Back in the day I loved me some David Lodge, especially his academic oriented novels like Nice Work and Changing Places. But I just read my sixth Lodge–the first in over ten years–and, well, I think I am done with him.
Paradise News by David Lodge
Perhaps Paradise News is particularly weak and one-dimensional and I shouldn’t give up on Lodge’s work. He is kind of the thinking man’s Peter Mayle. More substance than Mayle for sure but both kind of tedious in a light-hearted way.
I really don’t want to discourage folks from trying his Campus Trilogy which, based on my memory at least, is much more interesting. But, the two Lodges that are still unread on my shelves are being put into the ‘donate’ pile.
Remember that stack of 17 books I was planning on reading while I was in Maine? Well, let’s just say I didn’t quite make it to 17. BUT, I only missed it by 12 books. Yes, that’s right, I only read five books. Bookertalk was my first commenter on that post and she was right with her guess of five. Like most of the rest of you who commented, I expected to read more like 7 books during the two weeks Maine. And for the first week I was on track to do better than that. By the time the first seven days were over I had read 4.75 books. So what happened the second week that I only managed to read a quarter of a book? I can sum it up in two words: people and puzzles.
The first week there were a total of nine of us in the house with four oldies, two 21-year olds, and then one each at 15, 13, and 11. How in the world did I manage to read 4.75 books, do two 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles, learn how to play backgammon, and kayak almost every day? Looking back I am not entirely sure, but the rest of the house went on a fair number of excursions which allowed me totally uninterrupted reading time.
I would like to say that staying completely off of social media for 14 days also helped with my book count, but that had no effect the second week, so maybe that wasn’t as much of a factor as I think. I may have spent more time at the puzzle table than the first week, but the real reason was lots more visiting and sightseeing with guests and a four-day saga of trying to get a hold of my Dad’s luggage that decided to vacation in Tampa rather than Maine thanks to Delta.
Before you go nutty, here are the five books I read on vacation:
The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland (8/1/16) Being Deadby Jim Crace (8/3/16) Light of Day by Eric Ambler (8/4/16) The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing (8/8/16)
Oh dear. That’s only four books. I guess some of the partially read books (Paradise News and The Woman Upstairs) and one DNF (Leaving Atocha Station) clouded my memory on this front. I can say unequivocally that the four books that I did finish were all pretty spectacular. In fact, Being Dead has ascended into being one of my favorite books for the year, but more on that another day.
But surely I must have spent so much time in the many used bookshops I visited over the two weeks, right? I popped into a few, but for the most part I wasn’t really in the mood to look for anything other than books by Cecil Roberts. Remember he was the one who wrote that delightful surprise Victoria Four-Thirty that I loved so much. And his books are of a vintage and (lack of) popularity that I knew only a certain kind of dusty old bookshop would give me a chance in hell of finding anything by Roberts.
I could tell with most bookstores along the way that their stock was going to be too new and or too curated to customers’ tastes. But I also knew there was one bookshop close to the house we stayed at the second week that would fit the bill. When we went to Dooryard Books in Rockland, Maine four years ago, I spent a lot of time combing shelves, dust, and even some musty boxes in the basement. But my overall feeling that time was that I only bought some mildly interesting things because I didn’t find anything that really excited me. This time I thought that the fusty, seemingly neglected stock, would work in my favor. And it did. But some of it wasn’t so neglected.
Although the shop seems like nothing ever leaves and nothing new ever comes in, the presence of these six Shute first editions in really good shape disprove that notion. They sure weren’t there four years ago. And did I mention that all fiction was 50% off? (You may recall from the photo in my last post that I brought an old mass market paperback of The Rainbow and the Rose as part of my stack of books to read. Glad to have found this copy because that brittle paperback probably would not have survived being read.
Later this summer we are headed to Maine. Typically our trips to Maine are all about reading, eating, scrabble, and jigsaw puzzles. But this year we are going to have 7 house guests one week and 5 the second week. How the hell am I going to have time to read anything? Really looking forward to seeing friends and family, but more often then not, it is just the two of us and Lucy.
So how many books do I need for such a vacation? Seventeen apparently. I went alphabetically through my shelves and picked out things that provided a lot of variety and seemed like something I was in the mood for. I happened to be in one of those “I want to read everything” kind of moods, so I was in the mood for everything.
I know I have picked way too many and I know I will by plying the used bookstores of mid-coast Maine–and there is always the chance of good books in the rental house–but hey, better safe than sorry. If I manage to get through at least seven of these in two weeks I will be very pleased. Anyone want to place any bets?
