, I read and enjoyed a new Stephen King novel for the first time in ages. That novel in question was Billy Summers.
This month, I read the novel Stephen King published before that, a thin paperback original titled Later
, and I enjoyed it even more than Billy Summers
. This is a remarkable late-career turn from a writer who had become (with semi-recent titles like Under the Dome
) a parody of himself. Later
is a short and dirty crime thriller about a kid who can see ghosts, and it’s got everything you like about King—the creepy images that stick with you; the world-weary, working class characters; the plots that seem somehow feel realistic in their ridiculousness. If you can grit your teeth and tolerate King’s relentless and inexcusable tendency toward fat-phobia, which pops up in the last fifth of this book, I endorse Later
If you’re a fan of the excellent afterlife-themed comedy The Good Place
, I highly recommend the audio version of Good Place
creator Michael Schur’s new philosophical exploration How to Be Perfect
. Virtually the entire cast of The Good Place
make guest appearances on the recording, giving the book the feel of a pleasant afterword to the series. It’s a kind of crash course into what it means to be an ethical person, with pit stops at just about every major philosopher you’ll encounter in a Philosophy 101 course, and it’s a fun and funny way to while away time on a road trip. Schur’s book isn’t, well, perfect—for some reason, he conflates the Overton Window with the slippery slope argument, and he also bafflingly at one point says that nobody would question whether Jeff Bezos and other billionaires deserve their fortunes—but Schur is an earnest and curious narrator, and the book is full of little ethical thought experiments you can toss around with friends.
Libba Bray’s YA novel Beauty Queens
is a satire about the contestants in a Miss Teen USA-type pageant crash-landing on a desert island and then fighting for survival. It’s a little too long, but the book is riddled with over-the-top product placements for cosmetics in the form of footnotes to the survival narrative, and I laughed out loud at the satire a few times. I’m so glad that books like this are available to teenagers now from major publishers like Scholastic. When I was a kid, you basically jumped from Ramona Quimby to Breakfast of Champions
, and now YA novels like Beauty Queens
provide more of a bridge between those two extremes.
Helene Tursten’s An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed
is not as wickedly entertaining as the first book in the series, An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good,
but I was so charmed by the first book that I’m just grateful to spend more time with the serial-killing elderly lady at the center of the story. It’s The Talented Mr. Ripley
by way of The Golden Girls
—what’s not to love?
Seattle artist Steven B. Reddy’s self-published art and essay collection, Walks with Willa: A Love Story
, is about Reddy adopting a dog in the early days of the pandemic and then falling in love with her as they go on long walks through a city shut down by Covid. Reddy’s illustrations of his dog Willa running around various Seattle trails and parks are positively delightful, and I love his full-color drawings of houses, too—Reddy’s perspectives are always a little bit cattywampus, and that makes his drawings fascinating to investigate. Seattleites, fans of long city walks, and dog lovers will find a lot to recognize and appreciate here. (Though as the owner of two greyhounds—one of whom is completely blind—I do take issue with Reddy’s eagerness to let Willa off-leash and to encourage other dog owners to do the same. Not every dog should be off-leash in public places, and speaking from experience off-leash dogs can pose a real danger to leashed dogs.)
Helen Jukes’ memoir about her first year of beekeeping, A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings
, is an informative book about a subject I want to know more about. But I really came down with a bad case of this-could-have-been-an-article-itis
while I was reading this thing—Jukes kept digressing into asides about her friends and her personal life and I just wanted to hear more about the damn bees. Perhaps this is unfair to Jukes, and I acknowledge that I definitely could have read a more scientifically focused book instead. But I like to think I’m always open to being seduced by a good memoir; this book didn’t fit that description for me.
Craig Mazin, a host of the excellent Scriptnotes
podcast, recommended Dennis Palumbo’s book Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within
as an actually useful how-to-write book. I’m kind of a sucker for that particular subgenre, so I picked it up. Palumbo is a former screenwriter who became a psychotherapist who specializes in treating screenwriters, and Inside
is a collection of some of his observations. I was kind of bummed to discover that the book did absolutely nothing for me—I thought it was a somewhat trite collection of self-esteem-building exercises for writers. And as someone who doesn’t ever suffer from writer’s block, who doesn’t really feel envy for other writers’ accomplishments, and who doesn’t have problems hitting deadlines, the lessons didn’t really do anything for me. If you are a writer who experiences any of those common afflictions, though, this book might be just the ticket.