Friday the 13th

I always look forward to reading the Washington Post Book Club essays by Ron Charles, but I don’t always get to it until later than posted. Today Charles explains “Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.” The Urban Dictionary says once you pronounce it, you are cured.

Editor Vanessa Cronin suggests a few books to read today, including a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child – Bad Luck and Trouble, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s hilarious Good Omens, and the book that might have started it all – Friday the Thirteenth written in 1907 by Thomas William Lawson.

I am currently reading Mrs. March by Virginia Feito, about a New York Upper East side wealthy socialite who suspects her author husband has mimicked her (not favorably) as the main character in his latest bestseller. Although starting out as a mild narrative, it is morphing into a Patricia Highsmith type of slow-boiling thriller. In her review for the New York Times, Christine Mangan says:

“By the time we approach the end, there is little doubt as to the fate of Mrs. March. And yet the final pages are shocking nonetheless, and readers may find themselves tempted to return to the beginning in order to understand just what Feito has so convincingly managed to achieve within her accomplished debut.”

I can’t wait – seems like a good page turner for Friday the Thirteenth.

What are you reading today?

A Liitle Magic Always Helps

Moving on from murderous tales and creepy characters, I’ve been watching “The Adventures of Merlin” on Netflix with flashing swords and mythic magic.

The impish young Merlin honing his magical skills in secret in the days when Arthur was a prince of Camelot and Merlin was an apprentice to the court physican, is a treat to watch. Taking more than poetic license with White’s Once and Future King (referenced by the Dragon to Merlin), the plot barely resembles either White’s post World War II tales or the original fifteenth century telling in Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur.”

This BBC version changes many pieces of the well known legend but keeps enough of a foundation to make the stories exciting and somewhat predictable. For example, Guinevere is the lowly serving girl to Morgana (still the villain and Arthur’s half/sister). Arthur loves Gwen, promising to break with tradition and marry her. Whenever Merlin’s eyes glow and he mutters a pseudo Latin or Gaelic phrase, he is the superhero we all love and wish we were.

Raluca Radulescu of Bangor University writes “…our modern appetite for fantasy {is} a reflection of our need to reinvent the past, and bring hope into our present. Moral integrity, loyalty to one’s friends and kin, abiding by the law and defending the weak, form the cornerstone of Arthurian {legend}. They offer the reassurance that doing the morally right thing is valuable, even if it may bring about temporary defeat. In the end, virtues and values prevail…”

We could all use a little hope and some moral integrity in our world these days. Watching the series has inspired me to reread or listen to some old favorites: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mary Stewart’s The Last Enchantment. Have you read them?

My Thrilling List

Book titles catch my eye but I really don’t have a list. I write them on little slips of paper, the backs of envelopes, at the bottom of the plumber’s list, on the paint swatches – all in a pile I keep planning to organize.

All night thrillers seem to attract me the most lately, vicariously providing satisfaction from feeling powerless over the verbal abuse by the plumber’s secretary, along with false promises and purposeful delays on a seemingly endless renovation.

A few books lately have offered some respite:

Megan Miranda’s Such A Quiet Place had the same twisting switchbacks as her earlier book The Last House Guest. This story has the neighborhood in a small college town disrupted by murder and the return of the murderer, when she is released early from prison. Speculation, gossip, and manipulative friendships twist the plot, and the idea of being a good neighbor gets a makeover.

The Turnout by Megan Abbott sets the scene in a small, old ballet studio needing a renovation after a fire caused by a space heater. With my recent experiences with a renovation, I could relate to some of the lines: “He has to finish that renovation sometime” and “Aren’t there some states, she’d heard Detective Mendoza joke to Walters, where murdering your contractor is a misdemeanor?” A creepy thriller with a twisting plot. You may never think of the Nutcracker the same again.

Finally, The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry starts as a routine police procedural but quickly morphs into a strange tale of a serial killer with touches of sci-fi. This page turner follows a journalist investigating the murder of a young attractive real estate agent. Her chase leads her through time and space into parallel universes as the reporter discovers she’s not the only one who’s in pursuit of the murderer, who keeps killing the same woman in different versions of her life. The time travel keeps the pace fast, and the ending may have you wondering which version of the good life you are living. Lots of fun.

What books offer you an escape?

The Booker Longlist

The Booker longlist is one I have anticipated, but in the past few years it has not inspired me to read from it. The prestigious literary award is given each year to the best novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. This year, however, when I really need a few good books, the list holds promise for me.

I’ve already read Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, and I have Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle on my library list. I will add Frances Spufford’s Light Perpetual where the author imagines how the lives of five children killed by a German V-2 rocket in 1944 might have turned out had they survived the bombing.

Richard Powers, author of the Overstory, has a powerful new story in Bewilderment, to be published in the United States in September. “The novel is set in the near future amid Earth’s slow deterioration. It follows a widowed father of a most unusual and troubled nine-year-old boy, as he turns to an experimental neurological treatment in order to save his son.”

Perhaps you’ll find something too. The full longlist includes:

  • Anuk Arudpragasam’s A Passage North
  • Rachel Cusk’s Second Place
  • Damon Galgut’s The Promise
  • Nathan Harris’ The Sweetness of Water
  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun
  • Karen Jennings’ An Island
  • Mary Lawson’s A Town Called Solace
  • Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This
  • Nadifa Mohamed’s The Fortune Men
  • Richard Powers’ Bewilderment
  • Sunjeev Sahota’s China Room
  • Maggie Shipstead’s Great Circle
  • Francis Spufford’s Light Perpetual

Book Lust

Librarians always know the best books to read, and Nancy Pearl, Librarian of the Year in 2011, and NPR commentator and book reviewer, combined her recommendations into a book – Book Lust. Published in 2003, I am just getting to it, and making my list from it. Pearl has written a few sequels since then but this is a good place to start.

The book chapters are organized alphabetically by theme from “My Name is Alice” (authors) to “Zen Buddism” and “Zero,” and I started by skipping around, landing on “Magical Realism, Intriguing Novels, and First Lines to Remember.” Ultimately, I just flipped through all the pages, taking notes as I went, looking for new reads, and gratified when I came across a familiar title I had read.

Here are a few for my to-read list:

  1. Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night uses a reunion at Oxford as the setting for an academic mystery without a murder.
  2. John Banville’s The Untouchable is based on Sir Anthony Blunt, art historian, Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures, and one of the infamous group of Cambridge spies.
  3. Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams tells about Cosi Noline, who comes home to Arizona to find an ill father, complications in love, and a town facing an environmental threat.

Pearl includes a separate section – “One Hundred Good Reads, Decade By Decade,” from 1900 to 1990s; the book includes an overwhelming list of titles with separate sections for her favorite authors, including Barbara Pym and Gore Vidal. It’s impossible not to find something to read.

What I’ve Read and Enjoyed Lately – but not Reviewed

  • The Paris Library by Janet Charles – based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II
  • Dream Girl by Laura Lippman – Another thriller from the author of “Lady in the Lake.” With traces of Rear Window, this is a page turner.
  • The Vixen by Francine Prose – Although it’s been almost seventy years since Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for espionage, Anne Sebba’s biography on Ethel Rosenberg recently brought the story back into view. Francine Prose brings her fictionalized and somewhat askew version of Ethel Rosenberg into her new novel The Vixen. Maria Semple , one of my favorite authors, calls it ” a rollicking trickster of a novel, wondrously funny and wickedly addictive.”

What I’m Reading Now…

  • The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
  • Such A Quiet Place by Megan Miranda