What I read on my travels

As usual I’m not going to mention the books that I didn’t like because I don’t want the authors to hunt me down and kill me.1 Writers are scary people.

I’m still on a bit of a crime binge. And have been reading a scary amount of adult books. Who’d’ve thunk there was some good books over on those shelves? Colour me, shocked.

So here are the novels:

  • The final book in Denise Mina‘s Garrnethill trilogy, Resolution, was every bit as good as the other two. I have a major writing crush on Mina. She’s amazing. I love the way she writes. I love it so much, in fact, that I typed out an entire chapter of Exile so I could figure out how she did the very cool thing that she did in that particular chapter. I’ve yet to read a book of hers that wasn’t pure genius. I also like the warmth with which she portrays her characters. Even the total shitheads. Set in a very bleak dark Glasgow. Left me feeling hopeful despite the subject matter. (Adult, crime.)
  • Clockers by Richard Price. This is a brilliant book. Astonishingly so. Richard Price can write. Some of his sentences made me cry they were so perfect. And yet . . . And yet I did not love it as much as I wanted to. There are two protags and I did not like either of them. Though Strike is definitely less repellent than Rocco. Though that wasn’t it either. Because there are lots of books I love that have wholly repellent protags. Hmmm. I’ll prolly have to read it again to figure out what my problem is. It’s my problem though not the book’s. Clockers truly is amazing. (Adult, crime.)
  • We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Speaking of books with repellent protags—the narrator of this book is completely unlikable. She’s self-obsessed, self-serving, unreliable, a racist, an elitist. I would go so far as to say that I hated her. And yet I loved this book. It did not leave me cold the way Clockers did. Along with The Man in the Basement by Walter Mosley this is the best meditation on evil that I have read in a long long time. Plus it’s a bad seed novel. And I adore bad seed novels. Shriver totally deserves all the accolades and prizes this book as won. Do not read this book if you’re thinking about having kids. It will put you right off. (Adult, crime—though I believe it gets classified as Literature, but it is a pure crime novel.)
  • Double Fault by Lionel Shriver. See? Immediately after finishing Kevin I had to read more Shriver. I didn’t like anyone in this book either. And yet, once again, I loved it. Shriver totally reminds me of Patricia Highsmith. They have the same bleak, unblinking gimlet eye. As they write it we all have something to hide, we are all complicit and selfish and incapable of happiness. This book is the anatomy of a marriage between two tennis players. Reportedly she based it on her own relationship to another writer. Wow. That must have been the most fun couple ever. Like Highsmith I highly recommend that you don’t read too many of her books in a row. Otherwise you’ll start thinking poorly of everyone. (Adult, not crime although it sure felt like it.)
  • No Place Safe by Kim Reid. A memoir about the Atlanata child murders from the point of view of a young girl who lives smack dab in the middle of where the children are disappearing and being murdered whose mother is one of the investigating officers. It took me awhile to warm to this one because I kept comparing to Tayari Jones‘s astonishing novel about the same events, Leaving Atlanta. It’s not a fair comparison. Tayari Jones is one of the best novelists in the US and Leaving Atlanta is stunning. But it’s also a novel and while No Place Safe uses some novelistic techniques it’s not—it’s shape is constrained by the real events in retells. Those events are chilling. If that many white children were being killed no way would it have taken so long to start a proper investigation. The crimes remain unsolved. (Adult, memoir.)

Manhwa and manga read on the Queen Mary 2:

  • Bride of the Water God Vol. 2 by Mi-Kyung Yun. You know, I’m not entirely clear on what’s going on in this one but it’s so gorgeous I don’t care. There are gods. There is a human sacrifice who isn’t killed and lots of really gorgeous art. (Mythological Korea.)
  • Line by Yua Kotegawa. Didn’t like this one as much as her four volume Anne Freaks. It wasn’t as dark or disturbing, but still worth checking out. Well, not if you don’t want to read about about mass youth suicides. (Contemporary Japan.)
  • Emma Vol 7 by Kaoru Mori. I would have read this A LOT slower if I’d realised it was the last volume. Only seven volumes!? Mori hates me, doesn’t she? How can I go through life not knowing more about Emma’s life? How? Highly, highly recommended. This is so romantic. It’s reminds me very strongly of Brief Encounter but without the incredibly annoying—I was going to say ending, but the middle and beginning drive me crazy too. It’s also gorgeously drawn. One of the many things I love about this series is how light on text it is. Some of the most moving sequences happen with no words at all. I can’t wait to sit down and read all seven volumes back to back. (Victorian England.)
  • Monster Vols. 12-14 by Naoki Urasawa. Speaking of bad seed narratives—Monster is a beaut. I especially love how rarely you see the Monster and yet he spurs almost everything that takes place. Tense, unputdownable, and every volume introduces some new strand or character or complication. Yes, the female characters are a bit same-ish. Don’t care. Love it. (Contemporary(ish) Europe.)
  • The more manga, manhwa and graphic novels I read the more I want to write some of my own.

Have any of you read any of these? What did you think?

  1. Or their family and agents. []


  1. Kelly on #

    I’m with you on Mina. She is unbelievably awesome. And, her prose comes off as effortless. One of my favorites.

