Hello friends, did you guys know that I really enjoy reading? Here are some books I’ve read recently (or am currently reading).
The Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz — I was really impressed by the inventive plotting of his previous novel in this series, The Magpie Murders. The protagonist of both books is a book editor whose name I can’t remember, who is forced to investigate a murderer in which a (now-deceased) author of hers has some mysterious involvement. The fun of the books is that each has a novel inside a novel. The frame story is a contemporary detective tale, while the novel inside the novel, which was ostensibly written by the now-deceased author, is a golden age detective story about a German Poirot-style detective named Atticus Punt. If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. You read the book constantly wondering how the two novels are going to come together, and eventually they do, though for the life of me I can’t remember anything about the murder or its resolution in the first book. It’s odd how sterile this sort of cleverness can sometimes be. But I still highly recommend.
Thieves in Retirement by Hamdi Abu Golayyel – A (relatively) contemporary Egyptian novel in translation, I’m gonna pat myself on the back for finding this one because it came out from a university press, not even a mainstream indie publisher. It’s a tale, essentially: the interlocking narratives of a number of dwellers of an apartment building in Cairo. I don’t say this often, but I think it would be fair to say that there is no plot, aside from some stabs at metafiction where the first-person narrator tries to shape the story consciously. But on a page by page level, the story is interesting and detailed. Its residents hover around the demimonde or underclass of Cairo: they’re the middle of the lower, let’s say. The book is filled with crime: bribery, prostitution, drug smuggling. And it’s got a fair amount of sexual adventure and misadventure too. Its earthy style and discursive structure reminded me strongly of the Arabian Nights.
Life of Lazarillo de Tormes by Anonymous – A 16th century Spanish novel, it predates Don Quixote, and the claim is that this novel essentially invented the (picaresque). I don’t know how true that is (I am always suspicious of claims that a book invented anything). But this is an excellent example of a picaresque. A boy is given into the service of a blind beggar, and they victimize and try to cheat each other. Then the boy slips from master to master–a priest, a squire, a seller of indulgences–and the book satirizes each. Told with a lively and humor-filled first-person style. Also very short, only 120 pages. Of these three I’d probably recommend it the most strongly.
Tender: Stories by Sofia Samatar – So now that I’m writing more stories, I decided to read more too. I started with an old edition of Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy that I had bought at a discount, but none of the other stories were as good as the Sofia Samatar story at the beginning (a fantastically complex and inventive story about a dystopian world where girls are pulled away from their parents and sent to a summer camp to prepare them for their future lives). So I decided what I really wanted was to read more Samatar. What gives her stories their impact is her beautiful, humane voice. Or rather, her beautiful, humane way with voice. I’m only a few stories in, but there’s one at the beginning, called The Walkdog, about a high school girl writing an essay, with footnotes, about a local myth made up by a real Nerd, a guy who really stinks of total nerd gas, who happens to be in the same class as her. Some might read the story and say the voice is off, that it feels too young for the age of the protagonists, but I actually think it’s true to life, which is that many teens do actually have young voices. Just as there are teens who are more sophisticated than their age, there are teens who are less so (and a lot of sci-fi and fantasy fans happened to be the latter). It’s that sort of fine eye that makes these stories shine. They’re not JUST inventive and full of haunting, mythic images: they’re also funny and terribly human and specific. It’s a great combination. Can’t wait to read further.