Tuesday evening I finished reading Affinity by Sarah Waters, who wrote one of my favorite novels, Fingersmith; most definitely a favorite contemporary author, and a brilliant one. ~Read my review of The Little Stranger ~
Waters again places her characters in the Victorian era of London, using the restraints of an uber-conservative time to move her sexually-repressed characters in the narrow confines of society. The story begins with Margaret, a 28 year old lady reaching ’spinsterhood’. Immediately you learn she has recently attempted suicide, and as a step towards rejoining humanity, she volunteers to visit the inmates of a women’s ‘gaol’ (jail), and instill manners into the criminals housed there. She meets a young inmate, Selina; she is a Spiritualist, a heralded medium before her incarceration. The two form a bond, and Margaret must deal with the consequences of her own feelings. Margaret is pulled into the world of Spiritualism, and the reader follows along trying to decipher between truth and fantasy. A plot is made to spirit Selina away from the prison, but at what cost?
The story is told in diary entries of Margaret’s, interwoven with entries of Selina’s from before her trial. Waters is detailed, precise, and clever - as with Fingersmith, you are only aware of the conclusion about a half second before it is revealed; in this way, you are kept as breathless as the characters through the twists and turns.
How to be Good by Nick Hornby
A Room with A View by E. M. Forster - I love Forster, and this story is clear and lovely, and made me miss Italy so much.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie – Stunning prose, and wonderful characters. I love the way Rushdie mixes in magic
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – A beautifully imagined story, but not as brilliantly executed as I’d have liked.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon - A good nod to the noir detective novel, melded with an alternative history. I liked the science fiction-y themes.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – sequel to Wolf Hall, which I loved
Wildwood by Colin Meloy (yep, of The Decemberists)
At the end of December, I read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
I didn’t love this story. The main character, Madeleine, was self-absorbed, over-privileged and uninspiring. Eugenides, usually so brilliant in exposing a character’s layers over time, failed to peel back enough to make me care about her.
I can’t remember all of the thoughts I had on this novel, so I may have to come back to this one later.
I’ve read a great deal of Margaret Atwood, and those of you that have read The Robber Bride or Cats Eye can understand my devotion to her stories. The female characters are written with a hundred facets, never fully understood but complete in their humanity. You can recognize something in them; even the most vile of characters contain something you’ve seen in the mirror.
I would not go into this novel expecting a solution to the core mystery (it is based on true events; a wealthy man and his housekeeper were murdered, possibly by the maid and her supposed lover, the stable boy). I am sure that Atwood has her own opinion of what happened, but she takes care not to share that with the reader. The story is told in flashback partially by the maid, Grace Marks (convicted of the murder), whilst she is in a psychiatric prison; the second narrator is a psychiatrist, Simon Jordan, who has become interested in the case and conducts exploratory interviews with Grace.
I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone that wishes to read this; but I felt it was a little too pat. I wanted a definitive explanation for the events, and instead you are left to determine for yourself – which can work for some stories; I didn’t think it worked here. Viewed alone as Grace’s version of the story, supplied by her own truths and fictions, it is an interesting character study. Leave it at that and you can enjoy it.
After these, I zipped through three or four Agatha Christie Poirot novels (for the 100th time, LOL). Then, I was ready for a new read, so I started The Fairy Tales of Herman Hesse edited by Jack Zipes
I’ve read Siddartha about 20 times; it is one of my favorite novels. This collection features 22 of his most fantastical concoctions, all told with the same simple yet romantic prose. The translation wasn’t perfect – I am willing to bet that some of the magic was lost (yet another reason to learn German!). But, the stories are interesting and some are thought-provoking; ‘If the War Continues’ and ‘Strange News from another Planet’ are especially relevant for today’s political and social climate.
From fairy tales to a novel about storytellers seemed a natural enough transistion, so now I’m reading The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine . So far…very good.
Books I’ve read recently:
The Little Stranger by Sara Waters – I thought it was a very good story, and DUDE it gets super creepy for a chapter or two…but its not her absolute best work, in my opinion. I think Fingersmith is still one of the best books I’ve ever read (possibly top 10). Anyway, the basic plot is centered around a doctor in a small village in England, post-World War II. He becomes acquainted with an old-money family living on a large estate – a family that is slowly spiraling into debt and obscurity. Strange things begin to happen – fires set in the night, strange noises, accidents… the mystery comes in figuring out who (or what) is causing these irregularities.
I liked the build up, and found myself clutching a pillow nervously at one point. Waters has clearly taken notes from Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (a fantastic piece); unfortunately the climax of the story didn’t quite reach its full potential. I don’t want to give anything away, but what could have turned into a truly scary piece of work became a little commonplace.
