57. Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King
A collection of five linked short stories (technically two novellas and three very short stories) touching, directly or indirectly on the Vietnam War.
The first two stories, the long ones, are amazing. The first, Low Men in Yellow Coats, is set in 1960 and is about a young boy who lives with his miserable, controlling single mother in a small town in Connecticut. An older man comes to live in their apartment building, and swiftly becomes friends with the boy, eve though the child is aware that the older man is crazy.
Or is he?...
It starts out a innocent childhood adventure, and turns into a tragedy in many ways, one of which may or may not be supernatural and documents how a very promising young man loses all hope in life and stops trying, before his life has even got started.
This one really stuck with me.
I didn't know this part has been made into a film - it's on later this week, and probably sucks, but as I've just read the book I'm going to record it anyway.
The second story, the title piece, is a coming-of-age story set at the University of Maine, Orono in 1966, where a bunch of young men learn to live on their own and become politically aware. Not a lot happens, but really emotional stuff.
I didn't get much out of the last three stories - they show how messed-up the Vietnam experience made people, and tie up some loose ends, but that's it.
These don't take up much room, so I do recommend this book.
58. Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason
Went into the library to collect something else and this was sitting there - it's one of the detective series set in Reykjavik, and as we'd only just got back from there I couldn't resist.
The main character isn't the usual detective, Erlendur - who in this book is off on holiday. It follows his parter Sigurdur Oli. While Erlendur is the glummest detective in all of fiction, he's basically a likeable chap. Sigurdur is just a dick. He is, however, a really good detective.
59. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Bought this one because the author was on The Daily Show and made it sound really interesting. It's about the women who worked at Oak Ridge in Tennessee enriching uranium as part of the Manhattan Project. In some places I would have liked more depth - it's largely an exercise in collecting the oral history of the women who were there before they die.
It was a completely surreal environment - tens of thousands of people shipped off to a city that grew up from nothing and didn't officially exist. Nobody could talk about their work, and nobody knew what it was that they were really doing, which made for an interesting way to try to build a society. In that way the somewhat jumping-around and episodic structure of the book mirrors life at Oak Ridge.
What is mainly interesting though, is how many women occupied quite senior roles within the Manhattan Project (not all at Oak Ridge, but Kiernan mentions some of the others) who have largely been written out of history. Because it was in Tennessee, Oak Ridge was segregated, and Kiernan doesn't pull her punches about how awful that was.
I'm completely failing to be coherent - it's not as excellent as I was hoping, but is an entertaining and informative read and definitely worth while.