BOOK & BLOG
October 29, 2006
Books of the Week: Simon Becketts THE CHEMISTRY OF DEATH, MEMOIRS OF A DWARF, by Paul Weidne
I read some pretty bad books this week, but I read a couple of good ones, too. Simon Becketts THE CHEMISTRY OF DEATH is a British forensics-based mystery, and it has plenty of grisly detail. Dr. David Hunter has lived in the village of Manham for three years, trying to bury himself in a rural g.p. routine, following the death of his wife and daughter. But when the body of a young woman is found in the woods, mutilated in a bizarre way, his past as a forensic anthropologist is discovered and David feels obliged to help the police, especially when another young woman vanishes. I hit a few bumps in this book; Manham turns out to be such a nasty place that I cant believe anyone would live there voluntarily, and the truth turns out to be almost incredible. But the plot twists and turns and Becketts evocative writing were enough to keep this reader intrigued.
Another great read was a book by a very small press, The University of Wisconsin Press. MEMOIRS OF A DWARF At the Sun Kings Court, by Paul Weidner, was fascinating. Historically accurate (at least as far as I can tell), MEMOIRS is a super what if book. The dwarf in question, Hugues, after a childhood of casual brutality, rises to serve at the kings court and is at the edge of every plot surrounding the king . . . and there are plenty. Earthy without being explicit, vividly written, this is a wonderful book. If you like historicals at all, snag a copy.
I got some surprises this week some pleasant, some not so. When I was packing to go to the Mississippi Library Association meeting this past week, I pulled the folder containing my speech out of the desk rack and tossed it into my suitcase. Its a speech Ive given twice this year, since its my twenty-fifth year in publishing. The speech contains an account of the ups and downs Ive experienced in my career, and its mildly humorous. The thrust of the speech is to inform the audience of how chancy and unpredictable the publishing industry can be, and to celebrate my luck in lasting this long. The day I was going to deliver the speech, I opened the folder to read it over.
Two missing pages.
It was too late to worry about where theyd gone or to berate myself for not checking earlier. I borrowed a legal pad and set to work, trying to reconstruct what was missing. It was shocking to find how long it had been since Id hand-written anything over a few lines, and how much the activity made my hand ache. It also turned into a slightly different speech somewhere along the way. Instead of being a humorous account of my ups and down in the industry, the speech turned into a more serious relation of the difficulties of producing work that will last.
I dont know if the librarians got that, because frankly, it could have been a tighter and more pointed narrative. But they seemed to be interested, though what point they thought I was making is hard to tell; maybe I wasnt too sure.
In the end, I didnt miss the two lost pages. I was able to build a passable speech out of the remainder and what I was able to cobble together. And at least I didnt wait until I was on the way to the podium to check the material in the folder . . . wouldnt that have been a horror?
I have to add that to the list of things I check when Im about to leave for the airport. Over the years, the list has grown quite long. I have a basic list, of course, which includes clothes for various occasions, the jewelry to go with them, the shoes to match, etc. After so many trips, I have to add:
These are all things Ive forgotten on some trip or other, or found out I needed when I got there. Im so glad we can carry little scissors again, if we check our luggage, because those can come in very handy.
Maybe some day Ill get the list down perfectly and Ill remember to check everything on it. Until then, Ill just have to learn to forgive myself for forgetting things, and make the best of it.
® 2010 Charlaine Harris