Elizabeth I by Margaret George – Blah. I read almost anything Elizabethan, and I can’t NOT check out a book that purports to tell her story, fiction or nonfiction…but this was not very good. The language was inappropriate for the time period depicted, and the famous people surrounding the Queen (Robert Dudley! Francis Walsingham! Francis Drake!) were turned into one-dimensional placeholders. I’m always happy for new information or ideas about Queen Elizabeth, but I don’t recommend this one.
Book I plan to read this week:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I received this book from the Gomers for my birthday, and am finally ready for it. Yes, it’s another piece of British history – this time focusing on Henry VIII (yes, THAT guy). Anyone out there have thoughts on it?
It’s my birthday week! Official birthday is the 14th – but my week of celebrations has begun!
To start it off, let’s get into the literary tomes I’ve devoured as of late.
I finished The American (die-hard Henry James fans will enjoy, but for the uninitiated, start with The Turn of the Screw or The Wings of the Dove). The story ended alright, but became muddled with melodrama in the middle.
Next, I read Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. This is a wonderful story! Description taken from the back: “Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.”
I really liked Ava, and enjoyed the time spent with her. Russell switches from 3rd person to 1st person often in weaving together Ava’s and Kiwi’s adventures, and this does take some adjusting; it isn’t seamless. The descriptions are just lavish enough without falling into the oubliette that is J.R.R. Tolkein (OHH MY GAWWWWWDDD), and made the 1000 islands of southern Florida seem as magical and scary as Wonderland. I was a little disappointed in the conclusion, but only because I felt it ended too abruptly.
I had been recommended David Nicholl’s One Day by a bookseller in Copperfield’s, and after reading Radiator Tunes’ review of it HERE, I figured it was worth a shot – she’s one of the few people (i’ve never met her) whose book recommendations I’ll take. It was actually very engrossing. I worried it would be predictable, boring, and, worse, threaten my street cred; instead, it was witty and sweet, and I can still show my face in the indie bookstores LOL Dude, I swear, I read it IRONICALLY!
I don’t know that I’l see the movie – mainly, because the radio ads for the movie quoted Anne Hathaway as saying that the story was ‘soulful’, which is one of those words that is so cheesy, it grates on my nerves (I re-read that last sentence, and realized that I AM SO PUN-NY!).
Now, I am reading The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I knew the basic story of the book before reading it, as I’d seen the movie version starring Gillian Anderson (Scully!) with my mom years ago. Knowing the ending is giving the characters a sinister and/or tragic edge to their introductions, but Lily Bart is already ranking high on my list of favorite female protaganists. She’s beautiful and intelligent, but prone to bouts of rebelliousness that threaten to veer her off-course. Lily wants so desperately to be a part of the upper-class New York world, but recognizes it’s faults and hypocrisies to an extent that she sabotages her own attempts to climb the social ladder.
Not sure what I will be in the mood for next….
Finished The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. It was good, but the last 50 pages were kind of superfluous. I like details, and I enjoy knowing what happens to characters I’ve come to like (or even hate); but even I can say that I don’t need to know what a character was eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I think I would recommend Possession first, if you’re interested in reading Byatt’s work.
After that, I read Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosay. I wanted to see the movie, but I figured I’d read the book first. Unfortunately, it was not as intriguing as I’d hoped. The story fell flat after only 100 pages, and the main character, Julia, failed to interest; she came off as petty and spineless. The author has no gift for story arcing. I think I still want to see the movie, because I like Kristen Scott Thomas (ever since “The English Patient”) and I love Aidan Quinn (pretty much since forever). So…we’ll see.
Right now, I’m reading The American by Henry James, and while I love the writing style, and bow down to James’ amazing grasp of character development, I don’t think this is his best work. It centers around Christopher Newman, a middle-aged American man with a lot of money and the arrogance to match. He has good intentions, but clearly feels himself to be deserving of the best and brightest the world has to offer. Whilst relaxing in Paris, he decides to look for a wife, and finds a ‘suitable’ match in Claire, a widowed 25 year old and a member of the French aristocracy. That’s as far as I’ve gotten, so I can’t explain much more than that. I’ll let you know what happens
Speaking of reading…I’m FINALLY ordering my new glasses. These beauties from Warby Parker:
Awesome, right?! I am very excited. This company seems pretty cool; for every pair of glasses sold, they give one pair of glasses to a person in need (yep, like Toms). The glasses (including the prescription anti-glare lenses) are $95 each, and are designed in vintage styles. I was wary of buying glasses online, because you couldn’t see how they look on you- but, lo and behold, they have a solution to this problem! You can either upload a photo and do a virtual try-on OR you can have them send you up to 5 pairs to test out for free! They even pay for the return shipping! It was so nice to actually see how they look and feel, before making my choice. If you’re wondering, Warby Parker has not asked me to write a review, and I have received no compensation for such. I just like the glasses.
