I’ve been sick for the past three weeks and, after the worst few days, when I could barely manage bare necessities, I was able to read. Four books went through my hands: “Beautiful Ruins,” by Jess Walter; “The March,” by E.L. Doctorow; “Unbroken,” by Lauren Hillenbrand; and “The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson. Absolute must read: “Beautiful Ruins.”
Runner up: “The March.”
What do you suggest I read next?
I couldn’t finish “Unbroken” and “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Great writing, fascinating topics and periods, but ultimately exhausting. Maybe if I’d been healthier, I’d have stuck with them, but even now, almost back to 80%, my hand just doesn’t want to go to them.
“Beautiful Ruins,” I loved. Jess Walter is funny. He brings to life a cast of diverse characters (including a hilarious and extended cameo by Richard Burton, the actor) and narrative threads that come together with both humor and heart. Most impressive to me was how he came up with distinctive creative voices. He did the first with a chapter of a novel written by one of the characters. The second was a handful of songs, monologue and later a play written by another character. Truly masterful. Walter can also move backward and forward in time without losing momentum and narrative tension, an example hugely helpful to me as I work out a structure for my work-in-process novel. Buy it.
In “The March,” E.L. Doctorow fictionalizes Sherman’s Civil War march through Georgia and the Carolinas. It’s great Civil War history told through the experiences of a dozen or so characters that include freed slaves, more and less ethical Confederate and Union soldiers, a doctor, a photographer, fleeing civilians and Sherman himself. Doctorow moves easily from story thread to story thread. While none of the individual characters have a start-to-finish narrative arc, Doctorow manages to bring life to the march itself, meaning the 60,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of freed slaves that follow them. Together they make a living entity, each human being like a cell in a vast, complex organism, the whole moving across the landscape at 15 to 20 miles per day, raising a cloud of dust, emanating a cacophonous roar and, like a tornado might, leaving a clear path of absolute devastation as it passes. Buy this one too.
What have you read recently? What should I read next?