If Watchmen was an important book that didn’t quite entertain, The Defector is a wholly unimportant book that’s fairly entertaining.
Part of a series starring an Israeli secret agent / art restorer, The Defector concerns a Russian defector (the titular character) the agent smuggled out of Russia and used to undermine a major Russian mafia figure. The defector has disappeared from the streets of London and the Israeli is summoned from the Italian villa where’s he’s restoring a painting for the Pope.
The Defector is the perfect airplane novel (less suited for the episodic nature of subway reading) – moving quickly and with some superficial emotional involvement (I hate the woman/child-in-peril trope and this book includes pregnant-woman-in-peril). The novel also feels reasonably “realistic” – not that I know anything about the CIA, MI6 or Mossad – but spends a decent amount of time on the “how” of creating covers and safe houses, which I found interesting.
So, not great literature, but fun. Next up – The Women by T.C. Boyle.
I finally finished Can’t Buy Me Love (review coming after the holiday) and can stop lugging those 650 pages around wondering when we would get to 1969 already. Heading out on errands after work, I spotted The Inhabited Woman by Giaconda Belli on the E Train downtown. Those errands took me to Borders in the Financial District. I love this time of year because I can justify buying books for other people and thus spending lots of time lurking in the stacks. Then, on the R Train headed home, the professorial gentleman across from me was unable to stifle his laughter at Winner of the National Book Award – I thought it was a compilation of pieces by winners, but it’s actually a novel by Jincy Willett (subtitle: A Novel of Fame, Honor and Really Bad Weather). Since it turns out The Inhabited Woman (described as a romantic suspense novel) is not available from the NYPL, I’ll be reading Willett’s book next.
I was standing at the end of a subway car, the R train, almost home, hanging onto an overhead bar, listening to music and trying to play solitaire on my phone with one hand. A woman nearby was reading – Dry: A Memoir, by Augusten Burroughs. It looked interesting, but I never read memoirs. I thought about what I had been reading lately – anything non-fiction about Stalin, Lenin or the former Soviet Union (I majored in Russian in undergrad), and my usual round of magazines (Harper’s, The New Yorker, Natural History). I was in a rut.
The plan started a bit rigid. I decided I’d read Dry, and, when I finished it, I would look around the subway and, whatever book I saw first, I’d read that, and so on. I thought about what I saw people reading, though, and quickly realized I needed a few outs: no religious tracts, no textbooks, no books I’d already read. And I’ve loosened up a little more in the 4 months since I started: I don’t have to finish the books, no romance novels and no sci-fi books with gold embossed letters on the cover (ok, that was just the one time and might not be a real rule, but it looked terrible), but I’ve tried a lot of new stuff, and even liked most of it.
I’ve decided to share my idea, and my thoughts on the books I read, because there’s something interesting about seeing this particular slice of New York through this particular lens.
Apparently New York had such a good experience with 311, the number to dial for any issue to do with City government (potholes, jobs) and some you wouldn’t think had to do with it at all (smoking cessation), that it’s upped the ante. Now, you can call 511 for weather and traffic, including subway line info, or you can follow them on Twitter, with different feeds for different lines. Other than Twitter, I’m not sure what it adds over the MTA’s website notices. I’m just getting into blogging in 2009, so I’m obviously not ready for Twitter, but if you try it, let me know what you think.