The Dead Feeling of Winter

I’ve always believed I was meant to hibernate, what with my ample reserves of stored body fat, ability to recycle my urine and the overwhelming urge to sleep under a pile of dead leaves. But after a rather awkward conversation with HR during which I determined my company does not do ‘hibernation pay,’ I have temporarily put this impulse to one side.

Winter makes me all sleepy and blah and the energy I would usually put towards reading instead goes towards just keeping warm. Plus, I’ve gone back to school part time and most of my reading is definitely not for pleasure.  So there’s been a lull. And I failed my Goodreads 2014 challenge. The shame.

Here’s what I’ve managed to put away the last couple of months:

The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters.  Oh book, I still don’t know how to feel about you. Shortly into this, I found myself thinking, “I bet I know what happens.” Then it happened. By that time, I was about halfway through and figured I might as well finish it, even though it was a dreary slog without one likeable character. Then it got good – real good.  Waters is a great writer of suspense and that’s what saved this book in the end. If I could somehow meld together the outstanding first half of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch with the second half of this book, it’d be amazing. Anyway, I know Waters landed on many 2014 Best Of lists, but not mine.

The Paying Guests didn’t help my reading rut and it took The Murder of the Century: The Guilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars to dig me out. Paul Collins writes a tight, fast-paced account of body parts scattered around late 19th century New York City and the race to find out who they belong to and who did the scattering.

The story of the murder is interesting enough, but the real draw is the race between the police and the New York tabloids (led by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst) to get to the truth (or whatever sells, in the case of the papers). The lengths the tabloids went to (and the depths to which they stooped) to stay one step ahead of the police for exclusive scoops were both appalling and ballsy. And never dull.

In between moping around and counting the days until spring, I did a little digging up of ancestral bones (metaphorically speaking) to find that I am descended from Mayflower passenger William Brewster. I spent many subsequent days loudly proclaiming myself to be American Royalty until I realized that a) no one was going to bow to me and b) so were around 30 million other people.  Nonetheless, it kindled an interest in the people who so bravely conquered the new world and subsequently did horrible, horrible things to Native Americans.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrook is where I turned to find out more about Brewster and his fellow Pilgrims. As I read, I tried to find some similarities between me and my 12th great-grandfather. But alas, there seems to be little that’s been passed down from the spiritual leader of a group of colony-founding pioneers to me, an atheist afraid to go camping. But the book was great – clear, concise and never dull, it takes the readers from the early days of the Pilgrims, before they set off to Europe, right through the end of King Phillip’s War. And Philbrook never makes excuses for the treatment of the Native Americans by the Pilgrims’ descendants.

This coming year looks to be a great one for readers and I’m particularly looking forward to Erik Larson’s new release Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, which is out in March; Jon Ronson’s newest, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, also out in March; and Matthew Pearl’s, The Last Bookaneer, released in April.

If you’re a classic movie fan, 2015 will see the release of new books about Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and the general decadence and debauchery of that Hollywood age.  More info on those can be found here at our sister site.

Cold Feet, Warm Pages

As I put away my sandals and bid a sad goodbye to my super-sexy farmer’s tan, my thoughts turn to the long, dreary, cold, miserable winter ahead. What are my coping tactics for surviving such a cruel month? Well…booze, primarily. But also books – lots and lots of books.

My Kindle pre-order list has grown excitingly unwieldy and is full of the publishing equivalent of Vitamin D. Here’s what literary nourishment will be sustaining me during the upcoming hibernation months.

Oh the sweary swear words that tumbled from my mouth when I heard someone was going to try to write a new Hercule Poirot story. There aren’t many Poirots I haven’t read: his fussy egotism is always entertaining and I’m constantly in awe of Agatha Christie’s clever crimes, twisty plots, red herrings and neat as a pin resolutions. I secretly wanted a new Poirot, but I dared not get my hopes up that this would come even close to the original.
And then I read this review and wondered if it could possibly happen: could a new Poirot be – maybe not as good – but almost as good as the original? So I let myself dream. And I let myself pre-order. And at approximately 12.10am this morning, Sophie Hannah’s brave and stupid and potentially fabulous attempt at reviving the Belgian sleuth downloaded onto my Kindle.
I’m currently on week three of struggling through the alternately brilliant and boring (so. many. union stories.) City of Nets and, while I hate to put it to one side for a spell (because I’ll probably never go back and finish it), Hercule and his ‘little grey cells’ are too tempting to resist much longer. Publication date: Out now!
This is described as a coming-of-age story in a crematory. There’s no way I could pass that up. Doughty was in her twenties with a degree in medieval history when she took a job in a crematory. Now she’s a licensed mortician with her own funeral practice. This sounds like an honest, funny and thoughtful look at her experiences in between and how we, as a society, deal with our inevitable end. I also hope it talks about zombies. Publication date: September 15, 2014.
Waters’ The Little Stranger was wonderfully creepy and atmospheric and this sounds like it has the potential to match that. It’s another book set in post-war, genteel England, where a widow and her daughter live a pleasant, if mundane, life until they take in a pair of lodgers who change everything. This should be a great book to curl up with under a fuzzy blanket with a nice cuppa tea. Publication date: September 16, 2014.
Jacobson’s new novel made the shortlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize (his novel The Finkler Question won in 2010) and seems to revolve around a love story, a topic I normally wouldn’t touch even with someone else’s fingers. But this is a love story in a dystopian, post-catastrophe world full of danger and secrets and bayonet-wielding killer bees (I probably made that last part up), so count me in.  Publication date: October 14, 2014.
I have a thing for old Hollywood (and a blog too) and this book details the murky 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor, an actor and director in the very earliest days of the movie industry.  There were a number of suspects in Taylor’s death, including actress Mabel Normand, but no one was ever arrested. His death, along with a plague of other Hollywood scandals at the time (including the rape trials of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle), led to film studios including morals clauses in the contracts of their stars.
The Amazon description calls this an ‘untold’ story, which isn’t quite true – there’s been lots written about it. But it will be interesting to see if Mann has uncovered any new evidence or theories. Publication date: October 14, 2014.
If I had children, I would not hesitate to sell my favorite one to get advanced copies of these books. I was lucky enough to see Poehler interviewed by Short at this year’s Book Con in New York City and it was every bit as perfect as you would imagine. Poehler is funny, sharp and full of actual real-life good advice, which should translate great into a book she describes as a “missive from the middle of my life,” and what it’s like to feel “young and old at the same time.” Publication date: October 28, 2014.
Martin Short is never not funny and his book promises to be chock full o’ amazing showbiz anecdotes as he charts his progress from Canada to Hollywood, including his time on Saturday Night Live (which chapter I shall read in the voice of Ed Grimley) and hit movies Father of the Bride and Three Amigos. It will also apparently detail some of the sadder parts of that journey, including the loss of his wife to cancer. Publication date: November 4, 2014.
Leave a comment and let us know what you’ve got planned for cold weather reads!