Thursday, April 26, 2012

Theme Thursday: Yes!

Theme Thursday is a weekly event hosted by Reading Between the Pages. Each Thursday, a theme is posted for that week. Participants select a conversation, snippet, or sentence from whatever book they're reading and post it for everyone to read. It's a great way to discover new books and authors, so here goes.

This week's theme is Yes!!! (or Okay, Sure, etc.), and here's my snippet (from Chapter 25 of The Key: A Miss Silver Mystery, by Patricia Wentworth):
"...there's a lot of difference between language and shooting people."
"Yes, indeed," said Miss Silver in reverential tones.

Booking Through Thursday: Changes

This week BTT asks about life-changing reads:
There have been books I loved, books that I fell in love with, and books that changed my life, and they’re not always the same nor mutually exclusive....Has a book ever inspired you to change anything in your life, fiction or non-fiction alike?
OK, I'm going to be lazy here (one of the few things I'm really good at). A couple of years ago, BTT asked almost this same question, so I'm just going to recycle the answer I posted back then. Here goes:

This week, BTT asks "Which Book Changed Your Life?" and at first I thought "that's easy – none of them." Many books have affected me in one way or another, but I really couldn't think of any that were noticeably life-changing.

But then I remembered a sunny spring day, many centuries ago on a planet far, far away. I was a senior in high school. It was lunchtime. And this tall skinny kid with long, Beatlesque hair, who I'd had my eye on for weeks, spent an entire half hour telling me the plot of a novel he'd read recently.

The book was How Awful About Allan, a fairly forgettable potboiler by Henry Farrell, the same writer who produced Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I remember almost nothing at all about the plot of the book, but I certainly remember the young man who told it to me. Two years later I married him, and he's sitting in the next room right now drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.

So I guess my life really was changed by a book. And one I never even read!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Booking Through Thursday: Pet Peeves

This week's BTT question was suggested by Bookish Sarah, and it's something I've been thinking about lately: "What are your literary 'pet peeves'?" I suppose my main "literary" pet peeve is not having enough time for reading, but I don't think that's exactly what this is all about.

So, not necessarily in order of annoyance, here are the things that can really put me off a piece of writing:
  1. Unnecessary padding. More and more these days, I'm finding books that seem to be longer than they really should be. What's happened to editors, I wonder?
  2. Too much skipping around between points of view, plot lines, or time periods. Just tell the story, please.
  3. Characters who seem to be interchangeable parts. I get bored very quickly if I can't distinguish one character from another.
  4. Introduction of pets or animals (other than human animals!) for the sole purpose of killing them off. This is a very cheap shot, and it can cause me to abandon the book completely, and maybe even the author.
  5. What I call Hollywood-ization. You know the sort of books I mean -- every female is breathtakingly gorgeous, every male is ruggedly handsome and brave but also caring and sensitive, every child is precocious beyond its years or criminally bratty, plots are formulaic and predictable, endings are happy ever after. If I want formulaic, I'll just watch TV.
  6. Incorrect use of the word "myriad."
I'll end it there. I could probably keep blathering on and on, but that's one of my pet peeves, too (see No. 1, above).

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Booking Through Thursday: Recommendation

This week BTT asks a question suggested by Bookish Sarah: "If someone asked you for a book recommendation, what is the FIRST book you’d think to recommend (without extra thought)?"

I'm always very hesitant when it comes to recommending books, no matter how much thought I'm allowed to give the process. I do it, of course -- but it makes me nervous. I have fairly idiosyncratic taste in reading matter, so I know that what I love isn't always what others will enjoy. I think the last book I whole-heartedly recommended to other readers (and just about everyone I met) was probably The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows -- and I was actually a little surprised to discover that not everyone loved the book as much as I did.

Even in my reviews and reading reports, I'm a bit reluctant about recommending books -- even the ones I've loved. Of course, a glowing review is in itself sort of a recommendation, I suppose. But that's about as far as I generally like to go.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Teaser and Review: The Other Side of the Fire

Written by Alice Thomas Ellis Viking/Elisabeth Sifton Books, 1984; 156 pages

On the last day of summer Mrs Bohannon fell in love. The poplars, fallaciously pathetic, looked horrified, their branches rising on the wind like startled hair, and a pilgrim cloud wept a few chill tears.

