I don't spend as much time as I used to browsing for myself at bookstores anymore—when we do go, I often look for something more substantial than Captain Underpants that the Beaner might like—but it is my habit to buy three or four books at a time when I do. Not sure why; I usually just find a bunch of things that look interesting and can't decide among them, so I get them all. The next thing that usually happens is I read one of them, and the rest stay in a pile on or under my nightstand, gathering dust, until I eventually put them on the bookshelf.
We went to the Penn Bookstore after dinner a few days before Christmas, and I again picked out four books that looked interesting. I knew that we were going away for our "just us" family vacation for a couple days after Christmas, and I knew that what I most wanted out of that vacation was to just sit quietly and read, so I resolved to take all four books with me and spend as much time reading them as possible.
I ended up reading the first book, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, in the 36 hours or so after I bought it. It was a wacky, charming, fun read in a modern format (it's mostly told via e-mail exchanges, notes, receipts, magazine articles, and other hand-written and digital detritus, with occasional commentary from Bernadette's teenage daughter). It had been in the normal adult fiction section, but it reminded me of Counting by 7s, which I picked up in the kids' section a few months ago while looking for books for the Beaner and ended up buying for myself after reading the first chapter. Might have been the young, brainy narrators that connected the two books in my mind. Both are entertaining and worth reading; Counting is the more heartwarming of the two books (mostly because it's almost ALL heartwarming), but I think I appreciated Bernadette's quirks more, as well as its detours into art and architecture. I'd have to think a bit about which had more to say about getting along (or not) with one's fellow human beings.
Next up was The Bat, which I picked up because of its designation as "The First Inspector Harry Hole Novel." I can't remember exactly when I bought The Snowman—it's one of the books gathering dust under my nightstand at the moment—but I remember that I did because I recognized the author (he wrote Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder, which I bought for the Beaner one day in hopes of earning extra Awesome Mom stars, which I did), and because I love a good detective novel. Also because I'm a sucker for Scandinavians. Anyway! Seeing The Bat made me realize that I'd bought The Snowman somewhat randomly, without checking its order in the series. Better start at the beginning, I figured.
So, what to say about The Bat. Hm. Well, I didn't love it. On the plus side, I learned a bit about Australian and Aboriginal culture and history. On the minus side, it was so masculine that I couldn't really relate to the hero, and it wandered in a way that I didn't find particularly compelling. (Compare anything by Tana French, whose works wander all over the damn place and yet always make you feel like you are getting somewhere. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook versions of her novels, which is how I consumed them.) In the end I was glad to get through it and move on to the next book. I left it on a bookshelf in one of the awesome reading rooms in the place we stayed over the holidays and was delighted to find that it was gone the next day. Hope whoever picked it up enjoys it more than I did.
The very night I finished The Bat, I started on Reconstructing Amelia, which I'd bought because Entertainment Weekly was quoted on its cover comparing it to Gone Girl, which I really enjoyed when I read it a couple years ago. (I saw the movie with my sister over Thanksgiving and I realized I'd forgotten just enough to make re-reading the book interesting, so I plan to do that again soon.)
Now that I think of it, Reconstructing Amelia was an interesting amalgam of the first two books, considering that Bernadette was about reconstructing the events that led to a disappearance, and The Bat was about solving a murder. Reconstructing Amelia is about determining whether a suicide was really a suicide or something very different, and it also mines emails, texts, handwritten notes, and other records to solve the mystery. I read it much more avidly than The Bat, and finished it within a couple days. It was modern not just in form but in subject, giving a glimpse into 21st century mean-girl culture (in the parts about the daughter)... while at the same giving me a sort of Wall Street-ish throwback feeling (in the parts about the mother). It was played completely straight, which made for a few "yeah, right" moments and uncomfortable coincidences—it was easier to suspend belief in the nuttily hyperbolic Bernadette—but on the whole was worth buying and reading well into the wee hours.
Finally, there's A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, which I... yeah, I loved it. I really loved My Year of Meats, which I picked up at the Denver airport back in 1999 and recommended to my friend Josie, who wrote to say you are so Jane Takagi-Little! after she read it. I think it was Emily Bazelon who recommended A Tale for the Time Being during the cocktail chatter segment of The Political Gabfest a few weeks ago, and I made a note of it because OMG! Ruth Ozeki wrote another book! Even though I didn't love Ozeki's second book, All Over Creation, the way I loved My Year of Meats (which is not to say I didn't enjoy it and wouldn't recommend it), I was alert for the mention of Ozeki's name and willing to read whatever she wrote next.
I almost don't want to describe this book at all and just say go read it. I will say that in writing this post, it occurs to me that Time Being has elements in common with both Bernadette and Amelia, and yet it is so completely different and novel. Imagine mixing in the mean-girl hazing of Amelia with the wacky neighbors of Bernadette, and even the cross-cultural exploration of The Bat—with the element of mystery common in all three—and you still don't have Time Being. You need a mix of youth and real, actual maturity (not just age); a large dose of Zen philosophy and practice; and a notion that time is flexible (or some appreciation of quantum mechanics), too. It's really a wonder of a novel, and one that obviously stuck with me. Maybe it will stick with you, too. (Go read it!)