Sunday, January 20, 2013

What to Read in the Maw of the Hospital-Industrial Complex

My spouse had what his neurosurgeon calls "routine microsurgery" on Wednesday.  The surgery was scheduled to take an hour and a half.  I expected to spend much of the day waiting, which happened.  I expected my spouse to be more drugged and thus sleepy with the painkillers, which did not happen.

Still, there was a fair amount of waiting, and so I took 2 books.  I knew that I didn't want to take anything that required a lot of attention.  I didn't want a book that would teach me anything.  I wanted it to be light, but not so light that I would be bored or easily distracted.

I've had the latest Laura Lippman book on my shelf for a long time, so I decided that it was the perfect book for the hospital--and I was right.  I read it in the family waiting room, a room full of people who talked on cell phones, a room with 2 televisions tuned to different channels and full volume.  Happily, I was able to sink into And When She Was Good.

I've only read a few of Lippman's books, and I had the same reaction each time:  great plot, good character development, great scenes, and great descriptions.  What makes her books seem light, while others are literary?  I'm not sure.

Is it because Lippman got her start writing detective novels and crime procedurals?  Maybe.  The non-detective books still have that thumping plot development that keeps me turning the pages; as readers, we don't linger anywhere very long in this novel.  The characters in Lippman's later books are more deeply drawn than some of the genre books I've read, but these books are still not explorations of character.

There are great, almost poetic, moments in the book, where Lippman so perfectly describes an emotion or an encounter.  The main character in And When She Was Good has an encounter in a grocery store, where a handsome man tries to ask her out on a date.  She believes that her life choices means that she can never have this kind of experience, and she feels a bit of melancholy later in the evening as she reflects:  "It's like receiving a postcard from a land where she will never travel.  A nice man in an oxford-cloth shirt might as well be the Taj Mahal.  Or one of the wonders of the world that no longer exists.  She can't get there, and even if she could, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon aren't there waiting for her" (p. 122).

Lippman's book was just what I needed in the hospital:  a book I wanted to return to, but a book that I could put down when necessary.  I knew where the book was going, and that was O.K.  I liked the main character, and even though I was fairly sure where the book was headed, I still wanted to know how it all turned out--and there were still surprises along the way.

Is hospital reading the same as airport reading?  Perhaps.  In both settings, I do better if I have a book that can take my mind away from all the indignities that are going on to me and around me.  Happily, there are plenty of books that fit that bill.

It's MLK week-end, and perhaps I should look for heavier reading for the remainder of the week-end.  Or maybe I'll continue my escapist reading:  a villa in a wine-drenched setting.  Maybe with some poetry in between for good measure.

No comments: