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Books I've Loved Lately

Believe it or not, one of the quickest ways to catch me speechless is to ask me to name my favorite book. It's as though the very question makes all titles and authors vanish, instantaneously, from my brain, the opposite of the old "don't think of elephants" mind trick. And those of you who know me, as the kids say these days, In Real Life, know how hard it can be to get me to be quiet.

(No, Uncle Eric, I don't ever shut up. Deal with it.)

But now, alone in my quiet apartment, I can think of all sorts of things I've read and loved lately, and so, in no particular order other than non/fiction, here they are:


It's a shoo-in these days, high up on the best-seller list with all the fifty-shades-of-soft-core-porn, and it deserves every great thing that can be said about it: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. So high energy, so well-plotted, such great narrative voices--I know another writer who reads it between sessions on her own manuscript to keep herself going. 

And from 2011, another obvious one, but wow, I loved it: A Visit from the Goon Squad. It's not perfect, but most criticisms of it that I did have were tied to the structural decisions that I loved so much, so I won't even get into them. 

It might be cheating to list a book I'm currently reading, as I can't weigh in on it in totality, but Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist has me just waiting to see what disaster is going to befall the characters next--in a good way. I haven't actually read any other Lessing beyond The Golden Notebook, which I finished only because I was in a Shanghai hotel room, alone, getting over a nasty cough I'd picked up in New Delhi. Didn't actually like it much. But this one draws on the same dissolutioned view of a certain type of Communist organizing, and in a more standard story structure, it's providing great character development and a lot of tension.


By Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook is amazing. It's a history of the development of forensic medicine in New York during Prohibition, and as such combines two of my favorite things to read about: the interwar period and medical/scientific history. Very well written and researched. Can't wait for her next one, whatever it will be, and I really need to catch up on her previous books. 

I have The Great Mortality on my Kindle, but next time I'm in the States I'm going to have to rustle up a physical copy, I loved it that much. A social and cultural history of what we call the Black Death in medieval Europe, John Kelly confesses in his introduction that he didn't set out to write about a historic plague, but as he researched for his intended book on HIV/AIDS, he was so captivated by what he found that he changed course entirely. Love the focus on the implications of this disease, not just the medical details, from depopulation to social mobility to pogroms on the one hand and waning religious faith on the other. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

I'm also working my way through Beating Back the Devil after reading Maryn McKenna's most recent book, Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA. McKenna is one of the best kind of popular science/health writers--the kind who doesn't get in her own way. (These books aren't for the squeamish, it should be noted. In case it's not evident, I actually enjoy reading about medical scares and historical plagues, although for some reason I draw the line at smallpox.)

Next up: Books I Plan to Love Soon, or What's in that Giant Stack of To-Be-Read.