My paperback copy of William McPherson’s Testing the Current is falling apart.
So on a long trip to Dubuque, a Mississippi River town, I began to reread. I read slowly. My tea started making me sick–too acidic–so I had to close my eyes for a while and listen to CDs. Then my husband got bored with listening to CDs, and I woke up and made more progress in the book. Then page 103 fell out of the book, and then a whole section, pp. 105-134.
There you are in the middle of a good book…it’s so upsetting when this happens. My Washington Square Press paperback is beautifully designed, but the paper has come unglued.
My husband wondered why I couldn’t get it at the library.
“Because they won’t have it. I’ll bet you $5.”
He wins most bets–he knows a lot of trivia and statistics–but I am very good on this particular subject. The library has a policy of discarding books after five years.
So we checked our library, then the suburban libraries, which sometimes have a slightly different selection, and then a university library nearby.
My husband couldn’t believe it. He knew this book, too, or of it. How could it not be at the library?
God knows, but it happens all the time.
So, with my gambling winnings, I ordered a used copy of the hardback for a penny, plus shipping (and I still have a dollar left!), and when it arrives I’ll finish it. In the meantime, here’s a précis of the book : Set in Michigan in 1939, the novel is told from the point of view of an eight-year-old boy’, whose observations of his upper-class family, neighbors, and friends are charming and funny. He does not understand all he hears, but the world is on the verge of war, and I’m expecting sadness ahead.
McPherson is a journalist, a Pulitzer winner for Distinguished Criticism, a former editor of the Washington Post Book World, a reporter and op/ed writer, and author of two novels, Testing the Current and the sequel, To the Sargasso Sea. He is also a blogger. You can read his blog, McPherson’s Lament.
DID I READ ENOUGH CONTEMPORARY BOOKS IN AUGUST? I usually read “older” books (pre-21st century), out-of-print books, or classics.
But I try to read four “new” books a month. To me, ANYTHING published in the 21st century is new.
Sometimes I find great books, sometimes mediocre books
In August, I read only two and a half “new” books. I kept striking out. If it’s a choice between a mediocre new book and an out-of-print classic, I’ll go with the classic every time.
Here are the two and a half “new” books I managed to read:
1. Doris Lessing’s The Sweetest Dream. Published in 2001, it delineates the lives and fortunes of a flamboyant extended family in London over three decades. In some ways it is a retelling of The Four-Gated City, sans the science fiction elements. One of her best.
2. Jo-Ann Mapson’s Solomon’s Oak. I very much enjoyed this entertaining novel about a young widow trying to survive on a farm with a wedding planning business and a job at Target, a wounded ex-cop/ photographer who comes to California to recover, a young girl with terrible problems, and dogs. It is what I call a “women’s novel.”
3. John Lanchester’s Capital. This ambitious, heavily promoted, uneven novel about money, ethnicity, and anonymity was compared in a review to Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. That comparison didn’t hold up, so I read only 300 pages.
Now where was the fourth book?
I do have a couple in progress. I am reading Margot Livesey’s The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a retelling of Jane Eyre set in ’50s Scotland, and Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, winner of the Orange Prize. So you could say I have a head start on September.
My anti-nuke, anti-fossil-fuel, anti-cell-phone, anti-driving, pro-bicycling, pro-Planned Parenthood, pro-alternative-energy outlook is a little out of touch, and that is one reason I read new books: to keep up with the culture. But if I can see the underpinnings/outline of a book, and if it is formulaic, I won’t read it. Is it an editing problem? Are writers being dumbed down?
I know nothing about the publishing world.