- Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett
- Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy
These two are really a pair. Truth and Beauty is a nonfiction work by one of my favorite fiction authors, Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, The Magician's Assistant), about her friend Lucy Grealy, who died several years ago from a heroin overdose. As with all of Ann Patchett's work, it's brilliant and moving and spare and gorgeous. As soon as I finished it, I had to go out and buy the counterpart, Lucy Grealy's book about her own struggles with identity. Also wonderful. I highly recommend this pair of books.
- Freakonomics, Stephen Levy - fascinating nonfiction book along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink or The Tipping Point. Economic theory used to explain everyday questions such as "do teachers cheat on standardized testing?" and "why, if crack dealers make so much money, do most of them live with their mothers?" and "what really caused the decline in crime in the 90s?" Excellent, and a fun read. Alas, I already loaned it out to someone and forgot who I gave it to. Hopefully, this one will come back to me.
- The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler. Not fantastic, not memorable, but fun and light. It came after the first two books on this list, which were rather intense, so this made a great palate-cleanser, but I had hoped to be more interested in it after reading the fabulous reviews it's gotten.
- Angels and Demons, Dan Brown - finishing this now. And I'm wondering -- why do I keep reading Dan Brown? His books are so blatantly manipulative that I feel irritated reading them, but I have to admit that they're still oddly compelling. Perhaps I'm jealous of his commercial success, but really what irritates me is the pedantic-ness. He seems to approach his books this way:
- Think of a controversial topic that's still relatively mainstream and which most people will have heard of: for example, the relationship between Mary Magdelene and Jesus (DaVinci Code), or the Illuminati vs. the catholic church (Angels and Demons).
- Garner a few facts that anyone could gather in about an hour of internet research. In fact, I'm guessing this is exactly how he does his research.
- Spend most of your book inventing situations in which your main characters (always a male) can spend pages and pages explaining these concepts to a naive secondary character who just knows nothing about it (always a woman). Boy do I not love all that highly transparent exposition.
- Throw in a few murders and some interesting architectural settings, make the main characters globe trot, and (of course) have them end up deeply attracted to each other.
Viola - commercial success.
It looks so easy!
Also halfway through a couple of Ursula LeGuin books which I can't seem to read for very long at any one time - reading Winter, and Changing Planes. Both good, but they take levels of concentration I haven't been able to muster recently.
And that's about it for me recently. Any recommendations for what to read next?