Man Booker Prize 2017

9780812995343_p0_v2_s192x300   220px-The_Man_Booker_Prize_2015_logoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize.

Not an easy read but a worthwhile immersion into the mind of Lincoln as he tried to manage a country in conflict and, at the same time, his grief over the death of his young son.

Have you read it yet?

Read My Review – here

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Degrees of Separation

Using a fellow writer’s suggestion of six degrees of separation connecting books, authors, and articles, I started with the travel section of the New York Times and found 1) an artist, who led to 2) an author, 3) a new book, 4) a reminder of a novel reviewed, 5) an obituary, and ended with 6) a slight deviation off course to books on psychology.
content   Starting with Suzanne MacNeil’s description of Vancouver Island’s lush beauty, I found Canadian artist Emily Carr, whose famous work documented the beauty of the region.  Her book Klee Wyck (“Laughing One”) was published in 1941 to document her efforts to sketch and paint the totem poles found on the Queen Charlotte Islands.

“And, who, you might ask is Emily Carr?…Painter, writer, admirer of forests and totem poles…environmentalist before the word was popular…an ardently independent woman at a time when women weren’t necessarily applauded for striking out on their own…Besides the statue and all the things named after her, including a university in Vancouver, she has been the subject of biographies, films and a novel (by an American, no less — the late Susan Vreeland). “

fl-cover-2-200   I wondered about the mention of a novel based on the artist,  and found Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland, historical fiction based on Carr’s life as a Canadian artist.  The book includes some of Carr’s paintings.  Had I read anything by Susan Vreeland? Why did her name sound familiar? A quick search led me to my review of Clara and Mr. Tiffany. 225x225bb   MacNeil referred to the author as “the late Susan Vreeland”?  Her recent obituary from this past August noted her breakout novel in 1999 – The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and another I’d read – Lisette’s List.

51ZfXSH8Y-L._AC_US218_  MacNeil described Carr as “an ardently independent woman at a time when women weren’t necessarily applauded for striking out on their own…” diverting me to Penelope Green’s article in the Style section on Gretchen Rubin’s new book The Four Tendencies.   Rubin’s theory proposes that everone falls into one of four personality types (the new Myers Briggs categorization), depending on their answers to a short quiz asking how they respond to expectations.   I wondered how Emily Carr fit into Rubin’s classifications. Would Emily Carr be a Questioner, an Upholder, an Obliger, or a Rebel? Maybe a little of the first and last, or maybe leaning to the label I received after taking Rubin’s test – Questioner.

51np2MaD5FL._AC_US218_  Rubin’s mention of the Harry Potter sorting hat led to Carol Dweck’s Mindset, a book advising readers of their possibilities when they change their view about themselves – “rigid thinking benefits no one, least of all yourself.”  According to Dweck, everyone has the ability to change their minds about what they can do and who they are, no matter what the personality test label or the sorting hat has identified them as,  and Bill Gates’s review of the book offered more insights.

The article in the Style section was right above an article by Gabrielle Zevin. Hadn’t I just read snd reviewed her new book Young Jane Young? This article had a funny and inviting title – The Secret to Marriage is Never Getting Married.

And so I ended my degrees quest connecting with:

  1. Klee Wyck by Emily Carr
  2. Forest Lover Fby Susan Vreeland
  3. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
  4. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
  5. Mindset  by Carol Dweck
  6. The Secret to Marriage is Not Getting Married by Gabrielle Zevin

Related Links:

Golden Hill – A Novel of Old New York

9781501163876_p0_v4_s192x300   Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill mixes Shakespearean plot twists with an adventurous tale of Manhattan in the eighteenth century, thirty years before the American Revolution.  Richard Smith, an Englishman who mysteriously arrives on a ship from London, immediately goes to the New York City colony counting-house on Golden Hill Street, and demands cash for a thousand pound note – the equivalent of a cashier’s check for almost two hundred thousand dollars today.     Smith offers no explanation about the purpose of his visit or his identity, and seems determined to keep the local merchants wondering if they should trust him. Smith’s mishaps and attempts at love at first seem to follow the plot of a Shakespearean comedy, but Spufford has more at stake in using disguises and insidious politics than Shakespeare’s comedic rivalry.

As Richard Smith nonchalantly continues to refuse how he will distribute the funds once he has them in hand, his cool demeanor arouses suspicions – is he a spy from the King?  a wealthy man’s son sent to prepare for a royal visit?  a confabulator? prestidigitator?  actor?  The counting house master responsible for distributing the funds to him would prefer him proven unworthy and a scam artist, so he could refuse giving him the money.

In the sixty days before Christmas, when the note is due, Smith manages to be robbed, fall in love, go to debtor’s prison, and be tried in court for murder.  Nevertheless, his secret remains until the last pages.  The narrator pauses the action intermittently to address the reader, using short soliloquies to provide an insider’s view – one who already knows the outcome and the characters’ motivations.  The identity of the narrator is also surprisingly revealed at the end of the story.

Because Spufford uses the formal language and sentence structure of colonial America for his characters and for the narration, the rhythm of the book seems strange at first.  I had to slow down, even rereading from the beginning when I found myself lost; however,  once I had identified Richard Smith as a sympathetic scoundrel, I was anxious to discover what would happen to him next.  Nothing seems to deter him as he cleverly manages to dine on credit after his money purse is stolen, or escape a bloodthirsty mob at the Guy Fawkes bonfire.  At times, the action is fast and hilarious, then slowing into the lull before the next storm of catastrophes.

