Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book eater

I've been a rather voracious reader lately. Some thoughts on what I've been digesting:

I read Ann Patchett's State of Wonder on airplanes on my way to Oregon a while back. I picked it up in the airport because I am a HUGE fan of Bel Canto, one of her earlier novels. In State of Wonder, researcher Marina Singh finds herself traveling to a remote Amazonian jungle to find out more about the untimely death of one of her colleagues. Anders Eckman had visited the jungle to check on a secretive company drug development project, one that has been conitnuing for two years with very little news on progress. When Singh finally arrives at the satellite laboratory, she discovers that the project (led by chilly, uncompromising Dr. Annick Swenson, one of her professors in college) is much more interesting than anyone at the company truly realizes.

This book begs a lot of questions about relationships and relative morality. If we can do something, scientifically speaking, does that mean we should? Descriptive writing about the jungle and the flora and fauna there is gorgeous, and characterization is strong. Worth reading.

I also read White Shirts, a non-fiction book about the shootings at the Jackson Fire Department in 1996. Penned by a survivor and the widow of one of the men who was lost (Noraine Moree and Dave Berry), it is a moving account of how leadership decisions impacted morale at the department, and how the shooter (himself a Jackson firefighter) may have been motivated by his work situation to commit a heinous crime.

I have often walked by the memorial to those who didn't survive this attack. The Fallen Firefighters Memorial, a large statue of a firefighter holding a limp child, sits a mere stone's throw from my office building. Though the writing in the book can be rather plodding and amateurish, it is a raw, moving account of this tragedy straight from the pens of those who lived it.

I moved on to The Woods, a suspense thriller by Harlean Coben. This book revolves around Paul Copeland, an up-and-coming county prosecutor with a dark past. His sister (along with three other individuals) was murdered at a summer camp that they both attended during their youth, and her body was never found. Years later, Paul is a widower (His wife, tragically, died of cancer.) raising a young daughter and seeing some of his political ambitions fall into place.

But then, clues seem to appear from thin air regarding the long-ago murder, drawing Paul into a fresh investigation of the case. As he pieces the puzzle together, attempts on his own life are made, and he rediscovers a long lost love.

If I had to note anything about this book, it's that Coben does a mighty job of keeping the reader guessing. There are so many twists and turns in the plot that you'll be surprised right up until the last page. A great quick read for vacation or the beach.

The last book I delved into was Life, the autobiography by Rolling Stones guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards. I listened to this in the car, as an audio book, and I highly recommend it.

First of all, Richards has lived a crazy, amazing life. And boy does he have stories to tell. By turns, I was impressed, fascinated, and horrified. I loved hearing about how he grew up in post-war England and of the impacts that his family made on him. The early days of the band getting together and eking out an existence on the London club scene were completely interesting.

Then, the Stones hit it big. And things began to change. Richards relays incredibly detailed tales of their exploits - drugs, traveling, shows, songwriting, recording, producing. He talks at length about how he became addicted to heroin, what it was like taking all those drugs, and how hard it was to kick them.

If you can get past his profanity-laced language, you will find an undeniably intriguing tale of a true pop-culture legend. Highly, highly recommended.