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August 2014

Books that leave a dent in the wall

Well, not a literal dent. I think the Edwardsville Public Library would prefer I did not actually throw a book that I simply could not finish. And these books weren't exactly throw-worthy... but lately I seem to be on a really slow run of boring books I can't even finish.

For starters... Glory, by Jack Curtis. Somehow I acquired this book from my parents' library when I moved out, and I guess I always thought it must have been awesome. But chapter after chapter goes by, I hate everyone in the book, even the detective is annoying (and sleeping with his dead wife's friend, so not terribly likable either), and finally I just didn't care enough to stick it out and find out how the mysterious killer is able to remain invisible to his victims.

Next came "Among the Gently Mad," which was billed as an affectionate examination of book collecting. Now, I'm not saying I'm a book hoarder. My lovely little house is delightfully decorated with 1,149 books on shelves, not including the book stock, cookbooks or the books that belong to my fiance or son. I thought I might pick up some ideas for finding rare books or caring for the few I do own. But none of that was really there. It was about the collectors themselves, not the collections. I wanted to hear ideas for discerning a true first edition or the best way to gently restore a damaged 200-year-old book spine. So I guess I'm gently mad.

Then was The Cobra Event by Richard Preston, whose nonfiction The Hot Zone is probably getting extra credit right now as the Ebola outbreak continues. The Cobra Event, by contrast, is a work of fiction, trying to show us how New York City would handle a biological attack using an Ebola-like strain. Sounds exciting! But unfortunately, Preston is too in love with the science. I have trudged through the minutia of Tom Clancy and the philosophical debates of Michael Crichton (see how much of the novel Jurassic Park is devoted to chaos theory, you can pass an exam after) and am a reasonably well-educated person who is truly fascinated by epidemiology and virology. But somehow, The Cobra Event could not keep me interested past the first couple of chapters. Round after round about setting up the lab just couldn't hold my interest. On the other hand, it was great for insomnia.

Finally, I snagged The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin. A promising beginning, with a ship's captain and his wife tragically killed at sea. Then the surviving family, their grief and sadness... and... there might be a ghost, or there might not be, and it seems like it's going to surround their orphaned son but oops I guess not, and ... I simply couldn't bring myself to read much further. Apparently Arthur Conan Doyle shows up, along with a female journalist decades before Nellie Bly, and a medium, and love that transcends death or some such. It lost me. 

Usually it's hard to lose me - hell, I finished The Inner Game of Tennis when I was in college, and that was the dullest thing I'd read since Billy Budd. (Ducking the Melville fans as they throw oversized tomes at my head.) But lately, I find my attention must be caught quickly or not at all. Life is short, spare time is scarce and I'm getting too old to waste days or weeks on a dull book.

But it hasn't been a completely dead year for books, and if there's still any readers hanging around this blog after my long absence, I'll fill you in on some of my terrific finds. Spoiler: You want to find Seanan McGuire's new book Sparrow Hill Road, and do it now.