Reading List 2010 (16/138)

It’s December, and I’ve got three cubic feet of books I haven’t blogged yet. I guess there’ll be some large lists in the days ahead!

  • The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Haruki Murakami
  • Spy Story, Len Deighton
  • The Associate, John Grisham
  • The Abduction, Mark Gimenez
  • The Pen / O. Henry Prize Stories 2010, ed. Laura Furman
  • Roseanna, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • The Man Who Went Up In Smoke, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • The Man on the Balcony, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • The Laughing Policeman, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • The Fire Engine that Disappeared, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • Murder at the Savoy, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • The Abominable Man, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • The Locked Room, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • Cop Killer, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
  • The Terrorists, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

If I’m to have any hope of making it through my backlog before 2011, I’ve got to keep this short! (But what are the odds of that?)

I love Murakami, but I prefer his short stories to his novels. The novels can sometimes sprawl, making his surrealistic techniques seem sloppy when they’re really being deployed with great precision. In his short stories, though, he creates a haunting sense of nostalgia and wonder basically every time. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a great place to start if you haven’t read his stories before. My favorite, “Birthday Girl,” comes early in the volume, but I think you’ll find your own story to love – one that helps you make the kind of heart-deep connections so many of his protagonists are looking for.

The Little Stranger is creepy as hell, with a wonderfully Gothic flavor. Recommended.

The Abduction, on the other hand, is crappy as hell, with a wonderfully gender-norm-reinforcing flavor. Avoid.

(If you’re looking for a distraction-inducing thriller, try the Grisham instead; the main character is kind of a douche, but at least Grisham seems to realize it, and the plot makes some kind of coherent sense.)

Sjowal and Wahloo set out to write a series of mystery novels – early police procedurals, actually – that would “cut open the belly of the ideologically pauperized and morally debatable so-called welfare state of the bourgeois type.” I don’t know enough about ’70s Sweden to know how well they did, but the long arc of the books shows the decay of Swedish institutions, buried under contradictory rhetoric. Many of these books are fantastic mysteries in their own right; The Man Who Went Up in Smoke and The Fire Engine that Disappeared are my two favorites. The real reason to read these, though, is for the way the characters develop – including the character of Swedish society – which happens to be in the context of solving mysteries. Warning: Roseanna was, I thought, one of the slowest and least successful of the series. Do start there, but do persevere into book two even if you don’t love the first one!

Happy reading!

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