Gather Round the fireplace and Read - Winter Reads Edition
It’s really cold outside. Like, uncomfortably cold. This kind of cold even has a new name – the great Polar Vortex. And, I am afraid there is not much to do in a polar vortex. This is my January in a nutshell: I am baking loads of bread, drinking great rivers of cheap red, Netflixing (I might have watched all 5 hours of The Fall in one sitting) and reading an awful lot. Fact is, I read some really great books over the last few months. I read a few of these books (suggested reads below) in front of a great roaring fire (via a rented “cabin in the woods”), and I can hardly think of a better way to read a book in the middle of winter. So, if you have a fireplace, gather round. If you don’t, go find one. Pour yourself a robust red, fill a plate with some nice nibbling chocolate, and read one of these books below.
Initially, I had avoided this book because I just couldn’t get over the cover (I know, I know…don’t judge a book by its cover)…the damn rose thing just screamed “tacky illicit romance” or something. But honestly, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is one of the better books I have read in a long time. It is smart, funny, and a tiny bit devastating. The central conceit, a main character who keeps dying and returning, reads much better than it sounds (give the book a few pages to really get going). And the setting, England right before and during the war, is engagingly brought to life. I keep suggesting this book to fans of Downton Abbey. Though Life After Life does not really reference the whole upstairs/downstairs way of life, there are plenty of quips (mainly via the main character’s mother) that seem tailor made for Maggie Smith.
Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson is an old book. A friend gave me his original beat up copy (it has since been brought back to life via a 2001 reprint – thankfully) and said “This is a good overlooked book.”. But he was wrong. This is a GREAT overlooked book. Definitely of the “I could not put this book down” school. Essentially, it is a true crime story. And it has all the makings of an amazing, pulpy narrative: Texas oil money, murder, Houston Socialites, plastic surgery and pimps. It is every bit as confident as In Cold Blood and Fatal Vision, and I am slightly stymied why it isn’t regarded as highly (the book was a success when published, but has since faded). Regardless, do me a favor and read this book. You won’t be disappointed.
Submergence by J. M. Ledgard qualifies as the most overlooked great book of the past few years. A few good people agree with me. The first quarter of the book was dizzying. The author introduces us to the two main characters at a small, luxury, lodge in the middle of winter near the coast of France. He conjures this hotel so well (the food, the surroundings, the thread-count) that you will be tempted to drop everything (sell everything) and book a room in this resort (sadly, I believe it is entirely fictional). The book does a 180 a few chapters in. The romantic pairing in the book splits up. He, a spy, is taken hostage by Al Qaeda in Somalia. She, a biomathematician, prepares for a deep sea dive. It is a hundred times more interesting than I am making it sound. And though the author occasionally let’s his language get in the way (teensy bit floral), it was a great read.
Finally, on the other end of the spectrum, is one of the most popular (made everyone’s top ten) books of last year, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I don’t have much to add. It is a great big, beautiful book that will take your breath away. There were many moments where I couldn’t stop reading. And, yes, maybe a few moments where I was a bit lost. A lot goes on in this book. But, overall, it feels like a masterwork by a talented author and everyone I know has enjoyed it. Great fireplace read.
As always, let me know if there is anything else I should be reading (in the comments section). Winter is sill with us for a few more months….