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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
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I swore, however, that this summer would be different. For three months, I would keep my paws off book trucks full of new galleys. No reviewing from June through August. Sure, I’d do some reading during that time, but I’d limit myself to something called leisure reading. I’m relatively unfamiliar with that phenomenon, but from what I’ve heard, it sounds fabulous: after you finish a book, I’m told, you don’t have to write a damn review. Even better: you don’t accumulate a pile of galleys by your computer made up of books you’ve read but haven’t managed to review. Naturally, when you do force yourself to tackle that pile, you discover that you remember virtually nothing about those books and will need to spend hours rereading them before you can manage to put fingers to keyboard.
Guess what? Here it is August, and I haven’t so much as started to watch season one of The Wire (for the fifth or sixth time). Why not? Because I couldn’t keep my paws off those book trucks, of course. I blame myself, sure, but most of all, I blame the publishing industry for setting me up to fail. And by fail I mean spending the last three months reading one great book after another when what I wanted to be doing was watching stuff on TV. And by fail I also mean watching my RBNR (Read but Not Reviewed) pile growing to unimagined heights. Can it really be a coincidence that, just when I declare my intention to stop reviewing for three months, publishers send out galleys of books they know I won’t be able to resist? I smell conspiracy.
How else to explain this series of titles appearing one after the other on this summer’s book trucks, all of them batting their luscious covers at me with an irresistible “come hither” look: Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds, Louise Penny’s Glass Houses, Daniel Silva’s House of Spies, Michael Connelly’s The Late Show, John le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies, John Lawton’s Friends and Traitors, and Michael Korda’s Alone: Britain, Dunkirk, and Defeat in Victory? And those are just the ones I’ve already reviewed. Here’s a sampling from what’s sitting in my RBNR pile: Joe Ide’s Righteous, Robert Olmstead’s Savage Country, Timothy Hallinan’s Fools’ River, and Thomas Perry’s The Bomb Maker.
To support my conspiracy theory, here’s a little backstory on some of these RBNR titles. Righteous is Ide’s second novel, starring a Sherlockian sleuth from the wrong side of the tracks in East Long Beach, California. It follows the wonderful IQ, which I’m on record as saying was my favorite first novel of 2016. So, naturally, I’m going to want to read its successor immediately. Olmstead’s novel falls into a special category for me: literary westerns. I can’t resist them, including Olmstead’s previous Coal Black Horse, so why, I ask you, does his latest turn up during my reviewing hiatus? A coincidence? I don’t think so. Perry’s new thriller is a particularly egregious case. Anyone who reads Booklist knows Perry is among my short list of favorite writers, one of those authors whose new galleys are always literary catnip to me. Here’s the question: The Bomb Maker isn’t published until January 2018, so why did the galley land on my desk a full six months prior to its pub date, right in the middle of summer? I’ll tell you why. Because someone with access to every laudatory word I’ve ever written or said about Perry—reviews, columns, e-mails, cell conversations—knows I would be powerless to put the Perry galley aside until the summer was over. Yes, I know all about what the NSA is capable of doing.
I guess my rational self realizes that the heads of the five publishing families didn’t come together with a few prominent indies to devise a truly dastardly plot to give me the best reading summer I’ve had in decades. Unfortunately, there’s only one other explanation for what’s happened to me this summer, and I really hate to admit it: like that smarmy T-shirt slogan says, I’d rather be reading (so much so that I’ll keep right on turning pages, even if it means having to write more damn reviews). But, please, all you publishers who insist on turning out books that make me succumb to my uncontrollable desires, give me a break next summer. I desperately want to watch The Wire, start to finish.
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