These essays covered a number of book-related topics that I'm interested in - how to care for a book, arranging books on a shelf, vocabulary, plagiariThese essays covered a number of book-related topics that I'm interested in - how to care for a book, arranging books on a shelf, vocabulary, plagiarism, etc. My favorite essay was "My Odd Shelf," about readers' collections of books on their pet topics, whether it be Arctic exploration, pornography or the Han Dynasty. For me the weakness of the book was the author's light touch, her upbeat, pleased-with-herself voice. She asks you to feel fondly about her literary family, frequently referring to them and herself in the third person plural as The Fadimans, or Fadiman U. (as in university). My admiration of modesty means I have an aversion to making presumptions, no matter how deserved. Thus the opening passage of the essay "You are There" and others like it put me off for their love-me cockiness and their down-homey language (the peas): "On November 12, 1838. Thomas Babington Macaulay set out by horse-drawn coach from Florence to Rome. 'My journey lay over the field of Thrasymenus,' he wrote in his journal, 'and as soon as the sun rose, I read Livy's description of the scene.' The moment I read that sentence, I knew that Macaulay and I were peas in a pod."...more
Perhaps it would have been better if I'd been a Bechdel fan when I set out, or at least knew the slightest thing about her or her best-selling book "FPerhaps it would have been better if I'd been a Bechdel fan when I set out, or at least knew the slightest thing about her or her best-selling book "Fun Home," because I found it difficult to care very much about this exploration of her relationship with her mother. There's a lot about Bechdel's various therapists, her girlfriends, and excerpts from the psychology and psychoanalytic books she's read. The very "me" focus sapped the story's appeal (to me). There were some interesting insights and I enjoyed her drawing style, and I'm even interested in reading "Fun Home," but this isn't a book I'd recommend widely. ...more
My daughter invited me to do a reading a challenge with her this year. Who says no to their teenager’s request to do a book challenge together? It hasMy daughter invited me to do a reading a challenge with her this year. Who says no to their teenager’s request to do a book challenge together? It has a list of specifications like ‘read a book published the year you were born,’ ‘read a trilogy,’ and many other things. One requirement is to read a graphic novel, so I went to the library and read this. Since my daughter and I agreed one book could fulfill up to three requirements, this also covered me on reading a book set in high school, which I was sweating the most.
I thought this was very funny and easy to relate to, even decades down the line. I can (still) count the graphic novels I’ve read on two hands, so this was fresh and hilarious to me. It’s a collection of comic stories about the awkwardness and misery of 8th grade and high school, with all the horrors of having the cool kids at your house, French kissing, getting a pus-oozy piercing, and wearing the wrong outfit. The drawing at the end of the story ‘Freak’ was especially great.
I'm only sorry I put my daughter on a plane yesterday, because she would have liked this too (and knocked two items off the challenge list). ...more
Just when you thought you were tired of post-apocalyptic novels, this splendid read comes along. I really enjoyed the story and the characters. I woulJust when you thought you were tired of post-apocalyptic novels, this splendid read comes along. I really enjoyed the story and the characters. I would have liked to see a couple of them developed more - for example, Tyler. The focus was all on the good guys and affirmation. I love the good guys and affirmation, but a baser instinct would have been worth seeing here and there, along with a closer look at a shadier character. Nevertheless, I slurped it down. ...more
I’ve read three Penelope Lively books in the last five months and this is my favorite. That’s despite the fact that at page 140 or so I thought it hadI’ve read three Penelope Lively books in the last five months and this is my favorite. That’s despite the fact that at page 140 or so I thought it had turned into a yawner, and I was having trouble buying the main character’s attraction to a woman with whom he had nothing in common.
The plot centers on Mark Lamming, a biographer researching a book on the author Gilbert Strong. He’s a contentedly married, childless man in his early forties. His ebullient, efficient wife Diana works in an art gallery. As to Strong, Mark finds his essays and criticism best, though Strong also wrote a couple novels and a play he would have preferred to forget. Mark believes he’s got Strong pinned down when he goes off to do further research at Dean Close, Strong’s former home, now maintained by a foundation and Strong’s granddaughter Carrie, who runs a plant and nursery business on the premises with her gay partner Bill. Carrie is a kind of lost soul, diffident, detached, but attractive to Mark despite her having read only 4-5 books in her whole life.
There are three things Penelope Lively likes to explore: mother-daughter relationships, men as “other,” and tourism. The last one seems odd, I know, but in "Heat Wave," which I read first, the odious son-in-law figure is writing about tourist traps. In "Moon Tiger," there is also an important scene in a recreated historical village. In According to Mark, writers’ home are tourist spots - Thomas Hardy’s and Gilbert Strong’s - and there’s likewise a trip to a historical fortress, and then on to France and the Louvre.
