Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What I'm Reading Wednesdays: July 20

For the What I'm Reading Wednesday blog:

Finished reading: For some reason I'm in a reading groove right now. I finished "Sunnyside" by Glen David Gold and "The Nobodies Album" by Carolyn Parkhurst.

I had been meaning to read "Sunnyside" since I bought it in 2009, and I finally breezed through all 550 pages in a few days. "Sunnyside" is an enormously fun sweep through World War I focusing on three men --  a would-be engineer who rides the rails and then ends up in Russia fighting the Bolsheviks; a lighthouse keeper who through interlocking circumstances ends up with a pair of dogs in France; and Charlie Chaplin, who faces a crisis of confidence in his craft. All three are touched somehow by the same girl, who has her own story. Spirits and psychological comments on fame frame the novel. It doesn't cohere as much as Gold's exciting debut novel, "Carter Beats the Devil" (which delved into magic as well as  lots of other things and made my Best of the Aughts list), but Gold has a great talent for telling complicated stories and evoking historical periods, particularly San Francisco and Archangel, Russia. (The Allied invasion of Russia at the end of World War I is an unjustly forgotten episode in American history. I knew about it from my father, who knew about it from his father. My grandfather, who was in the Navy, was standing on a dock ready to sail to Russia when he fell over with the Spanish flu. He recovered, but he ended up not going.)

"The Nobodies Album" was published last year, and I picked up the paperback, which just came out. I've read Parkhurst's other novels, The Dogs of Babylon and Lost and Found (the latter made my best of the aughts list). This novel follows a novelist who, amid rewriting the endings of all her novels, discovers that her rock-star son has been charged with killing his girlfriend. Like "Our Tragic Universe," another novel tinged with metafiction about an author's personal life, "Nobodies" contemplates the nature of storytelling and leaves us wondering if the ending is actually true, or is the final one -- of course it's invented, but is it invented by Parkhurst or her main character? The male characters aren't as vividly drawn as the female characters (unlike Lost and Found), but I enjoyed the "endings" of the "fictional" novels and the narrator's exploration of her own life, which is in and of itself a story.

What I'm reading now: I picked up When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant off my shelf. I bought it remaindered the same time I picked up a preorder for Deathly Hallows in 2007, so I gues it's about time to read it. The novel follows a Jewish woman who emigrates to Palestine near the founding of Israel. It's pretty short -- it's a warm-up to another long novel I want to read.

What I should read next: Either Darkmans by Nicola Barker or I'm going to read John Sayles' A Moment in the Sun, all 955 pages of it, before I have to take it back to the library.

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