Books I read this week: May weeks 2-3

I haven’t been reading a lot the last couple of weeks because I’ve been neck deep in getting school sorted out for next year- getting curriculum plans created and printed out and worksheets printed… let’s just say I’m using a lot of printer ink and leave it at that. But I have read a couple of books, so here goes.

Scandal: A Manualby George Rush and Joanna Molloy is the memoir of married gossip columnists. They’ve worked in gossip for the last 15 years, and have seen it transform from gossip columns in newspapers, that had to be meticulously fact checked to the 24 hour rush to get new content on the web that exists now. There’s some really interesting anecdotes here, about stories they broke, stories they buried (usually in the interest of someone’s kids), stories that got snagged from under them. They have interesting and informed opinions on gossip bloggers like Perez Hilton, and reading the book made me more appreciative of gossip bloggers who THINK and make social commentary, like Lainey at Laineygossip.com.

But we were, in our way, enforcers of old-fashioned decency. Gossip columns- and tabliods in general- are built on upholding threatened values, like fidelity and transparency.

The Serpent of Veniceby Christopher Moore is a joy. It’s a follow up to his novel Fool, which is the story of King Lear from the fool Pocket’s perspective. In this one, Pocket has been sent to Venice to speak against the crusades, and there he stumbles and tumbles around the plots of Othello, Merchant of Venice, and The Cask of Amontillado. And there may be a sea serpent. I adore Moore’s books, but I most enjoy them when he’s playing with established stories or histories (Fool, Sacre Bleu), because it’s just so fun to see how he ties all of the story points together. It’s like watching someone juggling chainsaws that are on fire. Sometimes you just have to gasp and clap. (I have literally done that reading his books.)  He is also one of the absolute best at creative cursing, which I know will take this book off the table for some people, but it’s something I highly appreciate. Most of the time, cursing is a lazy way out, but he makes an art of it. Here are some of my favorites pieces, without cursing.

 ‘A strumpet is not a musical instrument, my Lord.’

‘Salting the earth of all decorum, are we then?’

‘If words were wealth,’ sighed the Moor. ‘A king among kings you would be, but now you are only small, damp, and loud. ‘

‘You–you–you–you–‘  ‘Run along, love, it appears that Papa’s been stricken with an apoplexy of the second person.’

 

Bellweather Rhapsodyby Kate Racculia is magnificent. I was drawn to it when the synopsis said it had elements of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee, and while those kinds of sum ups can be misleading, this one was pretty much on the money. It’s one of those books that could have gone horribly wrong- it could have skewed twee (two of the characters are twins named Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker), or corny (the plot revolves around a hotel where a bride shoots her husband and then hangs herself on their wedding day, and then 15 years later, during a statewide band/choral conference a young girl hangs herself in the same room and then the body disappears. Alice and the woman who was a young girl at the time of the first deaths and who has returned to exorcise her demons are the only people who believe something happened and band together to solve it), but every piece goes together to go incredibly, gorgeously right.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but it was not what I got.  Each time I thought I had a handle on what was going on and where the book was going it threw a curve at me and went down a different hallway- again and again, taking the story to a deeper and deeper psychological and emotional place. Every twist, every “OH! THAT’S what’s really going on!” moment (and there was at least one “OH, CRAP! NO!” moment) felt entirely earned and established.

The book is an insightful meditation on the impact of music; the descriptions of people experiencing music- listening to it and playing it- are dead on and some of the best I’ve ever read. It is a devastating look at the aftermath of violence, on those who perpetrate it as well as those who witness it. And it’s an accurate and piercing expression of the different places our dreams take us and how we construct our identities.

The setting of the Bellwater Hotel is stunning- I get incredibly inspired by old buildings, and I could vividly see this one as I read. The characters are distinct and sometimes uncomfortably clear, there is no fudging around the sharp edges of what life has done to some of them. One of the characters is downright terrifying without becoming a caricature, which is exactly what she has to be for the book to work.

It’s hands down one of the best books I’ve read all year.

 They aren’t picked on, as far as Natalie can tell, but they aren’t exactly the king and queen of the prom, and if they didn’t have each other, she suspects they’d be horribly lonely. Natalie remembers too well how it feels to be talented and seventeen.

He worshiped and found peace, at the age of seventeen, the only way he knew how; in the temple of Beethoven and Debussey, of David Bowie and Led Zepplin. They filled his secret heart and made it less afraid.

Alice wonders if anyone has ever tended to Jill, in any way, and if her intelligent ferocity is what happens when a girl has to teach herself how to be human.

I’m still reading The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (and will be into eternity), and just finished a story that completely gutted me. You know when you read something that so utterly reflects a part of you that you want to deny, and reading about it makes you feel both relieved that you’re not the only one, but also dismayed to see it in the light of day? That was this story. Incredibly, incredibly good.

What are you reading right now?

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