Trying to Keep Up – Turning the Pages

How do you like your books – hard cover with pages to bend over, electronic on a phone or pad, plugged into your ears? Mine come in all flavors – three I am reading now:

Hardback:

160px-Free_Food_for_Millionaires   After finishing and enjoying Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, I found her first novel – Free Food for Millionaires – and am now ensconced in her beautiful language and another tale of Korean immigrants – this time in New York City.

“…a tale of first-generation immigrants stuck between stodgy parents and the hip new world with focus on contemporary intergenerational cultural friction.”

So far, Casey has graduated from Princeton, been thrown out of her father’s house for disrespect, finds her boyfriend in bed with two women, and has headed to the Carlyle Hotel In New York City with her new credit card…what next?

E-book:

contentIsabelle Allende’s In the Midst of Winter caught my eye and I am reading another tale of immigrants on my iPhone – this time in Brooklyn.

The novel revolves around three main characters: Evelyn Ortega, a twenty-year old young Guatemalan born, illegal immigrant;  Lucia Maraz, an older woman and a Chilean born academic who lives in exile in the United States; and Richard Bowmaster, her landlord and colleague, who was married to a Brazilian woman earlier in his life.  The three are thrown together when Richard rear ends the car Evelyn is driving. This minor accident draws the murdered body in the trunk of Evelyn’s car into the action.”

Audiobook:

51EQME-NuJL._SL150_   When I read a review of George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life, I could not resist this classic.  It is available for free on Gutenberg Press, but with so many credits on audible, I decided to listen to it in the lovely British tones of Wanda McCaddon.

“This work, George Eliot’s fiction debut, contains three stories, all of which aim to disclose the value hidden in the commonplace.  The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, through vignettes of his life, portrays a character who is hard to like and easy to ridicule. Many people ridicule as well as slander and despise him, until his suffering shocks them into fellowship and sympathy.  In Mr. Gilfil’s Love-Story, Eliot brings forth conflicting value systems revolving around a young woman, Caterina, and two men, Wybrow, who is capable of loving only himself, and Mr. Gilfil, whose love for Caterina is selfless and perceptive.  The story Janet’s Repentance is an account of conversion from sinfulness to righteousness achieved through the selfless endeavors of an Evangelical clergyman.”

Lots to read – hope I can keep all the story lines from overlapping.  What are you reading?

The Nest

9780062414212_p0_v3_s192x300A million dollar book?  Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney made headlines last year when Harper Collins publishers paid her a million dollar advance for her debut novel The Nest.  With a ten percent commission on sales, the sales expectation is for at least one million copies.

The Nest tells the story of the dysfunctional Plumb family of four brothers and sisters who are counting on an inheritance, held in trust until the youngest turns forty.  Each has already spent most of the money in expectation of receiving a lucrative share. When their mother breaks the trust to bail out the eldest, Leo, the others are determined to get their money back.

Sweeney weaves old grudges together, exposing greed and irresponsibility in the siblings, while using their partners as the balance for trust and selflessness. The setting is New York City and Brooklyn, with familiar landmarks marking the action, but more familiar are the tense moments among the characters.

Each sibling fulfills a well marked role: Leo, the eldest, and “most charming,” who sells his successful publishing business, squandering the proceeds; Bea, “the brightest,” an aspiring writer suffering from writer’s block after the death of her husband; Jack, “the most resourceful,” gay antique dealer whose store never makes a profit; Melody, “the youngest” whose birthday will trigger the release of the money – married to a forbearing husband and the mother of teenage twins, trying to keep up financially and emotionally.  

Sweeney adds subplots to add interest.  The 911 fireman who lost his wife at Ground Zero, finds an expensive Rodin sculpture while sifting through the ashes, and hides it in his apartment until Jack, the antique dealer who recognizes its worth, discovers it.  Stephanie, the literary agent who is in love with Leo,  changes her life by taking him back. And, the catalyst for the dispersal of the trust – the opening scene with a drunken Leo and a young waitress who drive away from a wedding party.  All ends well – sort of – with the old moral of love being more important than money.   

I read the book in a day and enjoyed it; I kept reading, hoping for a good resolution, and Sweeney neatly ties up all the loose strings in the end.  Was it worth a million dollars?  You’ll have to read it to decide for yourself.

According to Jennifer Maloney of The Wall Street Journal, the typical advance for a literary debut novel remains less than $100,000, yet other first time literary novelists have recently made the million dollar club, including:

  • Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s  The Language of Flowers
  • Anton DiSclafani’s The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls
  • Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have A Family
  • Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise

City on Fire by first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg received a nearly $2 million advance from Alfred A. Knopf, one of the largest ever for a literary debut.

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