Recommended Reading List: July 2020
I’ve been line editing various editing projects, which are in their final stages, so my reading time is limited. I had a weird experience, though. I read a book that I hoped would get me into a new series, and a week later, I couldn’t remember what I had read. In fact, I was wondering why I had nothing to talk about here, before recalling that I read the book. It was interesting enough at the time, but seriously, I can’t tell you what it’s about. I actually went back and looked at it. The writer has great voice and no depth. The depth would make it memorable, but she focused on words only. Oh, well.
I did manage to read more good things than I thought I would. The line editing and editing-editing, yes, but also leisure reading. Lots of fun things below.
Browne, Lois, The Girls of Summer In Their Own League, Harper Collins, 1992. Yep, this is a 30-year old book. I loved it. It seemed like there was going to be no baseball this summer here in the States. (And who knows if the just started season will actually continue, for obvious reasons.) And since there’s no crying in baseball, I figured I’d better do some baseball reading.
This book is a history of The All American League, which lasted from 1943 to 1956. These women endured all kinds of misogyny and other problems, just so they could play ball. The book’s writing is pedestrian, but the women emerge anyway. They’re colorful, strong, and courageous, playing in terrible conditions (often) in outfits that made them play injured most of the time. (Think of sliding home in those skirts.)
It’s not as good as going to a game, but it is a great history of a league that should have continued, and didn’t. Maybe someday there will be equality in baseball. That would be really cool.
Kritzer, Naomi, “The Thing About Ghost Stories,” The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019, edited by Paula Guran, Prime, 2020. Naomi Kritzer is rapidly becoming one of my favorite short story writers. I was happy to see this story lead off this edition of the Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and the story did not disappoint. The opening line catches you: “The most interesting thing about ghost stories is that almost everyone has one.” The story promises many things and delivers on all of them. I won’t say much more, except to say you’ll like this one.
Manson, Mark, “The Four Stages of Life,” markmanson.net, 2015. This came up on my Pocket Reader as recommended reading, and because I was trying not to write something, I clicked on over. I’m glad I did. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, most of which I agree with. There’s certainly a lot to unpack. In one quick pop-psychology session, I felt like I recognized my mother (Stage One), and my ex-husband (sadly still stuck in Stage Two), and me, clawing my way between Stage Three and Four, while dealing with the denial about aging. I also feel like this can describe the writing journey as well. So click on over and see what you find.
Paretsky, Sara, Love & Other Crimes, William Morrow, 2020. An absolutely delightful collection of short stories. I’ve highlighted favorites in this post, but the entire book is marvelous. I love Paretsky’s work, and she’s as good in the short form as she is in longer lengths. Highly recommended.
Paretsky, Sara, “Miss Bianca,” Love & Other Crimes, William Morrow, 2020. Paretsky wrote this story for an anthology that I actually read. I don’t recall reading the story, though, and I might’ve skipped it, because it deals with mice that are being experimented on. That makes the story sound more horrible than it is. It’s really quite sweet. She wrote it as a love letter to her father, who was involved in some of these things when Paretsky was a child. This one is worth the price of the book, in my opinion.
Paretsky, Sara, “Safety First,” Love & Other Crimes, William Morrow, 2020. “Safety First” is an utterly chilling alternate history story that, in six months, might not be alternate history, should Trump get reelected. Paretsky takes her regular characters and puts them into a world where the laws are only slightly different. If you love her characters, and expect heroism, this story will terrify you. There’s no real heroism possible here. Probably the most memorable story in the entire collection.
Paretsky, Sara, “Wildcat,” Love & Other Crimes, William Morrow, 2020. This story is set during V.I. Warshawski’s childhood, so we get to see characters that she’s only talked about after they’ve died. That alone would make it fascinating, but the mystery itself is also fascinating. Well done.
Silva, Daniel, The Order, Harper, 2020. I loved this book. I blew through it in two evenings, and since I haven’t had a lot of time to read lately, that’s saying a lot. The book is, at its core, about bigotry, but the bigotry comes from the Christian Church against the Jews. This is a powerful indictment of something that rarely gets discussed in Christian majority countries.
For years now, Silva has been writing an alternate history of the world. The story closely tracks our world, and reveals a lot about our world, but is different on a lot of details. This time, he added a touch of fantasy to the world, which I found fascinating. The fantasy isn’t there for people who are unaware of the Bible as literature and the history behind its various pieces. But if you know a lot about the other gospels and some of the other stories about Jesus, then one of the scenes with Gabriel Allon at the end is rich and quite curious.
I must also say, as a writer who worked with traditional publishers, I continue to be impressed with Silva’s work under short deadlines. He mentions at the end that he finished the book during the lockdown here in the U.S. Which means that he was writing in March and April. The book appeared in mid-July. That’s lightspeed for a traditional publisher, especially on a book that needs a good fact- and legal check along with the copy edit.
I loved this book, especially its call for tolerance while acknowledging the limits of tolerance. Well done.
St. James, Simone, The Sun Down Motel, Berkeley, 2020. A friend recommended this book to me, and I’m so glad she did. I found the book almost impossible to put down. Yes, there are some unanswered questions at the end, although I suspect if I go through the book I might actually find the answers. I don’t really care. The characters, the mood, the chilly ghost story—they all worked for me. So much that I’m picking up St. James’s other books. If you want something creepy to keep you awake at night, this is the book.