Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What's On My Nightstand



I just finished a book that I picked up through one of those Amazon $1.99 sales.  They send me an email every morning with a selection of on-sale stuff.  More often than not I delete it but once in a while I take a couple-buck chance on something.  I always check the reader views though, and this novel had a pretty high rating.  

Briefly, it is the story of a 104 year old woman in Maine who signs up for a local boy scout troop project where a kid shows up once a week to help seniors around the house.  The old woman, Ona, happens to draw a scout who, although never quite diagnosed, must be autistic.  He has the numbers fetish like Rain Man but doesn't have quite the social awkwardness.  He also has a thing about the Guinness Book of Records and soon gets old Ona revved up on the possibility of breaking a record of her own.  

What follows is a week after week birth of a great friendship between a 9 year-old boy and an a 104 year-old woman.  But one Saturday, the boy doesn't show up, but his father does.  I won't go into the plot details any further but I found this to be a richly layered remarkable novel.  

This is where I must confess a personal bias in literature.  Better sit down.  This is a bit of a shocker.  In my reading experience, rightly or wrongly, I have found that some women authors tend to write from their hearts whilst males tend not to.  It is, rightly or wrongly, a bias for which I plead guilty and for which I feel somewhat guilty.  Think of it as Jane Austen vs. Tom Clancy (both whom I have avoided) syndrome.  So its out.  I feel liberated.  And sometimes their penchant for "heartfelt prose" can slow a book down to a snails pace and be just on the cloying side.  Of course, being a guy I like things to move along briskly.  Hang me from the nearest yardarm (hopefully a maritime nautical sailing yarn from a male author).  I freely admit this bias and am, literarilly speaking, ashamed.  

Having said all that, the author of this astonishing book, Monica Wood, does an excellent job of writing from the heart without grinding scenes to a halt or creating sleep-inducing dialogue one might see in romance novels.  When I mention a layered book I mean it, in the best sense.  There aren't a lot of characters but how they all end up interacting with each other is wise.  The tape recording sessions is a unique device that adds immeasurable context.  

The prose does what it is supposed to do - it gives us an interesting story with people we really care about doing things they love doing or are impelled to do out of nature or kindness.  Yeah, I like this book a lot.  Unlike a lot of stuff I read that seems good and then quickly fades, I'm going to remember these guys for a long time.  Best of all, reading the One-In-A-Million Boy one wouldn't know if the author was a guy or a girl.  High praise indeed.


*****




Here is upcoming reading list:


Bird Box, A Novel - Josh Malerman
Way Station - Clifford Simak
Take Me With You - Catherine Ryan Hyde
The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey
A Gentleman In Moscow, A Novel  - Amor Towles
Conclave - Robert Harris
Ordinary Grace - William Kend Kreuger
Leaving Blythe River - Catherine Ryan Hyde
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders
Bear Town, A Novel - Fredrik Backman
Dead Wake - The Last Crossing of the Lusitania - Erik Larson
Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy

Here is a list of books I tossed aside.  Maybe I'll try again, maybe not:

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara
Down the Memory Hole - Bonnie Turner
The Terror - Dan Simmon
Paranoia - Joseph Finder
Pride Runs Deep - Cameron Cooke
Before the Fall - Noah Hawley

I have discovered that I do not have a thirst for knowledge.  I have a thirst for escape and entertainment.  While I generally like biographies, I am more driven to the novel.  It is my escape, and my poultice against insomnia.  

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