I woke up this morning and decided to break up with the novel I’m currently reading. This is a new thing for me; I recently decided to start more books and quit reading more books when they’re not working for me.
I’m not finding that resolution easy. A part of me feels compelled to finish a book once I start, as if failure to complete was wasteful, like not eating all the food on my plate. But of course, that’s ridiculous, and quitting reading a book that isn’t working opens up time to read something I might enjoy more.
The book I’m quitting is “Cetaganda,” by Lois McMaster Bujold. It’s part of her Vorkosigan series of novels. These are far-future science fiction about a hero named Miles Vorkosigan. Miles is the son of one of the most powerful men on the planet Barrayar, scion of a warrior caste. Miles’s father was one of the greatest warriors and statesmen of Barrayan history, who saved the planet after a revolution and coup against the rightful Emperor, and then ruled as regent.
But Miles is not his father; he’s disabled, short and frail, with a rare medical condition that makes his bones fragile and easily breakable. He’s also brilliant, hyperactive, a wise-ass, and prone to getting himself into trouble and thinking himself out of it. The books have an enthusiastic fandom and won a lot of awards.
But I always find myself having to push through the middle of the Vorkosigan books, and in the case of “Cetaganda,” it’s too much pushing.
The Vorkosigan stories are mysteries of one kind or another: murders to be solved, spy plots to be uncovered, military capers to be executed. The plots are intricate. I think the books are meant to be read quickly, over two or three days at most. I read books slowly, over weeks or months, and I get confused about what’s going on in the Vorkosigan novels and who’s who.
The books were written in the 90s, and they already seem a little dated.
Julie went to school with Bujold, though they were not close. And here’s an interesting Wikipedia bit: Bujold’s inspirations for Miles include T.E. Lawrence, a young Winston Churchill, a disabled hospital pharmacist she once worked with, “and even herself (the ‘great man’s son syndrome’).” I’ll have to ask Julie what, if anything, she knows about Bujold’s father.
I may come back to Miles Vorkosigan. But not today.
So what should I read next? I think I’m going to stick with series novels. I like series. Once you find a series you like, they’re reliable, familiar, and comfortable. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Blood Work, Michael Connelly’s seventh novel. Connelly primarily writes about Harry Bosch, an LAPD detective, but he also writes novels about other characters, and this character is new to me, Terry McCaleb, an ex-FBI agent retired on medical disability.
Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies is not, despite the title, by Parker, but instead by Ace Atkins. It’s a novel about Boston private detective Spenser (first name never revealed), who Parker invented and wrote about in dozens of books until Parker died in 2010. Then Atkins was hired by Parker’s estate to continue the series.
The Parker novels meant a lot to me. I read them in my 20s, and they were the last books I read in a period of my life where I drew role models from fiction, which started in childhood. I looked to fictional characters as I tried to figure out how to live life, and Spenser was the last of those for me.
Also, I fell in love with Boston by reading the Spenser books and taking frequent business trips to that city. I moved there in 1992 and decided I wouldn’t say I liked it after all, but I met Julie there, and we moved together to California and got married.
So the Spenser books are a big deal for me.
Ace Atkins has done a surprisingly good job continuing the Spenser series. His first four books are good but could be better, but he gets going with the fifth, Slow Burn. I’ve read other series where a living author tried to pick things up from an original author who died, and they don’t quite work out; Atkins shows that it can succeed.
Slow Burn isn’t Parker’s Spenser; it’s a collaboration between the two writers (one of whom happens to be not living anymore).
Those are the leading contenders for what I’ll read next. Others on the candidate list:
- A Sandman Slim novel by Richard Kadrey. I quit that series several books in, but maybe I just needed a break.
- Something by Stephen King. I’ve been re-reading some old favorites and picking up newer books I haven’t yet read.
- A Harry Dresden novel. Like the Vorkosigan books, they have an enthusiastic fandom. I read the first one, and it didn’t grab me. A fan told me this weekend that they get better after the first few. Maybe I’ll start again in the middle with those. I did that with the Spenser books, and it worked well.
- After seeing the Jon Hamm Fletch movie, I re-read the first book in that series, by Gregory Mcdonald, and liked it so much I might keep going.
- The next Stainless Steel Rat book, by Harry Harrison, about a master thief turned elite secret agent in the distant future. I loved those books when I was a kid, and I re-read two last year and thought they held up great.
- John Scalzi has a book coming up. I could check to see if it’s out already or if I can winkle an advance copy.
- The second Travis McGee novel. I read the first one last year, and I can definitely see the appeal.
- Something by Elizabeth Gilbert. This entry doesn’t fit on the list; the rest of the books on this list are sf or fantasy or detective novels, but that’s not Gilbert. She’s an author I’d previously dismissed and compartmentalized, but I heard an interview with her in 2020 about her then-new novel, “City of Girls,” I read the book, and by God, it’s brilliant. And I now seek out interviews with Gilbert because she’s brilliant. So maybe I should read more by her?
I’ll probably go with the Connelly, but it’ll be hours and hours and hours until I decide, and who knows where the world will take me in that distant future of later today?
What great books have you read recently?