Cheryl Olsen is a regular contributor to this site.
For most of my life I’ve been a monogamous reader, faithfully consuming all the pages of one volume before perusing those of another. But the life of a book blogger, while long on books, tends to be short on the time to read them, and I am frequently forced into slutty relationships with multiple literary partners at a time. While initially appalled at this turn of fate, I have come to embrace it for several reasons:
- Reading two or four, sometimes even five books simultaneously encourages me to pay closer attention to all the elements of their respective genres, especially setting.
- It invites comparisons I might otherwise overlook.
- It tunes my ear to an author’s language, diction, syntax in a way different from inhabiting one world at a time.
The ever-changing stack by my bed frequently includes advance review copies of recently or soon-to-be-released books. Let’s start with a couple of historical novels, both with southern ties and racial themes. Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic (Berkley Books, 1/21/2014) is based on the true story of a black soldier murdered on his way home to Mississippi at the end of WWII. An indefatigable Thurgood Marshall plays a part, but young black female Harlem attorney Reggie Robichard is the one who crosses the Mason-Dixon Line to confront the complicated racial conflicts and assumptions that propel the story. Shades of grey abound, few sexual, but all complex in the ways of generations of cultural intermingling. Everything about this compelling mystery seems authentic, including the titular book within a book.
Sarah McCoy’s The Mapmaker’s Children (coming May 5 from Crown) interweaves the stories of two barren women, one a daughter of abolitionist John Brown, the other a present-day former advertising hotshot who’s moved to rural West Virginia for a lower stress environment, and maybe to salvage her marriage. In many ways two separate novels in one, each with unique language, cadence, and temperament, it’s the intertwining that lends weight and makes this more than a compelling set piece. McCoy has written other novels (The Baker’s Daughter, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico), but I first encountered her in the Grand Central anthology. I hoped the writing would be as resonant this time around. I wasn’t disappointed.
I knew enough about Kathie Giorgio’s Rise from the River (coming 4/1/15 from Main Street Rag Press) to brace for emotional and psychological turmoil, but I’d agreed to blurb it after reading her Learning to Tell (A Life) Time. Here’s my blurb: The unthinkable is compounded by the unfathomable plunged in violence—guilt, lost faith, and silence seem inevitable. Yet in Kathie Giorgio’s capable hands, redemption is a reasonable expectation for the special family that is a young single mom, her 4-year-old daughter, and their conservative landlady as they grapple with big questions. Though nothing comes easily in Rise From The River, light and love and healing permeate every gripping and satisfying page.
For somewhat lighter fare, I recommend three new volumes, two of which I’m still reading. I did say somewhat lighter—Reeling through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies (Soft Skull Press 1/13/15) is a collection of essays in the shape of a memoir that includes plenty of serious reflection on religion, family dynamics, alcoholism and more along with a fine romp through dozens of major motion pictures and the lessons they imparted to Tara Ison at an impressionable, sometimes far too young age. It’s a highly entertaining premise for a book, well written, and worthwhile if for no other reason than the nostalgic stroll through cinematic history. What were YOU doing when “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Graduate” hit the big screen? Were you even around?
Kim Korson’s I Don’t Have a Happy Place: Cheerful Stories of Despondency and Gloom (coming 4/14/15 from Gallery Books) is another memoir, cloaked in snark and eliciting guffaws you’ll be embarrassed to own up to. Jon Stewart says—right there on the front cover—“Kim Korson must be stopped. My wife thinks she’s funnier than me.” I’m still high-skipping through Barbie envy and the travails of sleep-away camp, but I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say this will be the fullest half-empty glass you’re likely to swig for a while.
Kathryn Leigh Scott’s personal backstory is legendary—she played Josette Du Pres, ingénue bride of reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins on the wildly popular TV cult classic “Dark Shadows,” and is still a working actor with major street cred. So not surprisingly, Jinxed (released this month from Cumberland Press), a sequel to her Down and Out in Beverly Heels (Montlake Romance 2013), draws heavily on that insider status. And to great effect. It’s a mystery novel set in a Tinseltown only the cognoscenti usually get to see. Breezy without feeling fluffy, Jinxed continues the saga of an aging star who’s about to be replaced in the role she created by an ambitious anti-ingénue who goes missing, leaving our heroine looking implicated. Beverly Heels tackled the plight of the formerly rich homeless in a town that’s all about appearance. The sequel promises to go below the surface as well.
Despite the double entendre, The Sweetheart Deal initially seemed too cavalier a title for the crushing sadness that opens and pervades Polly Dugan’s debut novel (coming 5/19/15 from Little, Brown). Expectations are high for the author of the stories that comprise last summer’s well-received So Much A Part of You (Little, Brown 6/10/14) and this new work doesn’t disappoint. Told from the alternating points of view of all the main players, Dugan deftly explores the desolation of unexpected loss. The anger, numbness, and practical need to keep going for the sake of dependents ring true in crisp dialog and sharply realized characters. And thankfully, there’s no quick fix for what ails Audrey and Garrett. So by the end, I accepted the title as a reward for the difficult journey to the light.
How many books do you tend to read at a time? Most frequent genre of choice?