Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fancies

In addition to catching up on the book's I've read in August, next week I'll also be sharing some pictures of a recent trip to Maine, as well as a visit to a winery where I may have inadvertently given the impression that I was drunk. I wasn't...stay tuned for the full story next week!

(A little Maine preview. Check out my pictures from last year, if you'd like.)

A few other links I've been saving up over the past month:

F. Scott Fitzgerald's essential reading picks.

A nice collection of vintage books on Etsy.

Speaking of bands, lately I've been listening to the new album by The Civil Wars nonstop.

My current favorite Twitter feed is econstyleguide. There's just something about getting little bits of grammar and usage advice throughout the day.

And late one night I discovered a funny, new-to-me show, Sullivan & Son. Has anyone else seen it? It's set in a Pittsburgh bar and feels like a modern day version of Cheers

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sweet Tooth

Reading Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan was a little bit like reading The Marriage Plot, if that novel had been written by John LeCarre instead of Jeffrey Eugenides--and that's not at all a bad thing! It's set in a world of Cold War-era spies, but features the unlikely heroine of Serena Frome, a young woman with voracious reading habits and indiscriminate literary taste. A childhood aptitude for numbers lands her a spot as a mediocre math student at Cambridge. While there, an affair with an older professor lands her a low-level job in British intelligence. She's eventually called upon to put her bookworm tendencies to use by befriending aspiring author Tom Haley, with the goal of subtly influencing his writing so that he'll produce works with an anti-Communist bent. During the course of her mission she develops a relationship with Tom that eventually leads to a betrayal, a blown cover, and a twist at the end of the novel that I'm still not sure how I feel about.

True to McEwan's typical form, Sweet Tooth creates a compelling, atmospheric world around a cast of characters of a certain class who are--to my mind, at least--quintessentially British. His standard quality of writing is made even more enjoyable by both the espionage intrigue of the plot and the literary references that are peppered throughout Serena's narrative. She talks about reading anything and everything from trashy Jacqueline Susan novels to Persephone favorites like Monica Dickens. Living up to the term "literary fiction", Sweet Tooth is an entertaining read that's likely to score some brownie points with bibliophiles.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Writers and Their Dogs

As a belated tribute to National Dog Day, which was yesterday, here are some fun pictures of famous writers and their furry friends.

Mark Twain
(image via here)

Charles Dickens
(image via here)

Maurice Sendak
(image via here)

Amy Tan
(image via here)

Ann Patchett
 (image via here)

P.G. Wodehouse
 (image via here)

Edith Wharton
(image via here)

I have a secret wish to recreate Edith Wharton's pose with Millie and Olive someday!

Which author/ dog pair is your favorite?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley

I have such a backlog of books to write about that I have to issue a fair warning that the next couple of weeks will likely see some really brief posts as well as some combined posts as I try to catch up on what I've been reading in the past month. I don't have to go too far back for today's post about a mystery novel I finished this weekend: Death Comes to Pemberley. Not only was this the first novel I've read by P.D. James, but, after spending years trying to avoid them, it's also one of the first of the myriad of Jane Austen "sequels" that I've read. I remember seeing some decent reviews when this one was first published, but wasn't motivated to pick it up until I saw the news that it's been made into a miniseries that's coming to Masterpiece on PBS next year.

The action of the novel picks up about six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are happily living at Pemberley with their two young sons while Jane and Bingley are settled nearby on an estate of their own. On the eve of the Darcys' annual ball, the festive preparations are shattered by the sudden, unexpected arrival of Lydia and Wickham, who are not formally received at Pemberley. They soon learn that a murder has been committed on the Pemberley grounds and Wickham, of course, is the prime suspect. 

If I had to sum up Death Comes to Pemberley in just one word, it would be tepid. I felt a mild interested in the overall story, but the mystery didn't seem to be very intricately plotted and wasn't suspenseful enough to really capture my attention. It was kind of fun to encounter Austen's characters again, but James actually did a better job of recapturing the minor characters than she did with Elizabeth and Darcy, whose dialogue and thoughts made them seem like bland, diluted versions of themselves. My favorite parts were actually when James ventured outside the boundaries of Pride and Prejudice and brought in characters from Austen's other novels for small cameos, like when it's revealed that Wickham held a temporary job as a secretary for Sir Walter Elliot of Emma fame, and when we learn that the Darcys' housekeeper is related to Mrs. Goddard, who runs the Highbury school that Harriet Smith attended in Emma. If the rest of the plot was as cleverly executed as these little instances, it might have made for a more compelling mystery. 

I'll still be eager to watch the miniseries, if only because I can never resist a British period film.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Anything I can say about Karen Russell's latest short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, has to begin by going back to my evolving reaction to her acclaimed novel, Swamplandia! When I first read the latter, I wasn't a fan. It was creepy and strange and not at all what I had expected it to be from the way in which it was marketed. But after a year passed, I begin to appreciate it as one of the more memorable books I've read. All of the strange qualities that threw me at first were exactly what made such a strong impression that stuck with me over time. Having gone through this change of heart regarding Swamplandia!, I felt much more prepared going into Vampires in the Lemon Grove. With a better idea of what to expect, I found myself really enjoying the stories in this collection.

I probably should clarify that last sentence. Even though I had a better idea of what to expect from Russell's writing going into this book, that was only in the sense that I was braced for anything and everything. There was no way in which I could have predicted any of the specifics of the quirky, widely varied, stories that are included here. They're by turns fascinating, terrifying, and funny. I found myself comparing Russell's writing to the best possible (if unlikely) combination of Stephen King and Haruki Murakami. Some of her stories have classic horror elements to them, like vampires or a mysterious, self-mutilating scarecrow. The knot in my stomach that I had as I read Swamplandia! was out in full force again. Yet I also found myself surprisingly moved by one of the funnier, more unexpected stories in which dead U.S. presidents are reincarnated as a group of horses. It sounds so cliche to say that there's "something for everyone" in a story collection, but I think that might actually be the case here, at least for everyone who is willing to get pulled into a series of odd, vividly imagined fictional worlds.


Related Posts with Thumbnails