To celebrate the summer of 2017, we are pleased to present an ongoing series of reading recommendations/reminiscences by Goose Lane authors past and present.
Today: Ian Weir (Will Starling)
The sale of souls to the devil seems to have shaped up as the dominant theme in my summer reading. This wasn’t exactly intentional, but here we seem to be.
Each summer I vow to read at least one or two of the books that are so classic that I’m humiliated to admit that I’ve never read them. Don’t ask me about War and Peace, okay? Maybe next summer.
This year, it’s been Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, which reworks the Medieval legend as the story of a Modernist German composer whose tragedy is an allegory for Germany’s sale of its soul to the Nazis. It’s kind of background reading for a project I’m working on myself – like most scribblers, I never read anything without an ulterior motive – but it’s a jaw-dropping novel by the sort of writer who makes you think, “Gee, so that’s what being brilliant must feel like.” I’ll bet it’s even better than War and Peace.
As a hopeless political junkie, I’ve been reading a couple of the latest buzz-books from down South – only to realize that these too are concerned with sulfurous bargains. I just finished Shattered, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes: an account of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, the one that ended up with You Know Who in the White House. It has the flaws of any book that’s produced at great speed, but it still generates the narrative impetus and the horrid fascination of a large-scale train wreck, as it analyzes what went wrong with the Clinton campaign. Read it, as they say, and weep. And I’m just about to finish J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, which sets out to explore just what the heck happened with the American white working class.
Otherwise? Well, otherwise this summer’s reading list is mainly historical. This is partly because I write historical fiction myself, but also because I’m starting to develop some pretty profound reservations about the century we happen to live in.
We’re seventeen years into the Twenty-First century, now. That’s long enough to have noted the cut of its jib. And the truth is – can I share an honest opinion, just between the two of us? – the truth is that, as centuries go, this isn’t shaping up as a very nice one. I’d recommend some of the others, quite frankly, if you’re looking for somewhere to hang out.
I started the summer on the U.S. frontier, with Epitaph – Maria Doria Russell’s quasi-Aeschylean retelling of the Wyatt Earp saga. Since I was in the West anyway, I proceeded to James Lee Burke’s Wayfaring Stranger. (It isn’t the best book ever written by James Lee Burke. Then again, James Lee Burke is incapable of writing a book that is NOT worth reading.)
Then I discovered C.J. Sansom’s wonderful Matthew Shardlake series – murder-mysteries set amidst the intrigues of the court of Henry VIII – and spent a three-book sojourn in Tudor England. While there, I was reminded of how much I enjoyed Michelle Butler Hallett’s This Marlowe – which takes place just a few years up the road, in Elizabethan England. I may head there next. And it’s been nearly ten years since I re-read David Copperfield, which I try to do like clockwork, every decade.
Going forward? Well, I’ve promised to venture into 2017 long enough to read The Driver, the debut thriller by Hart Hansen, an old pal from TV days. Supposed to be splendid and the perfect summer read, which doesn’t surprise me at all, coming from the guy who created Bones.
After that, I start in on War and Peace. Definitely, and without fail. Assuming there’s any summer left, by that point. Which there won’t be. So it goes, eh?
But just wait till next year.