I’ve been reading lots this last year (less music, almost no videogames) writing here about the good ones, and mostly silent about the others. But there’s this category of books I didn’t like but you might, because I think the failing might be in me not the work. As in good, but not for me. Herewith, then, words on Assumption by Percival Everett, Malarky by Anakana Schofield, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.
Malarky · Disclosure: Anakana is a Vancouver Irishwoman and I know her, our kids were in school together and she’s been to our parties. I think this is probably the best among the not-for-me books.
It’s about Our Woman, an Irish farmer’s wife who is beset by treachery and tragedy, much of it sexual. There’s the disconnect: I am of the New World, and male, and urban, with a life that’s been fairly free of betrayal, disaster, and sexual drama. So, the stretch was just too far. But the writing is almost unbearably intense, it’s impossible not to care for Our Woman, and the book’s reviewers have been effusive. On top of which, there’s some entirely unique narration of sex.
If you fall into even one of the book’s baskets where I didn’t, you might really like this.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore · You know, I really ought to have liked this: It’s got high-tech startups and Ruby programming and Googlers and antiquarian books and cryptography, and Robin Sloan is something of a geek; both he and I have been on The Setup. And yeah, I smiled in lots of places. But my problems with this book and with Malarky are mirror images of each other; I just know too much about the subject matter here, and the book is, well, wrong. Google isn’t like that and cryptography isn’t like that.
Having said that, the startups are lifelike and the book lore is good clean fun. And there are lots of super-interesting, charming, people in the story, and it is a ripping yarn.
Recommended, I think, for those not quite as close as me to the subjects at hand as I am.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union · I picked up both this one and Mr. Penumbra because they were plugged in The Economist, usually a reliable source. Chabon is obviously a formidable writer and this won both the Hugo and Nebula and is generally considered wonderful. Disclosure: I haven’t finished it.
It’s a sprawling detective story in an alternate history where the Jewish diaspora ends up in Alaska’s Sitka district. I think I might have enjoyed this more if I were better-versed in Jewish culture; maybe I’m missing some pieces of the puzzle? Or maybe I’m just weird.
Anyhow, I was dragging myself along from sentence to sentence through the drifting clouds of exotic atmospherics and eventually ran out of gas. Then, on a recent plane trip, I finished another book and this was all that was unread on the Nexus, so I read some more, and maybe I’ll have enough momentum to make it through to the end this time. But it’ll never be a favorite.
Assumption · Percival Everett is a Professor of English at USC as well as a writer. This is a Southwestern atmospheric, quite strongly reminiscent of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police books, which I entirely recommend.
Lonely law-enforcement type, check. Desert spaces, check. People on the down and out, check. Slow soft conversation then sudden explosions of violence, check.
But... I dunno, I never felt like putting it down when I was reading it, but after it was over (stay to the end, There Is A Surprise) I really didn’t feel much moved, or like reading any more Everett.
I can’t say why; the stories are well-plotted and the protagonist is really a piece of work. A mystery; but I may be in a minority in being unmoved.