Monday, November 17, 2008

What I'm Reading

For an early birthday gift, I just received this: Proust Was A Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer.
From Publishers Weekly: “With impressively clear prose, Lehrer explores the oft-overlooked places in literary history where novelists, poets and the occasional cookbook writer predicted scientific breakthroughs with their artistic insights… how CĂ©zanne anticipated breakthroughs in the understanding of human sight, how Walt Whitman intuited the biological basis of thoughts and, in the title essay, how Proust penetrated the mysteries of memory by immersing himself in childhood recollections…”

I love stuff about how our minds work, so this looks fascinating to me. And I’m charmed that the sweet man who gave it to me knew it’s exactly the sort of thing I like.

In fiction, I just finished this: The Wolfman, by Nicholas Pekearo.

From Publishers Weekly: Marlowe Higgins, who's both a werewolf and a detective, lives in the small town of Evelyn, just outside the Tennessee border, flipping burgers by day and waiting for the full moon that will awaken the blood curse that has afflicted his family for generations. Higgins has hit on a way to alleviate the guilt he feels for having claimed countless innocent lives—he investigates vicious crimes that have gone unsolved by the police and targets the perpetrators in his lupine form. When a sadistic serial killer known as the Rose Killer for the flowers left in the victims' eye sockets appears in Evelyn, Higgins turns his attention to tracking him down.”

I got this book after seeing it reviewed on the Slog. I figured if those hipster book snobs had to grudgingly admit it was good, then I’d definitely like it. (I do not dig highbrow fiction any more than I dig highbrow films, or for that matter, highbrow food. Philistines, unite!)

And I did indeed like it. Pekearo’s prose is spare, and almost too terse for my taste - but not quite. He reminds me of a tightly edited Steven King, and also of the author who King says influenced him, Richard Matheson. It’s got the stark landscape – both inner and outer – of a lot of King’s horror novels, but with a flavor of the hard-boiled-detective genre, too. If I was casting this as a movie, I’d want someone like Nick Nolte or Nicholas Cage as the lead – a guy who’d taken some hard knocks and survived, but who had very little to lose and as a result, feared nothing.

(One quibble – this teensy little town in the middle of nowhere has not one but two flourishing multi-girl brothels, and one of them is very upscale? Oh please. I can believe in a werewolf easier than I can believe in that.)

The story unrolls smoothly for most of the book, wobbling only a trifle towards the end. Still, I liked the characters enough to shrug it off and enjoy it overall. Sadly, the author has died, so we’ll see no sequels to this book.

And now I have another twist-on-the-genre novel loaded on the Kindle and ready to go…

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setter.

From Publishers Weekly: “Former academic Setterfield pays tribute in her debut to BrontĂ« and du Maurier heroines: a plain girl gets wrapped up in a dark, haunted ruin of a house, which guards family secrets that are not hers and that she must discover at her peril. Margaret Lea, a London bookseller's daughter…is contacted by renowned aging author Vida Winter, who finally wishes to tell her own, long-hidden, life story. Margaret travels to Yorkshire, where she interviews the dying writer, walks the remains of her estate at Angelfield and tries to verify the old woman's tale of a governess, a ghost and more than one abandoned baby. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary bunch of living people, Setterfield's sensible heroine is, like Jane Eyre, full of repressed feeling—and is unprepared for both heartache and romance. And like Jane, she's a real reader and makes a terrific narrator.”

I like classic Gothic novels, and this looks like an entertaining twist on that genre. I’ll let you know what I think after I read it.

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