Monday, October 13, 2014

Wordcraft -- What books do reviewers like best?

Merschel & Tipping
When I’m at the library, I always check out what’s on the carts waiting to be shelved. You know, the stuff other people read. So I was at Klyde Warren Park early last Thursday, joining several other book lovers. Because what we all wanted to hear was what Dallas Morning News book pages editor Michael Merschel and voracious reader/staff writer/reviewer Joy Tipping were reading.

“The Facebook game of the moment¾ or was it last moment? They go by so fast¾ has a nice literary twist,“ Merschel wrote in a recent column. “It asks you to fame five ot 10 books that meant something to you and then tag five friends and ask them to do the same.“

So it was, tag, Michael and Joy, and tell us about those five favorites for fall reading. And first, how they pick those favorites.

Given that the News receives approximately 300 books each week to review, picking five, even five with special appeal to Dallas readers, isn’t easy.

His first pick: Blood Aces by Doug Swanson, about Dallas gangster turned Las Vegas casino mogul Binny Binion. Merschel admitted the topic didn’t immediately appeal to him. But he read it and was hooked. “He get into a subject that history will never acknowledge ¼ Each time you think it can‘t get any more incredible, it does.”

Second pick: Merritt Tierce’s debut novel, Love Me Back, which Merschel describes as “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but set in a Dallas steakhouse.” Definitely now family friendly, he warned, but with a Dallas angle that may make readers think twice about which restaurant they choose: “the writer once worked in a steakhouse not far from here.”

And third pick? Walter Isaacson’s history of computers, The Innovators. Merschel’s only quibble about this¾ “he tells so many stories, I wished he’d focused on fewer.’ But when one story is about Etta Lovelace, the woman who invented the basis for computers in the 1840’s and the women who wrote the first computer programs in the 1940’s, who can pick which one to leave out?

At this point, Merschel relinquished the floor to Tipping. Or maybe Tipping just seized the chance to talk. Her first choice: another debut novel by a Dallas author, Minerva Koenig’s Nine Days. “I think this might replace the alphabet mysteries of Sue Grafton,” Tipping said, with its tale of a murder set in a tiny Texas town and an unlikely heroine close to her heart, “pushing forty, barely five feet tall, and round.”

Tipping’s second choice: “the funny and heartwarming” tale of sisters Iris and Ava, Lucky Us, by Amy Bloom.

Her third choice, for something completely different: David Quammen’s Spillover, now out in paperback, “about a virus coming out of the rainforest in Africa transfers to humans.”

Finally, considering that she’s a virulent fan of historical romance writer Diana Gabaldon, Tipping couldn’t resist a plug for Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

Which prompted Merschel to put in a final word for something again completely different, The Magician King, by Lev Grossman, last of his Magician trilogy. “It’s an allegory about his struggles with depression, but it’s funny and witty. I gave up reading fantasy books in about the 12th grade and this is the one that brought me back.”
And then, of course, there’s Merschel’s often-expressed admiration for YA author Judy Blume and her expression to readers that’s it’s “not about me. It’s about you, it’s about us. That’s the way I feel about the books coverage. It’s not Mike’s books, it’s not Joy’s books. It’s your book section.”

For more reviews from the Dallas Morning News, including many books mentioned in this post, see
www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/books/.

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