Have a lovely 4th of July!
Have a lovely 4th of July!
I read Prep: A Novel the other day after having read two other books set at private schools, Special Topics in Calamity Physics and Gentlemen and Players, within the last month. I remember there being a lot of debate/discussion in the blogosphere over Prep when it came out but I didn't really pay much attention to it. Maybe it was the cover that turned me off. After reading it, I'm not sure what all the fuss was about. It seemed very Young Adult Novel to me--sort of a "beach read" (And after googling Sittenfeld just now to see what other bloggers thought, I find that at least one reader/writer I know agrees).
Sittenfeld definitely gets the insecure teen thrust into an alien environment, but I don't feel like I learned anything new or received any real benefit from reading it. In some ways the main character Lee reminded me of Nick in the incomparably better (though perhaps longer than it needed to be) novel The Line of Beauty. Both are keen observers, take everything personally, and imbue all whom they meet with the most negative impulses and motives.
As for Special Topics, it was miles ahead creatively and great fun for a word lover, but I found it lacking in the character department. I guess I expected more after the initial charm began to wear off. I'll be anxious to read the author's next novel to see how she develops as a writer. I started The Moon and Sixpence yesterday. It feels so luxurious to read something this beautiful and elevating after Prep. It's like eating a soufflé that took two hours to make after having just scarfed down a Twix.
P.S. What do you think about publishers adding "a novel" to titles? In general it seems redundant and affected but there's also something 18th century about it that is nice for certain books.
Prince Vasili always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating a
stale part. Anna Pavlovna Scherer on the contrary, despite her forty
years, overflowed with animation and impulsiveness. To be an enthusiast
had become her social vocation and, sometimes even when she did not
feel like it, she became enthusiastic in order not to disappoint the
expectations of those who knew her. The subdued smile which, though it
did not suit her faded features, always played round her lips
expressed, as in a spoiled child, a continual consciousness of her
charming defect, which she neither wished, nor could, nor considered it
necessary, to correct.
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
I spent last night:
a) wandering the broken streets of downtown L.A. smoking gitanes and muttering snatches of metaphysical poetry to anyone who would listen.
b) drinking champagne, eating bonbons, and getting an in-room pedicure while reading Min Jin Lee's Free Food for Millionaires.
c) dining in a hotel sports bar and working on a website until 11pm, then falling asleep next to my laptop.
Nicki sent me this picture of Anna Gavalda's charming writing space. We both love her wallpaper and notice the perfume bottle to the left of her computer. So chic and Parisian! (I tried to find the wallpaper source online with no luck.) I'd ordered Someone I Loved after devouring her latest, Hunting and Gathering, last month (my post on it here). Someone I Loved was really good but I was disappointed when I turned the last page--what I thought was only halfway through the book--and found that the rest of the book was the same novel I'd just read, only in French! It didn't say anywhere on the cover that the book came with both the translation and the original French, so I thought I was going to have the pleasure of enjoying a much longer work!
Mid-flight on Saturday night I finished the translation of Anna Gavalda's lovely novel Hunting and Gathering through a veil of tears. I'd grown to adore the characters so. As I savored the final chapters, it was almost as if I were about to part forever from my only true love. I've already read Gavalda's first book, a short story collection I raved about a few years ago with a most Miranda July-ish title, I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere. I feel the French author is a kindred spirit especially since some reviewers consider her to be "too sentimental," something I've been accused of more than a few times. This I won't deny in the same breath as I admit that it's not the first time I've cried over a book on a plane filled with strangers.
Earlier in the week I'd read Kate Atkinson's Case Histories and quite liked it, so I bandaged my disappointment at not finding Gavalda's only other novel Someone I Loved at the library (I ordered it online just now) by borrowing Atkinson's Emotionally Weird as well as Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty, which has been on my wish list for a very long time.
