I feel like I’m in a great stretch of reading right now, as if all my choices are magically good. It’s such a wonderful feeling – I wonder when my streak will break.
September started with The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, a choice directly inspired by the article “Doubles” in the New Yorker, a review of a new Collins biography. (Incidentally, a search on “Wilkie Collins new yorker” for the link led me to discover the amazing I Hate the New Yorker blog, and oh my god, finally someone to obsess about this stuff with). The Moonstone is insanely entertaining, and there’s so much to bite into. There’s the way the book is broken up into sections by different narrators, so we get this sly commentary on the different characters. Sergeant Cuff, the eccentric but genius detective, spreads his DNA over an entire genre to follow (no less than TS Eliot called The Moonstone the first detective novel). And then there’s the whole treatment of “the Orient” (for the Moonstone is a mysterious Indian diamond stolen from the subcontinent) in which you can read a whole sorry/fascinating history. But aside from the interestingness of it, The Moonstone is also one of those wholly satisfying books: the good triumph, the sanctimonious are mocked, the puzzle is deliciously puzzling.
All that was a warm-up to Mat Johnson’s Pym, which is one of the best books I’ve read all year. In Pym, hapless academic Chris Jaynes, who’s obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, is refused tenure because he won’t sit on the college’s Diversity Committee. With an all-black crew, Jaynes journeys to Antarctica to discover the truth about Poe’s confounding novel, which is full of antebellum color terror and the source, as Jaynes says, of “the pathology of Whiteness.” I can’t remember reading anything so great as Jaynes summarizing the weird-ass story of Pym. (People who read this on Kindle, I am the mad highlighter!) This is my ideal book – full of ideas, smart people making bad decisions, and phrases that had me grinning like an idiot as I read it on public transportation (“snow honkies” q.e.d.). Plus, it has a plot! Things happen. A smart book with a plot! Thank you, Mat Johnson.
A recent surgery, in which a chatty dermatologist rooted around for skin cancer in my forehead, left me swollen and grumpy. It was a good time to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor for magical romance and adventure. I find myself a huge fan of Brimstone, and I loved all the scenes of Prague, art school, the teeth errands, and I loved Poison Kitchen, the restaurant where Karou and her friends dine on goulash. (It brought back a strange trip to Prague I once took after contracting an especially virulent flu in Moscow.) Very lovely, especially with Vicodin.
Lastly, I am now reading Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran. Ah… Here is the dead-eyed, slightly worn, drug-abusing lady detective I’ve been waiting for all my life. I’m not done yet, and there are already parts where it’s wildly great and wildly not-so-great. In fact, some parts are infuriating. I don’t care. I’m driving around New Orleans, seeing the high water marks and the collapsing shotgun houses and drinking 40s in a rented truck with Miss Claire and a bunch of street thugs. Throw in the I Ching and an inscrutable text by a master French detective and I’m sold. The first couple chapters alone, which are genre and also way beyond it, are so awesome the rest of the book can go to hell and it wouldn’t make a difference. I haven’t read Sara Gran’s other books, but have a feeling I’ll be checking out Dope and Come Closer soon.