I have four more days of work to go and then I’ll be on VAY-KAY-SHUN for two weeks! Please indulge me in a little whinging, but I am wiped out. Utterly wiped out. Not untying my shoelaces when I take off my shoes at night wiped out. Eating Chocolate Cheerios (followed by a bowl of chocolate ice cream) for dinner wiped out. I have a lot to do before I set my ‘Out of Office’ notice on Friday, and all I wish for (heads up, colleagues and patrons) is that the week be free of thorniness while I scurry around to get it all done.
Like many youth librarians, I drop reading children’s and YA books like a hot potato when I am on vacation. These are weeks when I glut myself on titles from the adult end of the library. I’ve been planning and stockpiling for a few days now. The books I have chosen for this break are listed below, and they fall into three categories. All italicized plot summaries are copied and excerpted from the publishers’ sites. The book’s title links to the page where I got the summary from.
Category #1. Tennis!
Everyone who knows me in person or online is well aware that I am a tennis nut. When the U.S. Open is in town (and I was there late on Friday night, groaning over DelPotro’s losing the 5th set on a freaking double-fault), I start to hunt down fiction and books on the history of the sport that I haven’t read yet.
Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie (Workman Publishing). Another term has begun at Meadowbank, a prestigious, well-respected British girls’ school…But the school year suddenly takes a deadly turn when one of the teachers is found shot to death…It is up to Hercule Poirot to determine who is who—and, more importantly, what has drawn the killer to the school—before anyone else falls victim to the cat among the pigeons.
I read another tennis mystery by Christie, Towards Zero, a couple of years ago. The ending made me chortle gleefully out loud, and my friends, if you understand your basic groundstrokes, you would chortle as well. I was delighted to discover another Agatha Christie tennis-themed title, and I am equally delighted about this one’s British girl’s school setting.
Drop Shot by Harlan Coban (Random House). Once, Valerie Simpson’s tennis career skyrocketed; now, the headlines belong to a player from the wrong side of the tracks. But when Valerie is shot dead in cold blood and dropped outside the stadium at the U.S. Open, sports agent Myron Bolitar investigates the killing and uncovers a connection between the two players and a six-year-old murder at an exclusive mainline club.
This will be the first Harlan Coben book I have ever read, and I don’t know what to expect. Will it be a lot of testosterone and weaponry (á la Lee Child), or witty and off-the-wall characters (eg., Carl Hiaasen)? I’ll soon find out.
High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and the Untold Story of Tennis’ Fiercest Rivalry by Stephen Tignor (Harper Collins). Viewed through the lens of the fabled 1981 U.S. Open match between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, High Strung brings the golden age of tennis vibrantly alive once more. A fascinating chronicle that orbits around the four greatest, most enigmatic talents in the sport at the time—McEnroe, Borg, Jimmy Connors, and Vitas Gerulaitis—High Strung is a superior sports history, a must read for anyone who truly loves the game.
My tennis lurve began in earnest in the early 1990′s, with Becker, Agassi, Graf, and of course, that U.S. Open rain delay chestnut, Connors vs. Krickstein (1991). I was a kid during the Golden Age of the ’70′s and ’80′s chronicled in this book, and I’m afraid I wasn’t paying any attention to it. Tignor writes for Tennis magazine (I’m a subscriber), and his Twitter feed reveals he lives here in Brooklyn, NY. How about that?
Category #2. Graphic Novels!
My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf (Abrams ComicArts). To the public, Dahmer was a monster who committed unthinkable atrocities. To Derf Backderf, “Jeff” was a much more complex figure: a high school friend with whom he had shared classrooms, hallways, and car rides. In My Friend Dahmer, a haunting and original graphic novel, writer-artist Backderf creates a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a disturbed young man…
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin). Meet Alison’s father, a historic preservation expert, an obsessive restorer of the family’s Victorian house, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, she finds out, is involved with male students and a family babysitter. Through a narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter’s complex yearning for her father.
I’ve been meaning to read both of these biographical graphic novels for a while, and now I have my chance. By the way, have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test for Women in Movies? A movie passes the test if it features, 1. Two Women Who Have Names; 2. Who Talk to Each Other; 3. About Something Other Than a Man. I’ve often thought about proposing a Skrzypek Addendum, which would state, A movie automatically fails if it has a scene where a female character hacks off her own hair, either to gain control of a traumatic situation, or to desexualize herself in order to prove herself in a ‘masculine’ environment. I’m looking at you, Jodie Foster in “The Accused”, and Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth”, and Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens 3″. Those scenes make me want to throw popcorn at the screen.
Fables Volumes 9, 10, 11, and 12, written by Bill Willingham (Vertigo). Fables chronicles the world’s most beloved fairy tale characters hiding out in a magically hidden neighborhood within Manhattan. Run out of their happily-ever-after homeworlds by a mighty conqueror known only as The Adversary, these universally recognized princes, princesses, talking animals, heroes, and villains now face a new challenge: adapting to a modern world filled with sex, violence, and lots of moral ambiguity.
This plot summary is for the entire series because if you are going to read Fables, you really should start at the beginning. I believe they are up to 32 volumes by now, so I have a long way (and a spin-off series, Jack of Fables) to go. I have a comics-crush on Fabletown’s chain-smoking sheriff, Bigby B. Wolf.
Category #3. Novels By 20th Century Women Writers from Europe Who Aren’t Virginia Wolff!
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (New York Review Books). In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland.
I believe I will read this one first. It seems fitting to do so while there is still a taste of summer in the air. I anticipate it will have a similar voice of wistful, summertime nostalgia as another favorite of mine, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.
The Blessing by Nancy Mitford (Vintage Books). When Grace Allingham, a naïve young Englishwoman, goes to live in France with her dashingly aristocratic husband Charles-Edouard, she finds herself overwhelmed by the bewilderingly foreign cuisine and the shockingly decadent manners and mores of the French. But it is the discovery of her husband’s French notion of marriage—which includes a permanent mistress and a string of casual affairs—that sends Grace packing back to London with their “blessing,” young Sigismond, in tow. While others urge the couple to reconcile, little Sigi—convinced that it will improve his chances of being spoiled—applies all his juvenile cunning to keeping his parents apart…
I’ve been on a Nancy Mitford kick since Christmas, when I picked up a yellowing, crumbling copy of Love in a Cold Climate in our storage fiction stacks. Someday I’ll pick up her historical biographies, and read about her and her notorious sisters, but for now, I am satisfied with sticking with her novels.
I hope everyone has had a lovely summer, and that you have all had opportunities to walk away from your libraries and dip your toes into a cool lake or ocean (and watch, or play in, an epic tennis match). Please share what you like to read when you are on vacation in the comments.