Recent reading roundup

I'm currently immersed in one of this summer's Hot Books -- The Passage by Justin Cronin -- which I'm attempting to read with Salon's Reading Club (look for a future post contrasting that with the One Book One Twitter experience reading American Gods -- the short version is that I like the Salon experience better, at least so far). And there are a couple other titles I've read in the last month between everything else -- though now we've got the cable with the World Cup on and the Tour de France right around the corner so my reading rate could slow right down. (There are three copies of The Passage in the Monroe County Library system, by the way, with two requests pending so if you want this one you should get on the list.) But here's a report on a couple of recent reads before they get too far into the rearview mirror. My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliviera -- historical fiction set during the Civil War about a midwife who longs to become a surgeon, with lots of family drama going on. For some reason, this one just didn't grab me though I did finish it. It struck me as one of those "look how much research I did into the time period" historical novels. That stuff needs to come through not quite so obviously. We do have it in the Monroe County Library collection, just not at the Key West Library. I'll give it 3 stars.

The Big Skinny by Carol Lay -- a graphic memoir (my favorite genre in the graphic format, I'm finding) about a woman's decision, at around the age of 50, to finally lose weight and keep it off. How does she do it? Why, she counts calories and exercises more! Amazing! The book has a great opening where Lay is at a party and some woman is marveling at her weight loss, asks her how she did it -- and is deeply unhappy with Lay's answer. People would prefer there were some magic bullet, of course, rather than the old "eat less and exercise more" answer. The rest of the book is both Lay's story of why she was chronically overweight and the strategies she uses to stay thin. I liked it a lot. Not in the Monroe County Public Library collection, unfortunately -- I got it through Interlibrary Loan (thanks, Palm Beach County!). 4 stars.

American Gods -- Neil Gaiman's novel about a war between the Old Gods (Norse, Egyptian, you name it) and the New Gods (technology, media, etc.) on American terrain was chosen for the inaugural One Book One Twitter read and I jumped on it for two reasons: I'd been meaning to read that book and I was feeling mildly guilty for being Twitterphobic. It was an interesting way to get to know Twitter and I'm glad I finally read some Gaiman. But it wasn't the best way to read a book, especially this book. I wound up finally jumping ahead of the two-to-three-chapters-a-week reading schedule and finishing it in one big rush. And I liked the novel a lot but I'd like to re-read it, not according to some Twitterific schedule. This one, by the way, is in the Key West Library collection. 4 stars.

Speaking of graphic memoirs, or memoirs in graphic novel format, or whatever the hell you want to call them, I'd been meaning to read Stitches by David Small since it came out -- it got fantastic reviews. And we even have it at the library. But I hadn't gotten around to it -- until I was looking at the program for the upcoming ALA conference and saw that Small will be appearing there, along with Time Traveler's Wife author Audrey Niffenegger (whom I had no idea was an artist, too). Anyway it was enough to send me over to our small-but-growing graphic novel collection to check it out on Saturday. I opened it after work and I think I finished it before the sun was down. It's great -- harrowing, for sure -- like all memoirs, in the graphic format unhappy childhoods make terrific narratives. And Small's art is great, too. My favorite in this level is still Alison Bechdel's Fun Home -- but this one is a close second. In fact, the only graphic memoir I think I didn't like was one where the "author" was not the artist. I'm not sure why -- it just didn't feel authentic in some way. But this one did. A great book. 4 1/2 stars.