05 May 2014

I've become a counter-revolutionary


Photo credit: John Schiffmayer for Lit Reactor
Remember a few week ago when Simon Savidge threw down the gauntlet and challenged us all to be a part of a Reading Revolution? In a quest to find novels that were under the radar and relatively undiscovered, he suggested we go to the library and take out a stack of recent-ish titles that didn't get much in the way of popular notice. I dutifully went off my local library and checked out nine novels that fit the bill. I found it all very exciting at first. And then I started to read them.

Niccolo Amaniti's I'm Not Scared may have gotten praise from some of my readers, and I recognized it was well-written, but when the kid didn't tell his parents he found the body of a dead boy, I was just annoyed and didn't feel like reading it. I had better success with Miss Fuller, an historical novel by April Bernard that explores the life and early death of the writer Margaret Fuller who was part of the Transcendentalist movement. But then I moved on to Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith and things really started to go bad. I only read about the first five pages. It is such a piece of crap. I was prepared for the fact that it was science fiction--a (gay) man, working for the government, builds a time machine--but I wasn't prepared for how bad it wold be. I was willing to suspend my disbelief for the time travel bit, but I was unwilling to suspend my disbelief for how clueless Smith is when he writes about the world of top secret government projects or even the scientific process. If he was so sloppy with reality, how lame would his fantasy be? Ugh. It really pissed me off. I dipped into other books, and well, I found them all to be trying a little too hard and I decided to abandon the rest of them.

You may be thinking I gave up too soon. I probably did. But, at the same time I was trying to read through that stack, I was also reading two books by Eric Ambler that I picked up on that same trip to the library. The difference is that Ambler's work has not been under the radar and I didn't pick him up randomly, but rather he had been recommended to me. This just reinforced for me that the best way to find something good to read, under the radar or otherwise, is from personal recommendations. The interesting thing about this recommendation is that I didn't get it from someone I actually know. I got it from a knowledgeable book seller.

Several weeks ago, contrary to type, I was in the mood for some old fashioned crime or spy novels and had this exchange on Twitter.


So when I made my trip to the library for the Reading Revolution I couldn't help looking to see if they had any Ambler on the shelf. They had two of his novels at my local branch and I checked them both out. The first I read was State of Siege which is not so much a spy novel as, hmm, maybe just suspenseful. An Englishman who is about to return home is caught in the middle of a coup attempt somewhere in Southeast Asia. It was written in 1962 and had a exactly the kind of old fashioned vibe I was looking for. I loved it.


And then I moved on to Kind of Anger which I loved even more. Written in 1964 it is a tale of confidence tricks and international espionage. An Iraqi exile gets murdered in his Swiss home, a magazine journalist is under huge pressure to find a story on the case which the police have all but given up on, and he ends up getting caught in the middle of way more than he bargained for. But he also goes rogue on the assignment and hopes to make some serious cash by getting a little too involved with his subject. Not only does it take place in the south of France but there are land record offices involved, land lines, messages at hotels...just the kind of thing I was looking for.

I can't wait to read more Ambler. The curious thing is, I don't really know the man who recommended him. I somehow follow John (aka @johnnie_cakes) on Twitter, but I don't have a clue why I first decided to follow him. I certainly don't know enough about his reading tastes to know if I should trust him. But, being the good indie bookseller that he is, he sure knows how to recommend books. He is a the publicity manager for Murder by the Book in Houston, (@murderbooks) and I must say he does his store proud. (Hmm, I wonder if they have any Ambler on their shelves...) My only trips to Texas are to visit my brother-in-law in Austin, but if I ever do make it to Houston I am putting Murder by the Book on my itinerary. I am intrigued by the possibility that I may like mysteries more than I have always thought--at least as long as they are the right kind.

Photo credit: John Schiffmayer for Lit Reactor
You can, of course, follow John and/or Murder by the Book on Twitter, but John also has a great book blog.

Personal recommendations: 1
Reading Revolution: 0


20 comments:

  1. That store has all kinds of great book signings by authors I like, but I have still never been there. Visiting Murder by the Book is something I need to do. Cheers, mdc

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    1. I don't think I have ever been in a mystery bookstore before. I would be interested to see the offerings.

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  2. Oh yea! Murder by the Book is fabulous, and their staff is just top notch. I live about an hour and a half away but try to make it up for my favorite authors (they have constant signings/talks).

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    1. I find there are a lot of Texans in the book blogosphere.

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  3. I think the organized chaos method of choosing books is a good one. I may pick one off a shelf randomly, but it usually inspired by something (jacket design, a blurb, a time period I enjoy). Or a may start with an author I enjoy and then read other authors from that time period. I just try to avoid the latest greatest ARC craze on blogs. Maybe it is just taking a chance on book recs from strangers that seems to work?

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    1. I think it all ends up being a bit of a crap shoot. Have to go through a lot of chaff to get to the wheat. How many other metaphors can I come up with?

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  4. I’m not cut out for the Revolution either. I also reading a book that I found recommended on a blog (http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/02/25/lives-of-the-monster-dogs-by-kirsten-bakis/) When I checked it out from the library, I thought the book (sort of) fits your criteria in that (a) the author only has the one title, (b) there was only one title of the book on the shelf. I read the first 50 pages this weekend, so it has already passed that test. I’ll read more once I have finished my two front burner current reads.

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    1. I think I need to be more open to blog recommendations when they aren't the books of the moment.

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  5. Murder by the Book is one of the best things about living in Houston - and the staff there have recommended some wonderful books over the years - and they've definitely added to my TBR stacks! I'm so glad you've found John & the store. And you've made me curious about Eric Ambler!

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    1. I wish I had a reason to go to Houston.

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    2. It's a nice drive from Austin to Houston - just sayin'. Kaboom Books here is also worth a visit, and there are some good Half Price Books.

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  6. I suppose you could be considered semi-revolutionary - you did, after all, jump into the spy/suspense genre, which hasn't been your your habit previously, right? You've got me curious about Ambler. I'll have to keep a look out for him at the library.

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    1. You are right, I did branch out a bit. And I did actually try with all those books. I didn't let them down after all, they let me down.

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  7. I'm not too keen on spy novels (does Ken Follett's The Key to Rebecca count?), but I sure am curious about Eric Ambler. But I'm an anglophile, so I guess I'll be reading him as soon as I find copies of his books. It's going to be a challenging book hunt!

    I think I'm not going to cut it for the Reading Revolution, well at least not this year. This year, I'm doing an A to Z dead guy challenge and writing about the experience over at my blog. I must say that the books I've chosen are mostly canon. Although, I did read a German horror novel published in the 1800s, and it was a wonderfully creepy book.

    One day, when I visit Texas, I'll make sure to drop by Murder by the Book.

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    1. I kind of like spy novels as long a there isn't too much action or chases or guns. I like them to be more on the cerebral side.

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  8. hmm, I should try Eric Ambler too. Sounds right up my style, I became a huge fan of LeCarre after reading Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and it sounds like Ambler's books would suit me just as well. Btw, love the vintage look of the covers.

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    1. I need to try LeCarre again. I found TTSS hard to get into for some reason. I think I kept getting characters confused. Buthe comes so highly recommended I need to give him another go.

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  9. After seeing this when it was posted, I've been keeping an eye out - and bought a couple Amblers in a charity shop yesterday: Journey Into Fear and The Mask of Dimitrios. I don't usually like espionage books, but I'm trusting you...

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    1. Well since you got them in a charity shop I won't feel like I need to reimburse you if you don't like them. I haven't read either or those titles.

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  10. I really enjoyed A Coffin for Dimitrios but have yet to read another by Ambler. Will add some to my list.

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