Sheldon Greene’s Eclectic Reading
Author Sheldon Greene on what makes a good book–and five recent reads he highly recommends.
I’m an eclectic reader, always interested in a book by a novelist that I’ve never heard of. I do return to novelists if I find their work irresistible. Nothing profound in what gets and holds my attention: a good story, a plausible plot, intriguing characters, a sense of place, unpretentious writing, a natural, symphonic flow.
The following recently read novels are good examples of my widely ranging tastes.
The Two Faces of January by Patricia Highsmith, is a quirky novel about a narcissistic con man and his younger wife who are on the run in Greece. A young expat involves himself in the mans’s impulsive and reckless life. He sees a resemblance to his father and becomes infatuated with the wife. The interplay between the three of them is a study in irrationality and self-destruction.
Ian Pears wrote a memorable novel, The Dream of Scipio, illustrating the rapidity of disintegration of a society under stress. The implosion of the Franco-Roman culture and the World War II fall of France were woven together. His latest novel, Arcadia, uses a similar device, depicting three disparate societies. England during the Cold War, a future England dominated by authoritarian scientists, and a pre-industrial society going by the book are described in artful detail. The latter pre-industrial one has been brought to life by one of the renegade scientists from the future world, who has traveled back in time and reconstructed her machine. The old society has been extracted from the imagination of an English writer and reified in a parallel, coexisting universe. The book the people go by is his novel. The heroine is a smart teenager who accidentally finds herself back in time and in the present. Sounds off the wall? As complex and interwoven as a spider web and it works. Lots to chew on.
I get hooked on serial novelists. There are so many. What they have in common is a familiar cast of characters that the reader has gotten to know. Often there is a particular place or culture. Take for example, Donna Leon’s police procedurals set in Venice. You get a real sense of wet feet, streets traversing canals, ancient dwellings, hierarchic culture, with a murder thrown in. Her latest is Death at La Fenice. Or take Daniel Silva’s series starring Gabriel Allon, an Israeli security agent equally at home restoring masterworks for the Pope and assassinating terrorists. His latest, The Black Widow, is almost journalistic in its depiction of the World’s current nightmare, ISIS, attacking Europe and Washington DC. The heroine is a French-Jewish doctor who is recruited by Israeli security to penetrate the terrorist center.
Sheldon Greene is the author of the novels LOST AND FOUND (Random House), PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, PRODIGAL SONS, AFTER THE PARCH, BURNT UMBER and TWO LOST TRIBES. He is a San Francisco lawyer with a background of public interest law and an Executive Vice President and Director of Oak Creek Energy Systems, a Southern California wind energy developer. Greene also sings bass in the Oakland Symphony Chorus and serves on the Board of the Great Lakes Energy Institute. Visit him on the web at http://www.sheldongreene.com.
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