Friday, February 18, 2005

“Books can be misleading.”

The Movie: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 2002 (Steven Kloves, screenplay, from the novel by J.K. Rowling)
Who says it: Kenneth Branagh as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart, self-promoting crusader against the dark arts
The context: Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) expect Professor Lockhart to be able to help them fight the evil in the Chamber of Secrets, because he wrote so many books about his encounters with vampires, hags, and other monsters.
How to use it: You can’t believe everything you read.

A dozen or so years ago, I broke up with someone (Anna and Sue, you remember him as The Iron Lung) -- or, I should say, he broke up with me -- and in that final, unforgivable conversation, he said, "You read too much."


More recently, I overheard a friend say, "We can't all be like Clair, arranging our lives around our reading schedules." I started to protest, until I realized it was true: I do arrange my life around my reading schedule. And I've even found ways to get paid to read, which was my fantasy from earliest childhood. (I blame the Virginia Beach Public Library system, which gave kids McDonald's gift certificates for reading the most books in their summer reading program; this set up a books = food cycle I'm still trying to break.)

This isn't a literary blog -- there are good ones out there, and this blog is something else entirely. But a couple of friends have asked for book recommendations recently, so I'm going to make Fridays "What I've Read This Week" Day.

This week's selection includes three books that fall into the "crime fiction" category -- showing just how broad that category is -- and two extraordinary books of poetry. In the order I read them, they are:

Ian Rankin, Fleshmarket Alley. It bugs me that the U.S. publishers felt the need to rename this book for American readers (it's Fleshmarket Close in the U.K.), but never mind. My friend Linda says she'd date John Rebus if a) he wasn't fictional, b) she weren't married, and c) Rebus didn't (fictionally) drink so much. In this outing, Rebus investigates the murder of a refugee in an Edinburgh housing project, while his partner, Siobhan, tracks a missing girl whose disappearance may be tied to the parole of a rapist. Fleshmarket Alley feels less sharp than most of Rankin's other novels; I always like spending time with Rebus & Co., but at points felt like I was just slogging through this book. I highly recommend the series, though, and if you can't start at the beginning (Knots & Crosses), start with Resurrection Men.

George Pelecanos, Hard Revolution. I don't know why I didn't read this when it came out last year; it would have made my 2004 Ten Best list, for sure. It's a beautiful, harrowing novel about the 1968 riots in Washington, D.C., told from the perspective of Pelecanos' series character, Derek Strange, who was a young District police officer at the time. Beyond that, though, it's a book about love and loyalty -- to family, to community, to city, to race. It blew me away.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club. I love McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe series, set in Botswana; this is the first in a new series, based in Edinburgh (a different Edinburgh from Ian Rankin's, to be sure). The slightest of plots is just an excuse for a character study of Isabel Dalhousie, a divorced woman in her early 40s who edits the Journal of Applied Philosophy. Whether you like the book depends on whether you like Isabel, and I did.

Susan Kinsolving, Dailies & Rushes and The White Eyelash. I spent most of last week with Susan and her husband, William; I had owned and read these books before I met her, but went back to them this week with new appreciation. (I love it when writers I admire turn out to be wonderful people. It happens more often than not, fortunately.) Susan's poems are clear-eyed, direct, sometimes funny, often heart-breaking. One of the poems in The White Eyelash, "The Obligation of Avoidance," addresses exactly what annoys me about so much of modern poetry, with a hilarious image of an octopus playing a piano.

All of these books are in print... support your local independent bookstore!


Anonymous said...

Ceee-ripes! How is it even possible to read five books in a week? I figured I've been on fire with the reading because I have read seven, very short, practically Dr. Suessesque books this _year_. I guess I'll just make you my designated reader. -- Ed

AnswerGirl said...

Well, I did spend all day Monday in airplanes... and I've pretty much stopped watching nighttime television.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I am a little awed, is all. And to save myself from unwarranted charges of philistinism, I do know that the adjectival form is "Suessian." To reopen myself to warranted charges of philistinism, I had to look up the spelling of "philistinism." Also, Go Hokies! Duke rots! -- Ed

Madley said...

Wow, what a great new feature -- thanks!