Finding time and space to settle down and read a good book can be difficult, depending on one’s circumstances, but the phrase “so many books, so little time” has never seemed truer. The quote is widely attributed to the late composer and musician Frank Zappa, and has been used on T-shirts, mugs, and other merchandise for decades.
The quarantines and shut downs over the past year and a half due to Covid turned people’s lives upside down. For many, anxiety and stress challenged the ability to read for pleasure, and would-be readers turned to audio-books, podcasts, and streaming services for good story telling. Others became news hounds, fueled by politics, the 2020 presidential election, and ongoing existential crises.
Despite the challenges, 2020 was a good year for publishing and books. Print sales were up by almost 8 percent by the end of last year, starting soft but picking up by June, just in time for summer reading. I was among the book buyers, placing orders with local independent bookstores, as well as reserving titles at the library when it once again was open.
Mysteries, suspense novels, and thrillers often find their way onto my reading lists, and it makes me happy to “discover” new writers. Publicists and reviewers for such novels often cite the unusual twists and unexpected outcomes of such novels.
While Laura Lippman (The Lady in the Lake; The Girl in the Green Raincoat) is not new to me, her latest creation, Dream Girl (Harper Collins 2021), is certainly twisty. Gerry Anderson, author of the highly successful novel, Dream Girl, is bedridden and lonely, recovering in his luxury penthouse from a fall that resulted in a broken leg. A mysterious woman is stalking him, claiming that she is the inspiration for his fictional, made-up character, and that he therefore owes her money. Billed as a “delicious literary thriller” by Publishers Weekly, every page of this craftily layered novel is a pleasure to read.
Laura Dave’s bestselling suspense novel, The Last Thing He Told Me (Simon & Schuster 2021), is a page-turner. Hannah and her husband Owen have been married for two blissful years, but following the revelation of fraud at Owen’s office, he disappears. Although it becomes clear that Owen has been living under a false identity, Hannah and her resentful step-daughter Bailey set out to find and exonerate him, uncovering mysteries about his past and Bailey’s true identity. The resolution of this novel is unexpected, but not necessarily satisfying. If you have read The Last Thing, and were disappointed by the ending, you might enjoy Angela Haupt’s review in the Washington Post. Spoiler alert: do not read the review if you still plan to read the book!
Years ago, I was enthralled by Nobel-prizing winning author Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remains of the Day. Downton Abbey it was not, but I did learn about the protocols of early 20th century English butlers, and the complex politics, including British German sympathizers, of the time. A later novel, Never Let Me Go (Faber and Faber 2005), left me cold, so it was with some trepidation that I read Klara and the Sun, another dystopian novel by Ishiguro. In this time of police robot dogs, pet robot cats, self-driving cars, and robotic equipment in factories, the premise of Klara no longer seems as unlikely, given the increasing role of artificial intelligence in our lives.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family (Penguin Random 2021) by Patrick Radden Keefe is particularly relevant today given the pending resolution of a lawsuit targeting Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, for its role in the opioid addiction crisis that has killed half a million Americans over the past 20 years. Keefe covers three generations of the Sackler family, from their early beginnings, financial growth, marketing tactics, and visibility in the world of philanthropy, while maintaining secrecy about the origins of their wealth.
The upcoming trial this week of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and creator of Theranos, is another reminder of medical misdeeds, and the abandonment of truth and principles in favor of power and greed. John Carreyou chronicled the saga of Theranos in Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (Penguin Random 2018). It is possible that Carreyou will be called as a witness in the trial.
Summer vacations and reading are pretty much coming to conclusion, but there are great new books available this fall. I look forward to reading new novels by Amor Towles (The Lincoln Highway), Anthony Doerr (Cloud Cuckoo Land), Sally Rooney (Beautiful World, Where Are You), and
Colson Whitehead (Harlem Shuffle). Brilliant new nonfiction titles dealing with nature include authors Mary Roach (Fuzz) and Helen Scales (The Brilliant Abyss). And yes, there will be new mystery and suspense titles by Lisa Jewell, Paula Hawkins, Elly Griffiths, Louise Penny. And many more.
So many books, so little time.
Frank Zappa. Wikipedia
Frank Zappa. Wikiquotes.
Frank Zappa Quotes. Goodreads Author Quotes
Now That You Have Read ‘The Last Thing He Told Me,” Let’s Talk About the Ending by Angela Haupt. The Washington Post, Aug. 12, 2021
Surprise Ending for Publishers: In 2020, Business was Good by Elizabeth A. Harris. The New York Times, Dec. 29, 2020