In “Weekend Armchair” UC Press staff share “un-put-down-able” titles. This week, 2 out of 3 staffers (separately) recommended Tana French—and many more titles for any spare December “down time.”
Just finished In the Woods by Tana French. As a crime and mystery addict, I push my eyes over a lot of words just to find out whodunit, so it was a perverse pleasure to read a mystery that doesn’t resolve the most compelling questions it raises. Three stories unfold concurrently: the murders in the past, the murder in the present, and the crashing personal failures of the protagonist. French spends a lot of time on descriptive passages, which I like (especially since they are visual but not photographic), but her characters speak in shorthand, which makes an interesting rhythm: fast, slow, fast, slow, paralleling the protagonist’s state of mind, which is what I think the book is ultimately “about.” Would be interested to read something by French that didn’t hang its story on the mystery formula.
And for something completely different, do read The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago, which is a reader’s read.
I just finished the fifth book in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, The Secret Place. I lived in Dublin so especially appreciate her capturing of cultural and linquistic Irishisms and familiar-to-me scenery, and all of her books will keep you tensely turning pages into the wee hours.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is post-apocalyptic fiction at its contradictory best; bleak and heart-wrenching and evocative and life-affirming, all at once. I loved the immersive personal detail of the main character’s work of survival: hunting, fishing, talking to his dog.
If you’re a short story fan, Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories from Karen Russell, the author of Swamplandia!, are fantastic, escapist, wonderful fun. (She had me at vampires sucking on lemons…)
I’ve also always got my nose in a stack of cookbooks, and current picks include Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi, Vibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes, and Colors of Each Season by Kimberley Hasselbrink, and Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterraneane, amazing Turkish cuisine recommended by a UCP colleague.
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Roxane Gay tackles some very heavy topics—issues of racism, sexism, reproductive rights, violence—but throughout Bad Feminst she makes you feel as though you are having a conversation with your incredibly smart and funny friend. Her angry and honest observations about society and politics can challenge your way of thinking, but in the same space you will find yourself laughing as she ridicules Fifty Shades of Grey and argues the importance of Sweet Valley High. Entertaining, inspiring and passionate, we need more people like Roxane Gay. Plus, she is a lot of fun to follow on Twitter (@rgay).