Will's Reading List

I'm an academic librarian who lives in Colorado.  I like thrillers, spy novels, fiction about the domestic life, music, running, road trips, and geekery. Always up for a board game.


Insurgent  - Veronica Roth

Continuing Divergent's storyline of faction rivalry and confused romance, Insurgent adds conflicted family allegiance to the massive plot, giving Tris and Four more reasons to distrust, fear, or forsake almost everyone they encounter in author Roth's dystopian Chicago. What's striking is how violent this series remains, with conflicts played out in large scale gun battles and the psychological effects of murder remaining a central conflict in the book. The series is still about identifying boundaries, familial and personal, to the end of creating individuals who better understand their role in a fractured society, but the tones remain dark throughout. The Divergent series is vivid, original, and frighteningly realistic (see also: acceptably cinematic) in its violence -- which either makes this story a stunning parable of modern times, or a set that points too sharp a finger when singling out the ills of our own failures of character.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Avon Camelot Books)

The Mouse and the Motorcycle - Beverly Cleary, Tracy Dockray A childhood favorite revisited. It's a simple story, free of extraneous threads and unneeded distractions, and portrays its characters in small scenes that give the reader enough space to let his imagination wander. Maybe I'm a cynic, but a tale this direct would probably have a hard time being published now.

All the Little Live Things (Contemporary American Fiction)

All the Little Live Things - Wallace Stegner Because its issues mix the deeply (at times awkwardly) personal into a broader generational view, All the Little Live Things is a novel that has revealed to this reader widely different messages at different times. In my twenties I enjoyed the anger toward the rootless hippy culture of the 1960's: Alston's rage against Peck, who stood as a symbol to his failed relationship with his own son, the dangerously untethered Curtis. In my thirties, I was drawn to Marian Catlin's thirst for feeling -- and the irony in her imbalance between life and death, a recurring theme for Wallace Stegner. Reading this now for the first time in my forties, it's Joe Alston's regret I find most compelling. His quickness to anger, and awareness of its origin as much as its futility. My seventh time with this novel, I found Alston pitiable, deeply flawed, and brilliant but often, to his own mind, emotionally afloat. For whatever reason, this book offers this reader unique rewards with every telling. The reasons are no doubt personal, but finding such a book -- one whose life within my readings is as definite and personal as another person would be -- seems the rare gift of literature, and a unique joy of the mind -- whose transience and impermanence its author knew all too well.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky Loved it.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone  - J.K. Rowling Well, that was pretty good.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln - Stephen L. Carter Intricately woven, richly informed, and as plausible as anything in contemporary history, "The Impeachment" is a mix of courtroom drama and traditional mystery that aspires -- and achieves -- to be entertaining genre fiction, a study of American race relations, a recognition of women as political protagonists, and a realization of history's political corpus -- where time and place shape as much for the country as personage and character. This wasn't a fast read, or a shallow one, but Carter's attention to detail creates such a plausible escape from history that the reality becomes equally refreshed. The shine taken briefly from Lincoln here makes us only doubly more appreciative that we ever had him at all.

The Last Policeman: A Novel

The Last Policeman - Ben H. Winters This novel's average mystery plot and functional writing are overwhelmingly redeemed by an exceptional, unforgettable premise. The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman doesn't need to redefine the police procedural to be successful; if anything, the book could have taken an even darker turn to set the tone for what's expected to come. Enjoyable as a distraction, but disturbing to dwell on -- the next two books had better deliver.

Ancient Light

Ancient Light - John Banville

In drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starlet, and to scholar Axel Vandel (See:Shroud), John Banville has created another beautiful novel on memory, identity, reflection, power, youth, and love (or sex), as a response to grief. Banville's powerful lines are delivered gently, as if to bloom inside the reader once they've passed his eyes, and I often thought this novel to be a lighter parallel to the brilliant novel, An Adultery. Ancient Light is a an amazing book filled with the truth of experience as expressed through an expert hand.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain Not so much a novel of the Iraq War as a novel of soldiers attempting to understand the country they've enlisted to protect. There are comparisons drawn between Americans' commitment to their pastimes and their disinterest in the world around them, and Fountain's book, while making no real statements about the war, is happy to engage this larger, slower target. Humorous and touchingly written, Fountain' characters are believable and vivid, and surely they're the reason this novel made the Book Award shortlist. It won't win, but as an effort to map a post-9/11 America, and the war we refused to examine, Bill Lynn wholly succeeds.

The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater Loyalty to family and love of place are, for Kate Connolly and Sean Kendrick, reasons enough to work their lives on their island of Thisby. But Thisby breeds a smallness of opportunity, and the sea encircling it, home to the water horses, is something too large to be crossed with false dreams and ungrounded hope. But there are the Scorpio Races, and there is the slow discovery, between Kate and Sean, of one another, and the stakes that encompass both. This is a wonderfully written novel, without saccharine or easy sentiment. It’s a romance for people who have seen too little of it and know its cost. The Scorpio Races is an amazing book.

Pandemonium (Delirium)

Pandemonium  - Lauren Oliver As with Lauren Oliver's other books, Pandemonium is emotionally rich and evocatively written, surpassing in quality and sincerity more popular YA novels, including the successful but at times confusing The Hunger Games. Lena's struggle to forget her lover, and her surprise to meet others sympathetic to her plight, tells a story that would be wrenching in any setting, but the futuristic surroundings here serve to alienate readers and characters alike from anything familiar. Alone with Lena, then, the reader discovers that love, so forbidden in the Delirium series, is the only familiar thing to find. That Lena struggles primarily on her own to find acceptance from strangers and a path from grief speaks volumes to her quality, and to her value outside of her relationships with men. The upside-down world that Oliver has created is more believable, more honest, and more valuable to readers than a dozen books that share its dystopian setting. There are lines to read aloud and enough of the intensely personal in Lena's struggles that the empathetic reader may also want to keep a little of it to himself. Incredible.

The Mirage: A Novel (P.S.)

The Mirage - Matt Ruff The best parts of Matt Ruff's alternate War on Terror world are when the story seems like a waking dream: characters sense their version of events is not quite the reality, yet the scenes are infused with details too vivid to be anything less. These parts, especially during the first half of the novel, open the reader's eyes to new perspectives on what Americans must think of as an unchangeable cultural moment. But, also as with a dream, the longer the novel goes on, the more gaps appear to make the story less effective, less believable, and less magical. It plays games with wild pairings that work only to make the characters whose world we wanted to believe in seem less believable themselves. The ending effectively explains "the mirage," but the second half of the book disappoints on a promise: that even a broken mirror can, through inversion and distortion, show us exactly who we are.

The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars - Peter Heller A frightening, beautiful novel that somehow finds a home between the bleak terror of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and the lyricism of James Galvin's The Meadow. The story's starkness celebrates, in its way, the harshness of the Western landscape, while the writing itself feels out the simple truths and aches of existence that can make our smallest acts seem apocalyptic, and our gestures of love the purest -- even the rawest -- kind of survival. I loved this book.

The Grifters

The Grifters - Jim Thompson In revisiting "The Grifters," I find it isn't nearly as depressing as I remembered, or as much as I felt the 1990 film to be. The small novel is still classic noir, however, ending on an unexpected twist and packed with characters, large and small, who all seem to be working angles on one another. Sharp and quick, this is a great Jim Thompson read.

Eye of the Red Tsar

Eye of the Red Tsar (Inspector Pekkala #1) - Sam Eastland Set in post-revolutionary Russia, Eye is a well-written thriller, if a little too by-the-book in how its mystery -- centering around the deaths of the Romanovs -- unfolds. The author, under his given name of Paul Watkins, has written richer, more detailed novels that capture the feel of their period at least as well as Eye: Night Over Day Over Night, The Forger: A Novel, and the beautiful In the Blue Light of African Dreams are all highly recommend for readers who enjoy Eastland's language and plotting, but wish to explore genres outside this book's traditional presentation.

The Winds of War

The Winds of War - Herman Wouk If a person should somehow not know anything about America's path to involvement in World War II, there are much worse ways to learn about it than by reading this epic historical novel. Winds is completely successful at capturing, though the Henry family and its closest friends, the gradual enveloping of the world in Germany's aggression. That the story, at over 1,000 pages, remains personal, moving, and tense, despite all our foreknowledge of its outcome, is an accomplishment of the best kind of author. There are passages that leave a reader in shock, and others that carry a foreboding dread.The story strays from its narrative only to "reprint" excerpts from Victor Henry's [fictional] translations of "World Empire Lost," a German military memoir. These passages give Wouk the opportunity to frame his scene and impart more particular lessons in history to his readers, but they sometimes felt like homework to finish before continuing the novel's main thread.Nevertheless, this is an amazing novel, with gargantuan ambition, and brilliant for its accomplishment of making a global war feel completely human and deeply personal.

Currently reading

The Yellow Birds
Kevin Powers
Progress: 50/184 pages
The City Stained Red
Sam Sykes
Progress: 492/555 pages