Reading List 2011 (11/132)

Recent reading:

  • Big Machine, Victor Lavalle
  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
  • The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  • The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  • Long Gone, Alafair Burke
  • The Innocence  of Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton
  • The Wisdom of Father Brown,  G. K. Chesterton
  • The Incredulity of Father Brown,  G. K. Chesterton
  • The Secret of Father Brown,  G. K. Chesterton
  • The Scandal of Father Brown,  G. K. Chesterton

I often read thematically. Sometimes I’ll read everything by a single author – which, okay, the complete Father Brown stories, so you can see me doing it right now. Sometimes I’ll get into a particular topic, like Roman history or class in America or what have you. But the theme here, though you probably can’t see it, is “Holy crap, you can get free out-of-copyright books on your e-reader!”

Vanity Fair, for example, is one of my favorite books of all time. I can’t tell you how much it delights me that it’s always accessible, no matter where I am, as long as I’ve got some kind of reading device with me. I like to think Thackeray would have said something witty about smartphones and tablets. Maybe he’d have come up with an extended metaphor about mirrors in which one believes one’s soul to be reflected, but in truth only show one’s face. I can imagine ambitious, clever Becky Sharp texting her lovers, or Amelia Sedley mooning over George Osborne’s Facebook page. I’m surprised no one’s tried to update this particular story a la Cruel Intentions; I think it would hold up surprisingly well.

I read Treasure Island while sailing a boat. Or, more accurately, we set anchor in a little cove off the main channel of the river, and I lay in the sun and read about pirates and treasure and the black spot. I know enough about sailing, now, that I can follow the sailing-specific parts of the adventure, which makes me feel pretty darn cool.

Perhaps the coolest thing in this particular reading list, though, is Lavalle’s Big Machine. I didn’t know much about the novel going in, and I’m not even sure how I heard about it, but it blew me away. The hero, Ricky Rice, is a bus-station janitor on the run from a dark past. He gets mixed up with a secret society and becomes an investigator into supernatural secrets, while having to pick sides in a generations-long feud and stop a terrorist attack. The book reminded me of Colson Whitehead and Haruki Murakami – an offbeat conspiracy that takes issues of race and class and culture very seriously and very lightly at the same time. Highly recommended.

Father Brown remains delightful, but I keep wanting to take Chesterton by the shoulders and shake him and explain that one doesn’t have to be Catholic to be empathetic and perceptive and generous and kind. I think Father Brown is actually a remarkable humanist, who also happens to be a Catholic priest. Unfortunately Chesterton is a little too committed to his point of view to see it.

Finally, The Phantom Tollbooth is even better when re-read as an adult; I suggest you do.

Happy reading!

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