Friday, November 11, 2005

Flying change

Who uses it: Show riders
What it means: When a horse changes its leading foot in the middle of a canter.
How to use it: When you're making a quick change in tactics in midstream.

Years ago, my friend Nan tried to teach me the basics of posting, trotting, and cantering, but I never mastered the flying change. I liked riding, and maybe I'll take it up again one of these days, but never went through that horse passion so many girls do.

I liked the books, though: Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, and all the Misty of Chincoteague books. The student I'm working with through Literacy Volunteers is reading Black Beauty right now, and I had forgotten how intense and rather frightening parts of that book are. Victorians had much more faith in children's ability to process unpleasant ideas than we do.

This week's reading list includes some intense unpleasantness, too, as well as a little comic relief.

What I Read This Week

Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer. Mickey Haller has three Lincoln Continentals, two ex-wives, one daughter he doesn't see enough, and a new client who may be the fabled "franchise" -- the wealthy man who's willing to pursue a court fight to prove his innocence. But considering the possibility of this client's innocence leads to the revelation that another of Mickey's clients, a poor man forced into a plea bargain, really was innocent. Mickey has to figure out how to make it right, and how to forgive himself for what he considers conduct unbecoming to himself. This is Connelly's best book in years, with an energy and humor and righteous indignation we haven't seen in the Harry Bosch novels in a while. Longtime Connelly fans have figured out that Haller may be Bosch's half-brother (I won't explain that -- go back and read the books), so it would be great to see the two cross paths in later novels.

Julie Powell, Julie & Julia. Anna first told me about the Julie/Julia project while it was underway: over the course of a year, from 2002-2003, secretary Julie Powell cooked her way through all of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book is a memoir of that year which draws on the blog, but is not merely a rehash; it's very entertaining, and particularly good when she's writing about the cooking process itself. Her description of Oeufs en Gelee is one of the grossest things I've read in my life.

Sean Doolittle, Rain Dogs. One of the several things I admire about Sean Doolittle as a writer is how different each of his books has been from the others; it's as if he's teaching himself something new with each book. Rain Dogs, coming out at the end of December, is a bleak midwestern thriller with little of the wicked humor that ran through his first two books, Dirt and Burn. That said, there's deep emotion here, and Doolittle takes new risks in this story of Tom Coleman, who inherits his grandfather's riverside campground and winds up drawn into a meth-factory deal gone bad. Rain Dogs is as moody and memorable as the Tom Waits album, though the book's title refers to something else altogether.

Martyn Waites, Mary's Prayer. If I taught a class on noir, this would be one of my textbooks, although it includes images and descriptions I'd like to be able to erase from my brain. Stephen Larkin returns to his hometown of Newcastle to cover a gangster's funeral. Almost immediately, he runs into his college girlfriend, Charlotte, who's now a high-powered lawyer, and hires him to investigate the apparent suicide of her friend, Mary. Stephen, who's cared about nothing since the murders of his own wife and son, finds himself caring too much about Mary's fate, and about the forces of evil at work in his hometown. Mary's Prayer includes graphic scenes of torture that are hard to justify, but the book itself is such a powerful story of doomed love and righteous anger that I was willing to keep reading.

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