific, I missed it) to investigate a wealthy baronet who is pretty clearly mad as a hatter, and while our hero is there two children are murdered. He gets caught up in the murder investigation. Meanwhile his wife is struggling with her work at another hospital and with their autistic son (the take on how autism was regarded and handled in 1912 was quite interesting, though I don't know how accurate it was). The writing wasn't anything special, but I was thoroughly invested in the solution to the murders. Alas, the end involves drug hallucinations (with Symbolism!), and the identity of the murderer is one the reader wasn't given enough information to guess, which always bothers me. It seems slightly unfair.

Upon my return home from two days of glorious eating and talking and laziness, I did not feel like jumping right into something heavy yet (a massive tome about John and George Keats sits on my bedside table, looking both fascinating and intimidating). So I picked up Trophy Hunt, by C. J. Box, another in his series of mysteries featuring a game warden in Wyoming. In this one animals and humans are being mutilated (I was not prepared for the disturbing nature of some of the scenes) and a rogue grizzly is being blamed. Of course there are a million other things going on, since Box writes good, complex, challenging thrillers with appealing characters. I do like his books very much; they take me about three hours and I consider that three hours well spent.

*Yes, I'm aware that I just included the words "obvious" and "Cymbeline" in the same sentence. WELCOME TO MY BRAIN.

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