Been reading a lot and watching a bit of TV in the evening when the eyes are tired. (And of course I’ve been chasing the cursor across the blank page. More on that later.)
We got hooked on a TV show called Chance, (on Hulu) with Hugh Laurie and a wonderful actor I’d never heard of before, Ethan Suplee. Just a great actor playing a wonderful role. The show is based on a novel by Kem Nunn, a California novelist who is an originator of “surf noir.”
I’d heard good things about his work for years but never read anything of his. However, the TV series inspired me to read his first novel, Tapping the Source. It’s a fine novel that takes us on a tour of the surfing community around Huntington Beach a couple of decades ago. Creepy bikers, dopers, surfers, bikers who are surfers, and some other colorful bad guys and gals. There’s a bit too much introspection and exposition for my taste, but it does move along fairly briskly, and leaves a lasting impression. Nunn is an excellent writer.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz, is a thriller that features some insider stuff on the publishing biz, and writers and opens with a scathing and funny take on creative writing programs which is right up my former alley.
It’s flawed in some ways, primarily because it asks us to believe that there is a certain plot that is such surefire bestseller material that it is pure gold. If someone even hears the short version of it, they can see that it’s the greatest story ever told. Of course when we find out what that sure fire plot is, it’s bound to be a bit disappointing, and not so sure fire.
This is also one of those books where you can see the end coming from a few miles away, so some of its thrills are blunted. But it’s fun and has a good cast of characters.
We Were Never Here, Andrea Bartz
Two young women are close friends and frequent traveling companions. The novel opens with the two of them in Chile on their most recent backpacking trip. We learn fairly early on that a previous trip to Asia ended with a violent episode that scarred one of the two women. And surprise, surprise, another very similar incident occurs in Chile. If you can accept the extreme unlikeliness of that second incident mirroring the first, then you’re an excellent suspender of disbelief. I forged on past that and was mildly rewarded with a few twists and turns and some surprises I didn’t expect. But I wouldn’t say this kept me up all night. It made for a few pleasant afternoons on the couch.
The Body, Bill Bryson
Bryson is an amazing writer. Funny and engaging while effortlessly packing his books with colorful factoids. This non-fiction work tackles the human anatomy and manages to tell story after story about everything from eyeballs to inner ears to the digestive tract. It’s the kind of book you can read straight through or dip in and out of at random. It is unfailing in its collection of amusing stories about medicine and the human body, and the various ways that scientific discoveries happened in the most random and haphazard fashion. I learned a lot and laughed out loud every few pages.
This is Your Mind On Plants, Michael Pollan
Another non-fiction work from an author whose books I’ve found fascinating over the years, starting with Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan writes about food and plants and the intersection of food with public health and politics and law.
This latest book examines in detail three different plants: The poppy flower (a particular variety from which opium is derived), caffeine (whose historical links to labor and rational thought is profound), and that other psychoactive plant: mescaline. The book describes the arbitrary and absurd way in which the legal system and popular attitudes treats these plants in completely different ways. A clearly written and thought-provoking work.
The Four Winds, Kristen Hannah
Probably my favorite book during these last few weeks was The Four Winds. I’d never read anything by Ms. Hannah before, though my wife, Evelyn, has read a couple and recommended them. I’m not sure how I picked this particular novel, though probably it was from skimming the NY Times bestseller list, which is not always the wisest way to pick a book.
The story here is familiar, especially if you’ve read Grapes of Wrath which is the clear model for this novel. Depression era struggles, dust bowl farming, fleeing to California with all earthly possessions crammed into a failing vehicle, and once arriving in the land of orange groves and sunshine battling the exploitive employers and hateful residents who see this onslaught of interlopers as a bunch of dirty bums.
The portrait of the central character is emotionally charged and convincing, and though there’s nothing special about the style or plotting, and there are cliches everywhere, the story is gripping and has a powerful impact.
Last but not least, I read several novels by Wayne Stinnett, starting with the first in the Jesse McDermitt series, Fallen Palm. I’ve gotten to know Wayne a little bit through social media connections and have admired how resourceful and hard working he is in this new field of self-publishing. He’s been very generous to me in sharing information and contacts in this new world which he has mastered so thoroughly. Wayne claims that his Jesse McDermitt character was inspired by Thorn, and now, after reading a few I can see some connections. But Jesse is a singular creation and has a great many skills that Thorn could only dream about having.
The books are set in the Keys and South Florida and other tropical locations. Wayne is good at capturing the special feel and rhythms of those gorgeous places and the funky, eccentric characters who populate them. I highly recommend his novels. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far and am happy to see that I’ve got a whole lot more to look forward to.