Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 30 - An Author that you will read whatever they put out

I was so busy yesterday, that although I had this topic covered, I didn't have time to post day 30. This is a good topic to end a 30-Day book challenge.

If you've hung with me, you know there are others whom I could have put in this spot; Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde. I decided on Erik Larson because he writes what is probably termed "historical fiction". This means, he takes a real event, researches it and then writes about that event, but he makes up things that couldn't possibly be known, such as how people felt or what private conversations they might have had with, say, a neighbor.

I stumbled across Larson in 1999, when I worked at The Bookstore. A book named Isaac's Storm had just come out. It was about the Galveston, Texas hurricane of 1900, which has been labeled the deadliest hurricane in US history. As the hurricane category scale and the appellation of names to them had not happened, it's referred to only as the "Galveston hurricane".

The Isaac of the title was the chief meterologist stationed in Galveston. The book details not just how much the fledgling US Weather Service knew, but when they knew it and the whole political climate surrounding how much information to feed the public. In reading this book, particularly with the backdrop of Hurricane Irene behind us, you might be appalled at what people of 1900 took for granted. Galveston changed the Weather Service.

I was allowed to take the book home to read. After all, it's hard to sell something you haven't read. Jenny, one of the co-workers, called and said she wanted it back the next day so she could put it in the window. I had already read a bit over a third of it so let's keep going.

I distinctly remember looking at the clock in the living room at 1:30 a.m. Larson was building up to the arrival of the hurricane. I like to tell people, "The hurricane arrived at 2 a.m. and I didn't put the book down for another hour." I know I was tired the next day, but I could take Carole to school, go drop off the book at the store and come home for a nap. 

After that, I read Devil in the White City. This was another "can't put me down" books. I supposed the setting, Chicago and the World Colombian Exposition of 1893 was appealing from the start. There are things still on the south side of Chicago which were created for that world's fair. The 'devil' was one, H. H. Holmes who, it is thought, murdered from 20 to 200 people while he lived in Chicago. Most of these murders took advantage of the World's Fair by luring people to stay at a 'boarding' house Holmes had set up along one of the avenues to the fair. The house has been long gone. I read this at a time when I had to drive through that area for work and I tried to imagine what it looked like, with all the buildings and the people.

His next book, which I have not read but which is in the pile is Thunderstruck, a story about the first wireless transatlantic communications. Guglielmo Marconi's story is told in tandem with that of a Scotland Yard detective who is hot on the trail of a murderer who is moving to Quebec. It's been called Larson's least compelling book. As I haven't read it, I can't testify to that.

The book at the top of the column is Larson's latest. It came out in May. It's the story of William Dodd, the US ambassador to Hitler's new regime. All the press I've read about it say this is Larson's best book to date. I'll have to see if I can get it.

And this concludes 30 days of books. This has been quite fun and has forced me to assess my reading.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


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