Here’s another blog about books that have recently made their way through my long and varied reading list. These aren’t really reviews. Just short snapshots of what the books are about, and maybe a nugget or two about my reaction to them. If you’re a big reader, maybe you will find them useful.
Also: It’s a way to pimp my own book. So fair warning…..
Swing Time, Zadie Smith: I read my first Zadie Smith book earlier this year – “White Teeth,” her much celebrated 2000 debut novel. “White Teeth” is one of those big, sprawling, ambitious novels that takes the literary world by storm and forever puts its author onto the A List. The book more than lives up to its hype — it’s brilliant and hilarious, with a roster of unforgettable characters, one of my favorite novels ever.
“Swing Time,” published in 2016, is less ambitious, and less entertaining. It follows a pair of mixed-race women from working class London who go their different ways – one chasing her dream of being a famous dancer, the other landing a job as an assistant to a Madonna-like pop star. Like “White Teeth,” “Swing Time” takes place over decades and is very much character- rather than plot-driven. It does a good job of framing the complicated nature of friendships, as well as the way dreams and ambitions can ripen and rot over time. But something about it left me cold, and I can’t even place why. Maybe I spent too much time comparing it to “White Teeth.” I’d still recommend “Swing Time” because Zadie Smith is one of those preternaturally gifted writers you want to read just to be captivated by the words.
The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito, Erle Stanley Gardner: Part of the famous Perry Mason series. For those who don’t know, Perry Mason was the main character in dozens of books written by Gardner during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, and later the centerpiece of a popular TV series starring Raymond Burr. Mason was a Los Angeles-based lawyer with a gift for rooting out the truth behind the crime. In this story, Mason and his assistant Della travel to a part of the California desert that was home to a gold rush during the late 19th century. Mason is approached by a vagabond who wants help with an old gold mine claim. From there, the plot goes into a dozen different directions that I frankly had a hard time keeping up with. People get poisoned by arsenic, including Perry and Della. Somebody is murdered. There’s a drowsy mosquito – in the desert. Maybe read another Mason book instead.
The Doomsters, Ross MacDonald: MacDonald is the author of the Lew Archer private eye books, one of my favorite detective series from the 1950s and 60s. This is #7 in the series. Archer works out of Los Angeles, a city rich with noirish crime possibilities. In this installment, Archer is hired by Carl Hallman, the junkie son of a wealthy and powerful political dynasty who wants Lew to investigate the deaths of his parents. Along the way, Archer learns that the family’s wealth benefited from a healthy dose of corruption. As with all Archer novels, this one combines sharp writing and just enough plot twists to keep you turning the pages, all wrapped in an intoxicating vibe of world-weariness.
Side note: I believe this is one of those books that I bought twice, without realizing I’d read it before. That happens sometimes with various author series involving the same protagonist. I always had the idea that I would write down all the books I’ve read to prevent this from occurring, but since that number is probably in the thousands by now, I don’t see that happening.
Federer, Chris Bowers: This is an unauthorized biography of tennis’ Great One that was originally published in 2005, just as Roger was turning the ATP tour into his own personal fiefdom. Since then, there have been several later editions of the book. The one I read was published in 2016, when Federer was still generally considered the greatest men’s player ever, though the race had tightened up considerably with the meteoric rise of Rafael Nadal and then Novak Djokovic. Bowers is an experienced journalist and broadcaster who does a good job of capturing Fed’s life from his childhood in middle class Switzerland to his later status as a global sports icon. The main thing I came up with after reading it is just how normal Roger Federer is. There are virtually no skeletons in the closet, other than the occasional bare hint of mild discord between Fed and his wife Mirka whenever her outspokenness went against his desire to remain above the fray. He really does seem like a regular dude – nice, friendly, polite, happy, centered, popular among his fellow players, a good family man.
Voodoo Hideaway, Vance Cariaga: I have read this book several times, and each time IT JUST GETS BETTER AND BETTER. In this novel, the author reinvents the crime fiction genre, bringing an extra dimension to a noirish tale of a homeless man named Elrod who stumbles through a mysterious door one night and finds himself caught up in a deadly money scheme between a brilliant scientist, a wicked nightclub manager, and a mobster on the lam. A couple of jazz musicians want in on the action — and they need to bring Elrod along for the ride. The reader is taken on a mad journey through a world of greed, deception, revenge and vanity, with plenty of blind alleys, sudden twists and dark humor along the way. Just when you think you’ve got the story figured out, it tosses you a curveball.
Here’s how to order it: