This Too Is Diplomacy by Dorothy Irving
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity by Harry Ammon
Yes, I have been reading, even though I have not been blogging. Shame on me. After So Big, I finished This Too Is Diplomacy and Shutter Island, before plunging into another giant president biography -- Monroe, now -- which has consumed my last two weeks or so.
This Too is Diplomacy is something I had partially read before, in raw form, because I was in a writing group with the author, Dorothy Irving. That was my writing group in Boston, right before I went to Korea. I rejoined up with them off and on post-Korea as well, when I happened to be in Boston, but by that time Dorothy had pretty much finished her book and was working on publishing it. The book is about the life she led with her husband and their kids as hubby worked in the Foreign Service through the 1960s and 1970s. Obviously, it was interesting to me even before law school as she read excerpts to us, and now that I have my eyes on the Foreign Service it is even more interesting. Or I guess, interesting in different ways. Anyway, this was the first time I had read the whole thing straight through. If any of you are curious about what life in the foreign service is like, give it a whirl!
As for Shutter Island, it left me confused. I hate it when that happens. Not too long ago Alafair Burke blogged about why people don't like to read mysteries. At the time my gut response was that it's overwhelming for non-mystery readers to listen to the mystery genre enthusiasts; all those die-hards seem to have breathlessly read everything by so-and-so, and you feel sort of looked-down-on if you are a mere dabbler, so you just don't even bother trying to conquer the mystery section. But reading Shutter Island reminded me of another reason that I as a dabbler sometimes feel lesser than those oh-my-I've-read-all-of-her-books people. Because sometimes I straight up don't get it.
I read Dennis Lehane's Mystic River (before seeing the movie) and when I started seeing Leo as duly-appointed federal-maahshall in the Shutter Island previews I became intrigued enough to read this one, too. (I ended up having extra time because the release of the film was delayed for stupid reasons.) I really enjoyed reading the book, and I won't write any spoilers here because I do recommend it, but I literally don't know what happened at the end. I hate that! I consulted with another friend who has read it who supported me and said there was definitely ambiguity and that I am not stupid, but still, I hate it! And I remembered that another reason I'm not a mystery devotee is I hate those people who are always all "Oh, I totally figured that out so early" every single time they read one. I think I resent them. Plus, ugh, why would you want to know how things end before you get to the end? It's not as if I read the last page of a book before the first; that would be retarded. But when I do get to the end? I would like to understand it.
Well, if anyone wants to discuss the layers of mystery and ambiguity in Shutter Island, let me know. Meanwhile, I returned to my presidential bios quest, and have spent the last couple weeks plodding through Harry Ammon's James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, which is huge and sometimes a little dull. It's a really big book. Heavy, too. I get in my weightlifting practice when I hold it. And the writing is dry, especially compared to the giant Madison tome I just read. But I can't hate on Ammon too much, or anyone who does such amazing amounts of research for these bios. It takes them like fifteen years and they sift through insane amounts of documents, all so I can read a biography of every president to see where we went wrong. Good stuff!