26 July 2011

Muddled in the Middle (of books, that is)

It's been a slow blogging week for me.  We have been very busy at work preparing for a physical inventory and then we closed for two days to actually count every item in the store.  And since we don't just sell books--we sell cards and pens and pencils and posters and journals and art supplies and gift items and all of those other things a bookstore needs to entice people who don't read into our shop--it takes a long time to do.  Yes, I know.  Woe is I.

And as difficult as I find it to believe, I have not completed an adult novel since I posted my review of The Soldier's Wife.  I have, however, been caught up in various stages of completion several other novels coming out this fall.  And there ain't a one of them that's short, which is partly why I've not been able to finish one yet.  I don't like to juggle this many literary novels as a rule because I find that my attention gets distracted; when reading one of them, my mind occasionally wanders to the others.  Plus as I get older it gets more and more challenging to stay really on top of all of the characters from all of the plotlines.

Here are some of the books I'm reading for work (and to a certain extent for my own pleasure, too, but there are reasons that I am reading these specific books that I shan't go into here):

Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers, to be published by Scribner this October.  I'm about 300 pages into this 500+ page novel.  Talk about historical fiction--this book, which industry buzz pegs as Hoffman's literary masterpiece, begins in the year 70 C.E.  It spins together the stories of four very different women and right now the story is driving towards the massacre of Masada, about which I know nothing.  I don't think I've ever read any fiction set in this time period and I love learning from Hoffman the various customs and mores of the different peoples of ancient Israel.  Admittedly this story started off very slowly for me, but I'm glad that I stuck with it without really knowing why I did.

Wunderkind by Nikolai Grozni (incidentally the copyright is in a slightly altered name) is a debut novel forthcoming from Free Press this September.  It's set in 1980s Sofia, Bulgaria, in a Soviet school of music, and while I cannot say that I am enamored of the story (teenage rebellion against authority, lots of smoking and sex, ho hum), Grozni's writing is very good, and his writing about music is superlative. I also like that on the first page he hit me with three words that I didn't know: apparatchiks, ponichki, and chthonic.  I have just a sufficient enough background in music (distant college choir and even more distant piano lessons) to understand and really appreciate what he says about music.  The author himself was a world-class pianist in his youth in Bulgaria, so it's not unreasonable to assume that some of the book is inspired by his own exploits. I'm about 150 pages into this 350-page manuscript. 

Russell Banks' The Lost Memory of Skin I've only recently started, so I've barely dipped my toes into the depths of its 400+ pages.  It's forthcoming from Ecco in October, and though I've read very little of it, so far it's the story I find the most gripping: a very young man convicted of sexual assault on a minor, is released from prison and joins the throngs of other homeless men living under the Causeway.  Banks is one of America's most literary writers, and though I rarely like his characters, I am expecting something complex and thought-provoking from him as usual. 

And then this morning I started another novel that is quite different, at least on the surface, from anything I've read in a while.  It's The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and it is forthcoming this fall from Little, Brown.  For any of you who happened to be at BEA this year, this was one of the books presented at the Editors' Book Buzz session.  It was also reviewed earlier this summer by Jonathan Evison on the nifty blog, Three Guys One Book (if you're a serious reader and don't know that blog already, please check it out). I'm not what you would call a baseball fan (though unlike other sports, I don't mind it, and I'm proud to have attended some Cubs games at Wrigley Field), and after reading just a little bit over breakfast the last couple of morning, I've already run across multiple passages that were worth reading twice.  I look forward to getting more into the meat of this novel.  And at 500+ pages, this one definitely qualifies for a Chunkster Challenge. 

So this fiction list is what has been occupying my waking moments in recent days.  I think I may take a break from reading for work this weekend when I head out to Santa Fe for a whirlwind visit.  My husband goes every summer to teach a week-long workshop at St. John's College and I'm traveling out there with him for a couple of nights.  Which means, of course, airplane reading time!  [does happy dance]  My coworker, Nieves, has been encouraging me to read The Emerald Atlas, an adventure novel for middle readers, and she's letting me borrow her copy of it.  I'm also considering taking with me the new book by Amor Towles called Rules of Civility.  So who knows which books will end up in my backpack?  If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments!


  1. Ooh, the Alice Hoffman sounds great! I climbed Mt. Masada to watch the sunrise when I was in Israel several years ago. A profound experience and quite the story. Definitely going on my to-read list, as is The Art of Fielding (baseball fan that I am). Have a great trip, and as always, thanks for the recommendations!

  2. If I ever cave in to book envy, it is when I read your posts with all of the ARC books that you are reading! Melody at Fingers and Prose loved The Art of Fielding as well.

    I definitely think you should do "reminder" posts when these books become available to the general public. I'm an awful note taker but very good at clicking the "buy now" button on my computer.

  3. Broche, I'll see if I can track down an extra Hoffman arc for you--I'm pretty sure I saw one around the store and I'll include it when I send you the box of other books.

    BookBelle, when our store gets duplicate ARCs, I could send some to you if you ever wanted to trust me with your mailing address. I probably couldn't send them until right before the book was published, so they'd be more like RCs instead of ARCs. But if you're interested, let me know.

  4. Very excited tom hear about the Alice Hoffman book coming out. I only just discovered her this month, via my book club's annual Short Story Month, where someone selected her story, The Conjurer's Notebook, to be among the stories we read. It was my favorite, and I can't wait to read more by her.

  5. I'm with Bookbelle re: book envy, and her suggestion's a strong one too.
    Some quirk of fate landed the Hoffman on my doorstep as well, but I'm holding it for one more week because she's been a sometimes-guilty pleasure for many years and I know I'll need a guaranteed good read as the school year approaches.
    So I'm most excited about (and hence green-eyed over) the latest Russell Banks: I never met a book of his that didn't drill its way into my psyche (like it or not). I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it when you're through.
    And I grew up singing too, plus playing piano and flute (and percussion in a pinch); now I'm more guitar/vocals (that's how I met my DH), so Wunderkind's got me intrigued as well.
    What a haul!

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