Both I picked up at the library yesterday where I accidentally left a shopping bag filled with lingerie at the information kiosk. (Another thing I've often been accused of is being too distracted.) I had to run back and get it, not even sure exactly where in the library I'd misplaced it--all the while imagining I would stumble over a hunched little eighty-year old man scrutinizing my purchases, holding them up to the harsh light for a closer look. So embarrassing... But the bag was perched right where I'd abandoned it with no one the wiser as to its contents. Disaster averted!
Right before I went on vacation I tore through through fellow May Queen contributor Michelle Richmond's new book The Year of Fog. It's one of those books that interfered with my life because I could hardly be bothered to put it down. It peeked so alluringly out of my handbag that I repeatedly had to take little mini breaks from writing to finish just one more page. Finally I decided to give in, sit down, and read it straight through. Deadlines be damned! The story is terrifyingly thrilling, one reason of many why it's such a page turner, but I also wanted to read it slowly because the main character Abby is so interesting. The Year of Fog is also a mesmerizing love note to The City and I can't wait to visit some of the places mentioned in the book--even as someone who adores San Francisco, I made a mental note of the many locations I've yet to visit. If you get a chance, please go and hear Michelle read from her book. You won't be disappointed!
For this trip I had of course already read half of the books that I planned to take in the days leading up to my vacation, so remaining with me for the first leg of the trip were Alain de Botton's charming The Art of Travel and Rachel Cusk's The Country Life. Both were quaint and wonderful. (Nicki and my sister had both raved about The Country Life so I had very high expectations.) While awaiting the final boarding call (why do people queue to get on when we all have assigned seats?), I purchased Turkish Dried Apricots and a small beribboned brown box of Godiva truffles. Nothing is better than untying the bow on a box of fine chocolates when you could be eating a handful of peanuts.
For the journey home--when I wasn't dreaming of the picturesque canal view from the Pensione Seguso--I finished Henry James' The Aspern Papers, a thrilling mystery set in Venice, and started David Mitchell's Black Swan Green. I munched on Candied Ginger (I'd read it was a cure for nausea) and Edmund's Achilles heel, rose-flavored Turkish Delight, purchased en route to the airport via Victoria Station.
More on the middle part later.
Arthur & George was wonderfully compelling--much more interesting to me than Barnes' England, England, which I thought I would just love, but didn't. The characters in the latter left me cold while Arthur (Conan Doyle) and George were, to my mind, complex and well-crafted portraits. The minute exploration of the class system and the intricately corrupt legal system called to mind Little Dorrit, which is a good thing in my book. Barnes tackles true love, marriage, fame, honor, the search for purpose and self-worth, aging, and spirituality. The solving of the "mystery" isn't so important, it's the revelation of the characters as the story unfolds that makes Arthur & George a true page-turner.
Last month (due to events previously mentioned), I was unable to get much reading done. I finished Bellefleur, tore through Self Storage in one evening, and was torn to bits by Jerzy Kosinski's devastating WWII novel The Painted Bird. I gave up on trying to finish The Towers of Trebizond after having to take more than a week off from reading it. (I found it impossible, while in the hospital, to focus on anything more mentally taxing than the photo essay in the latest Vanity Fair issue. Not very Proustian of me, but it was the best I could do.)
Earlier in the month I managed to make it to the Gayle Brandeis reading at Book Passage in Corte Madera. It was interesting to hear that Gayle had written the first draft of her latest book Self Storage during National Novel Writing Month, especially since I had just purchased a book --basically a DIY Guide to "NaNoWriMo"-- by founder Chris Baty who was also at the reading. Last November I was kind of busy getting to know a certain someone and completely missed out on my chance to write along with all the other brave souls. I didn't want to wait until this November to try it out, so I bought the guide as incentive and intend to put it to good use on April 1st. Wish me luck!
As for this month's reading list: So far, I've enjoyed Twyla Tharp's non-fiction book The Creative Habit, a unique look at creativity from the dancer/choreographer's perspective, and am well into Julian Barnes' page-turner Arthur & George.