Reading through Pain: Crime Fiction, a Booker-Longlisted Novel, & Humor


The planet is so hot, it’s hard to imagine its getting hotter.   It was 100 degrees today, and it feels blazing, impossible.  
But in addition to suffering the heat, I’ve  been in a lot of pain this summer.  I  injured myself during a power yoga session.  Remember aerobic dance classes?  This was similar, only with yoga moves. I felt my ribcage rattling at one point.  For over a month, my ankles were swollen, and I could hardly bend my knees or  wrists.
I am now the queen of modified calisthenics:  leg stretches and gentle weight-lifting. Some days I managed to walk a mile (in pain), other days I could barely make it around the block.  One day I considered crawling home, but my knees weren’t bending properly.
I am almost 100 percent, but I couldn’t have gotten through it without Advil, calcium pills, gentle workouts, and some great books.

CRIME FICTION:  The greatest American fiction being written today is crime fiction. (I’m not the first to say this.)  And Sara Paretsky, author of the V.I. Warshawki series,  is the best American writer working today, says I.  
Her savvy, tough P.I. is V.I. Warshawski, a native Chicagoan and a cop’s daughter who became a lawyer and then opened her own P.I. office.  In Paretsky’s latest novel,  Overboard, V.I.’s  dogs run away from her on a walk along Lake Michigan and find an injured girl in a cave. The girl is taken to a hospital, and the case is turned over to the police, but it keeps coming back to haunt V.I.  The police thinks she’s holding out on them.  Really great writing, and if you know Chicago, or even if you don’t, her precise, deft prose will vividly recreate it.                       

BOOKER PRIZE NOMINEE:  I reread Elizabeth Strout’s stunning novel, Oh William!, longlisted for the Booker.  Her sentences are so graceful that they give a new meaning to the word “grace.”  Yet her characters have lived through a  lot of pain, and her lyrical sentences balance that in a way, not to make it palatable, but so that we can see their complexity more clearly.

Oh William! is a sequel to My Name Is Lucy Barton.  Lucy’s ex-husband William’s second wife and their daughter have left him, and he  invites Lucy to accompany him on a road trip to investigate his mother’s past.  He has just learned that before his mother left her first husband, a farmer, to marry William’s father, a German P.O.W., she had had a baby daughter. He never knew he had a sister. Can anything good come out of such a trip?  It’s not a Hallmark movie.   
Do read this because Lucy is good company.

 HUMOR WRITING:  I had read very few of P.G. Wodehouse‘s standalone novels, until I found a “Best of” list by Robert McCrum, one of Wodehouse’s biographers.  Piccadilly Jim is hilarious.   There are the usual imposters –  Jim, a practical joker  always in the society columns, changes his name so he can have a chance with a beautiful, bright American girl who scorns the antics of Piccadilly Jim. Imagine his surprise when he meets her family’s new butler – and it is his father, who has fled his wife in England because he couldn’t  bear to miss another baseball season.  I kept tipping back my head and laughing.  I don’t remember ever tipping my head before – that shows how funny Wodehouse is, I guess!

4 thoughts on “Reading through Pain: Crime Fiction, a Booker-Longlisted Novel, & Humor”

  1. I am so sorry you have been having a summer of pain and frustration. I am glad to hear your ankles are on the mend now. I tried yoga (I think it was) and I found it too much for me; the demands I stretch this way and that. Well I couldn’t do it. The music and all the (to me ridiculous sayings) and paraphernalia about peace and tranquility did nothing for me partly because I could see all the women around me and didn’t believe it was affecting them that way either) So I gave it up after spending too much on rug, shoes &c, and was glad to no longer have to drive 30 minutes there and back on top of the hour.

    Thank you for telling me and all your readers about Paretsky and about another good novel by Elizabeth Strout. I should try to make room for the first because I’m reading a find book by Maria Tatar, Heroines with a 1001 faces, and one of the heroine types who represents a form of liberty and freedom for women as well as true reformist activity is the detective. (I cannot read books like Wodehouse’s.)

    1. Thank you, Ellen! I am almost 100% well now. I haven’t read Tatar, but Paretsky’s detective, V. I. Warshawski, would certainly fit the bill. Strout’s novel is certainly Booker-worthy. Elizabeth is now in her 60s, and her ex-husband is 70.

  2. Sorry to hear about your physical struggles. I can relate, as I’ve spent the past 10 months walking and exercising to recover from open heart surgery, only to find myself with sciatica. I also got hooked on Elizabeth Strout and (some) crime novels during that time. Read on!

    1. How terrible for you! So often one thing leads to another. Yes, I’m astonished by Strout’s talent. So many good books out there.

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