You’re Looking for a Literary Thriller
Roll your eyes at the phrase #GirlBoss or are ready to get back to live theater
This weekend, I did something I haven’t done in over a year: drop by the library on a Saturday to pick up holds. I’m hopeful that soon I’ll be able to browse books at the library too.
Getting holds from the library — or ordering a specific book from the bookstore — is great, but I miss the feeling of finding books I didn’t know existed. That’s a hard thing to replicate online, where we’re served ads based on our previous reading habits or what’s already popular. Browsing at the library or the bookstore is where I find the hidden gems.
With any luck — and some semblance of herd immunity — we’ll all be back in our favorite bookish places soon.
And now what to read if …
You Want a Literary Thriller
In the recent subscriber survey, a bunch of you said you were looking for literary thrillers. If you, like me, hadn’t heard the term before, it describes character-driven mysteries with strong writing at the sentence level. Since learning it, I’ve realized a bunch of my favorite books are actually literary thrillers.
If you, too, are a fan of literary thrillers or want to give a new genre a try, Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden is a fantastic read. Winter Counts opens with Virgil Wounded Horse beating up a high school teacher who molested students. Virgil is an enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When the U.S. or tribal justice systems fail, members of the reservation hire Virgil to get vengeance. After heroin begins to appear on the reservation and Virgil’s own nephew nearly dies of an overdose, the vigilante launches an investigation, seeking to end the drug trade.
Weiden, an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota nation, is a brilliant writer. He delivers a cast of fleshed-out characters and a tightly plotted mystery in a setting that is so often ignored. I’m hoping it’s the start of a long-running mystery series focused on Virgil.
You’re Fascinated by #Influencer Culture
A friend recommended “Under the Influence,” a podcast about mommy influencers, last week, and I cannot stop listening to it. Like many people, I’m super intrigued by the women who make a living posting curated photos of their lives on Instagram and other social media platforms.
Leigh Stein brings the world of influencers to life in Self Care. The book focuses on the leaders of Richual, “the most inclusive online community platform for women to cultivate the practice of self-care and change the world by changing ourselves.” Richual finds itself at the center of numerous controversies after its COO writes a tweet threatening Ivanka Trump, and one of its wealthy male funders is accused of sexual misconduct. The company’s leaders struggle to maintain their personal and professional relationships while upholding their picture-perfect online personas.
On its surface, Self Care is a frothy satire of GOOP and influencer culture, but one layer down it’s an incisive commentary about feminism, victimhood and the way we live our lives online. Stein is a funny, witty writer (her own Twitter feed is fabulous), and the book is filled with moments that made me laugh out loud.
If you’re looking for a book that’s at the intersection of soapy and serious, this is your read.
You’re Ready to Give Your Regards to Broadway
Song of Spiderman, Glen Berger’s behind-the-scenes account of working on the doomed Spiderman musical, somehow made me nostalgic for live theater, even as it recounted one of the biggest debacles in Broadway history.
In 2005, when Berger was hired to write the script for the Spiderman musical, he thought he’d landed his dream job. He’d be working with renowned director Julie Taymor and legendary rock band U2 to bring the comic book to the stage. But, after a producer’s sudden death, the planned production went awry and never got back on track. As you may remember, the short run of the $25 million musical “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark,” was marked with injuries to its cast as they were flung through the theater in complex flying sequences.
Berger takes us into choreography sessions, costuming debates and marathon writing days, showing why the musical failed.
In one of my favorite passages, he describes U2 introducing a new song to the broader team, “They wanted a straight transcription from Peter Parker’s limbic system catching the flow in midsentence. (I mean, who starts a song with “And”?) In other words, the song could be a personal account by any adolescent hopped up on a Frappuccino and throwing himself around the room with an air guitar and the stereo blasting. ‘And the fish they are fed/As you fall off your floating bed/And you dive in the pool/That is the window of your room/And you swim ouuuut...’ Traditionalists would call the song insipid. We thought it was fucking inspired.”
On top of those fabulous nuggets, Song of Spiderman is an extended meditation on writing and storytelling, much like Sounds Like Titanic. Long-time readers know I love a weird, hyper-specific memoir, and Song of Spiderman is that and so much more.
A few programming notes:
- I’m planning some fun summer reading activities to launch after Memorial Day, so keep your eyes peeled for announcements. There will be prizes!
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