Grafton, Wolitzer and Tolstoy: Springtime suggestions for reading and listening

“For the record, my name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the State of California, (now) thirty-three years old, 118 pounds of female in a five-foot-six-inch frame. My hair is dark, thick, and straight. I’d been accustomed to wearing it short, but I’d been letting it grow out just to see what it would look like. My usual practice is to crop my own mop every six weeks or so with a pair of nail scissors. This I do because I’m too cheap to pay twenty-eight bucks in a beauty salon. I have hazel eyes, a nose that’s been busted twice, but still manages to function pretty well I think. If I were asked to rate my looks on a scale of one to ten, I wouldn’t. I have to say, however, that I seldom wear makeup, so whatever I look like first thing in the morning at least remains consistent as the day wears on.”

So reads an excerpt from the first chapter of Sue Grafton’s G is for Gumshoe, seventh in a mystery series that ends, sadly, with Y is for Yesterday, as the author died this past December before getting to Z. (So strange…she almost made it to the end of the alphabet, just not quite.) I know I have mentioned this series before, but it really is excellent. Private Detective Kinsey Millhone is the thread that runs through all the books, and hers is the voice that recounts the stories, which are snappy, clever, descriptive, sometimes quite pointed and funny, occasionally romantic but not very often, with deftly drawn characters and plots that gallop along. I am on G, and imagine I will be quite bereft (as many Grafton fans have no doubt been) when I finish the last chapter of the Y book. 

Kinsey has become a friend—feisty, observant, no-nonsense, sensitive, tough, human, fiercely independent. For years, I wrote off this series as some shabbily written, airport-paperback, not-worth-my-time fiction. Thank you to my friend Rhonda for persuading me to take a second look. I was so very wrong. If you’ve never read Grafton and you like mysteries, please give these a try. They take place mostly in Southern California, which is, to me, an added plus. And they really take you right there—to the sun and the palms, the strip malls, the billboards, RV country clubs, occasional forays to the desert, L-shaped motels, stucco buildings surrounded by chain link fence, the occasional dive bar—I’m a fan. 

On a totally different note, I just finished I Found My Tribe, by Ruth Fitzmaurice, an excellent memoir by a woman who is raising five young kids, several pets, and caring for a husband with ALS. It takes place in Ireland and is nothing like what you would expect, having read my brief description. Full of zest and wit, chaos and passion, wildness, freedom, intense sadness, crazy amazing friendships, and invigorating dips into the frigid sea in all seasons of the year with the Tragic Wives’ Swimming Club (as they call themselves), this is a book filled with great, great love and (somehow) hope. It is stunning. I highly recommend it. In Mother’s Day season, with mothers and mothering on our minds, I can’t think of a better read. 

What am I reading now? Answer: The Flight Attendant, which I cannot put down for a minute. It really is fun. Murder, alcoholism, international intrigue, Russian spies, counter spies, night flights, fancy Dubai hotels, blackouts, broken bottles, blood-soaked pillows, one night stands (do we even call them that any more?), a likeable but flawed heroine… I am really enjoying this latest by local Chris Bohjalian (I just read that he has written 20 books.). Great reading for the pool or the beach or the bus or the plane or anywhere you happen to be. Quite a romp!

And I am listening to Anna Karenina, which I last read when I was in 8th grade, when my best friend, Leslie, and I decided to read a really long book at the same time. I really liked it then and can actually quite vividly remember certain parts of it even all these years later. I am stunned this time around by its complexity, the intricacy of its plot and the descriptions of feelings and sensations in a vast fleet of characters. Tolstoy’s descriptions of Anna are vivid and evocative, and I can almost see (as I drive down Spear Street with my windows open) her shimmering beside me, face flushed from dancing, her black ringlets escaping from their combs, black eyes flashing, her round arms and small hands, her simple black dress, chatting with Vronsky, whom she has just met at the ball—while Kitty, who has her heart set on the young man, watches on, fascinated, horrified, from across the room. But don’t get me started. If you haven’t read it, do. Or re-read it if you have. It is a very different book from the book I remember at 13. I am actually really enjoying listening to it, and Maggie Gyllenhaal does a very good job reading it. 

Meanwhile, spring is here, and birds are chirping from the lawn outside. I hope you are out enjoying it all. Pretty soon I am going to start Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer, for a book group I’m in. I’ll let you know what I think next time around. Meanwhile, enjoy the sunshine and the warm weather—and happy reading!