12. Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton. I purchased this book in college and only now got around to reading it. It was a tough read, and not just because of the references to institutions and people who were current events in 1908 but are now British history. Chesterton wrote this account of how he came to embrace orthodox Christianity after years of trying to work out his own interpretation of faith. However, many of his statements continue to ring true in 2017, and I found myself nodding along to many of his arguments. I’m glad I read this book, even if I had to do it with a pen in hand and no distractions.
13. The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. (Library) I loved this book, about four siblings who have to grapple with money and its influence on relationships and people. It’s difficult to write a book with a large cast and make every character seem three-dimensional, but Sweeney succeeds. I also loved the sense of place in the book, which is set in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Westchester.
14. The Last Days of Night, Graham Moore. (Library) I forced myself to wait until the last page before I rushed to the internet to see how much of this book was fact, and how much was fiction. The novel tells the (embellished, but historical) story of the War of the Currents. For those who don’t know: at the dawn of the electric age, there were two competing electricity delivery systems – alternating current, favored by George Westinghouse, and direct current, favored by Thomas Edison. The two men fought in courts and in the press for years over whose system was better and safer. This book examines one facet of that fight, the battle over the light bulb patent, and is told from the point of view of Westinghouse’s lawyer, Paul Cravath, with a special guest appearance by Nikola Tesla. I learned a lot about the conflict I hadn’t known before, and enjoyed the author’s take on Westinghouse and Tesla. But Edison came across as a two-dimensional villain. You could practically hear his cartoon cackle. I really enjoyed the story and did find it suspenseful – despite knowing the end.
15. Little Nothing, Maria Silver. (Library) This was a frustrating read. It’s meant to be a dark fairy tale, and it’s very well-written, but…. even fairy tales have their own twisted logic. If you speak the forbidden word, the kingdom will fall. Only a person of pure heart can remove the talisman from its chamber. If you tell anyone the secret of your beauty, it will be taken from you. This book looks like a fairy tale, and smells like a fairy tale, but it does not have even fairy tale logic to hold it together. A couple has a baby who is born a dwarf. She is sent to a terrible doctor who tries to stretch her on a table… and she becomes a normal-sized woman with a wolf face. Why a wolf face? THERE IS NO WHY. Later, she becomes a wolf, for no apparent reason. And finally, she becomes a normal-sized person, with a different face, again without real explanation. There is no other magic in the novel. In fact, the writer goes to great lengths to describe non-magic systems that work like magic in the world of early-20th-century-Eastern Europe, like the clockworks of an old clock tower, or an efficient system for excavating tunnels, or the intricacies of indoor plumbing. And the character cannot remember any of her previous incarnations, so there’s no character development per se. The writing itself is lyrical and lovely, but the story leaves much to be desired.
16. The Infinite, Nicholas Mainieri. (Borrowed) This was our church book club selection, and we got to Skype (and drink!) with Mainieri at our meeting. I enjoyed the book, which was well-paced and thoughtful, but I enjoyed it more after hearing the author talk about the process of writing it, and about his adopted hometown of New Orleans. Set in Louisiana and Mexico, my initial impression was of a modern day Romeo-and-Juliet story. But the novel also makes insightful commentary on the drug trade, and the threads that run from cartel wars in Mexico to low-level street dealers in the U.S. As a bonus, the author devotes some ink to nutria (if you don’t know what nutria are, imagine Rodents of Unusual Size from The Princess Bride). Nutria are a non-native species to Louisiana, and there are parallels to be drawn between their plight and that of the heroine and her family, who are illegal immigrants. It was a good read, and I recommend it.
17. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead. (Borrowed) This was supposed to be an innovative take on the standard issue slave narrative. In this book, the underground railroad is imagined as a real thing – with tracks and cars and tunnels and stations. However, this device does not do enough to distinguish it from other books about the slave era. Whitehead also has a tendency to use modern turns of phrase where they are out of historical context. Despite these linguistic choices, the story of the book was entertaining enough.