    Also, loved “We need to talk about Kevin.” A great book, a wonderful exercise in narration. Agree. Literature. It’s one I plan to reread, which for me is always a sign. (And, yeah: I have two kids. It scared the sh&te out of me.) Funnily enough, I read Jodi Picoult’s 19 Minutes around the same time. Same subject matter, but Shriver blew Picoult out of the water.

    I liked Double Fault too–wondered if it was really the story of two writers in diguise…

  2. Kelly on #

    Oh, and one more thing about “Kevin.” The most miraculous thing about that book is how Shriver shows that mother and son are the same in their most essential personality–in other words, not on the surface of things, but way down deep. Brilliant.

  3. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    If you don’t mind my asking, why did you type out a chapter of Exile? Or rather, how does that work? I can sense a really cool writing exercise in there, and I’d like to try it myself, but I don’t actually know what it is you did.


  4. Harriet on #

    When I started reading “Kevin” I was quite sympathetic towards the main character (this tends to be my default position with perspective characters, especially in first person narratives). So I spent quite a while feeling angry on her behalf about the husband’s wilful blindness.

    But then suddenly (though I can’t pinpoint the exact spot) my whole attitude changed. I realised that the basic subtext was “so who was right after all, hmmm?”, and at that point the book just lost me. The plot was still horrifically gripping – I coudn’t have NOT finished it – but I found I was just fed up with all the characters.

    And so, notwithstanding the undeniable power of the book, it’s not one I’ll be going back to.

  5. marrije on #

    i read ‘we need to talk about kevin’ and i rather liked the protag… didn’t get what kelly said from it at all. this probably says more about me & my density than about you guys, though.

    also didn’t put me off having kids. oh wait, i already had those 🙂

    towards the end i was very much steeling myself for what shriver was going to do, um, *someone* in the book, ‘no you’re not, please don’t, oh bugger even worse than i thought it would be’ – she’s very good alright.

  6. sara z. on #

    I haven’t read Shriver, but love Highsmith, so now I’m excited to check her out. Yay!

    My husband enjoys Price’s books – particularly Samaritan. We have an ARC of Lush Life sitting around here…I need to check that out.

  7. Justine on #

    Kelly: Actually I was saying I would call Kevin a crime novel. I have no time whatsoever for the classification of “Literature”. If a book is Literature because it’s beautifully written then Highsmith and Mina and Whalen Turner and any number of other writers should be in that section and many I can think of (but won’t name) should not be in that section. Which is why I think the section is essentialy bullshit.

    But, yes, it is an amazing book. Though I’m not sure about the essential sameness of mother and son. There’s a big difference between being a self-centred pain in the arse and a psychopath. Though I can see what you mean. But I saw it more as him modelling himself on her worst aspects and taking them to their hideous extreme.

    Mary Elizabeth: I started to answer but it was getting long and involved I think I’ll write a whole post on it.

    Harriet: I know what you mean. Every page I liked her less and less until I started to hate her. (Mind you I don’t think I would have liked her husband any more than I liked her.) I totally understand not wanting to re-read it. It’s a thoroughly unpleasant book. But I’m fascinated by unreliable narrators.

    Marrije: Maybe people who’ve already had kids or have already decided firmly against should read it? Def. don’t read it while pregnant! Yup, I was shocked by the ending.

    Sara Z: If anything Highsmith has a bit of a sunnier outlook. Just so you’ve been warned . . .

    I think my problem with Clockers is how unrelentingly male it was. Though that doesn’t usually bother me. Not with books anway. He is a gorgeous, gorgeous writer though.

  8. Oyce on #

    You read Bride of the Water God! I, too, have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but I have also been taken in by the gorgeous.

    Also by the men in wet shirts with tattoos and the one-eyed woman with a tattoo…

    I was so excited when Emma 7 came out! But I am sad there is no more, though I think the stories in the Emma-verse and Shirley have been licensed. I’ve only read the latter, but it’s adorable.

    And yay Monster! I love it so, and I cannot wait until Urasawa’s other series comes out here as well so I can sic it on everyone!

  9. Justine on #

    Oyce: I’m so relieved it’s not just me who has no idea what is going on in Bride. Phew! I do love it though and not just for the gorgeous. I really enjoy not having any idea what’s going on! Means that absolutely nothing is predictable.

  10. Jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    i still get chills about KEVIN, and i read it as an arc like 6 years ago.

    i absolutely loathed the mom for about 3/4ths of the book. i kept thinking “why am i still reading this, the woman is atrocious” — and i’d read bits of it out loud to my sister to show her how hideous the main character. but for some reason i kept going. and then at a certain point – whoa.

    and yes, i liked that the mother and son were really so much alike.

  11. Leila on #

    I love Mina, too. I’ve been meaning to read the Shriver since it came out, so now I’ll definitely track down a copy!

    Awesome. I love going on crime kicks. (Literary crime kicks, I mean.)

  12. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    Hey, cool! I can’t wait to find out more. I love writing exercises; they are the perfect blend of procrastination and progress. It’s like research. It’s not writing, but it isn’t not writing, either, if that makes sense.

    (And you can’t fault a process that gets results in the end, right?)


  13. caitlin on #

    I finally read We Need to Talk ABout Kevin a few weeks ago … brilliant and Richard Price’s The Breaks which is quite different from his other works since its about a recent college grad trying to cope with depression and post school life. I’ve moved Clockers up to the top of my pile. I really like Dennis Lehane and not just because of the Red Sox musings.

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