This week’s newsletter may be filled with too many choices. Much like so many boxes, filled with books. Or the yogurt shelf at the supermarket. Or the “choose your own adventure” ingredients list at our local pizza emporium. Too much muchness, if you will, which is to say: Wowza, that’s a lot of books.
We’re going to start off this week with John Le Carré’s latest (last?) spy novel, aptly titled A Legacy of Spies. In it, whatzhisname gets called out of retirement to talk about that operation where someone got killed and, well, we don’t talk about that stuff anymore—not since, you know—but these days . . . kids. But Le Carré does it all much better.
Seriously, though, Peter Guillam, who was a passing-by character in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, is front and center in A Legacy of Spies. He’s yanked out of retirement and questioned about his role in a number of operations he was party to over the years, including Operation Windfall, which is—as he grudgingly recalls—the plot behind the events in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Now, if you don’t recall The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, we do, because we read it recently (and we’ve got our eyes on that brand new edition that Folio Society just announced this week). The final reveal in Le Carré’s earlier novel is that Alec Leamas wasn’t privy to the whole plan that Smiley had in play. Now, fifty-plus years on, we’re going to find out that Guillam—who was tied at the hip to Smiley—might not know the whole play either. It’s a Le Carré onion—er, novel—after all. Layers upon layers upon layers. And even then you find a cryptic note that references another onion—novel—that you haven’t read.
And his writing? Oh, there is no one more capable that Le Carré when it comes to conversations between British spies who are saying much about nothing and telling you even less. There are times when we feel that the presence of George Smiley is not unlike the phantasmal presence of Godot in Beckett’s play, and the rest of the characters are engaged in perpetually circular conversations about fiduciary loyalty and national fealty.
Which is to say, we think something important happens in the end, but we’re not entirely sure. We’ll get back to you after we’ve re-read Le Carré's entire oeuvre to find that one clue we missed.
Or we could turn to his memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, wherein Le Carré offers us some brief glimpses of the worlds in which he has traveled over the years and how all the sights, smells, and experiences influenced his fiction. It seems like a life much more robust and interesting than the ones we have, which is good for both he and us, because if our lives were more fascinating than his, then this book would be a snore. But it isn’t, because our lives are, uh, wait as second . . . there’s no way we can turn this around before—what? no? Drat.
Quick! Look over here! National Park travel poster calendar! Retro style! See them before they’re gone!
[Too harsh? Probably too harsh. Though, Mother Nature is kind of playing blackout bingo with us this summer. “Let’s see. Flooded Texas. Check. Burning down Oregon. Check. Hmm. Can I get both Florida and one of the Carolinas? Oooh! Puerto Rico! Check!”]
Did you know you can buy an annual Discover Pass to all of the Washington State Parks for only $30? In fact, you can buy it and not even go visit any of the parks. Think of it as a contribution to all those trees around us, and if you do get a wild hair to wander off the beaten path, you’re covered!
The National Park Service celebrated its 101st birthday a few weeks ago. Say “Happy Birthday” to some protected forest land the next time you drive by.
And speaking of driving by, we keep forgetting to mention this book, so we’re going to correct that now. Gork, The Teenage Dragon. That’s right, even dragons have awkward teenage years. It’s like John Hughes directing an episode of Game of Thrones but not being allowed to use any of the cast, and so he has to CGI it all, and have it take place at a fictional school for dragons, where getting a prom date is so complicated that if you do it wrong, you end up a slave . . . No? Look, sometimes we make up synopses, and sometimes we just read them off the back. This is one of those latter times.
Fine. Whatever. How about a book where the dragons aren’t the funny ones? Jon Hollins is back with the second book in his Dragon Lords series. False Idols isn’t some medieval variant of a talent show where the losers get eaten (though, hmm, it probably is in some sense). Last time around, our motley bunch of ruffians managed to do the impossible and not only save themselves but also everyone else. Since this was entered into the rolls as “A Good Thing,” everyone thinks they can do it again, because, well, there are more dragons . . .
And speaking of dragons, Naomi Novik has a new collection out. Novik, whose Uprooted was a splendid hit last year, takes us back to her alternative nineteenth century world where sea power meant you carried dragons as well as black powder. Golden Age and Other Stories is—what? we sold it already? Hey, we’re still writing the newsletter! Quit that.
And speaking of instant sellers, Louise Penny is back with another Chief Inspector Gamache novel. Glass Houses has trials of conscience, shadowy figures, and at least one dead body. Classic Penny, in other words.
And speaking of authors delivering what their fans want, the forty-fifth J. D. Robb In Death book is out. Forty. Five. And yet, all these characters still find things to talk about. And people still keep getting murdered. And someone will reveal a secret that threatens to destroy the very fabric of society as we know it—oh, wait, these are futuristic cop thrillers—threaten to wreck a perfectly good future we don’t have yet.
This one has secrets, you know. It says so on the cover. And the next one has, uh, “Dark” in it. “Dark in Death.” Yeah, we, uh, we’re going to move along now.
Over here we have a six hundred million piece puzzle of the Seahawks Stadium. Seriously. With a full house. We’re sure you were there that day, and when you get this puzzle put together, you can run a loupe over the puzzle and find yourself. Yes. Right there. Without your shirt—okay, moving on again . . .
Being Mortal, Atul Gawande’s moving exploration of life and death and modern medicine, is now out in paperback (along with a handy book club reading guide to make those post-reading conversations so much more lively!). As is Jennifer Armentrout’s If There’s No Tomorrow, which doesn’t have the same reading guide. Nor the same exploration of the effect of modern medicine on our lives, but it does have a sort of similar exploration of life and death. Well, not that similar. Not all that similar at all, in fact. Like, just the phrase “life and death” in common sort of similar.
And speaking of word association games, the marketing copy of E. Lockhart’s new book, Genuine Fraud, feels like there was a bit of freewheeling going on there. “Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat. Jule is a fighter, a social chamelon, and an athlete.” Why does Jule only get three to Imogen’s four? “Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.” Frankly, it sounds like “a Friday party gone awry, a Tuesday afternoon at the farmer’s market, sandwich, and watermelons bouncing in a rubber room.”
We’re sure we’re glossing over the most important part of the book, like that bit in the middle. With the spatula, the wild sorghum, the flatulent house pig, and the fustian. No. That’s it. We’re going to use it as a noun. Because.
And that’s close enough to a full stop that we’re going to step away from the ginormous stack of books. We’ll be back soon with more books ’n’ commentary.