I love being a bookseller, don't get me wrong. But there's always a downside to making a passion your job (even though it's worth it): for me, that's the necessity of keeping up with new books. While some of the summer-release books I've written about here are among the best I've read in years, and I have two oddly-similarly-named galleys I'm super excited about (Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, December & Sarah Bakewell's life of Montaigne, How to Live, December), lately I've just been yearning for backlist. After all, there are still so many gaps on my shelves, books I've been meaning to read for years, further novels by some of my favorite authors, co-worker raves I missed. So over the past few weeks, with the exception of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, I've been indulging myself with catchup. And you know what? I don't feel guilty.
Re SSTLS, first: Perhaps it's not fair that subsequent criticism can retcon one's enjoyment of something, but my liking for this book has paled a bit since a couple of the Twitliterati (to coin a phrase) (@jchristie & @bookavore, specifically) were less than enthusiastic. I agree that as satire it's predictable, and a bit toothless--social networking TMI, Chinese domination of the world economy, an increasingly paranoid right-wing U.S.--but the vein running through the novel, the love story, is notable for how old-fashioned it feels. The unattractive older male lover, the young woman of limited prospects, the themes of fierce family loyalty and heartbreaking social climbing: all are very nineteenth-century, at the latest, and I think it's well done. Maybe some of why it's unsatisfying is the combination of near-future and recent-past? Like a stunt-casting version of Hamlet where Ophelia's a dude or something.
Ooh, segue! Matt Haig's The Dead Fathers Club is, in fact, a semi-retelling of Hamlet, with a much younger protagonist (11), which serves to highlight the extremity of the ghost's request: to kill without proof. And from the beginning, it's unclear whether the child's father's shade is even trustworthy; he seems to get details wrong, and he bullies his son into some shocking actions. The occasional direct Shakespeare-analogues are fun to come across (I especially loved the idea of a movie version of The Murder of Gonzago with Mel Gibson and Tobey Maguire), but they don't overwhelm the story. Haig, like Wes Anderson, has made a career out of a fixation on the failures of family, especially fathers; both gentlemen's oeuvres have become favorites of mine. (I hasten to add that I actually have the best father EVER.)
Other reads: Haven Kimmel's The Used World--not up to the brilliance of Iodine, but then what is?--Donald Spoto's wonderful biography of Marlene Dietrich, Blue Angel--a great mix of real-life detail and artistic analysis. I'm currently working on Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World, which is gorgeously written and TERRIBLY sad: makes Laura Rider's Masterpiece's hilarity even more of an achievement. And, because I left that one at the boyfriend's Friday night, I've also started the serious-backlist Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte (the sister nobody reads). Not very far in, but it seems a bit House of Mirth in its depiction of the bleak choices for a skill-less, poor, unmarried woman.