I recently finished my Fitzgerald kick (F. Scott & co., at least). I finally realized that I was scraping the bottom of the barrel when I was reading a biography of Scott and Zelda's daughter, Scottie (who was, however, a very interesting person in her own right). I am now back to working on my "to be read" stack (which has grown to an entire bookshelf of its own in the last year or so):

The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson: What would have happened had 99% of Europeans been wiped out by the plague, rather than 30%? This is an alternative history where Chinese and Muslim empires vie for dominance and India gets stuck in the middle. The story is told from an interesting perspective - the same group of characters are reincarnated over and over again to witness defining moments in history (thankfully, Robinson keeps the same first initial for each of the characters to help with tracking). The first half of the book is all kinds of speculative fun and the second half feels more like a meditation on the philosophy of history. I think this book would have received much more attention had Robinson not been a sci-fi writer.

The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald (no connection, I swear): I read this book based on a not-extremely-enthusiastic review on my brother-in-law's blog. It is a tiny, precise book (only 123 pages), and that saves it from being overly empty and depressing. It has nothing good to say about human nature, but it does have some suprisingly insightful characters. Overall, I'm neutral.

A Little History of the World, by E.H. Gombrich: This is an overview of world history written for children in Austria in the 30s, before the author moved to England to escape Hitler's invasion. Gombrich, much more famous for this, never allowed A Little History to be published in English before now. He is said to have thought that the English would not be interested in a history from a European point of view. I'm not really sure why I'm reading it, except that I was curious. So far, the conversational writing style is delightful, the maps are interesting, and I'm remembering how much of my world history class I've forgotten.

Not the End of the World
, by Kate Atkinson: This is a book of short stories along the lines of Arabian Nights. I can't say any more about that particular plot device without including a spoiler alert, so I won't. However, I will say this: I thought it was impossible to find good short stories anymore, but I was wrong. These are perfectly crafted collisions of the mundane and the surreal. They have a little bit of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez flavor, but in a very British way. Does that make any sense at all? I didn't think so.

I'm also reading this and this, but I can't recommend either. Someday, I will rant about the absolute idiocy of the TSBPA's educational requirements, but not today. Lucky for you.

No comments: