Sunday, December 28, 2008

Off-the-books books

I'm planning a post later this week on the books I've reviewed this year, kind of a year-end wrapup with biggest disappointments, most important, etc., but I thought I'd take a moment to mention a couple of reading projects that I didn't review, mainly because I didn't have anything particularly cogent to contribute.

First, I read through all of the Harry Potter books, and, while hardly life-transforming, they were pretty darned enjoyable. I see the attraction that they hold for the young people. Rowling creates vivid characters and situations, and the building seriousness over the course of the series is downright ominous. You really do care what happens to Harry, Hermione, and Ron, and they are embedded in a fascinating world (though the separation between the world of the mortal Muggles and the wizards seems a tad contrived).

Second, the series of mysteries featuring Dave Robicheaux by James Lee Burke. I shied away from these for the longest time, despite outstanding reviews, because of a blind spot I have: I'm not big on local color or atmosphere. And for these books, set in and around New Orleans, well, I've read too many books set in that town to believe this series wasn't going to be far too long on gumbo and Bourbon Street.

And that's not what the books are about at all. There is local color galore, but it grows organically out of the life of the Robicheaux character. The plots are dense and interesting, and describe an arc of a man's life who is dismayed at the changes in the world around him.

Another thing I find refreshing is that the books don't center on the young. There is not the automatic presumption that a 25-year-old is necessarily more interesting than a 60-year-old, as is true in so many novels. Robicheaux himself starts in the first book at around 48, and gets older realistically.

So I would recommend both series, unless you have no stomach for fantasy, in which case you might be bored with the Potter oeuvre. But definitely get to know Dave Robicheaux.

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