The best books of September
The leaves are starting to change. The Olympics and the political conventions are a distant memory. This month's books offer opportunities to get away from it all.
Or, in the case of A Life Worth Living, draw up a plan to really get away from it all, and to be grateful you escaped being blessed with a pair of the World's Zaniest Parent finalists.
Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation, or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squidby J. Maarten Troost, nonfiction, 5/5:
Does watching Olympic volleyball gold medallist Misty Mae-Trainer on Dancing With the Stars make you feel a little homesick for China? Well, Troost's delightful and at-times laugh-out-loud funny account of his 2007 trek across that country can sate that yearning - even to the point of providing way more than you ever wanted to know. From the time he checks into his Beijing hotel - where an adult holds a half-naked peeing toddler over a lobby ashtray - to his harrowing climb up a steep mountainside and finally to a terrifying brush with the North Korean border he paints a picture of this complicated country that jumps off the page.
He protests that this isn't a travel book - despite the fact that he traveled to and through China and does offer tips about things from choosing menu items to how to bargain Chinese-style and I guess if he says so it's not. But if I were planning on traveling to China this would be my number one companion. (Note to Lyn S: I have not yet read The Sex Lives of Savagesbut I will and I will return it to you with sincerest apologies and thanks for your patience.)
Wolf Totemby Jiang Rong, fiction, 5/5:
Depending upon your interest, arguably you may want to read this terrific novel (an insider's -- Jiang Rong is a pseudonym to conceal the author's true identity -- take on process and outcomes of the People's Revolution) instead of Troost's book (a westerner's open minded impressions of modern day China).
Wolf Totemis a translation of the semi-autobiographical story of a young Beijing student, Chen Zhen, who was sent to China's Inner Mongolia during the 1960s to live among the herding Mongols (a tiny minority vastly outnumbered by the Han Chinese), learn their ways and figure out how to best exploit their land for the benefit of the rest of the country. Although occasionally preachy Jiang Rong's prose is impeccable – and despite certain translation limitations – and the story is eye opening both for the glimpse of a culture so very foreign to much of the world and for the glorious portrait of a land and a people who seem to have made a delicate peace with their environment.
Fracturedby Karin Slaughter, fiction/thriller, 4.5/5:
This one grabbed me on page one when Abby Compano enters her upscale Atlanta home at midday and finds a girl she believes to be her teenaged daughter, Emma, and an unknown man in the upstairs hall. The girl is dead and the man standing over her body is holding a knife and is covered in blood. Abby proceeds to struggle with the presumed assailant and kills him.
In the first of many plot twists Abby learns the girl is really Emma's best friend, Kayla, and the "assailant" may actually have been trying to save Kayla's life.
From there the plot gets what I like to call complicated. There's the relationship between Abby's husband and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent.
There are the unresolved issues between Trent and his new teammate, GPD detective Faith Mitchell whose mother Trent got fired for corruption. There's Trent's own dirty little secret. There's the somewhat slimy atmosphere at Emma and Kayla's fancy private school.
And, oh yeah, there's the missing Emma and who really killed Kayla and why. It gets really intense and you begin to marvel that anything gets solved when so many people have so much baggage. But it does and Slaughter – perfect name for a thriller author, no? – wraps it all up like a tidy birthday present. If you like character development plus a complex skein of a plot you'll enjoy this one.
Up next...Longing gets Vengeful and Philip Smith's memoir