Now that fall is in bloom and things are finding their way back to a sense of order, I guess it's time for me to do the exact same. With the return of Walking Dead, Modern Family, and Parenthood, I'm happy to have a sense of stability to my autumn. While I embrace the weekly anticipation of these shows, I find that I have lost my way a bit in the things that I am supposed to be doing. The biggest of these is to continue to participate in my cousin Amy's book challenge. Or as I like to call it, "Death by a Constant Paper Cut to the Brain."
During the month of September we were supposed to read "Middlemarch" by George Elliott. I think I am on page 30 right now. Luckily I have already read the books for October and November, "Portrait of Dorian Grey" and "Brave New World." Both of these books are wonderful in their own rights, but I will discuss them on a later day. I will tell you that I did enjoy the August book and plenty others over that time period.
"The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers is a wonderful piece set in a time in which none of us can ever relate to. It is the story of a deaf mute who lives in a tiny town in the early 30s. The novel reflects not his journey, but the journey of four distinct individuals from different places through their interactions with him. At times, I found that I felt a sorrow, not for the mute, but for the others. Trying to struggle to gain their identity and dealing with the constant changes of self. It was a wonderfully written piece and I would suggest it to anyone who wants to see a different side of Americana. There is no drawn out destitution. Nor is there a glorification of being poor. It is the story of being from a small town and dealing with life. I thought it was great and would never have ever read it if it had not been suggested.
"Thunderstruck" is a novel by Erik Larson. I read "Issac's Storm" a long time ago and thought it was great. It had the wonderful mix of both history and fiction. It makes you feel like you are there, even though you are reading a history book. "Thunderstruck" is the story of a brutal murder in England and the creation of the wireless telegraph by Marconi. I felt myself feeling more sorry for the "murderers," there is a dispute these days over DNA, than I did for a genius who had trust issues. I liked it very much, but not as much as "Issac's Storm." It is nicely written and gives you a real life murder-mystery without some of the literary fluff.
Of course, I read another Agatha Christie mystery novel. I almost got this one, but still didn't solve it before the end. I swear I will solve one before the end one day.
I just recently finished a wonderful history book about the blues, Robert Johnson, and the Delta music scene. "Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues," by Elijah Wald is a must read for anyone who professes themselves a music lover, music historian, or blues fan. I was happy to read something that I was little informed of. This book goes through the obvious Delta backwoods history of juke joints and smoke-filled bars to the origins of the blues. Mr. Wald does an excellent job of disassembling the myth of the blues being a "sad" music. To summarize in my own words: "You can't go to a concert and listen to the blues for 2 plus hours. No one wants to hear sad songs about the hard times of life for that long." That's what I thought the blues was and now know it to not be that. The first half of the book is about different musicians and how they got to where they were. A short history of the field hollerers and how they affected the Muddy Waters of the day. A summary of the Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas "blues" scenes and the effect that the Delta put into them. The second half of the book reflects back on Robert Johnson's only known recordings. It is a track by track review and I can't wait to be able to listen to the music more with a better knowledge and heart about it all. If you love music, if you want to know what a true American music sound is, then this is the book for you to read. Wonderfully written, real life recollections from the artist themselves, and myth-debunking included. What more can you ask for from a historical work.
Finally, I think my favorite book I've read over the last two plus months is call "The Poisoner's Handbook." It is a book about the history of the creation of the toxicology department in the New York City Coroner's department. Each chapter is titled with a different poison and each chapter follows a progression of the crimes that had to be solved. Some are famous murders, some are company deaths. I enjoy reading crime novels that I try to solve before the end. This book is more like a where the hell did CSI come from meets Agatha Christie history lesson. Each chapter provides you the details and you get to see how much two men changed the way the world deals with murder. It is an amazing work and I highly suggest it. Plus, if you are having issues at work, you can set it down at your desk and many people will stop bothering you.
While the next month or so is going to be spent reading just two books, "Middlemarch" and then "War and Peace," I would suggest the last two to anyone who needs a change of pace in literature. If you haven't read "Brave New World," then you definitely need to read that too. While I think my cousin is secretly a literary masochist who likes to induce paper cuts to the brain, I'm happy to take this journey. It helps to broaden your horizons and standards to learn something new. If in the end I hate these books, at least I know what to put into the cake I send her.