Category Archives: Literary fiction

Man Booker Time – How Many Have You Read?

images-2The annual  Man Booker Longlist was announced today with five books from the United States –  two books I’ve read, one I do not plan to read, and two with possibilities.

Here is the list – have you read any?

from the United States:

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – my review
  • Autumn by Ali Smith – a lovely, sometimes humorous, testament to friendship across generations and time, the first in a four part series (think seasons)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead  – Although I have not read Whitehead’s imagined rail system, my vote for a better examination of the same subject is Yaa Gaasi’s historical fiction Homegoing!
  • 4 3 2 1 by Paul Aster – “What If” books have become popular with treatments from Kate Atkinson, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Peter Howitt, and others.  Auster’s book promises to be easier to follow than most, with chronological exploration of possible lives for Archie.  It’s on my to-read list.
  • History of Wolves by Emily Fredlund –  A strange tale of a teenage babysitter in Minnesota confronting the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do.  Sounds like an intriguing 288 pages.

The rest of the list includes:

  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
  • Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
  • Elmet by Fiona Mozley
  • The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The shortlist of six books is announced in September – not much time to catch up on reading.

Elena Ferrante

After resisting Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan books for so long, I finally read the first – My Brilliant Friend – for an upcoming book club discussion. As with the Hunger Games series, after reading the first book, I skipped to the last, interested more in how the characters lives were resolved than how they got there.

It’s no spoiler to state one of the two women who drives Ferrante’s first book disappears, nor to note the other is writing about their lives; this begins  My Brilliant Friend – before backtracking to their lives as young girls who become best friends in Naples. With a cast of characters who all live in the neighborhood, the first book curiously ends either as a cliffhanger for the next book or as a despondant resolution for women of that era – depending on whether you see the book as a soap opera tale or a feminist cautionary note.

The last book – The Story of the Lost Child – on the shortlist for the 2016 International Man Booker prize, offers more introspection and additional wry skepticism of how intelligent women fare in the world, but it’s ending and that of the series, reawakened my interest in the author’s identity. Not so much who she is but how she could manage to hide who she is so well.

I had agreed with her statement in an earlier interview about a book being received based on its own merit, regardless of the author’s background, training, or education – an anomoly in today’s literature where the author’s credentials often drive the interest in the book. But I was reminded of a comment by Jerry Seinfeld, the famous comedian, who said people would come to see him because of his name but would leave after ten minutes if he did not deliver funny lines. Ferrante delivers with her story of a complicated friendship, with her commentary on the effects of politics, social norms, traditions and expectations, and with the flowing language evident despite the translation from Italian.

But why hide? Suddenly, I remembered the conceit in Stockett’s book “The Help.” An incident (contents of the pie) known to be true could never be acknowledged without revealing the embarrassment of the receiver. If fiction follows truth, would the real Lila who had threatened to erase her friend’s hard drive if she ever dared to reveal their lives, ever acknowledge knowing the author? If the author’s identity was revealed, an immediate pursuit of her background would follow, with speculation on others in the book. Authors often say their characters are fictional amalgams of many – but not always.

On the other hand, the solution could be simpler. The real friend is really dead and cannot speak out – or better yet, the story is entirely fiction – a clever vehicle for the author to make statements about the plight of women. I like the last conjecture the best.

How Do You Find Your Next Book?

images  How do you find a book to read?  Do you browse through bookstores?  scroll the web for new publications?  read reviews?  follow book blogs?  talk to your friends?  wait for a favorite author to write another?  hope for inspiration?

Sites recommending books can be helpful.  I tried a few:

The New York Times Book Review has a new advice column (similar to Dear Abby) with tongue-in-cheek samples of letters from bereft readers needing a good book, but also listing some titles worth checking, and an email address for personal inquiries. The latest column of Dear Match Book offered summer reading and I found one I want to read, Martha Cooley’s The Archivist, and a reminder of an old favorite – Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members.

What Should I Read Next  asks you to type the title of a your favorite book to find others like it with short plot summaries.  When I typed in Carol Goodman (The Lake of Dead Languages), I found a list of many books I had read, but one I had not: John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer.   Typing in Kent Haruf gave me books by Ruth Ozeki and Jhumpa Lahiri.  I spent some time typing in authors and books just to see what would come up.

A fellow reader alerted me to Recommend Me A Book.  The site taps into the tendency some of us have to pick a book based on its cover, or reading the first page to see if it grabs you.  On this site you can see a page of book covers, or you can read the first page of a book before knowing the title.  Surprisingly, you may not always identify a book you’ve already read before the title is revealed.  I flipped through a number of first pages and never recognized the books I had read – State of Wonder, The Heart of Darkness, The Secret History – but Harry Potter was easy to spot.

