My reading pace has fallen way off over the past month. I tried to start a book I was very much looking forward to reading but couldn’t focus and gave up. That lack of focus is most of the problem. Where I’m usually itchy and nervous if I’m not reading in my free time, I currently lack the motivation or excitement to start something new.

I also got new glasses a few weeks back and my eyes, as always, are slow to adjust to the new prescription, which makes it difficult to read at times.

To add the issues, I just found out the library up in Carmel, where I still go most often, is currently closed for a month as they begin a big renovation/addition. They are moving part of the library to a temporary location and are using September to get settled in that part-time spot. I don’t know how much of their collection is getting moved, so I’m not sure if the browsing experience will be what it used to be. I may have to stick with the Kindle or even buy a physical book for a change.

I did manage to read two books over the past few weeks.

Not Tonight, Josephine. A Road Trip Through Small-Town America – George Mahood
I think I got this for free, or for like a buck, after I bought a couple other Kindle books for our Florida trip. I figured it might be a quick, light read that I could use to try to get my reading mojo back.

It is Mahood’s story of the year he spent traveling around the US in a extremely used minivan. Mahood is British and came over with a friend in 2002. Their plan was to spend the year traveling the entire continental US. But his friend had visa issues which only allowed him to accompany Mahood from New York to California. Mahood’s girlfriend joined him in Colorado and completed the final third of the trip with him.

As I said, the trip was made in an extremely used minivan, which they named Josephine. They purchased her from a somewhat dodgy Brazilian near Woodstock, NY for $800. They had barely crossed into New Jersey when the van required a new transmission. Over the trip they also had to add a replacement for the back tailgate, which they salvaged from a junk yard and was from a different colored van. There were new tires needed, as the ones that came on the van were mismatched in size. And another series of fairly serious repairs were required when Mahood landed in Colorado and worked as a cook and food delivery man during the ski season.

Normally I would love books like this. But Mahood never quite carves out a unique voice for his story. It is a light accounting of his trip, but it doesn’t come close to the quality of other light-hearted travelogues I’ve read. Nor does he do deep, serious dives into topics. It reads more like a slightly brushed-up version of the journal he kept while traveling. Which is fine, especially for the price. But it didn’t make me want to read any of his other travel books.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – Tom Franklin
This takes place in the small town of Chabot, Mississippi. It explores the troubled friendship between two men: Silas “32” Jones and Larry Ott.

“32,” still called by his high school baseball number, is the town constable. Although not everyone in town is thrilled at having a Black man as the town cop, he is largely respected for his office, for the legend of his high school career that took him to Ole Miss, and for his service in the Navy.

Ott, on the other hand, is the town outcast. In high school he took a well-known girl out for a date and she was never seen again. Although there was never any evidence that he did anything to cause her disappearance, it has been held against him for over 30 years. People shun him in every aspect of his life. The auto shop he runs never gets business. Drunken teenagers vandalize his property. It is a horrible existence, but he hangs on to try to support his mother who he has put in an elderly care center.

Ott is shot one night and Jones is part of the initial investigation before the county sheriff and state agencies take over. Being in Ott’s home begins to free up memories of their childhoods and the brief period when they were friends. It also stirs up how Jones came to live in Mississippi with his mother and leads to an unexpected explanation for who is father is.

Eventually Jones discovers who is responsible for Ott’s shooting and for the disappearance of both girls. But to crack the case, he must reveal secrets he has kept locked away for nearly 25 years.

As a mystery, the story is fine. Franklin does a decent job of taking you down the path to resolution of the story’s central questions.

I liked how Franklin explored how race and gender and social status and conventional wisdom push us into corners in relationships where we feel stuck. How it is easier to go along with what everyone else believes or says than to dig in to discover uncomfortable truths. And how it is also easier to keep your mouth shut than to admit flaws in your past.

My favorite part, though, was in his look at how men befriend each other. The barriers we put up to opening up to others. The difficulty in finding people who share your interests. The willingness to let the world know that you and this other weird guy may have something in common. And the struggles to overcome and move past difficult moments in a shared past.