May’s Embarrassment of Riches – A Books & Reading Open Thread
For the past few months I have been bitching to friends and family that I can’t find anything good to read. So I am really looking forward to the next four weeks. May 2012 looks to be a pretty great time to be a reader, at least if you’re me. (Mind you, part of this has to do with the fact that I only found out recently that two of my perennial favorite writers released books in the past few weeks, but still.) On the off chance that you’re a). looking for something to read, b). have tastes at least similar to mine, and c). haven’t already heard about their release, here is a pretty good idea of what I’ll be spending the next several weeks doing in my spare time:
The Mirage, by Matt Ruff (just recently released) – Actually, I read this over this past weekend and it was by far my favorite of all of Ruff’s books, which is quite a feat. It is somewhat similar to Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, in that it operates as a kind of cliched crime noir tale in an alternate universe/timeline. Unlike the Chabon’s terrifically frigid tale of realism, however, Ruff’s is far more playful and fun.
Mirage’s premise is simple enough: It is ten years after the infamous 11/9 terrorist attack on the democratic United Arab States, when fundamentalist Christians flew airliners into Bagdad’s Tigris and Euphrates Trade Towers. After capturing a potential terrorist, an Arab Homeland Security agent is surprised to hear of a growing belief among fundamentalist Christians: The world as everyone knows it is a mirage brought on as a punishment by God for America’s sins of excess; in reality it was actually the politically backward terrorists of the Middle East that flew planes into buildings in Manhattan. This leads to a mystery that is a good enough read on its own, even if the clues that lead to the discovery of the cause of the mirage give away the game far earlier than perhaps Ruff intended. But it is the clever devices Ruff invents to fold real life figures into cliche crime noir supporting characters that delight most: The obligatory crime lord with tangential interests in solving the caper is a megalomanic art collector by the name Saddam Hussein, and the sinister unseen Senator pulling the strings of a political conspiracy is a tall devout Muslim by the name of bin Laden. And the familiar supporting cast in America is even more of a hoot. Highly recommended beach or bed reading.
Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, by Christoher Moore (just recently released) – The usually reliable Moore returns with his first non-series effort since the disappointing Fool. The story is about the actual color Blue and the death of Van Gogh, and involves just about every impressionist painter you’ve ever heard of.
Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (releases on May 8) – By far the book I am most excited about, Bring Up the Bodies is the second book in her series on Thomas Cromwell and the Tudor court, following the phenomenal Wolf Hall. Whereas Mantel’s earlier effort chronicled Cromwell’s rise to power, Bodies will focus on his role in the trial of Anne Boleyn, and the political machinery behind Henry disavowing himself with one of the court’s most powerful families. I’m not a huge historical fiction reader, but the sheer awesomeness of Wolf Hall has me salivating over its release.
In One Person: A Novel – Irving is one of the finest writers of my generation; even when his stories somewhat disappoint, his prose is enough to make me love anything and everything he puts to paper. His new book, which is reported to be an exploration of love, sex and sexual identity though the prism of a bisexual man, will be the very first read I devour after I’ve dispatched Mantel’s.
Railsea, by China Mieville (releases on May 15) – Mieville has proven himself very adapt at creating striking worlds, from the vast and colorful Bas-Lag, to the grey and claustrophobic streets of the Kafka-esque The City & The City. So I am eagerly anticipating this retelling of his near-namesake’s Moby Dick aboard a train on a world that lives on endless rails.
Arcadia, by Lauren Groff (releases on May 15) – Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton was both a critical success and a favorite of mine, so it is with great anticipation that I look toward her new dystopian novel of a post-1970s hippie commune.
Other May notables that will necessarily by pushed out to Summer due to this embarrassment of riches include a new book by Toni Morrison, a new (?!) chapter in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, the fourth book in Robert A. Caro’s amaaaazing LBJ Chronicles (probably the greatest political biography by anyone ever), reliable bathroom reading by Stephen Colbert, and Robert Draper’s book on Tea Party Congress Critters. Little sleep will be had between now and Vegas.
Consider this a reading/books open thread.