For this month's book group, we met to discuss The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The subtitle is "Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics," and that pretty much tells you what you're getting. It's a partially fictionalized account of the 1936 USA crew team; I say "partially fictionalized" because although the story is historically true, the author took some liberties by filling in dialogue and other details that no one could possibly know now. But he did extensive research, and did a good job painting a picture of a particular time and place. Although I enjoyed the story very much (despite knowing exactly how it would end), I did find the book to be a bit of a slog at times. I think that the author (or perhaps his editor) just couldn't bear to make any cuts, so you end up with overly long descriptions at times. I was reading it somewhere when I was out and about, and a woman stopped me and said, "Isn't that book great?" We got to talking, and she told me that her daughter rows crew, and that she told her mother that the descriptions of what it's like to be part of a crew when everything is in perfect synch—the author calls it "swing"—brought her to tears. I also especially enjoyed the parts about the man who built the racing shells. All in all, it was truly a feel-good story; the writing style wasn't particularly scintillating, but it still makes for a good read.
We aren't meeting again until the fall, and we haven't picked our next book yet. But, in the meantime....
I read The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg. It's the story of a family and its matriarch, Edie, who is not so slowly but most surely eating herself to death. She eats all the time—for fun, out of boredom, to medicate herself, because it's there, for the flavors, for the activity, any reason whatsoever. She is obsessed with food. Is this a problem, and should her family do something about it? Or is this just the way she is and they should let her be happy, even if there's no question that her health is in true danger? It's a short book, but the characters are well drawn and believable; I really enjoyed Attenberg's writing. The book has quite a bit of humor, but it's not aimed at Edie, so we never feel that Attenberg is poking fun at her. In fact, we are left to question who in this family really "needs help" and who doesn't. It ends up being an astute but compassionate look at this particular family, in terms of both how they interact and who they are as individuals.
I also read The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon. I'd heard great things about Gordon but somehow never managed to read any of her novels. This one ... meh. Here's the description from Amazon: "Miranda and Adam, high school sweethearts now in their late fifties, arrive by chance at the same time in Rome, a city where they once spent a summer deeply in love. At an awkward reunion, Adam suggests that they meet for daily walks and get to know each other again. Both have their own sense of who betrayed whom and long-held interpretations of the events that caused them to part. But gradually, as they take in the pleasures of the city and the drama of its streets, they discover not only what matters to them now but also what happened to them long ago." Sound sappy? It was. But I can be a sap, so that isn't what made me roll my eyes on nearly every page. It was Adam and Miranda's dialogue that did me in. They spoke in these ridiculously long, grandiose soliloquies. I had to keep looking for quotation marks to see whether someone was in fact still talking. I was so sick of the both of them (especially Miranda) by the end that I didn't care what they did.
And finally, although I never ever read murder mysteries, I read Dangerous Admissions by Jane O'Connor because it's about a freelance copyeditor! Rannie, a single mom, finds herself trying to solve the case of who murdered the very influential college admissions counselor at her son's fancy-shmancy Manhattan private school. They say that some parents will just kill to get their kid into an Ivy League school, and our hero is determined to get to the bottom of it. There are fun references to publishing, and there's also a love interest to spice things up. The author did a good job of retrieving some seemingly unrelated details sprinkled throughout the story and using them to tie up the ending in a satisfactory way. I liked Rannie and thought this was a thoroughly fun romp. (It's probably not the author's fault that there were some errors along the way—one character named Dottie is occasionally referred to as Dotty; the shortened form of "microphone" is given once as "mic" and once as "mike"; that sort of thing—but it was kind of disconcerting because Rannie is always mentally correcting people's grammar and usage, so I couldn't help but feel that she would have been annoyed.)
Next up is Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.
What are you reading?