Every reader knows the enjoyment of book has to do with the state of mind s/he’s in when s/he reads it. My satisfaction with According to Mark could have to do with having seen a movie a few days before with a sad ending that I had trouble accepting. Thus emotionally ripened, I said a glad grateful thank-you when Carrie finally threw off her passivity and found her way. And Mark’s discovery of a fresh, worthwhile source of information on Strong was also satisfying, and helped him discover and understand more about his subject and himself. The book wasn’t perfect - the character Diana especially didn’t quite convince - but it was an intelligent story in a literary setting that unfolded nicely. ...more
Inspiring, open and cathartic. You can't help but root for Strayed on her journey, with her battered feet, her stink, and the hole in her heart. As aInspiring, open and cathartic. You can't help but root for Strayed on her journey, with her battered feet, her stink, and the hole in her heart. As a reader I felt rather like she did on her hike, happy with the progress I was making but not really wanting the book to end.
I found her experience as a woman interesting, since you expect her to be more threatened by burly men. But late in the book, reflecting with the 'Three Young Bucks' - a group of friendly guys she meets on the trail - Strayed realizes how kind and helpful most people have been to her. The moments of human contact and making friends are some of the more touching in the book. The 'young bucks' claim to have seized on much less sympathy. Of course Strayed is the occasional target of creepy men, and I was so glad she emerged unmolested.
The (imaginary) scenery was wonderful: Crater Lake, the Range of Light, the Bridge of the Gods. I only wanted pictures! ...more
This is a dramatic story about Dina, who at the age of 5 inadvertently causes a vat of hot lye to engulf her mother, causing her excruciating death. DThis is a dramatic story about Dina, who at the age of 5 inadvertently causes a vat of hot lye to engulf her mother, causing her excruciating death. Dina is then neglected by her father, a sheriff, who doesn’t know what to do with her, and spends her life haunted by her mother’s screams and ghostly presence. While Dina’s in her early teens, her father finds a tutor for her who’s a bit of a godsend, teaching her arithmetic and music. He also learns about the tragedy, and tells the girl her mother is better off, having gone to a better place, which in a way makes Dina feel it’s ok to mete out her own biblical justice for years to come. She’s able to do so by the power she acquires through marrying a rich merchant at age 15, whom she soon sends to his death.
There is an appeal in the strong female character - undaunted, unconventional, feminist, brave. She’s also not very easy to like. I had to ask myself several times if I was being unfair and if I’d give a man more leeway, but no: if anything, I’d probably hold all that ‘lording it around’ more against a man than a woman. And Dina has a good point in a lot of cases, but she is selfish and often unsympathetic.
The good points about this story are the characters, the plot and the Norwegian landscape. It’s a sensuous book full of hot meals, birch branches, rowan berries, snow, fires, the smell of stables, blood, sex, and the sea. It has some satisfying moments.
On the downside I wasn’t crazy about the style. A bit of short internal monologue is frequently interjected that invariably starts “I am Dina,” followed by what Dina could do or her experiences. It’s a little over the top, as if Dina were a goddess declaring herself. And the sex scenes were awkward, as sex scenes often are, sometimes dressed up in metaphors about “spears” and “fish” such. I was soon judging guys by the size of their penises.
This was a good wintertime read and engaging, but I didn’t think it was a great work of literature. If you are interested in potent female characters, Norway or the shipping trade, it’s worth a read. ...more
Roz Chast has a great sense of humor and it thrives here, but this one was also sad, scary and pitiable. The frustrating quirks and dynamic of her eldRoz Chast has a great sense of humor and it thrives here, but this one was also sad, scary and pitiable. The frustrating quirks and dynamic of her elderly parents are good for a laugh, being authentic and familiar, even though those of our own parents won't match exactly.
It was pointedly effective how Chast threw in actual photographs, which highlighted her ambivalence about her parents due to the painfully uncomfortable poses they showed and the obviously enormous age difference. In a similar way, the series of less-cartoony drawings of her dying mother's face at the end of the book were very touching.
I appreciated the honesty of the memoir: the story of her mother shitting all over the house, the attempt to finally connect with her, the frightening amounts of money all the care cost. I almost felt bad about having borrowed the book from the library rather than buy it, except when I considered the costs I myself will soon face.
Everyone wants to be patient and giving when caring for aging parents. But they do tend to drive you batty, making it a cycle of good intentions - meltdown - guilt - reprieve - repeat.
I'm giving this three stars even though I jumped ship halfway through. It's a funny and well-written memoir of a girl growing up in rural Indiana. KimI'm giving this three stars even though I jumped ship halfway through. It's a funny and well-written memoir of a girl growing up in rural Indiana. Kimmel brings her family and local characters to life, and I definitely laughed out loud more than once. But as the years I have before me dwindle, I'm thinking this isn't going to do much for my soul or my brain or even my waistline, and am moving on to books with a better chance of accomplishing one of those things. ...more
After finishing Heat Wave, which I greatly enjoyed, I quickly bought two more Lively books. One of them was Moon Tiger, which won the Booker Prize, maAfter finishing Heat Wave, which I greatly enjoyed, I quickly bought two more Lively books. One of them was Moon Tiger, which won the Booker Prize, making me assume (wrongly) that it would top Heat Wave.