For the second time an audio book has helped me get into and through an enormous literary classic. The first time was Moby Dick. After trying to read the book numerous times and failing, doing a read/listen combo helped me finally get through it. Unfortunately, I can’t say that the experience turned out to be pleasant. Not the case, however, with my most recent read/listen attack on a hitherto impenetrable classic read.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Twice I made it to about page 150 before giving up on Middlemarch. With the help of Nadia May’s narration, I was finally able to get past that mark and read/listen to the whole freaking 736 pages. On my previous attempts I didn’t dislike what I was reading, I actually kind of liked it, but something made me set it down and not want to pick it back up again. I’m glad I finally made it past that hump because I did thoroughly enjoy the rest of the novel.
I enjoyed Middlemarch in the same way I enjoy Trollope. Lots of characters and period detail and charming turns of phrase. But most importantly, lots of talk about how much money people have to live on. On the one hand I can see how money issues drove so many marital decisions at the time, but I also wonder whether it was a bit voyeuristic at the time. Surely a good number of contemporary readers of Middlemarch and Trollope must have been living below the socio-economic status of the main characters. Was it similar to our fascination with rich reality show characters?
I got into a bit of trouble on Twitter for tweeting spoilers about this 150-year old book so I am not sure how much I should say here. Certainly not worth trying to explain a plot that spans over 700 pages, but I am tempted to tell you who I liked and who I hated. There is at least one character who is redeemed in a way that I don’t think was very redeeming. In the end I feel like he was forgiven too much and only made good after everything was handed to him on a platter.
Unlike Moby Dick, I enjoyed Middlemarch and could see myself reading it again for the sake of the language and because I want to revisit the characters. Given everything else on my TBR, it may be a decade or two before I get around to that.
Reading kind of slowed down for me towards the end of June. I was worried I might be heading into a slump, but I managed to keep that at bay and things started to look up. Looking back at my Books Read list, my pace really didn’t slow down much but it just felt like things weren’t plugging along like they had been earlier in the year. I think the real problem was spending about 150 pages on a book that I decided not to finish. That always makes me feel like I am going backwards. However slow I think I might have been, I still have a backlog of six books I haven’t reviewed. So time to get cracking.
The Gattis and Lee have covers that deserve to be giant.
All Involved by Ryan Gattis
The story of various gang members and their families and friends in the days of the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. This was one of Simon’s five books that he put on his summer reading list on episode 155 of The Readers. My first thought was that it was going to be a festival of violence. In some ways it was, but after getting into the rhythm of the book, the characters and the circumstances of their existence transcended the depiction of violence. Gattis does something clever in that each chapter is written from point of view of a different character. The result is that we not only get dozens of individual stories and perspectives, but we see how they overlap and intertwine with each other. All these individual stories are like mini-plots that help advances that hand together quite well and help tell the overarching plot of the novel. Kudos to Simon for this one. It is certainly a novel I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Particularly since I think the bookstore had it miscategorized in the crime/mystery section.
Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham
A 1936 look at the future of space travel and the space race. Since there wasn’t really a space race or the technology to get to space and survive in 1936, it was quite a bit of fun to see what a sci-fi writer thought things would look like in the future. The author was particularly on point when he described a mission to the moon that took place in 1969–of course the year humans actually made it to the moon. Originally published under a pseudonym and the laughingly bad title Planet Plane. As far as Wynhdam goes, The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, and Midwich Cuckoos are all places to start before you pick-up this one.
The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee
Three American expatriate women of different ages and backgrounds living in Hong Kong. I bought this new hardcover book on a whim and expected it to be a bit on the fluffy side. Might have been the frilly cover font or maybe a jacket blurb that made it sound fluffy. In addition to the compelling personal stories I was fascinated by the description of expat life. It was particularly interesting to see how the English-speaking expats colonize Hong-Kong, especially the experience of the youngest of the expats who is a Korean-American. Somewhat to my surprise I liked this book, not because it was the kind of fluff I was expecting, but because it wasn’t. Much more substance than I expected but really readable. And a perfect summer read.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
I have finally read this modern classic that might be more of a cultural icon than it is a book people have actually read. Which, when you come to think of it is true for so many classics. Lots of people talking about books they haven’t read. I knew exactly two things about Plath before I read this: she was a poet, she committed suicide. There is plenty that is dark in The Bell Jar, so no surprise there, but I expected something more poetic–which to me often means dense and unreadable. But it really was a very readable novel that didn’t require special pools of literary understanding. A fascinating, feminist time capsule that had to have been an influence on Lena Dunham. Parts of it gave me a Mary McCarthy vibe as well.
Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos
I picked this up on a whim from the remainder table and knew nothing about it prior to reading it. It’s a story of poor family in Mexico dealing with the vagaries of of political and economic unrest and rarely having enough to eat. But rather than depress, it’s a comic novel in which the kids have named each kind of their mother’s quesadillas based on how much cheese is inside, there’s an inflationary quesadilla, a normal one, as well as deflationary, and poor man’s. In the poor man’s quesadilla “the presence of cheese was literary” with nothing on the inside but the word cheese written on the tortilla. The book is the kind of madcap that could go wrong if it feels like the author is working too hard at being madcap, but Villalobos makes it seem effortless and thus avoids my knee-jerk response to whimsy. Oh, did I mention alien abductions? Alien abductions.
Prairie Tales by Melissa Gilbert
This is perhaps an example of my newly re-discovered library browsing run amok. I remember Andy Cohen talking about how she really names names and in a way she does, but overall I found it a little boring. It would be nice to read a celebrity memoir that doesn’t include chemical dependency and recovery.
Lewis, Sinclair – The Godseeker Lewis, Sinclair – Bethel Merriday Lewis, Sinclair – Free Air Lewis, Sinclair – Gideon Planish (completed) Lewis, Sinclair – The Short Stories of Sinclair Lewis Lewis, Sinclair – Kingsblood Royal (completed) Lewis, Sinclair – The Prodigal Parents (completed) Lewis, Sinclair – Cass Timberlane (completed)
I had five more Lewis on my previous shelf. Until I recently re-read Main Street I had begun to wonder if my large collection of his novels might be a leftover from the days when I would collect books just to collect them. I had been a fan of his work for sure, but there was a part of me that thought I might have grown out of my Lewis phase. After my recent experience with Main Street I no longer worry about that. He wrote really great novels that were ahead of their time and many still wildly relevant.
Lind, Jakov – Soul of Wood
Lively, Penelope – Spiderweb Lively, Penelope – Consequences (completed) Lively, Penelope – Making It Up Lively, Penelope – According to Mark (completed) Lively, Penelope – Pack of Cards Lively, Penelope – The Road to Lichfield (completed) Lively, Penelope – How It All Began (completed) Lively, Penelope – Heatwave (completed) Lively, Penelope – City of the Mind Lively, Penelope – Judgement Day I’ve read a few more Lively novels than those on my shelf. Happily she wrote about 16 novels for adults and four short story collections. Not only has she won the Booker prize (for Moon Tiger) but has been a finalist two other times, including for her debut novel The Road to Lichfield. If you have never read Lively or find yourself lukewarm on her, I say read Consequences. I think it will make you a fan.
Lodge, David – Deaf Sentence Lodge, David – Thinks Lodge, David – Paradise News
I loved a few of Lodge’s comedic academic novels like Changing Places, but I shy away from calling myself a Lodge fan. Looking back I’ve read five of his novels so maybe I am. I think I need to dive into these to know for sure.
London, Jack – Martin Eden (completed)
One of my favorite books of all time. Martin is an aspiring writer in turn of the century San Francisco. Fascinating and extremely moving. This is a book that readers will love if they only take the time to read it. If you are curious you check out me waxing rhapsodic about it here.
Lovitt, Zane – The Midnight Promise
MacDonald, D.R. – Eyestone
Macaulay, Rose – Going Abroad Macaulay, Rose – Dangerous Ages (completed)
I loved Dangerous Ages, but I wasn’t a fan of Told By an Idiot and I didn’t enjoy the rather madcap Towers of Trebizond which I didn’t even finished. I recognize the latter as a good book, I just didn’t like it. The former was tedious in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.
MacLaverty, Bernard – A Time to Dance (completed) MacLaverty, Bernard – Lamb (completed) MacLaverty, Bernard – Grace Notes (completed)
I seem to like everything by MacLaverty that I have read. I bought Grace Notes on a whim one year in London when it was short listed for the Booker and the Booker was relatively new to me. I re-read it not too long ago and liked it even more than the first time I read it.He is a bit of a sleeper favorite of mine.
Manning, Olivia – The Play Room Manning, Olivia – The Doves of Venus
Mansfield, Katherine – The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield
Markovitz, Benjamin – You Don’t Have to Live Like This
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
I’ve been wanting to re-read this short novel for some time now so I when I stumbled upon it at the library it seemed the time had come. This is easily one of Spark’s quirkier works. The story follows Lise as she is getting ready to go on holiday. I’m not sure how much more I can say about the plot without giving too much away. Let’s just say that Lise is complex and more than a little unhinged. But only certain authors are capable of writing unhinged characters this well. Spark does such amazing things with Lise that keeps readers constantly on our toes.
Lise crosses so many lines of sanity and responsibility that you would think it would make a rules-y, organized person like myself a little crazy. Instead I found myself relishing the insanity of this book and all the perils it contains.