Last week I blogged about how, thanks to my not-novel-reading but my continued novel-buying, I had a backlog of books and not enough time to read them all. I invited blog readers and Twitter followers to help me decide what to read and what to set aside and just like that, progress was made.
I quickly dispersed with Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (the general consensus was you could take it or leave it – I left it), The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (doesn’t live up to the hype) and The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith (all kinds of bad apparently, even though I loved his first novel, Child 44). Unfortunately two new books were added to the pile in their place: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Caught by Harlan Coben. My excuse for making a bad problem worse? Well, I’d ordered The Book Thief before I went trawling through my bookshelves looking for The Great Unread, and I have to buy every new Coben title no later than three days after it comes out, or else.
The first book I picked was actually a memoir that had slipped through the cracks, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. At around five o’clock one afternoon I said to myself I’d read a few pages, and I did nothing else for the rest of the night except plough through it. I honestly can’t remember the last time I got so engrossed in a book, and was engrossed from the get go. The Glass Castle is the story of the Walls family, led by an alcoholic father and an eccentric mother, and the trails and tribulations that take them from the Arizona desert to the mountains of West Virginia to the streets of New York City. In the prologue, a grown Jeannette is in a cab that’s taking her from her Park Avenue apartment to a society party, worried about whether or not she’s overdressed, when she sees her mother out of the car’s window – she’s homeless, and rustling in a Dumpster. At times completely infuriating, this is a book that stays with you long after you’ve finished it, and has you breathlessly telling your friends about it the following day. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I felt I might be on a roll then, so I moved onto The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel and all of its 181 pages. The blurb claimed it was a new take on the murder mystery, one in which neither the narrator, characters or the authorities ultimately discover the culprit, but in which the reader was “left to reach the devastating conclusion alone”. Um, okay… If this is what the book actually did, that would be great. Instead it left me cold. It was sparse all right, but to the point of non-sensical, and half way through, I knew who had done the deed. There was no suspense involved and the ‘reveal’ wasn’t at all devastating. Furthermore, the story is recounted in such an odd way that I wouldn’t have even known what was going on if it wasn’t for the blurb, which is surely not a good thing. The Times apparently thought it was ‘remarkable, sparse, chilling.’ They mustn’t get out much.
I gobbled up Caught during the train ride home and as per usual, Coben thrilled, shocked and twisted his way through yet another consistently great thriller. While it wasn’t my favorite, Caught was well worth a read (and made a three hour train journey pass in the blink of an eye) but if you’ve never read Coben before, I suggest you start with something like Tell No One, Gone for Good or Just One Look.
I started The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta and am so far loving it; there is a clever laugh on every single page. Honestly, if the Wish Fairies descended and granted me my every wish, one of them would be to write just like Perrotta. Thanks to my extremely exciting agent news my time over the next few weeks will be taken up almost completely with editing, so I don’t know when I’ll get around to finishing it. Whenever it is, I’m looking forward to it.