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Monday, July 1, 2019

An Elevating Conspiracy

For as long as I can remember, New York Times book critics have frequently helped me decide who and what to read and who and what to skip. When a Times critic I respect gives an author high marks I pay as much attention as I do when one of my reading posse recommends a book to me. When the unassailable Michiko Kakutani raved about Kate Atkinson in 2013 in the Times, Atkinson's name was added to my "must read" author list. Then my reading universe conspired in two additional ways:

 * I made a pledge last November to read only authors new to me for the next year.
 * I received a Kate Atkinson novel - Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995) - as a gift.

"Tina contained more light in her than most people." Atkinson's prose is luminous throughout this multi-generational tale. The architecture she constructs to tell her tale is startling yet wholly organic. In Chapter Ten - entitled Wedding Bells, 1966 -  Atkinson somehow manages to be hysterically funny, mordantly sad, surprising and predictable. I can't recall another instance of an author pulling off that hat trick.

I've rammed through plenty of bestselling page-turners in my reading life. I fully recognize the skill it takes to write that  kind of book. But as Act Three of my life continues, I suspect I'll continue to rely more on the sage guidance those smart New York Times critics have long provided me than I will on bestseller lists. And, I'll be returning to authors like Atkinson; her command of her craft elevates me as a reader. Life After Life will be my next adventure with this gifted author - after November 23, of course. Have you read it? Anything else by her? Can we talk?

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