Sunday, September 13, 2015

Summer Reading

(which truth to tell is not that different from my winter, spring or autumn reading)

Several of the British literary magazines I subscribe to do these features where notable authors and others talk about what they’re going to read during the summer. What I have in mind to read at any given time changes so often that any list I prepared at the beginning of summer would be a piece of short fiction, but good luck to the person I read about who was planning to read a three volume biography of Napoleon in French.

The books below are listed in the order I read them. Books I discussed earlier on the blog are not here. If I wrote about them I liked them.

Disclaimer by Rene Knight. A woman picks up a book and realizes that it describes incidents in her life. It’s difficult to discuss this book without revealing key plot details. Suffice it to say the author of the book is not a friend.

Life After Life by by Kate Atkinson. Every time Ursula Todd dies, she is born again. She drowns, she falls off a roof. When she dies in the London Blitz she appears again as the wife of a Nazi officer who hangs out with Eva Braun. This is very cleverly done. Don’t be put off by its description as “postmodern,” it’s a page turner.

On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller by Richard Norton Smith. If I had not followed politics during my childhood and seen a lot of Nelson Rockefeller I would find it unbelievable that the man described here was a Republican (FDR and Harry Truman urged him to switch party affiliation). There was no realistic chance that he would ever be the Republican nominee for the presidency and his marriage to Happy Murphy and the rise of the right wing of the party certainly doomed him in 1964. He was a fascinating man and you get a real sense of how the Republican party and the role of government has changed in the past 50 years.

The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics by Barton Swaim. Mr. Swaim admired Mark Sanford and offered his services as a speechwriter. I kept thinking it was a pity he didn’t read Never Work for a Jerk. This is short book that is as much about enduring a job you hate as it is about politics. Mr. Swaim is a good writer. It’s a pity Mark Sanford didn’t understand that.

A Royal Experiment: The Private Life of George III by Janice Hadlow. An entertaining look at what many consider the first modern royal family. George III was more than just the bete noir of the American colonies. This book teaches you that being royal, especially if you’re a woman, is quite tedious. This account is enlivened by contemporary diaries and letters.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. This is a contemporary country house murder complete with snow storm, non-functioning landline and cell phones that won’t work in the middle of nowhere. Nora gets an invitation to a “hen party” (bachelorette party) for her best friend, Claire. However, she and Claire have not seen each other for ten years and Nora is not invited to the wedding. The questions: Who invited her and why?

The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer. On a Memorial Day weekend Carrie and Michael, who are engaged to be married, drive out to Clausen’s Pier for a picnic. Michael is paralyzed after diving into shallow water. Burdened by guilt and the expectations of others, Carrie drives to New York City and a new life. Eventually, Carrie has to decide where she will be happiest. I understand that readers, frustrated by her decision, have hurled the book across the room. My Kindle is pricy so I didn’t go that far.

Erasure by Percival Everett. Thelonious “Monk” Ellison is an African-American author of experimental novels. He gives talks on the theory of the novel at academic conferences.

When the family from whom he is estranged unravels, he realizes he needs to make some money so he writes “a ghetto novel” like those sometimes favored by talk show hosts. This is satire with humanity and a novel within a novel.

In the last weeks of the summer I saw the documentary “Best of Enemies” about the Buckley/Vidal skirmish during the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions. This inspired me to do a little reading about the 1960s. I started with Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship that Shaped the 1960s by Kevin M. Schultz. Though I think the subtitle overstates the importance of the relationship, it is interesting to see two such combative people try to understand each other. Then I tried Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Pete Seeger, Dylan and the Night That Split the 60s. I learned a lot reading this book. I knew far more about Dylan than I knew about Seeger. The problem with the book is that it never made me want to listen to the music and in a book like this that’s a major flaw. Finally, I moved on to Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein, the first volume of a trilogy, is fascinating if deeply dispiriting. The book was a bit too detailed in spots for me. I didn’t really need to know all the factional fighting within the Young Americans for Freedom but I was otherwise riveted. The message? All those people who thought LBJ’s landslide crushed the right wing of the Republican party were wrong. The right is very patient. Barry Goldwater was the wrong messenger, but Ronald Reagan, as befits an actor, was waiting in the wings.

© 2015 Stephanie Patterson


  1. Soul on Ice, The Fire Next Time, the Autobiography of Malcolm X and Pimp might have served as a better guide to the 60s, and not just for the racial aspects. These writers understood what was coming.

  2. Yes to Anonymous's comment!!

    Steph, I have a question about IN A DARK, DARK WOOD. I heard the author interviewed on NPR. I want to know if the book explains adequately why Nora went to the party. The interview did not. Her going seemed to me like the stupidity of movie characters who are just too curious not to go down into the cellar of the haunted house. Or who, when they get to the stairway in the building where they are being pursued, elect to run for the roof instead of the street. I often find myself shouting at the TV, "Don't go down there, you idiot." Or "Go down. Ah, Stupid. I told you to go down." I am ranting here now, I know. But I hate it when writers take the cheap and easy way out by sending their characters into trouble without a plausible reason.

  3. Hi, folks, the Anonymous above is not me!!! Thelma

  4. Okay Anonymous One, come clean. Who are you?