Don Winslow, City on Fire

Book club gets me reading outside my lane, which is great. The various gentlemen of Beer & Books make each other read things we'd never read otherwise, and as someone whose career is built on making other people read things, it's just good practice to have the shoe be on the other foot at times.

Honestly, the Beer & Books dudes are incredibly important to me (unless any of them are reading this. Jerks). They've been a rock for me these last 17 years (wait, I'm HOW old?!?!?).

Everyone should belong to a book club, and for all kinds of reasons, but for me, I find it such a privilege that I get to hear about and talk about other people's quite particular thoughts about culture. That's especially true given the proliferating and intensifying political divides among some folks and some groups, even if our sense of this division is partly a function of media coverage and of social media, rather than exclusively genuine. To be fair, too, our group's politics aren't very diverse.

But wow, do I ever get annoyed by formula fiction.

Genre fiction can be terrific. I read a fair bit of SF and speculative fiction, for example, much of which I've really enjoyed, and I've even made a point of including some in my literature courses. Crime fiction, suspense, detective fiction, those sorts of genres have tended to be more of a struggle, but even there I've found some things to enjoy.

But not City on Fire by Don Winslow, from (as the cover breathlessly enthuses) the New York Times-bestselling author of The Border and The Force, neither of which I'm planning even to learn about, let alone read, nor anything else by Don Winslow.

The plot gallops along just fine, and the characters are full of character, and there are some twists as well as some sense of history, so there's nothing exactly wrong with it. (Some things we've read in the group, there've been things wrong with those.) Fiction about conflict between the Irish and Italian mobs in the American northeast starts from an amazing base of conflict and history and politics and drama, so it makes sense to me that people would want to read that sort of thing.

If that's you, maybe look for a different option. City on Fire is a successful novel, by a successful writer, and it didn't move me even a little bit.

I try to read everything on the Beer & Books rotation, to the point that I only skip a title if I'm legitimately overwhelmed by other duties.* Some things, though, you really do experience mostly as time you'll never get back. (Mind you, I'm 100% confident that some of the other guys feel that away about my choices, too, because they've said so.)

Still. I'll only ever read another Don Winslow novel if one of the guys makes me.

* Except for celebrity biographies. I refused to read--no, I found myself unable to force myself to read--the biographies of Steve Jobs, Keith Richards, and Elon Musk that for some reason we scheduled within a couple of years. Jim Carrey's Memoirs and Misinformation, though, I really enjoyed! Except where I didn't, to be fair.


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