It began in a garden, as these things will, and she fell in love with her husband's son.
Bloody hell!
It happened like this...
(first lines of the novel)

I've just recently discovered Alice Thomas Ellis -- descriptions of her books sounded a lot like Barbara Pym, so I was immediately intrigued. Pym is one of the authors I absolutely love, and I'm always looking for books with something of the flavor of her novels. And in The Other Side of the Fire, there is a distinct similarity, although no one can really equal Dear Barbara in my opinion.

The novel tells the story of Claudia Bohannon, a respectable, upper middle-class housewife who develops a sudden passionate and alarming crush on her grown-up stepson, Philip. Bewildered by the turn of events, Claudia turns to her best friend Sylvie for advice and sympathy, but Sylvie has no patience or words of wisdom -- when Claudia tells her she's fallen in love, Sylvie only cautions, "Be careful....It can be dangerous at your age." Sylvie likewise is no comfort to Claudia's husband (and Philip's father) Charles when he also seeks her consolation, telling him that she thinks marriage "is like a three-legged race with each participant harnessed to a loser."

Complications set in when Sylvie's daughter Evvie enters the fray. Evvie is in the process of writing her first novel -- a pulp romance based (rather loosely) on the local Scottish vet, his pet cow Violet, and his very odd (at least in Evvie's telling) group of relatives and companions. Very soon, Evvie is blurring the lines between her fictional world and the real one, and also getting Claudia and Philip involved in her creation. Eventually, of course, the two worlds collide in a painful but hilarious dust-up before things start getting back to normal.

This really is a very funny book, with lots of wonderfully wacky characters. Don't know how I've missed out on Alice Thomas Ellis up to now. I definitely want to read more of her books, but they're not that easy to find.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.
And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

A Month in the Country

Written by J.L. Carr
New York Review Books, 2000; 135 pages
Originally published 1980

Ah, those days...for many years afterwards their happiness haunted me. Sometimes, listening to music, I drift back and nothing has changed. The long end of summer. Day after day of warm weather, voices calling as night came on and lighted windows pricked the darkness and, at day-break, the murmur of corn and the warm smell of fields ripe for harvest. And being young.

If I'd stayed there, would I always have been happy? No, I suppose not. People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvelous thing around each corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies. (pp. 103-104)

This one has been on my TBR list ever since the late 1980s when I saw the film based on the book. Have to say, I don't really remember all that much about the movie now, but I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. It's the story of a couple of months in the life of WWI veteran Tom Birkin who comes to the small English village of Oxgodby in the summer of 1920 to restore a Medieval mural newly-discovered on the walls of the village church.

Birkin lives in the bell tower and spends each day uncovering the anonymous painter's splendid work. He also meets the Vicar and his wife, as well as the people of the village, and very rapidly becomes part of their lives. And he's befriended by archaeologist Charles Moon, who's established a solitary dig nearby to search for an ancient burial site. The summer glides by, and Birkin finds his spirit and hope for the future restored, along with the wall painting he's bringing back to life.

The book is very short, a novella really -- I read it in an afternoon -- but it packs a real emotional impact, and does it quietly and with amazing subtlety. Just a wonderful little book.

Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925

Written by Susan Goodman
University Press of New England, 2011; 330 pages

Publisher's description:
A record of Atlantic Monthly authors reads like a Who's Who of American literature. The magazine's stable of contributors included Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Frederick Douglass, Louisa May Alcott, Sarah Orne Jewett, Kate Chopin, Henry Adams, Frank Norris, Jack London, Henry James, Owen Wister, Robert Frost, and many others.

In Republic of Words, Susan Goodman brilliantly captures this emerging culture of arts, ideas, science, and literature of an America in its adolescence, as filtered through the intersecting lives and words of the best and brightest writers of the day. Through this lens, Goodman examines the life of the magazine from its emergence in 1857 through the 1920s.

My Thoughts:

Others have said it, but I have to echo the opinion: This is a fascinating book. I used to be a regular reader of The Atlantic Monthly back in the '60s and '70s, but didn't really know anything about its beginnings and history until now. Goodman's book is a thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone interested in American literary history. It's a surprisingly quick read too, with short chapters that make it easy to pick up and put down.

After finishing the book I really do wish Goodman had continued her story into the 1930s and beyond, but she has a reason for stopping with the 1920s -- as she says, by then the magazine was struggling "to respond to the demands of post-World War I readers" and was being mocked by some writers for what they saw as a stuffy, high-culture style. But the journal did survive the crisis, so maybe that's material for a second book still to come. I'll definitely be recommending this one.

Note: I received my copy of this book free of charge from the publisher, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and no one attempted to influence my opinion.