Unlike music, where my taste is focused, my interest in literature moves around a lot. I like serious fiction and genre fiction, and while I can read something brand new with pleasure, I can read the works of writers long dead with pleasure, too. I like to tackle an oeuvre. One year I read every one of Anthony Trollope’s novels, in the order of their publication.
Most recently, I’ve been reading one of the oddest books written by an African-American writer, half fantasy and half social criticism. It’s Colson Whitehead’s book The Intuitionist (not to be confused with Hari Kunzru’s book The Impressionist, another racially-based fantasy in which things are not as they seem). The Intuitionist is a fantasy set in an environment that is noir in every sense of the word, in which an embattled elevator inspector, black and female, struggles to uncover the truth in a city riddled with corruption. I like a book with an unusual vision, and this is one of the strangest, in the best possible way, that I’ve read for a long time.
In keeping with my interest in realistic fantasy and science fiction, I’ve recently read Kage Baker’s series on The Company, an interconnected set of books about lovelorn cyborgs who travel through time to loot the past for their rapacious employer. There’s a lot of room for drama and satire, but the greater appeal of the books is the way they deal with that most human of dilemmas—how to love someone mortal who will die. The tension between love and loss is sustained until the end of the series, and the author will never resolve it for us, since she died in 2010. As in our own lives, we’ll never know the end of the story.
I needed an antidote to the sadness and alienation in these books, and I picked up Arabella, one of Georgette Heyer’s best-known Regency romances. The courtship problems of a pretty, spirited young woman, circa 1800, are greatly compelling in Heyer’s hands. The historian in me appreciates her meticulous attention to period detail, and the language of 1800, so well rendered, is a delight to read.
The mid-20th century, when this book was written, seeps into it in the strangest way. The problems of marriage in the Mad Men era—how crucial it was for women, and how, once achieved, it was so badly plagued by duplicity and misunderstanding—have a ghostly echo in Heyer’s work. But I’ll keep reading. For all the difficulties, these books have hopeful endings.