Friday, August 26, 2016

Where Did Summer (and Summer Reading) Go?

By Art Taylor

Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda has written before about his preferences for winter reading (the long nights perfect for history, as he says in one of the capsule reviews here, and for mystery, as he says here, and for ghost stories too, as he said in a column I can't find to link); for summer, he seems to like an equally wide range, though maybe still with a lean toward genre fiction, as he shows here.

For me, summer is distinct from the other seasons in a different but significant way: During the school year, I'm mostly reading texts for class, while in the summer I mostly have more freedom in my reading.

I should emphasize that word mostly in both cases. During the school year, I'm always sneaking in some reading of my own (often short stories), and as this summer proved, it's sometimes tough to break cleanly from the academic world.

After posting grades at the end of spring semester, the first book I read —and greatly enjoyed—brought me fully back onto the college campus: Cynthia Kuhn's The Semester of Our Discontent. And a collection I picked up next, B.K. Stevens' Her Infinite Variety, featured a great story about adjuncts—more university life! (I actually wrote about both of these books in a column at the Washington Independent Review of Books, along with some other academic mysteries.)

By the second half of the summer, I was already gearing up for the next school year (starting this Monday!)—reading and research specifically into 19th-century detective fiction by women writers for a course called "Women of Mystery" I'll be teaching for the first time. It was great fun to revisit or to read for the first time works by Harriet Prescott Spofford, Mary Fortune, C.L. Pirkis, Anna Katherine Green, and Baroness Orczy, among others. (And if you want links to some free reads by several of these writers, check out my column on this topic, also at the Washington Independent Review of Books.)

Was there anything I read that didn't circle in one way or another back to academia?

Yes. I read Iain Reid's twisty, edgy thriller I'm Thinking of Ending Things (which I wrote about here at my other group blog, SleuthSayers).

I reread Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man (which I also wrote about at SleuthSayers).

And I finally read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (maybe the last person I know to do so, and while I don't have plans to write about anywhere, I will say I really admired it...at least until the final sections).

All these links to other newspapers and magazines and blogs.... Any chance of showing some love to the blog at hand?

Yes, again! Here past the half-year mark, I'm also happy to report that I've stayed completely on track with my chapter-a-day goal to read War and Peace this year—a new year's resolution I wrote about in my first post of 2016 here at Criminal Minds.

As for the other resolutions... well, that's for another post toward the end of the year, I guess.

#

As usual, a quick bit of news here at column's end. This Sunday, August 28, I'll be joining my wife, Tara Laskowski, and our good friend David Olimpio for this month's edition of the Reston Readings series at Reston's Used Book Shop in Reston, Virginia.

Did I write Reston enough?

The reading starts at 5:30 p.m., and full information is available at the event's Facebook page here. Folks in the DC area, hope to see you there!

18 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Hey, Art, some definite food for thought...or reading here. But a question re: Gone Girl. Your say "I will say I really admired it right up til the end," which can be taken two ways. Either you admired it until the last page or you admired until the end when you didn't admire it so much anymore. (Sorry if that sounds confusing.) The reason I ask is because I know a lot of people really liked the book till maybe the last 1/4 or fifth and then it didn't work so much anymore for them and they ended up not liking it as much as they thought they did. So I'm wondering where you fall on this spectrum.

Art Taylor said...

You're right, Paul—I didn't realize that could be read two ways, but I'll edit now and clarify. Basically, I'm in that same situation as those other folks you mention: The last bit of the book--the resolution, if we could call it that--just didn't work anymore, whereas the set up and complications were fascinating.

Thanks for asking!

Meredith Cole said...

I agree with you about Gone Girl, Art! I enjoyed it, but thought the end did not work at all. But it made me doubt the whole reading experience a bit...

Art Taylor said...

Yep, Meredith--though to her credit, it was indeed a tough corner she'd written herself into. A good exercise maybe to think about what we would've plotted differently at the end to try to resolve it all!

B.K. Stevens said...

Thanks for mentioning Her Infinite Variety, Art--glad you enjoyed "Adjuncts Anonymous." I just this summer discovered one of the authors you mention, Anna Katherine Green, and got a collection of her Violet Strange stories. I've read only a few stories so far and don't have a definite opinion of her yet, but I'm intrigued and charmed. Will you be including her in your Women of Mystery class?

Art Taylor said...

Hi, Bonnie -- Thanks for the comment here! I still haven't finished all the stories in Her Infinite Variety--just the way I read short story collections, I'll admit--but really enjoying the ones I've read and looking forward to the rest of them.

I'm teaching one of the Violet Strange stories--"The Second Bullet"--but have read and enjoyed many of them. We're also reading a section from one of Green's Amelia Butterworth novels, looking at the contrast in those characters and the way they each serve as precursors to other detectives (characters who are ultimately more iconic, think of comparing Butterworth to Miss Marple, for example).

In any case, glad you're enjoying them so far!

RM Greenaway said...

War and Peace, just on the side?! The posts this week have been inspiring, but also discouraging for a slow reader. If reading is a marathon, I'm definitely coming in last, and limping across the line. (But it's not, so that's okay)
Once I've finished The Last of the Independents, and Vancouver Cold Case, Triggerfish, the latest Gamache, and the other ten or so I've got on my list, maybe I'll get to Gone Girl too!

Art Taylor said...

I know what you mean, Rae — but really I'm a slow reader too. War and Peace a chapter a day is doable; the chapters are mostly really short (a couple of pages), and there are 365 of them, so it's exactly a year-long project. Bit by bit, I'm getting there! :-)

Susan C Shea said...

Are you enjoying War & Peace? I tried to read it twice, beginning in college, and would have shelved it for good except that there was this wonderful, many-episode BBC production starring Anthony Hopkins. The trick was finally understanding that the same character could have four names! I read the entire novel after watching the series and loved it.

Cynthia Kuhn said...

Art, I'm really honored by the inclusion here and thrilled that you liked SEMESTER. Thank you! And I have to mention that the amazing ON THE ROAD WITH DEL AND LOUISE was both my spring and summer reading...because I loved it so much, I read it TWICE. So: a shout out to *that* wonderful book!

Huzzah for Violet Strange and AKG! Wish I could be a student in your Women of Mystery class. I have been working up a class off and on for awhile but haven't submitted it yet...am so excited you are teaching one, and on 19th C in particular. There are so many early women mystery writers who aren't quite as well known as they should be, in my humble opinion. Kudos to you!

Art Taylor said...

Hi, Susan and Cynthia — Thanks for the comments here!

Susan: Yes, I'm enjoying it--though was already anticipating the names (Anna Karenina is a favorite book, I've read it several times, so used to it). Reading it in bits and pieces is great; last time I tried to read it, I was just pushing through and I felt overwhelmed by it all, the sheer mass of it. This new approach is manageable.

And Cynthia: Thanks for the kinds words on On the Road, which is an odd book in many ways, so I appreciate all kindness toward it. :-) I've just posted the syllabus for the Women of Mystery class and still fretting about all the great authors and books and stories that had to be left behind, trying to cover a century and a half and more in the course of a single semester. But I've hit some highpoints, and we'll check in on some representative names and trends and subgenres and whatever. I hope the students will have fun!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for the clarification, Art. I'm in the same boat. Loved the book in every way...till towards the end.

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