In Just the Right Book you can take a quiz – as many times as you like – and get recommendations.  I found a few new books I had not read: Michael Chabon’s Moonglow and a good beach read The Antiques by Kris D’Agostino.   And it’s fun to keep retaking the quiz.

ReviewDear Committee Members

 

 

 

7 Books and Counting

Yes, I am still reading.  A few quick notes on some of the books:

Recent Publications

9780062469687_p0_v1_s192x300  The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

If there is an opposite to chick lit, this is it.  A story about men, boys, Boy Scouts, coming of age, growing old – all men, but focused on a few – Wilbur, the Scout Master, who saves Nelson, the upright nerd, and Jonathan, an older boy who wavers between being the cool dude he wants to be and the righteous man of goodwill he tries not to be. A good story across generations with friendship among men as the angle.    And the author has the hallowed credential of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

 Unknown-4  Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

So – is Ingrid, the mother, still alive?  Did she find the courage to swim away from her philandering husband who betrayed her with her best friend?  Did she leave the old coot English professor who used her secret fantasies to finally write his best seller?  Did she start a new life or end a desperate one? You decide.

Classics I Finally Got Around to:

Unknown-1  Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner

Reading Wallace Stegner’s first novel – Remembering Laughter – reminded me of how great an author he is.  The poignant story of two women continuing to live together after the younger one has an affair and gets pregnant with her sister’s husband.  Though short, the story had the same impact on me as his famous Crossing to Safety.  If you have never read Stegner, this is a good place to start.   If you know him, the reissue of his first book is a gift.

0031398233688_p0_v1_s192x300   Unknown-2 Genius and Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe

In the movie “Genius” with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, the editor Maxwell Perkins gleans the best from Thomas Wolfe’s manuscripts to produce the first two of his lengthy novels.  Jude Law plays the writer, Thomas Wolfe, but his contemporaries are just as fascinating – a clever F. Scott Fitzgerald moping over his wife’s debilitating depression and his subsequent inability to write, and Ernest Hemingway, gloriously manly as he is about to go off to war.  Maxwell Perkins was editor to them all.  I had read Ftizgerald and Hemingway, but never Thomas Wolfe and Perkins was a stranger to me.   Inspired by the movie, I am reading Look Homeward Angel with a long introduction by Maxwell Perkins.  Only ten pages into the 508 of the story, I am convinced Wolfe is the genius portrayed.

 

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell

Poor Mrs. Bridge – she lived in her insular world, not knowing or caring to know what happened around her.  Republished in paperback to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, Connell’s depiction of a privileged white woman in the nineteen thirties has notes of women in the fifties, but sadly, her plight could be applied to some women today.  Written in short paragraphs and chapters, Mrs. Bridge slowly evolves but never really grows.  Pathetic in her ignorance, she protects herself from the world, sometimes wondering about issues she is never curious enough to pursue – lest they disturb her bubble.  Of course she is sad and unfulfilled, yet she never realizes she could do something about her life – why would she?

Now Reading

Unknown-5   The Horse Dancer by Jojo Moyes

9780385316576_p0_v2_s192x300   Follow Your Heart by Susanna Tamaro

 

 

 

Celebrating the Authors

As the official bookseller at the Literary Orange conference, The Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore of San Diego had a ballroom of books for purchase. How could I not buy a book? Although I limited myself to two easy reading paperbacks for my plane ride ( I always need one book and a backup if I finish the first), I have a new list of titles to find in the library.

Why did I buy Julia Claiborne Johnson’s “Be Frank With Me”? She made me laugh in person and her book sounds funny, confirmed by Joanna Rakoff’s New York Times review. When asked how she finds inspiration for her books, Johnson said she just – “takes a nap.” I could relate.
As for my other purchase – “One True Loves” – Taylor Jenkins Reid’s description of the novel as Helen Hunt’s side of the story from Castaway sold me. I couldn’t help thinking of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in the classic movie My Favorite Wife. If I like this one, I may get her new book – “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” – to be published in June

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Christina Baker Kline

 Books I plan to look for include Fannie Flagg’s winning short story that turned into her first novel, “Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man,” and Christina Baker Kline’s “Bird in Hand” because she disclosed she liked her own title better – “Four Way Stop” – before it was changed in editing. 

The best quote from an author was Steven Rowley’s “elevator line” – that one line pitch when someone asks “what is your book about?” Rowley summed up his “Lily and the Octopus” as a cross between “A Year of Magical Thinking” and “Moby Dick.” I may have to wait awhile to read this one, but it jumped onto my list.

In attendance were authors of mysteries, romance, nonfiction, memoirs, young adult fiction, family drama, historical fiction, cookbooks, and ghost writers with NDA’s (Nondisclosure Agreements) – an amazing range. I wish I could have met them all but maybe I can read all their books.