With a reference to Shakespeare’s dueling lovers in Much Ado About Nothing, the narrator compares their combative relationship to that of Richard Smith and the counting house master’s daughter, Tabitha, who resembles Shakespeare’s shrew Katherine more than the witty Beatrice.  Spufford takes the relationship back and forth, having the characters verbally sparring with well-matched minds and creating sexual tension with the hope of an alliance.

When Smith’s true identity is revealed, with a flourish in the final scene that includes an episode worthy of a Hollywood extravaganza, the story has new purpose.  All of Smith’s witty banter and swashbuckling behavior comes together in a sobering and worthwhile delivery.    With a clever plot and an endearing hero, Spufford delivers an historical tale worth reading, forcing the reader to transport to that earlier time, immersed in the old world and its rich language – with a final tribute to those determined to change the status quo.

A Little Romance Never Hurts

When someone who doesn’t know me well discovers I read paperback romance novels, I often fall a few levels in their estimation of my intelligence. Since the Book Review section of the Sunday New York Times targeted the romance genre this week, I feel more confident to admit I have left a trail of Jude Deveraux behind in my travels.
Robert Gottlieb’s article “In the Mood for Love” supplies a tantalizing resource for romance lovers. He notes of his choices,  “the sex is great…” and, oh yes, some historical facts appear, usually from the medieval to the nineteenth century.

Unknown-1   Well-built dashing Regency Period Dukes are my favorite heroes, and Gottlieb suggests a few I haven’t read:

  • Governess for the Brooding Duke by Bridget Baron
  • Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
  • Wilde in Love by Eloisa James
  • The Duchess by Danielle Steele

Modern romance novels, late twentieth century to present day, tend to be more politically correct. Although the heroine may still swoon, she is also more likely to have her own career, and “may even be the boss.” Catherine Bybee’s Fool Me Once features Lori, a successful attorney.  Caridad Pineiro’s female lead owns a famous retail chain in One Summer Night.    Easy to read and satisfyingly short, romance paperbacks are “harmless,” according to Gottlieb, and “profitable” for authors and publishers.

A few authors – some who use pseudonyms – have enjoyed a wide readership, despite the reputation of romance falling below the prestige of literary fiction.  You never know who is writing.  Diane Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, featuring a swashbuckling eighteenth century Scottish Lord,  has a Ph.D. and spent a dozen years as a university professor with an expertise in scientific computation before beginning to write adventure romance stories.

Need more suggestions for romance stories?  National Public Radio (NPR) has a list of  100 Swoon-Worthy Romances.

Suggestions for Next Year’s Book Club

unknownLooking forward to next year, some books clubs have already finalized their monthly reading list. Others are having parties to discuss possibilites, or desperately asking their members to host a book – any book.  As I reviewed the books I’ve read in 2017, I thought about those I would be willing to reread for a discussion, and which would offer some value for expanding knowledge, nudging introspection, or just be fun to revisit.

 

With its inherent possibilities for comparison to what really happened, historical fiction is strong on my list.  Requiring the host to research (but google is so easy), the fictionalized lives imagined by the author compared to facts recorded in history could make for a lively discussion.  Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life adds the possibility of comparison to the popular PBS series “Call the Midwife,” based on its own memoir.   Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate opens a hornet’s nest but also addresses foster care.  News of the World by Paulette Giles, set in post Civil War Texas and nominated for the 2016 National Book Award, with its “True Grit” flavor, is an easy and direct tale of a young girl and her gritty escort but with surprising twists.  All four books are easy to follow and carry the weight of information worth knowing.  Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is another of my favorites based on historical fact and is well worth reading, but may be too ambitious for some book clubbers (there – I’ve thrown down the challenge).

Meeting new authors, especially if the book is short, a little frivolous, but with a smattering of philosophy, is always good for mixing up the list.  Joanna Trollope, an author new to me but who many already have read, has a new book – City of Friends.  Lisa Allardice describes Trollope’s books as “tales of quiet anguish and adultery among the azaleas; Trollope created the original desperate housewives.” Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk will be welcomed by readers who enjoyed The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper.  Rooney adds a dash of New York City as she reminisces on her New Year’s Eve walk through the city.

Not a big fan of nonfiction, I still feel compelled to include one on my list.  Alan Burdick’s Why Time Flies offers enough scientific inquiry with relatable anecdotes to  be readable.  The National Book Awards recently published their longlist for best nonfiction, but they seem too political for me.  You can decide for yourself – National Book Awards nominees for Nonfiction.  I have yet to read Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris, but I expect to like it – more a memoir, but could fit the nonfiction category.

When bestsellers are not in the library system, classics are usually available, and this year I reread Edna Ferber’s So Big – with an amazingly contemporary message.  Wallace Stegner’s books Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose should be required reading for everyone, but this year I read one of his earlier, shorter books – Remembering Laughter – a good book to start a discussion of this famous author.

For my final two, I nominate a coming of age story – Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, and a story about an abandoned child – Leaving Lucy Pear.  

My list has 11 books, one month off the year for the annual luncheon or decision-making party.  If you click on the title, you will be directed to my book review.  What books are on your book club list for next year?  What books would you recommend?

MY LIST:

  1. My Notorious Life
  2. Before We Were Yours
  3. News of the World
  4. Lincoln in the Bardo
  5. City of Friends  
  6. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
  7. Why Time Flies
  8. So Big
  9. Remembering Laughter
  10. Ordinary Grace
  11. Leaving Lucy Pear

Books from 2016:

I have not included books from earlier years, but, if not yet discussed, I would point to: