Recommended Reading List: August 2023

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I am slowly catching up on the Recommended Reading Lists. The books are stacked all over my office in date order. The fall was too hectic to get to the lists, and what I did have would go live unexpectedly, so I had to delete. I’m now rebuilding, without anything scheduled at all, leaving them in drafts.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve stopped writing the weekly publishing blog, which gives me time to do other neglected things, like these lists. I’m also finding time to do some extra writing, research, and reading. It feels good.

August, which seems so long ago, considering all that has happened, found me in the middle of dental surgeries. Because they were massive, I spent a lot of time on the couch, reading. It was easier to read than watch TV, because I had to keep ice on my face much of the time, which meant glasses off. I can read with my glasses off. Heck, I can read with my eyes closed damn near. Also, it was easier for me to escape into books than anything I watched. Always has been, always will be.

I started a Mick Herron binge in July, and finished it in August, then grabbed a bunch of other books and articles. So there’s a lot here. Enjoy!

August, 2023

Allen, John, “Into The Unknown,” On Wisconsin, Spring 2023. Fascinating article about the future, not just of universities, but of certain kinds of studies. The subhead for this article is “We wanted to see what the UW-Madison would look like in the future, so we went to university experts.” I expect a lot of this to be wrong and probably derided a hundred years from now, but some of it will seem prescient. Right now, much of it is hopeful and encouraging, and quite thoughtful. Take a look.

Balogh, Mary, Remember Me, Berkley 2023. I don’t think you can get books more different from each other than Mary Balogh’s Regency novels and Mick Herron’s Slough House novels, yet I love them both. This book arrived while I was waiting for the last two of the Herron series to arrive, so I moved over to Regency England for something lovely and understated. Remember Me is the second in the Ravenswood series, but you don’t have to read all of them to understand this one. This series deals with the results of deep and community-shattering shame (again, the opposite of Herron). Each word, each gesture is parsed for meaning, and adds more tension than I would have thought possible. I don’t want to explain more than that, because it’ll spoil this book and the previous one. But both are recommended.

Bowen, Sarina, Superfan: A Brooklyn Bruisers Novel, Tuxbury Publishing, 2019. I love Sarina Bowen’s hockey romances. I liked the Ivy Years and the Brooklyn Bruisers series when it was traditionally published. Lucky for her, she got the rights back and is doiing more of the books. Or should I say, lucky for all of us. Bowen’s romances are always filled with very complicated relationships. Yes, I know there will be a happily ever after, but I really don’t know how she’ll get us there. So that makes for some compelling reading.

This book also hits my reader cookies, as Gardner Dozois used to say. A sports novel and a famous musician novel rolled into one. They meet before they’re famous, and don’t know each other’s names. Then they become famous and…well, read it.

I’m too deep in her world to know if this book will stand alone. I suspect it will. If not, pick up one of her earlier hockey romances (even if you don’t like hockey!) and get lost in some truly excellent romance fiction.

Cai, Delia, “It’s A Barbie World,” Vanity Fair, April 2023. I love this article. It doesn’t have its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, which you’d think it would. It looks at influencers through the prism of Barbie’s TikTok and Instagram pages. The author calls Barbie the ultimate influencer, and I’m not sure that’s wrong. If you want to have some fun and look a life a little differently, read this one.

Deaver, Jeffery, Hunting Time, Putnam, 2022. Something about the opening of this book kept putting me off, so I didn’t read it until that lull during which I was waiting for more Mick Herron books. I got past the opening (never did figure out what kept stopping me) and found that Hunting Time is a quick enjoyable read. Deaver’s hero, Colter Shaw, is not one of my favorites, but he’s intriguing, and the cases…if that’s what you can call them…are interesting as well. This time, he helped a woman and her daughter avoid a really smart stalker. Because we were dealing with a young girl (teens) and her mother, and because this is Deaver, I knew it would work out all right. (I wouldn’t think that automatically with Herron or some other writers I read). So that made this a quick and non-stressful read. If you want something with action that’s not real demanding, this is the book for you.

Denison, Niki & Robbins, Dean, editors, On Wisconsin, Spring 2023. The co-editors of the University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni magazine put together a really powerful issue that they call “The Future Issue.” Every little piece—some as short as 500 words—looks toward the future at a time when many people feel like we don’t have much of one. The entire issue left me feeling hopeful and excited about moving forward. I hope you give it a look and end up feeling the same way.

Hale, Kathleen, “Echoes in the Dark,” Vanity Fair, April 2023. Dean attended the University of Idaho in Moscow years ago and I spent more time there than I want to think about. Moscow, Idaho is very small and insular, and the university is a bright spot in the middle of rolling wheat fields. Not a place I’d chose to spend my years, but a lot of people have and love it.

Needless to say, Dean and I spent a lot of time last  year following the events after the shooting of four college students in their rental in the middle of the night. The entire case is bizarre and sad. This piece proports to be about the effect on the community, but it’s not. It loses that focus pretty quickly, mainly because Moscow is hard place for outsiders to understand. Still, it’s well written and fascinating in the ways that true crime narratives can be.

Herron, Mick, Bad Actors: A Slough House Novel, Soho Press, 2022. As I mentioned above, I was binging all of these books and honestly, the opening to this one confused me a tad. I thought: What did I miss? Turns out, I was supposed to think that. I was supposed to wonder what was going on. That disoriented feeling was on purpose. As the book progressed, Herron did something I had never ever seen before. He cut back and forth between events which were happening at the same time without a white space. He went from place to place, character to character, sometimes in the same paragraph. Not just head-hopping, to use the stupid derogatory and incorrect term most writers learn in amateur workshops, but setting-hopping as well. It was brilliant, and wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t already experienced that opening. In fact, the structure of the book is upsetting (on purpose). There are no chapter numbers. The section numbers are out of order. Part II comes first, and the first chapter in Part II ends with this lovely tip of the hand to anyone who is paying attention:

And in the offices of Slough House the slow horses have settled themselves at their desks for another day, one which already seems askew from reality, as if things that happened in one order are about to be told in another.

Hot damn. What technique. What storytelling. How brilliant is this? I’m going to study this novel because honestly, I’m not entirely sure how he pulled it off.

A tip: Don’t start with this one. Read other Slough House books first. You’re better off reading them in order, so you catch all the layers. This is the most recent novel. There’s two later books, one a short story collection and one a “standalone” which really isn’t. I cover the short story collection below. The standalone will show up in a later recommended reading list.

Herron, Mick, Joe Country: A Slough House Novel, Soho Press, 2019. By the time I read this book, I was involved with Herron’s characters. Hapless losers, because of their own foibles, but competent in some of the right ways, these denizens of Slough House held my imagination from the start. I winced a lot at one in particular, J.K. Cole, who doesn’t achieve redemption, per se, but does end up with a fitting arc. The entire group is reeling from the events of the previous book, London Rules, and they’re all trying to cope, even though they’re bad at coping. Then Herron adds winter, complete with a snowfall that he writes is out of a Swedish noir novel (which gets referred to later as the blood increases with a mention of the Middle Ages or a Swedish film). There’s revenge and vengeance and accidents and…well, read it. Preferably in the summer. When you want to get cold.

Herron, Mick, Slough House: A Slough House Novel, Soho Press, 2021. Surprises galore in this Slough House novel, including the return of a character whom everyone assumed was dead. Considering how many major characters have died over the series, I’m not giving you a single spoiler there. I usually don’t like it when an author writes a single paragraph that goes on for pages, but the last few pages are a single paragraph. Not only is it riveting, it’s also chilling. Recommended.

Herron, Mick, Standing By The Wall: The Collected Slough House Novellas, Soho Press, 2022. I’d read and recommended one of these novellas before. The others are good, but the title story, “Standing By The Wall,” is wonderful. And it’s really important for the “standalone” novel that Herron released this year. In fact, I went rooting around to find where I’d read about the photograph when I started the other book, not remembering that it was the novella. Powerful stuff.

Hibbard, James, “Taylor Sheridan Does Whatever He Wants: ‘I’m Going To Tell My Stories My Way,'” The Hollywood Reporter, June 21, 2023. I know that Taylor Sheridan is controversial, as are many of his shows, but as a writer, he fascinates me. He has worked hard to maintain control over his writing in an industry that usually doesn’t allow it. It’s all about contracts and saying no, as well as writing scared. (He probably wouldn’t say that.) He bought the ranch where Yellowstone is filmed. He was contacted about purchasing it. The price? $350 million. He says,

And I’m like 330 short. But please, you thought enough to call me. Can you give me two weeks? Sherican says the opportunity changed his mind about expanding his overall deal with Paramount Global…He valued his independence, preferring to be “a hired gun.” But to buy the ranch, he signed a new contract reportedly worth $200 million and brought in some investors to bridge the gap…”I do the show for the ranch,” Sheridan says firmly.

So…all that work he’s doing (and he’s doing a lot) is to pay for the ranch itself. Working that hard makes everyone testy, and there’s trouble in paradise, some of which is not in the article (happened afterwards), but still. It’s fascinating to see how someone balances all of this and continues writing, holding onto a semblance of his vision. Worth the read.

Keegan, Rebecca, “‘Am I Allowed To Laugh At This?'” The Hollywood Reporter, May 31, 2023. Wonderful interview with Taika Waititi on comedy, inclusion, and calling out discriminatory practices. There’s also a neat perspective in here about generational change, and what gets remembered and what doesn’t. It’s a well-done interview with lots of great insights.

O’Connell, Mikey, “‘It’s Too Hot on the Page!'” The Hollywood Reporter, June 15, 2023. An interview with six showrunners, conducted around Emmy time (and just before the strike). Lots of interesting material here about writing for TV/Film as well as on negotiating contracts and making money in the streaming era. Read this one. It’s too complicated to summarize easily.

Provost, Megan, “How To Have It All,” On Wisconsin, Spring 2023. The article begins, “If you flipped to this page to learn ‘How To Be Happy In Five Easy Steps,’ I apologize for the confusion.” The article is about the elements of happiness, yes, but also about ways to approach life to be calmer and appreciate things more. It’s been a trying few years for all of us, and thoughtful pieces like this help us cope. Or at least, help me cope. Take a look.

Silva, Daniel, The Collector, Harper, 2023. I’ve been thinking about Daniel Silva a lot lately. He writes his books as quickly as he can, given the research, and tries to keep it all current. Because of the events in the Middle East, I suspect next year’s volume will be very difficult for him.

This year’s book, about retired head of the Mossad, Gabriel Allon, seems to have moved away from some of the current problems. Silva has moved into international art theft as his main subject, both in this book and the previous one. Which helps, but doesn’t entirely stop his tendency to write books about the current world situation. I found parts of The Collector hard to believe, but that didn’t matter. I couldn’t put the book down. It’s fascinating to watch Silva’s evolution as a writer. I enjoyed this year’s offering, but can’t wait to read next year’s.

2 thoughts on “Recommended Reading List: August 2023

  1. Interested in fact based espionage and ungentlemanly officers and spies? Try reading Beyond Enkription. It is an enthralling unadulterated fact based autobiographical spy thriller and a super read as long as you don’t expect John le Carré’s delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots.

    What is interesting is that this book is apparently mandatory reading in some countries’ intelligence agencies’ induction programs. Why? Maybe because the book has been heralded by those who should know as “being up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”. Maybe because Bill Fairclough (the author) deviously dissects unusual topics, for example, by using real situations relating to how much agents are kept in the dark by their spy-masters and (surprisingly) vice versa.

    The action is set in 1974 about a real British accountant who worked in Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) in London, Nassau, Miami and Port au Prince. Simultaneously he unwittingly worked for MI6. In later books (when employed by Citicorp and Barclays) he knowingly worked for not only British Intelligence but also the CIA.

    It’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti but do read some of the latest news articles in TheBurlingtonFiles website before plunging into Beyond Enkription. You’ll soon be immersed in a whole new world which you won’t want to exit.

  2. Thank you, as always, Kris. I read “On Wisconsin” (hubby’s an alum) and Mary Balogh, and you, of course! Wishing you, Dean, and all your loved ones as stress-free a holiday season as is feasible in these crazy times.

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