By Louise Ure
By now, most of you know that I shelve my books in a rather esoteric fashion – one that puts me at odds with the vast majority of collectors, librarians and booksellers. You see, I categorize them not by author, but by geography. Specifically, where the murder took place.
Dana Stabenow is up there on the Alaska shelf. Craig Johnson practically owns Wyoming. The San Francisco shelf is huge, with writers like Joe Gores, Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. The Florida shelf is giving San Francisco a run for its money. And the international crime fiction collection on the north wall now outnumbers the Southern mysteries in the room.
I’ve been known to walk into bookstores and say, “I’m a little light on rural Illinois. What have you got?”
The writers who plagued me the most in my shelving were those inconsiderate travelers, Martin Cruz Smith, Lee Child, Nevada Barr and our own Zoe Sharp and Cornelia Read.
I was pleased to discover the other day that there is at least one bookstore that agrees with my cataloguing: Daunt Books in London, where the offerings are arranged by country.
My decision to sort geographically was probably easier than theirs. First of all, I find a strong sense of place to be one of the most compelling parts of mystery fiction. And secondly, since I only collected crime fiction, I didn’t have to also plan on where to put all other kinds of literature.
But all that may have to change, as I’ve now discovered (or rediscovered, I suppose) the joys of reading outside the genre.
I consider myself fairly well rounded and certainly well educated in the classics, but when I started reading purely for pleasure, I dove headfirst into crime fiction and didn’t come up for air. After all, the genre — with all its degrees of lightness and darkness, fantasy and reality, hopefulness and despair – is a big enough canvas to satisfy any reading tastes.
And yet, for some reason, few mysteries have held my interest in the past couple of months and I’ve ventured outside the genre for that spark.
Here are three recent reads that held me captive in that big leather chair in the front room for hours at a stretch:
In an extraordinary tale spanning almost seven decades, “The Warmth of Other Suns” describes the migration of over six million blacks from the South to the cities of the North and West. Wilkerson brings the migration to life with the revolving stories of three of those travelers: Ida Mae Gladney who was compelled to leave Mississippi for Chicago, George Starling who had to flee Florida for New York, and Robert Foster, a doctor from Louisiana who found success in California. If all non-fiction was as beautifully and evocatively written as Wilkerson’s book, it would be all I need.
I told you a couple of weeks ago that I had a chance to have dinner with this US Poet Laureate. This last two weeks I’ve gotten to know her better as I had more of a chance to read her work. Like Isabel Wilkerson (who won in journalism), Kay Ryan is also a Pulitzer Prize winner, and she did it with this book: “The Best of It”.
One particular favorite of mine is “After Zeno,” a poem she wrote at the age of 19, when her father died:
When he was
But I still am
and he is still.
Where is is
when is is was?
I have an is
but where is his?
Now here –
such a little
There’s no sense
in past tense.
(And I’ve forgiven her for her barb that night – “I love reading murder mysteries. They generate such an empty mind.” – She’s a better poet than she is a comedian.)
“The Sisters Brothers” is a western. And I love westerns of all stripes, from Zane Grey and Elmore Leonard to more recent cousins like Steve Hockensmith and his characters Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer.
But “The Sisters Brothers” is also the anti-western. Charlie and Eli Sisters, two killers for hire, are contracted to kill Hermann Kermit Warm. This is their story. It is droll and grotesque and very human and very funny. In some ways it reminds me of Rabelais’ “The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel” which had an equally gay and whimsical approach to violence and crudity.
One reviewer said that “if Cormac McCarthy had a sense of humor” this would be the book he would write. Another called deWitt “a character conjurer.” They are both right: the voice and the characters are pure magic.
Give yourself a treat this week and go buy “The Sisters Brothers.”
I’ll be traveling again for the next month or so and will have lots of time to read. My question to you today, my ‘Rati pals, is: what should I be reading next? Any genre. I’m probably ready for more mysteries, too. Do tell. My download trigger-finger is getting itchy.