Sunday, October 25, 2009

Other Things I've Been Reading

Over the last couple of months I've read a few books that I haven't blogged about.  It isn't that I didn't enjoy them; I just didn't have much to say about them. 

Right before I left for vacation I plucked out of AndiF's sack of Brit Lit a memoir by Jenny Diski called Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions.  Somehow it seemed appropriate to read a memoir about two trips across America via Amtrak while I was traveling north across America by plane.  At one time I took the Amtrak train between St. Louis and Chicago fairly regularly and the part of Diski's second journey where it took forever for her train to actually pull into the Chicago train station brought back lots of memories of sitting on a train looking at the Sears Tower - so close, and yet so far.  As she says, "The first thing you learn about rail travel in America is that trains are late."  Diski seldom got off of her trains, she mostly sat in the smoking compartments.  Which made me glad that I could read what she wrote and didn't have to sit next to her and listen to the story as I smelled her.  That, by the way, was almost the end of the sack of BritLit.  I returned the sack to AndiF last time she was in St. Louis keeping only one unread book back.

The Black Tower, by Louis Bayard, is a mystery set in 1818 Paris.  The Terror is over, Napolean is gone and a Bourbon is back on the throne.  I flew through this book, the story of police detective Vidocq's investigation into the identity of a man who might be the Dauphin of France (making him the rightful King of France).  Or, maybe not.   I read this fairly soon after I saw Opera Theatre of St. Louis' production of Ghosts of Versailles and so Marie Antoinette and her children were in the forefront of my mind.   It was heart breaking to think about a small boy being stuck in the Black Tower during the French Revolution where it was hoped he would die merely because he had the misfortune to be born the heir to a throne.   That wasn't enough for them to be able to execute him but there are other ways to make sure someone dies.  It is a cleverly written book although, perhaps, a bit too clever towards the end.  I like clear endings to my mysteries.

The first novel I read in full after I was finished with the flu was Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Multiple people had told me that I had to read it.  It was a mystery and I like mysteries so I gave it a try.  I'll give it this - it was a page turner.  It was a good choice of novel to get me back into reading because I found that I couldn't put it down.  But I wasn't as impressed as everyone told me I would be.  It all seemed a bit ... implausible.  Spoiler Alert:  I found it hard to believe that a CEO of a company had a torture room in his island home.  I also thought his death was a plot device that was a little too convenient for the author.   On the other hand, I think Larsson created very interesting principal characters and very good ambiance.   And his sense of pacing was superb.

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, was a pick by one of my book clubs and I didn't remember I needed to read it until the week we were going to meet.   I was dismayed to find that it was longer than I expected and I wondered if I would finish it in time.  No worries.  Again, I flew through it even though the structure made keeping track of the plot somewhat complicated.  I thought Niffenegger used Chicago (and Michigan) as a setting to very good effect.   I thought it was an interesting premise.  I thought it was weird that this fortyish man was visiting a little girl that he was going to marry.  Niffenegger never crossed any lines with that scenario, but I found those parts somewhat disturbing.  And mostly I thought it was a sad premise that this woman basically put most of her life on hold from the age of six to wait for this screwed up man and I especially thought it was sad that, after he died, she never really got on with her life.  Apparently some people cried through the end.  I didn't.    But I didn't dislike it and I'm not sorry I read it.