Category Archives: classics

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

9780451498083_p0_v1_s192x300    Anne Tyler delivers another quirky romance in Vinegar Girl in her delightful twist on The Taming of the Shrew published by Hogarth Shakespeare as one of a series of novels based on the major plays.

In Tyler’s version, fiery Kate lives at home with her father, an absent-minded scientist at Johns Hopkins on the verge of an important discovery for autoimmune disorders. Her sister, Bunny, a scatterbrained teenager more interested in boys than books plays the beautiful Bianca.  Their mother died long ago, and Kate has the responsibility of the Baltimore household, organized by her father’s hilarious system to maximize efficiency. Homemade meals consists of  a scientific formula of  “beans, green vegetables, potatoes and stewed beef pureed into a grayish sort of paste to be served through the week.”

Kate has the reputation of her model from Shakespeare, yet Tyler softens her attitude with common sense – but missing any traits of diplomacy.  She drops out of college because she calls out her botany professor when he botches a lecture on photosynthesis, and she blithely refuses to falsely flatter a pre-schooler where she is an assistant to the elderly teacher, when the drawing is no good, much to the dismay of the head teacher and the parent.

Pyotr Shcherbakov plays Petruchio; in this story he is a brilliant yet blunt spoken scientist from foreign lands and assistant to Kate’s father; he is about to be deported unless he can change his legal status.  Kate’s father concocts a scheme to have Kate marry Pyotr to secure the ongoing research, and surprisingly, Kate agrees.

The twists and turns involve a vegan boyfriend, research mice, a gaggle of intolerant relatives and friends – even a guitar playing granola boy as a foil for Kate’s affections. Although the story is predictable, Tyler infuses an element of suspense to the upcoming marriage, with the possibility of its not taking place.  Of course, all’s well that ends well, and Tyler happily includes an epilogue, fast-forwarding ten years beyond to note how successful and happily ever after their lives continue.

Anne Tyler can’t write fast enough for me.  I read Vinegar Girl as soon as I could get it and polished it off with relish in an afternoon.  Kate is my favorite character from Shakespeare; it’s hard not to identify with her forthright opinions, her independence, and her cranky moods.  She is often misunderstood, masking her vulnerability in stubbornness but Anne Tyler captures her innate goodness and strength in her modern adaptation, and has Petruchio love Kate for who she is – no taming needed.

Reviews of other Anne Tyler Books:

 

 

 

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I Love Book Lists

One of my many guilty pleasures is browsing through Real Simple magazine, and the publication just came out with a summer reading list. From a list of forty-four books, I was surprised by how many I haven’t read.

A few of my favorites did make the list:

And a few classics:

  • Odyssey by Homer
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  • Frederica by Georgette Hyer

But so many more on the list to read. To check out my reviews, click on the red title.

To see the rest of the list, go to the  Real Simple Reading List

The Madwoman Upstairs

9781501124211_p0_v2_s192x300With the mystery of Jane Eyre and the force of a modern romance, Catherine Lowell creates a satisfying plot in The Madwoman Upstairs.

Samantha Whipple, new student at Oxford University, is the last living descendant of the Brontë sisters.  Home-schooled by her father, Tristan Whipple, a scholar who “spent his entire life trying to deconstruct” the writings of his famous relatives, Samantha, at twenty, is well-versed in the famous novels.  Lowell generously sprinkles excerpts from the well-known Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as well as the less famous The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

At her father’s request, Samantha’s residence at Oxford is an isolated tower, often the site of campus tours.    When her father’s copies of the Brontë  books mysteriously arrive on her doorstep, encrypted with her father’s obscure notes referring to her inheritance, a collection of writings and paintings, including the “Warnings of Experience –  that may have been left to her by her father, she enlists the help of her tall, dark, handsome Oxford tutor to help her decipher the clues.

If you are a fan of the the Brontë  sisters, the references to the famous novels, and Lowell’s dissection of some of the plot lines may prompt you to reread the original texts.  References to the Brontë  treasure may have been inspired by the recent uncovering of a lost book containing poems and snippets from the Brontë  children –

“The Brontë Society has recovered the treasure for £170,000 from a seller in America where it has been for more than a century…it was originally sold following the death of their father Patrick Brontë  in 1861″…the Telegraph, 2015

If you are a student of literature, you will enjoy Lowell’s notes on literary criticism and intellectual pursuits:

  • “The great reward given to intelligent people is that they can invent all the rules and equate any dissent with stupidity.”
  • “…what everyone wants: meaning. Happiness in some sense, is irrelevant.”
  • “…the interpretation of a novel depends on the reader far more than it does on the text or the author’s intent…”
  • “Reading teaches you courage. The author is trying to convince you something fake is real…”

If you have never read a Brontë book – or only seen one of the many movies – and are looking for a romantic interlude with the trappings of an intellectual discussion, The Madwoman Upstairs has a story to keep you reading, while you sigh through the passion and try to decipher the mystery.

 

The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots

Oh Joy!  A new Beatrix Potter book has been discovered.  Beatrix Potter would be 150 on July 28, 2016, and her writing lives on.  Her latest book – The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots will be published in September.

“The tale really is the best of Beatrix Potter. It has double identities, colourful villains and a number of favourite characters from other tales (including Mr Tod, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Ribby and Tabitha Twitchit)”. An “older, slower and portlier” Peter Rabbit also makes an appearance.”  from Jo Hanks who discovered a letter Beatrix Potter had sent her publisher about the manuscript in 1914, leading to the search for the book.

clip-art-beatrix-potter-336805Although she died in 1943, Beatrix Potter is still one of the world’s best-selling authors. She wrote and illustrated 28 books.  How many have you read?

Provence

Reading about Provence can never replace being there, but Peter Mayle’s “Provence in Ten Easy Lessons” is a good way to remember the best of that beautiful area. After tasting my first pastis and gorging on cheeses and croissants, shopping in the open markets, and practicing my fractured French with a patient shopkeeper, I could connect with Mayle’s top ten list. He never mentioned the the rocky climbs rewarded with breathtaking vistas, the emerald green clear water, or the Mistral wind blowing hard enough at times to whip a landscape into a frenzy – but this was a short book – and Mayle has written so much about Provence in his other stories.

Learning to cook bouillabaisse with a master chef was an experience I’ll never forget. No wonder Julia Child fell in love with French cooking. I found myself intoning a sing- sing “bon appetit” often and looking for more recipes. Elizabeth Bard’s second memoir of her life in France, “Picnic in Provence” offers her recipes from the area – some worth trying.

A companion book I brought along – J. I. M. Stewart’s vintage book, “The Use of Riches,” was set in Italy, not France, but the story of the tortured artist and his vision reminded me of Van Gogh when I visited the asylum where he painted so many of his masterpieces. Stewart’s classic is initially confusing but worth the extra attention and the wait for the slow reveal; nevertheless, you must be persistent to connect. Languorous afternoons in the countryside of Provence may be the perfect setting to read it.

As I reluctantly retune my ear from French, Provence stays with me, and I found myself grinning when I greeted the American flight attendant with a hearty “bonjour.” She smiled back.

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