Books I Read in December
30 January 2020
I started these monthly rundowns of books I read about a year ago, because I had stopped writing longer descriptions of what I was reading in my weekly newsletter and I missed summarizing my thoughts. I’ve since picked up longer newsletter descriptions again, so I’m not sure if I’ll keep these posts. But I might! I never mention every single book I read in my newsletters. We shall see. At least, with this post, I finished out a full year.
- The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America, Karen Abbott: If you’ve read or watched anything about the Prohibition era, you might have encountered George Remus, whose story seems like it had to have been invented by an imaginative fiction writer. But he was a real immigrant turned lawyer turned bootlegger who lived large until he was imprisoned for running illegal alcohol, his wife started an affair with a Prohibition enforcement officer and drained away his fortune and when he got out of jail, he killed her. And he was acquitted. And that’s really only the beginning of how odd the whole story is.
- Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick: I mentioned when I read the screenplay for Eyes Wide Shut the month before that it really revealed how much style and substance Kubrick injected into the film because the gap between the screenplay and the magic of the film is wide. This gap is even wider. I had a difficult time staying interested in this screenplay. All of the elements I like about the film have virtually nothing to do with the mechanics of plot or dialogue. An instructional experience, if not a particularly enjoyable one.
- The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan: Kiernan is an author I should have read far before now, but this was the first of her books I picked up. It’s virtually impossible to compare this to any other book I’ve read. It creates a liminal space at a crossroads of fiction memoir, exploration of mental illness, fairy tales and modern fantasy. It’s for those who like journeys inward.
- Knives Out, Rian Johnson: The film Knives Out is intricate clockwork of mystery tropes and subversions and the screenplay is a perfectly written, finely tuned blueprint. If you want to appreciate how well story elements can be interconnected, set up and paid off, this is the read in which to do it.
- Lost Highway, David Lynch and Barry Gifford: Lost Highway came out when I was an exploring teenager and it was the first Lynch film I was really affected by—despite the fact that it’s a very cold-blooded film, distant and hard. That makes it particularly appropriate to examine via a screenplay, where you can take apart the pieces and see the machinery at work.
- Lady in the Lake, Laura Lippman: Laura Lippman is a legend, both on the general crime novel scene and in my personal canon. Lady in the Lake continues her noirish trend of original tales (as opposed to her earlier series of detective novels) that she began with Sunburn, although this encompasses a whole city of stories—not in any sort of epic fashion, but in a brief spotlights on individual voices and lives, revolving around the focal points of two very different women in 1960s Baltimore. This one is more insidious than Sunburn; its implications creep along and conclude with complexity rather than pure resolution.
- Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung, Nina MacLaughlin: A series of prose poems of feminist retellings of Classical mythology, a literary mixtape where the modern and ancient eras blend together and similarities persist throughout time. For all the grown-up girls who read myths in elementary school.
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