Two novels about entitlement and something that sure isn’t love

I recently—and quite coincidentally—read two novels that, though very different, are nearly identical in theme, treatment of said theme and the ambivalent reaction I had to each of them.

marriage.jpgThe first of this not-really-dynamic duo was Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2011 “The Marriage Plot.” Eugenides said he wrote this novel as a way of determining whether novels using the what academics call “the marriage plot” could be written in a modern day setting. Well, not quite modern day, as it’s set in 1981, which he clearly remembers a little too fondly.

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The nearly insurmountable challenge of a 19th-Century novel

This post is a twofer. Two reviews for the price of one. This is because I have very little to say about the first novel I selected to fulfill the 19th-Century category of the 2016-17 Classics Challenge.

courage.jpgAfter living a month or so inside the head of the Rebels while reading “Gone With the Wind,” I thought I’d spend some time with the actual winners of the Civil War (though are there really any winners in war?) by reading Stephen Crane’s 1895 novel “The Red Badge of Courage.” I’d liked his short stories (especially “The Open Boat”) and was eager to read it.

I chose this book because it has been on my bookshelf for some 20 years and because it was short. It should have stayed on the bookshelf.

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‘Water’ isn’t fine, but may still be worth a dive

water.jpgPaula Hawkins’ first book, “The Girl on the Train” benefited from the tailwind created by the huge success of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” Readers, it seemed, were anxiously searching for thrillers with major twists on the theme of women hating men.

Hawkins has a new novel out, a thriller with a major twist with the theme of men hating women. It’s not great (but neither was “Train,”)  and it’s way too long, but it’s summer and everything seems better when read by the side of a big body of water.

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‘Best loved poems’ his Aunt Fanny!

On Father’s Day, I was at my in-laws’ when someone suggested we all go to the park. Because most people were going to be swimming and I was not, and finding myself without my book (horrors!), I picked up a volume of Houseman poetry to read at the park.

20170620_111311-e1497971897401.jpgMy father-in-law, always generous with his books, said he had another volume of Houseman I could have, but he’d have to go find it. He couldn’t, but in the search, he came across another gem he pressed into my hands with the strict order that I was not to give it back to him.

I could see why: The dust jacket, even decades after it was printed, contained one of the most garish photos of roses I’d ever seen and, it was out-of-focus to boot. The title was “Best Loved Poems of All Time: Treasured Verses Everyone Enjoys.”

Well, not everyone, it would seem.

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You’ll enjoy your time with this ‘Gentleman in Moscow’

moscow.jpg“Have you read ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ yet?” the message from a Shelf Improver read. “I have not been so delighted in a long time.”

I had heard about the book, published last year to great acclaim, and was glad to hear this recommendation from someone whose taste I respect. So I was thrilled when it turned out to be the next book I had to read for book club. At 480 pages, it raised an eyebrow, but once I started, there was no stopping. It was, as promised, a delight from start to finish with plenty to talk about afterward.

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Author of ‘Welsh Girl’ offers a gentle surprise and a new view of World War II

welsh.jpgIn “The Fortunes,” Peter Ho Davies wrote so convincingly and with such insight about the plight of Chinese-American immigrants that, when I met him recently at a reading, I was surprised to hear his lovely British accent.

He said he’s been accused of putting on his accent, which didn’t surprise me. We tend to see an Asian face and expect, well, something else.

I was even more surprised to hear him say he is Welsh. But I shouldn’t have been. His first novel, “The Welsh Girl” was equally detailed and insightful, though it’s set during World War II, long before Davies was born. He said it was based on his father’s reminiscences of the war.

Both novels artfully address the theme of how people pigeonhole others based on looks or accents or ignorance, and how we define ourselves.

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Coming in from the heat with a classic spy novel

spy.jpgThough I’ve been reading like a dervish, assuming they read, it’s been so beautiful outside I haven’t trapped myself at my computer to post about them. We’re in the middle of a heat spell, so I thought I’d stay in the air conditioning and play catch-up.

In the month-plus since I’ve posted, I have good and bad, new and classic, thrillers and cozies. Now it’s time to get moving on the blogging.

This year’s Classics Challenge includes a category for which, I think, a challenge like this was made: A book by an author you’ve not read before. In my Sisyphean task to eliminate books from my shelves and the boxes in the basement, I chose to read John LeCarre, whose novel “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” has been collecting dust since I shoved it in a sack on Paper Bag Day at a local church’s used book sale lo these many years ago.

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