I’m not sure why, but I only read five books this month. Possibly because the book club selection this month was a slog.
Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain is a book I wish I hadn’t bothered with or spent money on, but it was my book club’s selection for this month. Fountain, a former lawyer and a fiction writer, is a clever stylist, but I disagree so strongly with his views that it was hard to continue reading this. In my opinion, Hillary Clinton would have made a fine president. I thought she was the most qualified candidate in recent memory, with sound policy positions. There is no acknowledgment that she would have been a much better choice than Trump, only criticism that she should not have been the Democratic Party nominee. He seems to be of the opinion that the only way to save the country is to burn it down, which is what Bernie would have done. I don’t buy it. I belong to the Realist wing of the Democratic Party.
Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country by Rebecca Morgan Frank is a fine collection of poetry published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. I’ve known Morgan, as she is called, for a long time (from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I think) and we run into each other now and then, at AWP or elsewhere. Earlier this year she was in Charlottesville for the Virginia Festival of the Book and I was glad I was able to hear her read along with two other poets—one familiar to me, one not. Anyway, I enjoyed the poems in this collection, which aren’t as concrete as some other collections I’ve read recently. Instead, these poems tend to be almost surreal, allowing the speaker’s imagination to soar, taking the reader along.
Blue Hours by Daphne Kalotay is an engaging and surprising read about a writer who, as a young woman right out of college, moves to New York City and meets a wide circle of new friends, including a group of men and women with whom she shares an apartment. So far, it feels familiar, despite the compelling drama that they experience separately and together. But then, twenty years later, the writer receives a package of letters from one of her old roommates, a woman who has been kidnapped in Afghanistan while doing aid work there. The narrator and the woman’s ex-husband go in search of her, discovering a lot about themselves in the process. The writing is beautiful and ties the two halves of the book together with consistent imagery.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling is the second book in the Potter series. I listened the first one as an audiobook a few years ago and it was entertaining enough, so I thought I’d give Book 2 a try. Again, entertaining and wildly imaginative. Harry returns to Hogwarts for his second year of wizard school, but he is plagued by a voice threatening to kill and various classmates turn up petrified. Eventually, he realizes that the source of the problem is in the Chamber of Secrets. Even without the help of Dumbledore and Hagrid, Harry is able to save the day.
Prague Summer by Jeffrey Condran was thoroughly enjoyable, especially because I’m about to travel to Prague myself. The story is about Henry Marten, a rare book dealer in Prague, and his wife Stephanie, who works at the US Embassy there. They receive a visitor (a stranger comes to town!), one of Stephanie’s old roommates from Washington. In the course of showing her around the city, the purpose of her visit becomes clearer. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the city and also the rare book business.