Reading Roundup

I want to mention three books that have been my reading for the last two weeks.  The first is Michael Lewis’s newest, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World.[1] I have talked about Lewis’s books before; I think his The Big Short is the single best book on the financial crisis that I have read.

This outing by Lewis discusses several countries on the brink of financial collapse, and investigates how they got to this unhappy place.  Iceland, Greece, Italy, Ireland—all of these are covered in Lewis’s trademark style.  That is to say, he talks to people who elucidate what happened, rather than just giving us dry fact.  This puts “skin” on the statistics and engages us in the story.  Whether we want to admit it or not, the story of the world’s current financial problems is our story, too.

This book in some sense follows up on The Big Short; I think that if you have not read either, it would be an excellent approach to read them in that order.

The second book is Blue Nights by Joan Didion.[2] A famed author, Didion has suffered devastating losses in recent years.  The first was the sudden death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne.  She chronicled this in her A Year of Magical Thinking, a moving and well-written book.  Blue Nights tells of the death of their daughter, Quintana.  Didion uses a repetitive, nearly litany-like style to recount Quintana’s life and death, but there is plenty in the book about Didion herself.  I found it to be a mixed work.  Some portions—for example, parts about life in mid-century America—were well-done.  Other, very personal sections, did not translate well into a book for the general reader.  All of it was elegiac, as the title might indicate.  Sometimes the reader feels, not so much a kinship with Didion in the human condition, as a voyeur at the very private unraveling of her life.

I have saved the best for last.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern[3] is a fantasy, a book like none other you are likely to read this year.  [As an interesting sidelight, the book’s draft was written as a project during National Novel Writing Month, which I discussed here recently.]  The author has, in essence, created a type of creation narrative centered around a circus, one that is only open from dusk to dawn.  The narrative has two warring “gods”—Prospero the Enchanter, and Mr. A. H—who create a game of very high stakes for the two main characters.  The world of the circus is distinctively black and white.  The circus itself is called Le Cirque des Reves—the circus of dreams.  The devotees of the circus—the reveurs [dreamers]–are distinquished by their blood-red scarves.  It’s an alternative universe of great power and attractiveness.  These two, Marco and Celia, who are both magicians, eventually come together to find a solution for the game.  In the process, we meet a host of supporting characters who are also fascinating.   I can’t say enough about this book, nor do I want to tell you so much that it loses some of its mystery for you.  You find yourself transported into this circus, a reveur yourself by the end.  It’s magical.  Read it.

[1] Lewis, Michael.  Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.  I read this book in traditional print.

[2] Didion, Joan.  Blue Nights.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.  I read this book as a Random House audiobook read by Kimberly Farr.

[3] Morgenstern, Erin.  The Night Circus.  New York:  Doubleday, 2011.  I read this book as a Random House audiobook read by the incomparable Jim Dale.

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