what I'm reading now
13 Ways of looking at the Novel, Jane Smiley. I'm still reading this, a month later, because someone, in a fit of cluttering (yes, it was me), put a stack of stuff on top of it. Am no further than the introduction.
The Glass Palace, Amiatav Ghosh. A wonderful book set in India and Burma around the turn of the last century, with both real and historical figures. There's a great scene near the beginning of the book: the British have taken the capital city, and the palace of Burma's last king, Thebaw, is being looted. The queen, Supayalat, and her maids are huddled in the mirrored reception hall, while looters hammer pieces off the wall, taking all the treasures they can carry, but still, they maintain their kneeling posture of respect to the queen. I'm halfway through--very good reading.
On Beauty, Zadie Smith. Just finished. I found this as compelling as a horror novel--page-turning, in fact. I liked it, but didn't totally love it. I thought the end was rushed, and sometimes characters' actions didn't seem sufficiently motivated. For instance, I just didn't believe that the beautiful 18 or 19 year old Victoria would develop a sexual craving for her 57-year-old teacher (she makes all the advances). But I loved some of the characters--Kiki and Carlene especially--two strong women who, for me, dominated the book. I did like picking out echoes of Forster's Howards End.
Another mystery by Jo Bannister, A Taste for Burning. I'm reading her in chronological order. This one was a satisfying British police procedural, focused on arson.
First They Killed My Father, Loung Ung. A memoir about the author's personal sojourn through the dark part of Cambodia's history. Simply written, spare, gripping.