I have a new prescription, so hopefully the headaches will cease, and I can read in full enjoyment.
After finishing Angels & Insects by A.S. Byatt, I read Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford (chilling), and re-read a few Agatha Christie novels.
Then I started a book that has been on many ‘best’ lists.
I’ve disliked certain novels. I’ve read novels that angered me, depressed me…but I’m pretty sure this is one experience that I had yet to encounter.
I made it 28 pages before I decided that Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs was awful enough to throw away… I don’t mean give back, pass along, I mean add it to the pile of banana peels and used tissues. It wasn’t the writing itself that was terrible – it was the content. It is meant to be a series of vignettes; the bits are tied together quite loosely by the character Lee, a drug addict – much of the novel itself was drug-induced, accounting for it’s lack of actual plot. I can’t explain myself very well without getting into details; suffice it to say that there were certain passages that made me feel so awful that I couldn’t continue.
I knew going into the book that it had been at one point on a list of obscene literature; I guess I kind of assumed it would be like a lot of other books on the lists (Ulysses??)
Anyway. It was enough that, though I am against censorship, I didn’t want to own it, or finish reading it myself.
So…I gave up and started reading The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt.
I enjoy her writing style; her words conjure up lovely, dark images of Victorian and Romantic era life. The tales are full of rich details, but the language is surprisingly much simpler than expected.
What are you reading?
Haven’t taken part in quite awhile!! Link up over at The Little Things We Do
1. People always tell me I look like Winona Ryder – been getting that pretty much since I was a wee little thing. It’s the pale skin and dark hair. In high school, I heard that I looked like the actress Shiri Appleby, when she was on ‘Roswell’
2. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk OR leave a party without their pants.
3. A sunny day is perfect for eating lunch outside, taking a walk with my beloved men (Tim and Marco), and wearing dresses, as I do pretty much every day during the summer months.
4. My favorite accessory is my engagement/wedding/anniversary rings, and great shoes.
5. If I could afford it I would have a housekeeper to clean my house for me! I work full-time, and hate that my weekends need to be devoted to cleaning, when all I want to do is cuddle Marco and smooch Tim.
6. The cure for boredom is a good book or a new recipe to try!
7. I am currently “in like” with Guigni’s sandwiches, my new maxi dress from Forever21 (can’t wait to wear it!), and am basically falling into serious love with Neal Gaiman (finishing up American Gods)
Saturday, the wonderful Adrian (check out her personal blog HERE) cut my hair, and this time we went shorter. I don’t have a picture of it yet – today was not the day for pictures, trust me), but I love it! I didn’t get home until late, but as soon as Tim saw me, his face lit up and he said ‘You look great!!’. I call that a win. I swear I’ll post a hair update this week.
Yesterday I overslept (thanks to my iPhone – the time change threw it off. It was correct on Sunday, but I guess something happened and it reset during the night) and ended up running around like a crazy person, trying to get out of the house on time. Clocked in a minute late. GRRR. Work is horrid. I am ready to tear my hair out (and I just got it cut, too!). I wish I could fast forward to the end of this week. Friday should be here NOW.
Currently reading: The Waugh biography wasn’t great; after awhile it started reading like an US Weekly from the 20′s – too much gossip and ‘person A slept with person B and dated person C’ and not enough about Waugh’s character. Zipped through The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby; a collection of his essays/article from Believer magazine, all relating to his reading habits, and how often this correlated to the books he actually purchases. He, like so many of us bibliophiles, buys far more books than he can actually keep up with. Starting Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter, which I borrowed a few weeks ago from Justin (Adrienne’s husband). On a nonfiction spree right now, but I don’t think it will last long. I’ve got several items on my list that I’m dying to read, but then I borrow books from my friends… I don’t like to keep books too long if I can help it (sometimes I can’t).
Catch ya on the flip side!
During my lunch break yesterday, I decided to hit up Sogni di Dolce in St Helena for a mozzarella panini, cappuccino, and some reading. It was delicious, satisfying, and relaxing.
Currently reading: Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne
As you may already know, I am kind of obsessed with Evelyn Waugh, and am trying to read all of his published works; I figured it couldn’t hurt to learn about his life as well.
Today my office had a visit from the Girl Scouts; somehow my check book made an appearance, and 4 boxes of cookies were somehow transferred into my possession (it was like a drug deal, only legal). Those girls were straight HUSTLERS. I couldn’t resist the charms of the Peanut Butter Patties (or the Thin Mints, or the lemon cremes).
I’m sponsoring a blogger this week, Maryam of Pampelmousse 1983! Go check her out (she’s adorable! you won’t regret it) HERE!
Happy Wednesday, and may you have a Girl Scout cookie in your future.