What happens when two thirtysomething siblings relive the summer reading programs of their youth in an all-out battle of the books? The race is on as they read by the rules and keep tally on their logs to see who will be the ultimate reader by Labor Day 2010.

August 10, 2010

The Curse of Trying to Eradicate a Twelve Book Deficit

After the heavy lifting of “Lonesome Dove” and “Dark Places,” I was looking for something lighter/less depressing to read. I had a week left before my month in Scotland, and two library books from which to choose. Of course, in all my brash ambition, I thought I could polish them both off in a week while simultaneously packing up my life for a month. But then I realized I was the world’s slowest reader, already ten to eleven books behind my sister. So when the time for the actual Sophie’s Choice between the two rolled around, I had to go with the easier read. So even though I really wanted to read “Faithful Place,” I had to put her back in the returned books bin, unread, and side with “The Curse of the Gilded Fly.”

Kerry has already mentioned my childhood weakness for Agatha Christie and Martha Grimes*, and so I thought Edmund Crispin’s book might be a welcome return to my youth. Plus, it had been touted by Nancy Pearl, and fell into one of my favorite subgenres, Mysteries that Take Place in a Boarding School/University Setting (see “The Secret History,” “The Likeness,” and “The Disreputable Reputation of Frankie Landau-Banks”). The book jacket touted it as a return to The Golden Age of Mystery, and while I certainly enjoyed the cast of eccentric characters, but I forgot how boring books from TGAOM can be. Most of the book is static scenes of interviews, set in a parlor, and the action doesn’t kick in until the final chapter. But the World War II setting lent a menacing air (blackouts play a key role), and the book is weirdly funny. Characters frequently call out the fact that they’re characters in a book, and Crispin writes with an acidic dryness. The book also serves as a reminder as to how much smarter everyone was fifty years ago. Even the dumb characters knowledgeably reference “Cymbeline” and “Pericles” (huh?) and the vocab words sent me racing to a dictionary, or at least dictionary.com. So while I didn’t love the book, I appreciate the fact that it taught me such words as prolegomena, objurgatory, and – my personal favorite – aposiopesis, which -

Martha Grimes probably served as my Meg Cabot, teaching me all about “kissing, dating, birth control, homosexuality, eating disorders, unplanned pregnancies, unwed mothers, or cliques.”

1 comment:

  1. "Brendan wished he could count the lengthy prolegomena as its own book, after taking three nights to read it."