Vacation Reading Wrap-Up

Since I am a slowpoke at discussing books I read, I am making a concerted effort these days to write about them as soon as I am done. I read 7 books while on vacation in September and have only discussed 2 of them so far. So this is just a brief run down of what I read and what I thought.
After I finished Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, I started on Shadow of the Sun by famed Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski. Amassed from over 4 decades spent as a correspondent in Africa, it chronicles a diverse continent as it grows and changes. It’s actually a great complement to Howard French’s The Continent for the Taking, as they visit many of the same places, so you can see how much has changed or not changed in the course of 50 years. I found Kapuscinski a wonderful and skilled writer.
After that, I read The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. This was hard, as I had just read about a continent of people who eat maybe once a day if they are lucky. And to go to a book about a troubled and depressed 14 year old who sets himself on fire, well, I found it hard to empathize with him. Perhaps if I had not read these books in the order I did, I would have felt differently. Regardless, Runyon writes the teenage mind with great accuracy, at least in my experience.
I really enjoyed the next book—it’s probably one of the better books I’ve read all year. Sarah Hall’s carefully crafted novel The Electric Michelangelofollows Cy Parker, the electric “Michelangelo” of the title, as he becomes a tattoo artist. Hall pays careful attention to how each word sounds and fits together, writing a lyrical novel with ease. We see Cy Parker grow up in a seaside English town at the turn of the century, apprenticing with foul-mouthed binge drinker Eliot Riley, and eventually moving to Coney Island. Hall’s long, energetic sentences and imaginative power make this a beautiful, engaging novel about pain and beauty and I loved reading it.
I found a nice mass market edition of Jonathan Lethem’s Gun with Occasional Music while in Barcelona. I devoured the book. I liked the warping of the classic noir novel and the bending of the detective archetype. Conrad Metcalf, a down on his luck private inquisitor in 21st century Oakland, gets reluctantly drawn into investigating the murder of an affluent doctor, whose wife he just happened to be paid to follow a week previous. There are a lot of thought-provoking elements thrown in–drug use to control emotions, genetic engineering, government control. It was a fun read.
I wanted to love Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender, which I read on the plane home, however, I felt disappointed with some of the stories. Some of them worked, and some fell flat. Bender is an engineer of language and she constructs some great stories, but I felt like she was trying too hard in several of them. It’s still worth a read though.
And that wraps up the books I read on my vacation in September. I was happy with my choices and glad that I could finally read some of these books.