After too long away from reading on a regular basis, once again I find myself devouring books. It helps that most of what I’ve been reading has been pretty good, if not excellent.
Not surprisingly, Sherlock Holmes kickstarted my current reading jag. For Christmas CuteFilmNerd gave me the second volume of Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories (he couldn’t find the first volume; he also got me The Complete Granada Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett, who is my favorite Holmes – just edging out Basil Rathbone), which was great, since it helped to replace my volume of The Complete Sherlock Holmes which was lost in The Great Storage Unit Letting Go of Aught-Seven (stupid finances – that book was a present from my parents and had my senior prom corsage pressed in it – I still miss it). I found the first volume and off I was a-reading.
I hadn’t read the stories in ages and was pleased to rediscover such wonderful tales as “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,” “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” and “The Adventure of the Red Circle,” amongst others.
Then onto Transparency by Frances Hwang, a lovely, lyrical collection of short stories about Chinese-Americans – both immigrants and native born – struggling to find a comfortable place between two worlds…and not always succeeding. My follow-up was Hot Toddy by Andy Edmonds, about the life and murder of Thelma Todd, a notable 1930s comedic actress. The story was fascinating. The writing? Not so much. The book starts out with Todd’s murder and the resulting Grand Jury hearing, then segues very clumsily into Todd’s life. Too many liberties with what the author assumed people were thinking at specific times, such as when on the witness stand. I kept reading because the story intrigued me, but I often wrestled with the urge to slap the writer.
Next I thought I would cleanse my palate with A Hole in Texas by Herman Wouk. I’d never read his stuff before, but since he was a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, I figured it oughta be good. Plus the subject was one that appealed to me: an obscure NASA scientist thrust into the harsh media glare thanks to the apparent discovery of the Higgs boson by the Chinese. Turns out Wouk had the obscure NASA scientist working at my beloved space center – Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Even more amazing to me was that Wouk had the scientist working on the Terrestrial Planet Finder, which made its first appearance on page four and popped up here and there in the book. As I know a number of scientists and engineers who work on that project (I had even temped there for a couple of weeks in 2006) and I help out the secretary of the guy who heads up the program office under which the TPF is run (which she reciprocates – we share a cubicle, so it’s a good thing we get along so well), I found it rather trippy. The byproduct of working at a high-profile organization, I suppose. Hell, I’m still slightly freaked out from reading about my building’s destruction in Lucifer’s Hammer even though I love the book.
Unfortunately, as much as I loved all the science stuff in A Hole in Texas, I didn’t like the book much. It was a bit soapy and the dialogue didn’t ring true. By necessity the characters – especially the protagonist in regards to the Superconducting Super Collider – were forced to be Exposition People and it didn’t feel organic at all. In addition, the scientist at the center of everything felt like a bit of a male Mary Sue, with three different beautiful, intelligent women strongly attracted to and/or in love with him.
Wouk’s brother Victor was a Caltech alumni (and one of the pioneers of electric and hybrid cars), so it’s not surprising that JPL be the NASA space center involved. I do find that interesting.
Anywho, yesterday I finished The Insufficiency of Maps by Nora Piecre. Gorgeous and heart-breaking in its simplicity, Pierce tells the story of a small Native American girl living on the edges of society with her schizophrenic mother. In the process she employs the style of writing that I enjoy reading most: simple words and sentence construction that, when strung together, become gentle, searing poetry. Hwang’s writing in Transparency is much the same. Simply lovely. It took me one and a half days to read each of these books.
This morning I began Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. It started out interesting enough. There is some changing of tense, which usually bugs the crap out of me, but Franklin does it well. Her prose is not as simple as Hwang’s or Pierce’s, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s still well written. Adelia (the protagonist – a female medical examiner during the 12th Century) is real and even admirable – her intelligence and straightfoward demeanor in a time when women were considered nothing more than chattel and accessories feels like a satisfying, “Fuck you,” to the superstitious England of the day.
As can be evidenced by this rather long post, my recent spate of reading has gotten the writing portion of my brain churning again. Let’s cross our fingers that the churning keeps on keeping on and that the ideas actually make their ways from my brain to my fingertips.