We’ve further expanded the definition of AVQ&A—our Monday and Friday discussion prompts—by asking you (and two of our regular contributors) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? If you have suggestions for AVQ&A questions, big or small, you can email them to us here.
Book releases are picking up in March, with some interesting biographies dominating: Rita Moreno, the only Hispanic performer with an EGOT, just released a self-titled memoir coming. Punk grandfather and Voidoids frontman Richard Hell wrote one as well, titled I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp. The Ask author Sam Lipsyte returns to short stories with The Fun Parts. Pulitzer winner Elizabeth Strout follows up Olive Kitteridge with a new family-lit novel, The Burgess Boys. Rob Zombie inevitably moves into print horror with his debut novel, The Lords Of Salem, co-written with Last Days author B.K. Evenson. John Scalzi continues his serialized Human Division book with several more Kindle and audio installments released throughout the month. Nalo Hopkinson has a new novel out: Sister Mine, about a girl whose former conjoined twin ended up with all their shared magic. Terry Brooks has yet another Shannara book out. The Reluctant Fundamentalist author Mohsin Hamid has been getting attention for months with his new novel How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, and it’s finally out now. And Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee are releasing a book of their mutual correspondence, called Here And Now: Letters.
For classics fans, though, March’s biggest news might be the publication of the massive Cambridge Edition Of The Poems Of Rudyard Kipling, featuring more than 50 unearthed, previously uncollected works. That, or the first English publication of Vladimir Nabokov’s only play, The Tragedy Of Mister Morn, which he wrote at age 24.
I somehow managed to score a far-advance ARC of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (due out in June), which I could have devoured in one day if my evening hadn’t been spoken for the day it arrived. It’s a slim little book, with a plot a bit reminiscent of Gaiman’s Coraline (with another child who travels to another world and accidentally opens the way for something malevolent), a bit of his short story “Troll Bridge” (with a middle-aged man with heavy regrets revisiting magically forgotten events from his youth), and a bit of Sandman (with yet another colorful, odd take on the three Fates). There’s nothing wrong with that DNA, though; it’s a melancholy, vivid story that really gets at some of the deep, irrational fears and unthinking acceptance of childhood. Once it’s digested a bit, I’ll have to go back and re-read it to actually appreciate the prose and the mood, instead of devouring it whole for the plot.
I also recently read Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, still hoping for a revelation somewhere near the scale of her breathless 2012 bestseller Gone Girl. Dark Places is a stronger book than her debut, Sharp Objects—the characters are more believable and less cartoonish. (Though still a little bit unbelievable and cartoonish; Sharp Objects was so hyperbolic, it left plenty of room for improvement in the reality department.) There’s a noticeable developmental arc across the three books; in all three, Flynn has a strong, capable narrative voice, but each novel is more complex and sophisticated than the last. If she can sustain that arc over time, her next book is going to be amazing. Currently, though, I’m reading Double Feature, the debut novel of Owen King, son of Stephen King and brother of Joe Hill. I’m not far into it yet, but enjoying it at the moment. It’s reminiscent so far of The Big Picture, with a young filmmaker with a strong vision for a film that addresses his college years cleverly, but with a hefty dose of sentiment. It’s due out in a few weeks.
After being told by several websites’ book-recommendation algorithms that I should read Arthur Phillips’ 2009 novel, The Song Is You, I finally checked it out this month, and am just so close to being finished. And while I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as our reviewer, Ellen Wernecke, I like it a lot. This is a novel for people who agree with the middle-aged male protagonist, Julian Donahue, that the iPod may indeed be the “greatest of all human inventions.” It’s for people who immediately begin compiling a playlist to complement every major life event, and several of the minor ones. The book’s other protagonist, Cait O’Dwyer, is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter struggling to keep her craft authentic. Circumstance and coincidence keep throwing these two into a series of near-misses as each becomes the most important person in the other’s life, even though they’ve spent little time in each other’s presence, and have never had a face-to-face conversation. It’s an interesting, passionate story that delves into the ways people use music as therapy, both as listeners and as artists. I’m also plowing my way through Patrick Neate’s refreshingly international hip-hop commentary, Where You’re At, and I finally worked my way through the Vanity Fair comedy issue from January.
I continue my slog through Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, a process that has taken me the better part of six months because I read it exclusively while up with my infant daughter in the middle of the night. I do sometimes worry about my reading comprehension; how much will I retain given that reading pattern? But I can offer this impression of me reading Steve Jobs: “Wow, what a dick.” [Turns page.] “Geez, that’s a dick move.” [Turns page.] “Yup, pretty dickish.” Repeat. Scott Tobias, who’s also read Steve Jobs, likes to say the book makes the late Apple leader look like an insufferable boor, as if spending five minutes with Jobs would cause actual pain. Maybe, but Steve Jobs also makes a convincing case for the guy’s charisma, even if he was also the kind of guy who parked in handicapped spaces and abandoned his first child. There isn’t a lot of art to Isaacson’s writing; his biography is as straightforward as they come, but luckily, he has a fascinating subject to do all the heavy lifting.