Monday, October 13, 2014

Rainy Day Reading

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
Five years ago, I fell in love with Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain.  His delightful narrator of Enzo, the dog who loved to watch car-racing, stole my heart and gave my current pup his name.  I have occasionally wondered what this author was up to in Seattle, but he is finally back with a quintessential 'Northwest' book.  Stein delivers another wonderful narrator in the form of Trevor (or Clever Trevor as his creepy Aunt Serena calls him), a fourteen year old boy who comes with his father to the city of Seattle to ostensibly deal with his elderly father, his fractious sister, and the family estate.  However, this is a family steeped in tragedy, secrets, murder, and betrayal, giving Trevor, who is known for his insatiable curiosity and desire to solve a puzzle, a rift to heal.  Stein sprinkles in some wonderful history of Northwest logging, along with some familiar names to those of us who were born and raised here and definitely shows his Seattle-side when the aunt tells Trevor "if your pants reach to your ankles, your toes are hidden, and your forearms are covered, you're dressed in formal Seattle attire."  I admit, I am always drawn to tales of history, creepy family secrets, and ghosts who have a purpose for being still on earth, so this book was a big hit to me.  It would be a rich book club book as it deals with themes of love, materialism, and the journey of both life and death.

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
Speaking of book club picks, this was our October one, figuring we would go with a 'creepy' theme for the month of October.  While I definitely would not say this was that creepy, I am looking forward to our discussion as this book is ripe for controversy, insight, and reflection.  The kindle version is just .99 cents, but the most interesting part to me was the beginning biography of Oscar Wilde.  A flamboyantly gay man in Victorian England, his personal life is a story unto itself, culminating in his pauper's death in Paris, following two years in prison due to his lifestyle.  This novel of Dorian Grey reflects much of his own life, and his personal condemnation of his own life choices.  The story revolves around a young man who chooses to keep his physical beauty while his portrait shows not only his aging, but more importantly, the sin and evil he has embraced in his life.  I highlighted many lines, as the themes of beauty and love are discussed by Wilde extensively.  At times verbose, as many Victorian novels are, I ultimately found this novel to be quite provoking.  If your book club is looking for a 'classic,' this is a lovely choice, as it is relatively short, imaginative, well-written, with many topical subjects to discuss.  It also makes one reflect in how far we have come in our views of whom one chooses to love, and the sadness to see how many lives were destroyed by prejudice and bigotry in days gone by.

The Remedy by Thomas Goetz
As soon as my fellow book addict brought this to book club for our yearly picking, I was drawn to this non-fiction book.  We had previously read Under the Wide and Starry Skies, a tale of Robert Louis Stevenson and his battle with tuberculosis and the impact on his life.  When I read the list of famous people who had died of tuberculosis, it truly took my breath away - Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Austen, George Orwell, Thoreau and the list goes on. One of history's biggest killers, we take for granted the antibiotics of today, but years ago, it was a shockingly common way to die.  This non-fiction book delves into the battle of bacteriologists from the inception of their field of study, to the isolating of the tubercular bacteria.  The story focuses on the German scientist who made great strides from the beginning, but then morphs into a tale of Arthur Conan Doyle (prior to Sherlock Holmes fame) and his uncovering of some rather questionable medical research practices.  We get to see the feud between Pasteur and Lister, as well the true beginning of the field of medical research that focuses on bacteria, immunology, and infection.  This book could have read like a textbook, but instead Goetz writes in a way that gives you both the facts and the history, but also creates suspense.  For anyone interested in medicine, research, or is just plain curious like I was about how we vanquished this terrible disease, The Remedy is a fabulous read.

The Stand by Stephen King
If you've read my blog before, you know I have an unhealthy obsession with dystopic novels.  You know...the whole 'life is over as you know it, we screwed up the world so how do we make it right?' kind of stories.  Knowing that, my daughter's boyfriend decided it was important to place a 1,400 page book in front of me and tell me that this was a book I would never forget.  While the size was daunting, I have to agree - this book will most likely stay with me forever.  Admittedly, I have only read one King book previously - Cujo - not King's best effort.  Plus, I really cannot handle occult-ish, creepy books as they give me nightmares.  However, sometimes the nightmares are worth it, as in The Stand.  King is truly a gifted storyteller and I understand why this novel is frequently pointed to as his masterpiece.  The plot line seems basic - government lets loose virus, killing 99% of the world's population, and the survivors have to figure out how to redo the world.  However, the characters in the story are so well-developed that one becomes invested in their survival as the story plays out.  Larry Underwood, the spoilt Hollywood singer, has a long road to redemption, Frannie's unintended pregnancy is now the least of her worries, the deaf-mute young man, Nick, becomes the savior who leads them, and Harold is the perverted picture of the bullied young man who can never fit in.  I read this book obsessively, waiting to see if the spiritual old woman from Nebraska would save the world, or if Randall Flagg, the embodiment of evil itself, would stamp the world with his own desires.  It's a humdinger and well worth the time invested into it.