Recent Books III

A pattern is emerging (I have a thing for patterns).  Every time I’ve finished three more books from the big stack I assembled for summer reading, I post about recent books.

The latest batch:  The London Train by Tessa Hadley, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and One Hundred Names for Love by Diane Ackerman.

Diane Ackerman’s book probably meant the most to me of the three.  I’ve read two of her other books, A Natural History of Love (which taught me so much I’ve read it twice and should probably read it again), The Zookeeper’s Wife (which was interesting but too long so that it began to lose me in the second half).

One Hundred Names for Love is subtitled A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing.  Since Ackerman and her husband, Paul West, are both writers and understandably obsessed with words, I was fascinated by details of their lives together and their work.  Many aspects of the book resonate with me.

Like this (page 271), which talks about the role of writing in Paul’s therapy after the stroke:  Our mission was to keep the momentum of his recovery going, and for Paul that meant continuing to write, regardless of obstacles.  In part because writing daily influenced his self-confidence and mood.  But also because it was his lifelong form of deep play.  Not ha-ha play, but an altered state humans seem to crave, one of clarity, wild enthusiasm, and saturation in the moment.

I get that.  I am reminded once again that I need to write more myself so that I know what I think and what I feel or, at least, know those things more concretely.

The craft of Swamplandia! impresses me, but I was fairly detached from sections of the novel instead of swept away.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  Who wants to be swept away in a foundering alligator theme park?  The characters are offbeat, which leads to some quirky plot twists, but there are moments of deep pain and perfect grace.  I can’t quite figure out my disconnect with this novel, but that shouldn’t keep you from giving the story a try.

On the other hand, I can’t advise you to take a chance on The London Train.  Because it’s set in Wales, and I’ve been there a couple of times, I slogged through and discovered that I liked the second half of the book (which features a different character from the first half) a lot better than the beginning.  Other than character, I did have stylistic concerns about this one, too.

Ah, time to select the next batch.

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