Summers are made for reading, and summer vacations especially so.
I like to use the summer reading season to discover and dig into books that have already become a series featuring the same characters. When you make such a discovery you can read the books in sequence, letting the characters and their lives unfold before you and become more familiar and, sometimes, beloved. There is a particular joy in the initial discovery, too, because you know that you’ve just filled lots of your leisure time — often extending well into the autumn months — with what is sure to be very enjoyable activity.
Over the years I’ve read lots of literary series, and it always seems to happen in the summer — and usually at the recommendation of a friend or family member whose judgment I trust. It was during the summer that I first enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books (at Richard’s recommendation), Patrick O’Brian’s terrific Jack Aubrey-Stephen Maturin Master and Commander novels about the British Navy during the Napoleonic era, James Lee Burke’s two-fisted Dave Robicheaux crime fiction (suggested by the Wrestling Fan), George R.R. Martin’s fabulous Game of Thrones books, and Stuart Kaminsky’s wonderful (and unfortunately too-soon-ended) Inspector Rostnikov and Abe Lieberman series. I loved them all and hated reaching the end.
Recently the Philosopher King of the Fifth Floor recommended Michael Connelly’s books about Detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch. I’ve begun with the first book, The Black Echo, and it’s excellent. I can tell I’m going to like following the exploits of the (in the first book, at least) chain-smoking Harry as he struggles with his personal demons and deftly solves crimes along the way — even if it means skirting the edges of the law and breaking a few departmental rules to bring the wrongdoer to justice. Having made the discovery, I’m especially pleased to learn that the series currently includes 19 books, which probably means number 20 will come out as I am happily working my way through Harry’s story.
Don’t expect much from me this summer: I’ll be reading.
During the summer months, when I’m looking for some light reading, I’ll often try books designed for younger people. Years ago Richard strongly recommended the Harry Potter series; I read them and enjoyed them immensely.
There’s been the same kind of buzz about The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (as well as UJ’s enthusiastic review) so I decided to give it a try. The first book was interesting, as it introduced a weird world and its repressive regime, dominated by TV broadcasts of a bloodthirsty game where children are killed as ratings soar — a kind of cross between The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, the Star Trek episode where the Roman Empire survived to the TV era, and standard sci-fi fare about evil governments of the future. When the resourceful and quick-witted Katniss won the Hunger Games and outwitted the evil game designers, I was happy.
Often it’s difficult for follow-up books to maintain the pace of the original. The interesting world has already been fully described, and the characters and plot need to carry the day — and sometimes they can’t. That was my reaction to Catching Fire, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy. I grew weary of Katniss’ self-absorption and hand-wringing about her odd and confused relationships and came to groan when she launched into the latest internal monologue about her feelings toward Peeta and Gale. And mostly I was bored by the cast of wooden, one-dimensional characters — the evil, blood-sucking President, the valiant clothes designer, the drunken tutor, among many others — and the increasingly unbelievable world in which they lived. And when the book turned to Katniss and Peeta competing in another Hunger Games, I felt the same kind of “been there, done that” reaction I had when the last Star Wars movie revolved around the destruction of another Death Star.
I’m now on the third book, Mockingjay. My eye-rolling at Katniss’ indecision continues, I’m tired of the creaky use of TV interviews to move the thudding plot along, and I’ve come to resent the people of this world who put up with brutal unfairness for decades when they apparently could have simply escaped to the woods or visited District 13 long ago. I’ll finish the book, because I always do, and maybe it will improve — but for now I’m fed up with The Hunger Games.