[some of] august-october 2011 reading

I say some of because, truly, I’ve lost track of a lot of books I’ve read in the past few months. I moved on August 9 and have taken three weekend trips in the past three months, and, oh, there’s the whole pregnancy thing, so, you know, who knows? Anyway, here are the ones I can remember.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin — August’s mystery selection. As I’m not a mystery reader by nature, the group is always interested in whether or not I liked a particular book. Almost everyone liked this one, including me, although I liked it because it’s as much a book about boys in the South and race relations as it is a mystery. I’m not generally inclined to compare things to To Kill a Mockingbird, but Franklin’s book does have a bit of that feel.

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson — I am hoping that Jenna will read this sometime so she can tell me if she thinks the Lower East Side is portrayed well in it. The novel concerns a group of kids who migrate from being drug users in Vermont to being straight-edge punks who get caught up in the scene in 1980s New York City and are even around for the Tompkins Square Park Riot.

An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country by Susan Rosenberg — I ran across this too late to include it as one of the readings for the Women in Prison section of the library’s new nonfiction book discussion group, but I figured I’d read it anyway just for more background. Rosenberg was one of a number of radicals — the kind who supported armed revolution — who got caught (usually as a result of stockpiling weapons or stealing large sums of money) and imprisoned for incredibly long periods of time. Such prisoners have, according to Rosenberg’s account, not only been imprisoned for longer than their crimes would usually merit but have also been treated radically differently from “ordinary” prisoners. Not that ordinary prisoners are treated well, mind you (as she’d be the first to acknowledge).

Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane — September’s mystery selection. I told the group that halfway through this book I realized what I don’t really like about mysteries and thrillers — I always know how they’re going to end. Oh, I don’t mean I know who done it — I just mean that if, halfway through the book, we’re in the middle of what seems like a climactic scene, I know perfectly well that it’s not going to be the climax, because there are 200 pages left in the novel, and no mystery denouement takes that long.

Flying Close to the Sun by Cathy Wilkerson — Having read Rosenberg’s book, I was on a sixties radicals memoir kick, so I decided to pick up this one from a few years back. I still think Growing Up Underground is the best book I’ve read in this genre, but there were some worthwhile moments in Wilkerson’s book. I was (not surprisingly) most touched by her descriptions of getting pregnant and having her daughter while still living underground.

Witch Way to Murder? by Shirley Damsgaard — October’s mystery selection. About as serious as it sounds. Bleah.

Madness by Marya Hornbacher — I’ve never been able to make it through Hornbacher’s first book, Wasted, because reading about eating disorders always makes me feel ill, but I was interested to run across this memoir and learn that her primary diagnosis turned out to be not anorexia but bipolar illness (and its frequent attendant, alcoholism). Hornbacher’s style can be distracting to read, but it’s a pretty good approximation of what mania sounds like.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan — A novel narrated by three generations of women while visiting their family’s Maine summer home. Sullivan manages a minor miracle in handling shifting perceptions — the character I started out liking the best was the one I was most irked with by the end, and the character I was most annoyed with at the start was the one I most sympathized with by the end.

Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett by Jennifer Gonnerman — Elaine Bartlett was arrested (as part of a sting operation) with just enough cocaine to kick in a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years. She received clemency after 17 years, but, not surprisingly, life was not much easier outside of prison than it was inside. Gonnerman, a journalist for the Village Voice, followed Elaine for her first year out and tells her story. We read this for the Women in Prison discussion, but it would also pair well with Random Family (my review).

Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women by Victoria Law — The final book for the Women in Prison discussion. Law documents the largely undocumented work that women in prison have done to organize for their own betterment, whether through forming peer education groups (surprisingly, these are often frowned upon by prison administrators — God forbid prisoners teach each other about HIV!) or going on hunger strikes. Very revealing.