The book I just finished, Seven Types of Ambiguity, by the Australian writer Elliot Perlman, was the perfect fix for my book addiction. I have always been a reader, but something about the spread out days of summer gives me permission to spend hours in my reading chair between two windows, one of them open, or on an outside chair, beneath a big straw hat, losing myself in a story someone has invented. I don't find light reading a necessity. Not for me. I have a good appetite and Perlman satisfied it with his ambitious and insightful novel about seven characters who come together in what Kurt Vonnegut, in Cat's Cradle, called a karass. The story progresses through the points of view of seven different characters. Very skilled handling of structure, and I like the way he deals with important social issues through individual lives. It's something I aim to do in my own stories. The plot revolves around a big misunderstanding which snakes out to other misunderstandings. A satisfying end. A few reservations about the trueness of point of view in a couple of sections, but overall a Bravo! for this novel that held me through a week or so.
My books often come to me by way of friends, unless I am really drifting and looking for a title to attract me, or a review, or something on one of the many prize lists. Other times I am on a mission. When I was writing Presto! I re-read books by Dreiser, James Farrell, Sinclair Lewis and, most importantly to me, John Dos Passos as a way of immersing myself in the historical period I wanted to recreate. Lately my curiosity has been focussed on Quebec and so the first books of summer were the later novels of Anne Hébert, like A Suit of Light and Am I Disturbing You?, and then a re-read of her popular Kamouraska, which I first read decades ago. I had forgotten what a cutting edge stylist she is. There is a breathless, driven quality to her work, which isn't at all what I expected.
But the same friend who gave me Seven Types of Ambiguity, David Zieroth, a poet and longtime friend, with whom it has always been a great pleasure to talk about books, also gave me a handsome compact volume, Spain, Body and Soul by H.M. van den Brink. This Dutch novelist writes about the time he spent in Spain, alone and with his family, and recreates a lot of experiences through food. He even includes recipes. It's thoughtful, evocative and a mouth-watering read, but books that include recipes and yet declare that they are not cook books... I wonder. The recipes seem like padding. I didn't need the recipes as much as the writer seemed to. I have two more books from David and last night started Anne Enright's The Gathering, which promises to be another winner. I love the way my friend chooses books. He haunts used bookstores, browses for long periods of time, and when a title attracts him, he opens the book and reads page 32 to check out the writing. Readers like David are an obscure writer's hope: as long as you have a compelling title, and the writing on page 32 impresses him (and so probably also me), you've snagged a couple of readers, no matter the season.