Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Reading

We take it for granted now, so it seems obvious at best (and trite at worst) to say that I am constantly amazed by the connections the internet allows us to make between a fleeting thought or passing interest or random curiosity and the next article or conversation or book we read or movie we watch. But it's true. I often think I would like to have a map showing the connections - like one of those route maps in an airline seat pocket, but a million times more crowded. Many of the idea threads we pursue end after the first click, but others open up new worlds, new interests, and sometimes even friendships. At any rate, a friend's tweet about a review of Daphne Du Maurier's short story collection Don't Look Now (which I'd been reading in bits and pieces, and which is truly, truly excellent) caught my eye and off I went. The reviewer was author Alix Ohlin, and several weeks later I stumbled across her novel The Missing Person (Knopf, 2005) at the library and picked it up, the beginning of a new reading pathway.

The Missing Person turned out to be delightful read - Lynn, an art history graduate student in New York City, has stalled out in both her dissertation and her love affair with her advisor. On her mother's urging, Lynn returns home to Albuquerque, NM to track down her younger brother Wylie, an idealist who has gone AWOL after falling in with a band of eco-activists. While she re-establishes a relationship with her brother, Lynn gains a more mature perspective on her family's past and comes to terms with the people they have all become, in addition to making some new friendships of her own. This is a character-driven, quieter novel - the plot is not  especially action-packed or even so unusually profound; there is nothing that, in abstract sounds so very exceptional- except that as you read it, you find yourself charmed by the quirky but likable characters. There's an ease to Ohlin's writing, with moments of both humor and beauty that make for lovely reading, and I felt so attached to the some of the characters I even got a little teary at the end. Since this novel was published, the author has written several more books, most recently Signs and Wonders (Vintage Contemporaries, 2012). Looking forward to reading more.

I also recently enjoyed Paula McLain's The Paris Wife (Ballantine Books, 2011), a historical novel from the perspective of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson. I am always a bit uncomfortable with historical fiction when it imagines and recreates the inner lives and conversations of real people, but I must say this was well done, extensively researched, with fluid writing and a propelling storyline. In addition to being an interesting consideration of what it must have been like to be married to such a unique personality (and still maintain any sense of self), it was a fascinating look at the way Hemingway worked and the way writers lived at the time - the Hemingways were friends with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice Toklas, and many other notable writers. If you enjoyed Nancy Horan's Loving Frank (which I did, immensely, once I got past the first few treacly chapters), you will likely enjoy this as well.

Looking ahead - there are a few books in the review queue I'm very excited to read and report back on - Tommy Zurhellen's Nazareth, North Dakota and its recent sequel, Apostle Islands, both from the always-amazing Atticus Books; James Warner's All Her Father's Guns; and Tim Horvath's short story collection Understories. I'm also delighted to share that David Abrams, author of both the forthcoming novel Fobbit and the outstanding literary blog The Quivering Pen will be a guest here in September.

Which reads are delighting or surprising you this summer? Share in the comments below, and happy reading!


  1. I'll begin on a purely superficial note: that cover art for Zurhellen's novel is gorgeously creative! I greatly like the way you've described the interlocking threads of happenstance that link blogging, reviewing, reading and encountering amazing connections. I've found that to be so true on my end, too. Indeed, one of my amazing connections through book blogging is with you! :D *cues the end of the mushiness*

    The Alex Ohlin title you read sounds like the perfect fit for a quietly contemplative Sunday's evening read. I've been immersed in several of the books I acquired at the 2012 Bocas Lit Fest, this past April. I'll have a review of one up on Novel Niche later today, in fact. :) The wealth of Caribbean writing being produced these days is thrilling, and, for a writer who aspires towards publication, an encouraging sign.

    1. Awww... and likewise :D! Yes you would enjoy The Missing Person - definitely looking forward to reading more - another new one of hers just positively blurbed in The New Yorker this week. Excited to hear about some of the new authors you are discovering - popping right over to check it out!


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