Monday, July 14, 2008

Light reading round-up

I feel that I have hardly read anything recently, but whenever I say that, someone objects that this is not really the case!

I had a good Caymanian interlude in June which featured a certain amount of work but also a number of frivolous pleasures, including more movies and TV episodes than I usually seem to consume in regular life: The Incredible Hulk (enjoyable at the time, but largely unmemorable--Liv Tyler is very beautiful, though, and I wish that I too could get an accurate heart-rate monitor that operated without a chest strap!); Wall-E (very charming); Season 3 of The Wire (exactly to my taste); miscellaneous Disney Channel shows (hmmm, not sure what to say about these; mildly culturally illuminating?!?).

It is an essential part of holidaying that one should be able to pluck books from the shelf that are not quite what one would read in regular life, either, but next-universe-over sort-of-exactly-what-I-like-to-read-but-not: Tyler Cowen's Discover Your Inner Economist (perfect for reading during meals--at home I have the New Yorker for this, but when I'm on the road I need a highly engaging non-fiction book, novels are not good because it is not appealing to put them down when I'm done eating, I am more likely to greedily finish them all at once!); Raymond Khoury's The Last Templar (very good opening scene involving Knights Templar on horseback invading a gala affair at the Met and chopping someone's head off, but there is a reason I do not read books of this ilk more often); Carl Hiaasen's Strip Tease.

This last was very good indeed, I thought; Hiaasen has a gift I associate especially with Terry Pratchett, of writing extremely funny satire in which the characters are also quite engaging. I do not know why I had the impression that I did not like Hiaasen's books, I think that in point of fact I had not read any of them--I am not a great Elmore Leonard fan, perhaps I had mixed the two up?

And since I've been home, amidst the continued stream of work-related books touching upon cycling, reindeer and nuclear physics, some rather delightful volumes I have been looking forward to for some time: the altogether brilliant Naomi Novik's latest installment in the Temeraire series, Victory of Eagles (possibly my favorite of all since the first volume, but you cannot do better than to order the box set of the first three volumes and start at the beginning if you have not read these books already: Naomi really is a genius of light reading!); and Kathrine Switzer's Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women's Sports (very gripping in every respect, and indispensable in its account of the rise of women's amateur and professional sports in the United States and worldwide).

But the real highlight, light-reading-wise, of these past weeks was a brief but to me rather meaningful encounter with one of my great literary heroes! I am not a great one for book-signings, but when I saw the announcement in the very good bookstore in Grand Cayman for a signing that would take place the following Saturday evening, I knew I had to go! Because it was Dick Francis signing his latest novel Dead Heat (co-authored with son Felix)...

Here's a link to the absurdly copious collection of Dick-Francis-related posts I've written here over the years; if you click through to this one and scroll down onto item #6 on the list, you will have a hint of the special nature of the place this writer holds in my affections, but it is really beyond rational explanation why I love his books so much! My beloved English grandmother was very fond of 'em too, she and my mother and I have all read them about fifty million times! (And in fact I had already read this one, though I was very happy to read it again; and when I finished with the advance review copy which a friend kindly gave me, I passed it onto my mother, because aside from the fact that I knew she would be able to while away a few hours with it quite happily, I was laughing to myself at the fact that she and the book's chief love interest are both English viola players named Caroline! Though I am thinking my mother would not be likely to utter any of the sentiments about music expressed by the love interest!)