Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Northanger Abbey (by Jane Austen)

After reading The Jane Austen Book Club, I got curious to read Northanger Abbey, as I think it's the only one of her books I hadn't read. Not as sophisticated as some of her other books (and more self conscious) it's still got a charming heroine, a good story, interesting characters, and some very funny writing. Overall, I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Something Borrowed (by Emily Giffin)

Chick lit that got an A from Entertainment Weekly. Now I really don't get the A rating; although it is better than average, I wasn't that impressed with the writing, the characters, or the story. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it! I did! And I am very interested in the sequel, Something Blue, which takes the villain of this story and turns her into the protagonist. That's a great trick, if Giffin can pull it off.

I read this book on an airplane, in a couple of hours. It was breezy, light, fluffy fun. Not A material, but if you like chick lit, I'd recommend it to you.

The Jane Austen Book Club (by Karen Joy Fowler)

Totally enjoyed this. (Or to put it another way, it was perfect, being much too short.)

I loved how the narrator of the book was (or seemed to be, maybe this is just my dumb theory) the collective book club voice. (I have a lot of affection for my own book club, and maybe that's part of my affection for the narrative conceit.) I also loved how the characters seemed to align with certain characters in Austen's works. (Allegra as Marianne being the most obvious, I think.) It's just charming, witty, well-written and entertaining, with awesome characters. Also multiple references to Buffy, so ten points for that.

I do think it is too short, though. I wanted more discussion of the books, more stories about the characters, more everything! Highly recommended.

The Bonfire of the Vanities (by Tom Wolfe)

I enjoyed the hell out of this book, in spite of the obvious and embarassing lack of fleshed-out female characters. Ahem. Anyway, I found it to be a very entertaining satire of society and class in the eighties, as well as a thoughtful exploration of politics and journalism, and how truth is created and distorted for ultimately very personal, egoistic reasons.

I enjoyed the first half of the book better than the second half; possibly because I enjoy social comedy more than courtroom drama. I also thought the ending was a little abrupt, with a few loose ends. (And I don't mean the major loose end; I thought that was pretty clever.) There could have been a little more insight into the transformation of Sherman McCoy, with just a few more chapters.

I guess I don't have anything more to say about it. It was a fun read, if flawed, and I have read two more books since I finished this one, so it's not exactly fresh on my mind at this point.

And this is on my official reading list, so it gets a quote, but I left my book at home. I will fill it in later.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Hammock Reading

Like Beth, I recently had to go through the decision-making process of what books to bring on my summer vacation. I dismissed some books as being too literally heavy (Catch-22, The Brothers K) and other books for being too figuratively heavy (Light in August, Finnegans Wake).

I am halfway through The Bonfire of the Vanities and I am only sorry I didn't save it to read on the beach. I had no idea it would be so juicy and gossipy and fun, in addition to being well-written. I will probably finish it on the plane. I did manage to save my last issues of Entertainment Weekly, Real Simple, and Budget Living so I don't get stuck buying crappy overpriced magazines at the airport. (I probably will do that anyway, just so you know.)

Also in my bag are books purchased especially for the occasion: The Jane Austen Book Club (been meaning to read it) and Something Borrowed (an engagement ring on the cover, so you know it's chick lit, but it's supposed to be good chick lit). Other possibilities include The God of Small Things and Stiff. I don't know what else is in my pile of "literature" as opposed to "books" other than Faulkner, but maybe something good. (Confidential to K: Please don't take this to mean I love Faulkner.)

Anyway, I should be good on books, at the very least Tom Wolfe will entertain me, and the chick lit will divert me. And if I decide I hate all these books, I can always borrow something from Beth!

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Bostonians (by Henry James)

I feel as if I have to read many more critical texts on The Bostonians before I can speak intelligently about it. But I'm going to write about it anyway, because I don't happen to have any critical texts handy and what the hell.

The most interesting question to me is to wonder what James really thinks about the feminist movement, or Basil Ransom specifically. James makes Olive much less sympathetic than Basil; Olive is neurotic, sexually repressed, and selfish. Basil's dialogues with Verena at least go two ways-- there's an argument to be made that Basil treats Verena as more of an equal than Olive does. But the reader knows (and Verena knows) that what he wants is ultimately to have full control over her. (Or as James says with classic Jamesian subtlety, "he admired her enough to wish to possess her on his own terms.")

The modern reader wants Verena to pull a Kelly Taylor and "choose me," but this is not a modern novel! So instead you wait for Verena to make her own bed and then lie in it. (The last line of the novel is just perfect.) I don't know what conclusions come out of that. If nothing else, James is never simplistic about the human heart.

On a personal level, I didn't enjoy it as much as Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove, or even The Golden Bowl or Washington Square. It's not the first Henry James book that I'd recommend. But as part of his larger body of work, I think it's important to have read. And I didn't not like it. I guess I'm just a little unsettled, wondering what James is trying to tell me.

"These hours of backward clearness come to all men and women, once at least, when they read the past in the light of the present, with the reasons of things, like unobserved finger-posts, protruding where they never saw them before. The journey behind them is mapped out and figured, with its false steps, its wrong observations, all its infatuated, deluded geography." (Page 410)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Known World (by Edward P. Jones)

This was our latest selection for the Book Club, and I finished the last few pages while actually at the meeting. I found this book to be very Faulkner-esque, specifically reminding me of Absalom, Absalom.

I put it down for a long time when our book club meeting was delayed, and it's so complex with so many characters that I think I lost a lot of the threads by the time I picked it back up again. But I think if you like Faulkner, it's worth reading it and sticking with it until the end. Everything else I want to say is just agreeing with the group consensus on the book (not that we all agreed about everything; that would be a verye boring book group). So as not to step on the toes of the Official Review, I will say no more!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Charlotte's Web (by E.B. White)

I temporarily mislaid my copy of The Bostonians, so I had an extra day to skip ahead and read Charlotte's Web which, believe it or not, is on my reading list. Who hasn't read Charlotte's Web ten times, anyway? But I read it again, and it is just as lovely and charming as it ever was. I'm not exactly sure what it's doing on the Radcliffe List at number thirteen; it has to be more than its belovedness and charm, right?

Maybe the Radcliffe people just like animals. Check out that list--Mockingbirds, Mice, Flies, Cuckoos, Cats, Doves, Rabbits, Falcons--not to mention a book about a noble dog, three books about talking animals, and a whole animal farm! I can't believe Watership Down didn't make the cut.

"'Can I have a pig, too, Pop?' asked Avery.
'No, I only distribute pigs to early risers,' said Mr. Arable. 'Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice. As a result, she now has a pig. A small one, to be sure, but nevertheless a pig. It just shows what can happen if a person gets out of bed promptly.'"
(Page 5)