Episode 382 – My Mexican Bookshelf, Part 1

Chris has literally hundreds of books in this house, and so I felt it was my duty to try to work my way through at least some of them. There’s no way to sort through which are his except of course the ones that are things like biographies of famous musicians and actual opera librettos or music scores, but among the others, some have have probably been left behind by previous renters.

Sacré Bleu, by Christopher Moore, is probably one of my favourite books of the past 5 or 6 years. The cover blurb calls it a “Comedy D’Art”, and it is at times laugh-out-loud funny, but you do have to be a bit of an art buff to really connect with some of the humour. Populated by Toulouse Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, a who’s who of French Impressionists, a strange little dealer in pigments – specifically the “sacred blue” used for Saint Mary’s robes – and a phalanx of mysterious female muses, it’s just wonderfully amusing. I found myself bonding with baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard’s mother, who tests the perfect crustiness of their shop’s baguettes by how they “bend” when used to bop Lucien over the head, and spouts hilarious pieces of wisdom at inopportune times. The bonus in the book are the colour illustrations of Impressionist paintings, with captions taken from the book’s dialogue.

An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin (yup, THAT Steve Martin). I don’t think I knew Steve Martin was an author as well as screenwriter, actor, musician, and comedian. This was, completely coincidentally, the perfect book to read after Sacré Bleu, because it is also set in the art world, and also includes some beautiful colour photos. The main character is a beautiful, self-confident, not entirely scrupulous young woman who becomes a New York gallery owner. Her convoluted path to that career is the “story”, and is a lot of fun to read.

Gutenberg’s Apprentice, by Alix Christie. This was a really fascinating novel about an apprentice, who began as a scribe for the monks, and ended up working with Gutenberg to publish the first Bible made widely available to the public.

Mr. Know-It-All, by John Waters. This one’s a memoir. I only knew John Waters as the writer and director of Hairspray, but it turns out he was a really interesting (I guess maybe “is” since I think he is still alive) person with some bizarre opinions, innovative if completely outrageous ideas, and an over the top lifestyle, all described in a very engaging writing style. It’s not a book for the prudish though – he’s pretty crass and racy.

The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling. I made it 80% through the book before realizing that I’d read it way back when it was originally written in around 2012 however, I enjoyed it the second time through probably just as much as the first I didn’t remember the ending which is uncharacteristically sad and real-world for an author known predominantly for writing fantasy.

The Extra Man, by Jonathan Ames. This book reads like something written in the 1920s instead of 1998. The main character is a strange, introverted young man who imagines himself a Gatsby-esque gentleman, and moves to New York City to establish his identity. He ends up rooming with an equally quirky older man who is part-time impoverished professor and mentor, and part-time con man. Their “adventures” range from the funny to the strange to the truly off-putting. I won’t go searching for the author’s other books.

Under Occupation, by Alan Furst. set in occupied Paris in 1942, the story follows a newly recruited spy for the British, working with the French Resistance. The heroics of everyday people are highlighted, and the book is suspenseful and riveting, right until its very sudden (and somewhat unsatisfying) ending.

The Race, by Richard North Patterson. I can’t believe I missed this 2007 book by one of my favourite novelists. This one, like many of his others, is set amid the intrigues and craziness that we’ve come to expect within the American political system, but manages to present both sides in ways that truly make you stop and think as you’re reading. Some of the situations and machinations he imagined in 2007 seem prescient in hindsight. It’s a book that’s hard to put down, which is typical of RNP’s writing.

The English Assassin, by Daniel Silva. This book is one of the best espionage/suspense novels I’ve read in a while, and makes me want to read more of Silva’s novels. The action centres around two separate assassins, working at cross purposes, but both targeting individuals involved in either hiding or revealing the Swiss nation’s collusion with the Nazis in stashing art and gold looted from Jewish families during WWII. The quote at the beginning of the novel, taken from Jean Ziegler’s non-fiction book The Swiss, The Gold, And The Dead says it all, if unflatteringly: “Suppressing the past is a tradition in Switzerland.”

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