Friday, January 31, 2014

The Gum Thief

First thing.  Go rent Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Or read the play by Edward Albee.  Then read The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland.

(I can already tell one of the disadvantages of this blog is when I start to write about books I've read and liked, it makes me want to sit down and read them again.)

Two lonely lost souls, Roger and Bethany, meet while working at Staples.  Roger is middle-aged, divorced, depressed, and writing a novel called Glove Pond that's a lot like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Bethany is 24, lives with her mother, wears a lot of black, and is as depressed as Roger.  When Bethany finds out that Roger is keeping a journal at work, she reads it.  And then adds comments of her own.  Roger and Bethany don't speak out loud to each other at Staples, but continue to exchange journal entries and share information about their unhappy lives.

Sounds grim.  But it's not.  If you've ever read Coupland before (Generation X, Microserfs) you'll know how funny he is.  The details of working at Staples - hilarious. Sections of Glove Pond appear in the The Gum Thief and you'll laugh out loud at the awfulness of Roger's writing - but it's also surprisingly moving in the way Roger incorporates his life, and eventually Bethany's in his book.

The heart of The Gum Thief is watching two people who have given up on life, find friendship and where they fit in the world.

(And yes, after writing this, I am reading The Gum Thief.  Again.)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Instruments of Darkness

Wow.  Pretty hard to pick a first book.  I've decided (for now) not to talk about books written by friends.  We'll see how long that lasts.

I love history.  I love mysteries.  Historical mysteries should be perfect reading material.  Except I've never been a fan.  I can't remember what made me pick up Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson.  A mystery set in Sussex in the 18th century?  Really?  I had my doubts...

Harriet Westerman, wife of a sea commander,  finds a body on her property.  She enlists the aid of her reclusive neighbor, Gabriel Crowther, an anatomist, to help solve the mystery.  I don't want to give away more of the plot - don't you want to be surprised?

Mrs. Westerman is smart and opinionated and not always bound by 18th century conventions.  Crowther is equally smart and opinionated, and there's a reason for his reclusiveness.  Both characters are well-drawn and fascinating.  Their relationship is chilly at first, but one of the delights of the book is watching the development of their friendship.  I enjoyed the mystery (actually there are tons of mysteries and secrets), the attention to historical detail, and the excellent writing.

So much for being a doubter.  Thank goodness there are more Westerman/Crowther novels.  I couldn't wait for them to be published in the US, so I ordered Anatomy of Murder, Island of Bones, and Circle of Shadows from Amazon.UK.  Theft of Life will be out in May 2014 (in the UK - I don't know about the US).  Her latest book, not a Westerman/Crowther, is The Paris Winter, about a young female artist in Paris in the early 1900s.  With plenty of suspense and mystery.

Check out Imogen Robertson.  And please don't blame me if you become addicted to her books.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What is it about book clubs and me?

I've been in one book club.  It was great, until it broke up when half of us wanted to read The Autobiography of Malcom X and the other half didn't.

Since then lots of people have talked to me about their book clubs.  But alas, no one has invited me to join.  Once I had a phone message - "About a book club."  I was thrilled and called back right away, already trying to guess what we'd read first.  The caller told me her book club had decided to pick something "fluffy," like Danielle Steel.  Could I suggest a good title.  Me?  I'd never read Danielle Steel  (not that I begrudge her success - she's good at what she does).   The caller seemed disappointed when I told her I couldn't help.

Needless to say, I wasn't asked to join her group.  Probably just as well.

These days I'm in a few reading groups on Goodreads.  I've made some nice online friends, read some good books.  But I thought - hey, maybe I'll start my own mini-book club.  Pass along info on books I like.  Maybe talk about other things if inspiration strikes.

Now I have to decide which book will be first...