Not all my recent reading has been as dire as the books I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Over and since Thanksgiving I’ve read two series of detective novels. Abir Mukherjee’s series featuring British colonial policeman Sam Wyndham and his subaltern Surindinath Banerjee takes place in India in the 1920s. I read the last four in the series: A Necessary Evil, Smoke and Ashes, Death in the East, and The Shadows of Men. For some reason I started with the second novel and never went back to the first (A Rising Man) because I got a fair idea of what happened in that one from the later novels. In addition to the good mystery tales, the novels were a fascinating study of the contradictions in the character of a somewhat liberal imperial white policeman written by an Asian Indian who grew up in Scotland. As the independence movement grows through the novels, Banerjee becomes less and less the colonial civil servant and stands up for himself. He finally tells Wyndham to stop calling him “Surrender Not,” and to use his proper name Surindinath.
The second series was Kathleen Kent’s trilogy featuring Detective Betty Rhyzk, a Polish Brooklyn transplant on the Dallas Police Department. The Dime, The Burn, and The Pledge are all page turners with Betty barely escaping from one trap after another set by two arch-villains: a middle-aged white psychotic matriarch, evangelical and drug dealer, and El Cuchillo, an enforcer for the Sinaloan cartel who wears boots made from the skins of his victims.
Over the holidays I’ve started reading books that family and friends have given me. Long time friend and former co-worker with Laura, Julie Eisdorfer sent me The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Perhaps it’s the little boy in me, but I just love the title. Besides, who’s heard a snail as it’s eating? The author of the book Elisabeth Tova Bailey has been prostrated by a mysterious virus. A friend of hers gives her a snail from the nearby woods living in a pot full of wild violets from the same woods. Because Elisabeth can barely lift her head from her pillow, she spends hours studying the snail and its movements. The opening chapters are wonderful meditations on a snail. As she regains her faculties, Elisabeth does more and more research on snails. As she tells us what she’s learned about snails, she also describes her slow recovery.
At the Rivkin family gathering on Thanksgiving, Laura’s sister Julie gave me the tome by David Grabber and David Wengrow The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. I must admit to making slow progress on this one because the writing seems quite padded out. I will keep at it, however, since the book has become quite a topic of discussion on the left.
I am making more progress with the novel my daughter Justine sent me for Christmas, The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. From what I’ve read so far, it has all the makings of a good on-the-road saga.
For my birthday my sister Sara sent Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet. More reading and then more scribbling on the horizon, as Laura predicted.