Gini In A Bottle: 2013 Summer Book Bag
Summer is a time for many things – travel, rest, play, and, of course, time to finally get to that novel, that one special book that you have been putting off all winter. Somehow, summertime gives us permission take time to enjoy the written word just a bit more. On a plane, on a train, at the beach, on the front porch, on the patio, book is a companion, a friend, a way to loose ourselves in the stories of others. Here’s a few of my recent favorites.
1) The Black Box by Michael Connelly
It’s been 20 years since Connelly wrote his first novel centered around L.A. homicide detective, Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch. And 18 books later, Harry is still as stubborn, fiercely independent cop who has only one code in life: Get the bad guys! Don’t let the victims go un-avenged! Now in his early 60’s, Bosch is working the “cold case squad”, the division that pursues old, unsolved crimes.
Harry is reinvestigating a case that he just can’t get over. During the L.A. riots of 1992, Harry came upon a young foreign reporter, shot execution style. Twenty years later, he still wants to find the killer – because he believes that no one deserves to be murdered. This story is a true police procedural. Harry tracks down one clue after another. And, with the help of Google, Yahoo, and Facebook – finally finds why she was killed in that alley in L.A. It’s because of what she saw on the battlefields of Iraq. Let me say no more and leave you to enjoy Connelly’s suspenseful handling of the story.
2) Sharp Objects and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Last year, I raved about Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel – Gone Girl. I loved the look! It’s a marvelous piece of prose, pathos, and twisted personalities. My only concern was, could she ever write a better book?
Well, I found out after reading her first novel, Sharp Objects and second novel, Dark Places – that she’s already done so!! Both of these books are about mayhem, cover-ups, family secrets and serial murder. Both stories are compelling and riveting. But more than just murder mysteries, these are true psychological thrillers. Flynn’s handling of the various mid-sets of the individual characters is amazing. These books are about deeply disturbed people – who know it. And deeply disturbed people – who don’t. For my money, Flynn is better than Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock combined!
3) The Middlesteins by Jami Attenbeng
No matter the title, this is not a story about a Jewish family. Yes, it centers on a Jewish family, The Middlestein’s. But it’s really a story of a family growing up, growing older, and growing apart. Set in Chicago, it’s about the good, the bad, the silly and the ugly of being part of a family. The central character, Edie, the mom, copes with life by constantly eating because, as she said, “food was a wonderful place to hide”. This book is poignant, sometimes painful, and always very, very funny!
4) A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts by Sebastian Faulks
(Author of Birdsong)
This is a story of 5 different people leading 5 different lives: a captured British soldier during WWII; a Dickensian child raised in an English “workhouse” in 1859; a devoted charwoman and nanny in France in the 1820’s; a folk singer in the 1970s; and, a genius Italian neurologist in 2029.
Five people, two themes. The first, all of them are trying to find meaning, purpose, direction, satisfaction and, yes, love in their lives. Each is trying to figure out what life is about. The second, the role of chance in all of our lives. No matter what our hopes, dreams and schemes – change and chance occur and chance changes all. Chance can neither be controlled or predicted. In some sense, chance dictates the “possible outcomes and outliers of all of our lives”.
5) A Free Man by Aman Sethi
This is a very serious and sad book. It is a book that will shock you, but it will also move you and make you more grateful than ever for good things in your life.
Aman Sethis is a reporter, trained at Columbia and writing for the Hindi Times, one of the largest English language papers in India. This is the story of Mohammed Ashraf, a 40-something, pot-smoking, hard-drinking house painter who literally lives on the streets of a slum neighborhood in Delhi. Ashraf, and his small gang of fellow tradesmen, live day-to-day and hand-to-month. Their goal, each night, is boiled eggs and many glassfuls of wine and alcohol as their money can buy.
The theme of this book in a sad one: poverty can be insurmountable and trap you forever. Therefore, the only reasonable strategy of those caught in interminable poverty is survival and pleasure and not silly notions about success or bettering one’s lot in life. This book will make you aware of a lifestyle that you might otherwise never get to know.
6) Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
My last choice, and the book that kept me awake for 17 hours between Chicago and Shanghai – is the captivating coming of age story set in the late 1930s – Rules of Civility.
This is not just a story of a young intelligent, ambitious women who climbs the corporate latter to a magazine publisher. It’s really the story of a city – New York City. A place where dreamers, schemers, and immigrants flock to in search of the good life or at least, a better life. “It’s a story of its lights, its lovers, its letters, its luminaries, and its losers.”
But what’s most interesting about this big, bold, nostalgic mini-epic is not just the story and the characters – but the author’s use of prose. Amor Towles is a financial instructor, an investment financier. This is his first novel. But, I hope it’s not his last.