I enjoyed this story and the way the narrative is constructed, swaying back and forth in time and shifting among narrators. Especially good was the introduction of the lover's diaries near the end. I was happy to find out what the eponymous Moon Tiger was - a burning spiral used on North African nights to keep mosquitoes away. In this story, it also suggests our finite allotment of time on earth and with each other. It also throws the smoke of protection of the novel's lovers for their short time together.
Despite the novel's various charms, I wasn't bowled over. I wished readers got a deeper look at a character other than Claudia, the protagonist, especially since a number of secondary characters get a chance to lead the narrative. I didn't think there was anything particularly fresh about the writing or the story, even as it held my attention and sympathy.
Still, I think it was a worthwhile read, and I plan to move along to According to Mark nevertheless, which I hope it hits it out of the park. ...more
Penelope Lively drifted on and off my to-read list for awhile. So glad I picked this up. Great voice, sympathetic protagonist and an ominous atmospherPenelope Lively drifted on and off my to-read list for awhile. So glad I picked this up. Great voice, sympathetic protagonist and an ominous atmosphere, helped by the heaviness of hot weather. The story centers on a woman in her 50s who lives next door to her daughter and her daughter's dashing husband, and their child. Aspects of the daughter's relationship remind her of her own failed marriage to a beloved but untrue star academic. The action is not dramatic but has serious pull, like increasing humidity before a storm (cliché, sorry, but so it is). Most of the book's interest lies in the behavioral cues between characters, and the protagonist's musings on how she got to where she is in her life. The war of the sexes was brought off wonderfully. I was surprised, and satisfied, by the ending. ...more
This is what you'd call a 'gift book,' there being no good reason for it to exist except as a marketing opportunity in a museum bookshop, in this caseThis is what you'd call a 'gift book,' there being no good reason for it to exist except as a marketing opportunity in a museum bookshop, in this case The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Indeed I got it as a gift, third-hand, from a family member liquidating a section of his library. The book combines some works found in the Met museum with 'love poems' - I put the 'love' in quotes because there's a section on friendship, and one on familial love. It's not all cupids and hotness and late-night phone sex. There were some great poems in here, but if you really wanted an anthology of love poems then surely there are better ones. There are some fine works of art in here, but if you were really in it for the works of art you would be better directed to the non-poetry section of the bookstore. These were mostly very well-known poems with a few I hadn't read before. The selections were good and that's laudable. The works of art appearing next to the poems sometimes seemed random, but anything can be an object of 'love,' I guess. There were two absolutely great Yehuda Amichai poems and if I really were interested in your poetic well-being I'd say save the however many dollars the Met wants for this and buy his The Selected Poetry instead. ...more
Beautifully written and thoughtful book about a character with many selves who survives centuries, switching genders in between. There is a manor housBeautifully written and thoughtful book about a character with many selves who survives centuries, switching genders in between. There is a manor house to anchor him/her, a lot of reflection, and thoughts extrapolating and fondling themselves into a pitch. It can be transporting if occasionally tedious.
“Then she called hesitatingly, as if the person she wanted might not be there, ‘Orlando?' For if there are (at a venture) seventy-six different times all ticking in the mind at once, how many different people are there not - Heaven help us - all having lodgment at one time another in the human spirit? Some say two thousand and fifty-two. So that it is the most usual thing in the world for a person to call, directly they are alone Orlando? (if that is one’s name) meaning by that, Come, come! I'm sick to death of this particular self. I want another. Hence the astonishing changes we see in our friends. But it is not altogether plain sailing, either, for though one may say, as Orlando said (being out of the country and needing another self presumably) Orlando? still the Orlando one needs may not come; these selves of which we are built up, one on top of another, as plates are piled on a waiter’s hand, have attachments elsewhere, sympathies, little constitutions and rights of their own, call them what you will (and for many of these things there is no name) so that one may come if it is raining, another in a room with green curtains, another when Mrs. Jones is not there, another if you can promise it a glass of wine - and so on; for everyone can multiply from his own experience the difficult terms which his different selves have made with him - and some are too wildly ridiculous to be mentioned in print at all.”...more
Coincidentally, today just before I finished this a colleague handed back to me Varieties of Disturbance, which I'd lent to her some time ago. I askedCoincidentally, today just before I finished this a colleague handed back to me Varieties of Disturbance, which I'd lent to her some time ago. I asked her how she liked it and she said she liked much of it, but sometimes felt Davis was full of herself, and must think all her words are gold-plated. I don't feel that way at all, though I think Can't and Won't: Stories is a better collection. I got so used to the very short that I kind of dreaded the stories of normal length, even though there were good too, with the exception of "Letter to the Foundation," which I didn't like.
My favorites were - A Cook's Lesson The Two Davises and the Rug (a longer one, relatively) A Woman, Thirty Her Geography, Alabama How I Read As Quickly as Possible Through My Back Issues of the TLS Men Negative Emotions The Piano The Seals (a longer one) Left Luggage Waiting for Takeoff (which begins, "We site in the airplane so long, on the ground, waiting to take off, that one woman declares she will now write her novel, and another in a neighboring seat says she will be happy to edit it.") Industry Wrong Thank-you in Theater...more