Summer is a good time for easy-to-read fiction, so I was glad to read three fiction books over the past few weeks. The first two were part of a discussion group series at the Mercantile Library, which I have previously and fondly mentioned on this site. The library’s “Heat Wave” series focused on mystery books set in Florida. The third book was for my regular book club. As much as I enjoyed the easy-fiction interregnum, the entire time, I was hiding a dark secret that threatened to destroy my relationship with books. I’ll get to that later.
Part one of the Mercantile series was Elmore Leonard’s “Rum Punch” (later developed into the movie “Jackie Browne,” directed by Quentin Tarantino). This was a fast read, but not my favorite. The characters are all criminals in once sense or another, and after a while, I got sick of just hearing about criminals trying to steal from other criminals. Maybe it would have been better if Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson made appearances.
The second book was “Blackwater Sound” by James Hall. This book was part of a series of books featuring a recurring character and I just loved the storyline. It was just a mindless page-turner starring some ordinary Florida bachelor who always finds himself in unusual situations, breaking up a criminal conspiracy and solving a murder. He also always happens to encounter an attractive woman who he also ends up “solving.” As we discussed in the group, Florida was more present as a character than it was in “Rum Punch.” The book had excellent descriptions of marlin fishing and the environment in the Keys, and it was a mini-vacation from an ugly Cincinnati summer.
Our discussions about these books were stimulating, but perhaps the most provocative question asked by our kind facilitator was why aren’t there more novels or mysteries set in Cincinnati? (Or the Midwest for that matter.) It’s a good question, and my answer is that the rest of the world doesn’t find us interesting. We do, of course, find ourselves simply fascinating, but it is hard for me to believe that someone in Wichita or Portland or Pahrump might like to read about a crime that occurs here in the ‘Nati. If the objective is to sell books, it might be wiser to pick a setting that has a more universal profile. This will make it easy for a reader to relate. But who knows, maybe one of the individuals in the group will take up Albert’s call to arms (or word processors) and write a best-selling Cincinnati mystery novel.
The final book was not related to the series at the Mercantile, and it was a historical fiction novel by Robin Oliveira. “My Name is Mary Sutter” is about a fictional nurse in the Civil War who wants desperately to be a surgeon. To do so requires great sacrifice and a dash of moxie. This was definitely a girl power book. I’m sure people like Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee recommend it to their 10 a.m. wine-drinking female viewers. Mary Sutter is an intriguing but not particularly likeable character. Her sacrifices come at great cost to her family, and though she winds up as a practicing surgeon who gets herself a man by the end of the book, she’s still not someone you would really want to spend any length of time with. The book was brisk, had some uncommon historical facts, and kept my attention. On the subject of historical fiction, though, I’m torn. As someone who likes actual history, I felt a little gullible reading an invented conversation between Abe Lincoln and Mary Sutter. Books like this feel like History-lite. I likened this book to when you lie down on the couch, turn on the TV and start watching whatever happens to be on. After about 30 minutes, you realize you are watching (and interested in) the Lifetime Movie Network, and for some reason you make the decision to keep watching. As soon as it is over, you have to go hunt or chop wood or scratch something.
All in all, a good summer fling with some easy-fiction books.
Now my confession: I read all three of these books on the Kindle app on my iPad. I know I’ve made a commitment to books, and I know what I did was just the worst kind of betrayal. But it felt so right. It was new and different and it made me feel like I was young again. The iPad is so much skinnier and so much more beautiful than that dusty old book. And the iPad does things I’ve never seen before—it allowed me to look up definitions of words by just touching her, I mean it, in just the right way. Together, we flipped through pages without so much as a papercut, and it was just so gooood. Yet my guilt began to swell. And then I read that Borders was going to liquidate. Was it my fault? I needed a sign that I hadn’t forever lost my beloved book and then, Huzzah! A business trip to Portland, Oregon! As I went out exploring Portland, I suddenly saw my true love, standing on the corner, waiting for me, with no trace of a grudge. She may take up an entire city block and she may look a little rough around the edges, but no matter how much time you spend with her, you’ll always discover something new. She may be forty-something years old, but she’s still sexy as hell. Yes, Powell’s Bookstore, one of the most amazing bookstores in the U.S., forgave my little dalliance, welcomed me with open arms, and promptly let me buy four books, one entitled “Book Love.” Lesson learned.
Thanks for reading.