Saturday, August 11, 2018

Meredith Miller

Meredith Miller is the author of Little Wrecks and How We Learned to Lie. She grew up in a large, unruly family on Long Island, New York, and now lives in the UK. She is a published short story writer and literary critic with a great love for big nineteenth-century novels and for the sea.

Recently I asked Miller about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read for at least three people; that is, there are at least three of me reading all the time. I teach at a university, so for work I read a lot of literary fiction (though I also teach popular genre stuff). That reading, whether literary or popular, requires a lot of thinking because I take the books apart with students, think about them critically and talk about them in detail. When I’m not working, I like to read for entertainment, or for the pleasurable kind of critical thinking that has nothing to do with my job. So I usually have something hefty going, as well as a couple of genre things. The genre reading I do for pleasure is a lot of eighteenth and nineteenth century novels, contemporary historical crime, urban fantasy, swords and sorcery fantasy and science fiction.

Three things I’m reading at the moment:

Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke. This is the second book in a trilogy about the opium wars. So the setting for this one is China in the late 1830s. These books are amazing! He’s done so much research and the information is all fascinating and really important. The main thing, though, is his characters. In order to tell his story he creates a whole array of characters in different positions: culturally and in terms of class, religion and experience. These are big, sweeping books, and they keep you riveted by moving you around in time, place and perspective. The other wonderful thing about them is Ghosh’s playful love of language. Colonialism and global trade brought a huge diversity of people and languages together and created all kinds of dialects and patois. Ghosh loves to reproduce these and to play with them, so his character voices are endlessly fascinating. I love language and I am very interested in dialect in my own work so I really appreciate this last thing.

E. S. Thomson, Beloved Poison. This is a historical crime novel set in a decaying, outdated hospital in 1840s London. The characters are great and the world-building is also fabulous. I did figure out the ‘big secret’ early on. The title is a giveaway and it was a bit obvious. Still, I’m enjoying this as a great read for switching off. It’s funny, isn’t it, how in order to find a book relaxing you have to be a little bit challenged by it? If it doesn’t engage your brain just a little it isn’t distracting enough to be relaxing. Sort of like mental knitting.

Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time. This is non-fiction, a journalistic book unlike any journalism you’ve ever read before. Alexievich grew up in Belarus, a member of a generation that was raised in the U.S.S.R., but now lives in a recently formed independent nation. She has interviewed hundreds of people, friends and strangers from all walks of life, about their memories of everyday life, big political upheavals and economic and cultural change. The unique thing is that she doesn’t separate their voices into discrete narratives or put them in traditional interview style. The voices run seamlessly into each other and sometimes it takes you a while to notice that the speaker has changed. The narrative runs from one perspective to another which might be very different, and then to another again. You get a real sense of a huge crowd speaking about a huge, complex world that those of us in countries like the U.S. and Britain know very little about. There is no simple judgement or conclusion – no ‘this is good and that was bad’ – but she also doesn’t flinch from horrible or difficult truths. I have this book on my dining room table and I’m sure I’ll be reading it for ages. Every once in a while I pick it up and read twenty pages or so. This feels like a good way to absorb this kind of book.

Some other great things I’ve read his year and would highly recommend, in no particular order:

Elena Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan novels’, My Brilliant Friend and the three that follow it.
Becky Chambers, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
Neel Mukherjee, A Life Apart (Past Continuous in India; much better title I think!)
Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent
N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon
Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning

Basically, I’ll read anything if it’s well written and keeps my interest. I’m on Goodreads if you want to get in touch and share what you’re reading. Search my name together with the titles for Little Wrecks and How We Learned to Lie, otherwise you’ll end up finding a different Meredith Miller. Google searches are a nightmare for me!
Visit Meredith Miller's website.

The Page 69 Test: How We Learned to Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue