Bits and Bobs (the book edition)


Miss Buncle wrote other books
You may recall my delight (and perhaps your own) with Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. I loved that book from cover to cover. The follow-up Miss Buncle Married was nowhere near as amusing or original but I still enjoyed reading it. After reading the first of the Buncles I went online and bid on a bunch of DE Stevenson novels despite having been warned by one of you that most, if not all, of her non-Buncle fiction was pretty much just straightforward romantic novels set in the Scottish lowlands. And behold, I give you Sarah’s Cottage. A straightforward romantic novel set in the Scottish lowlands. This is a novel where everything always ends up just the way it should and where every character has two dimensions whether he or she needs the second one or not. Lots of breathless excitement and despair! (That is an ironic exclamation point.) And like Miss Buncle, lots of feverish book writing into the wee hours of the morning leading to a book that becomes a hit and goes into a third printing before being published in America. And like Miss B, it was published under a pseudonym as well. One thing I love to hate (and I think Nevil Shute does this as well) is when authors insert a character’s name into dialogue in places that don’t seem plausible. Who knows maybe it used to be so, but I find this awkward. For instance, if you were having a conversation with me and I asked: “Would you like to come to tea?” would you answer: “I’d love to come.” Or would you answer “I’d love to come, Thomas.” And in the same conversation would you also say “Do you want children of your own, Thomas?” or “Do you find it difficult, Thomas?” or “Is ‘Beric’ a family name, Thomas?” There are only two of us in the room. You don’t need to keep addressing me by name. I know who you are talking to. There is no confusion.

Still, if you want a cozy story where even the bad stuff exists only so you can be happy later, then you should pick up some non-Buncles.

I think I loathe D.H. Lawrence
I am 111 pages into Women in Love, the third Lawrence novel I have read, and I really think I hate it, and in retrospect have hated every word of Lawrence I have ever read.  I wish I could explain why. I find it tedious and detached and depressing. I think Lawrence could have used some meds. Maybe if I read 10 pages a day I can hold my nose and finish it.

Joseph Conrad seems to be thinking about hopping on the Loathe Train as well
First Heart of Darkness, and now The Secret Agent. In comparison, I prefer Conrad to Lawrence, but I can’t say that I have enjoyed reading him. I will say that I kind of enjoy every other paragraph of Conrad. I will find myself enjoying the story for a minute, but then something about his prose style makes me glaze over and wonder if I should clip my nails or do the dishes. Unlike Lawrence, however, I could actually see myself picking up another Conrad novel, if just to cross Lord Jim off the Modern Library list.

A lame, gay, two-fer
While England Sleeps is the David Leavitt novel that became notorious because Stephen Spender thought that it resembled his memoirs a little too much. Leavitt claims he was inspired by Spender’s life, but I think that some of the similarities that Spender pointed out are a little too close to not suspect monkey business on Leavitt’s part. This book had more than a few flaws but I must admit I found it enjoyable and even quite emotional in a place or two. I think I even teared up a bit at one point.

The second gay book I read was Felice Picano’s The Book of Lies. Remember when I busted Julia Glass’ butt over all of the inaccuracies and dubious notions in her book The Whole World Over? Well this is the gay version of that critique. Different in details, but the same sloppy mind. Perhaps the most egregious error was the notion that someone could go pick up a baby at the airport. That is, one of the characters would go to JFK to pick up babies that had been sent from Central America. Really? The INS has a counter with a bunch of unaccompanied babies in bassinets just waiting to be picked up like a piece of lost luggage? ARE YOU SERIOUS?  How about a PhD candidate teaching a summer session and the students (and others) all call him professor. I have three degrees from three universities, and I never heard a grad student called professor in any context. And then the author has the notion that a mechanism exists that will control the speed of your car. Picano posits that for a stretch of familiar road with varying speed limits his character’s car has a speed governor that can be preset to change when the speed limit changes. In 2000 I drove across the country in a moving van that had a speed governor and the only thing it did was keep me from being able to go faster than 65 mph. A cruise control requires that manually set it each time the speed limit changes. And a GPS unit can tell me what the speed limit is and what my speed is, but it sure can’t automatically make my car go that speed. And even if that did exist on some model of car I am unfamiliar with, it sure didn’t exist in 1998.

Too Good to Miss: Marge Piercy
Although the title made for a few self-conscious Metro rides, I thoroughly enjoyed The Longings of Women by Marge Piercy. This is the fourth Piercy book I have read and I have liked all of them (this one probably the least so). They all have multiple women, usually in the Boston area, who are building their lives after some sort of male perpetrated malfeasance. They are warm, smart, realistic but ultimately uplifting, and never feel like male bashing. One of the characters in this one gives a very believable account of what it would be like to be homeless after a long marriage ends in divorce. More of you should be reading her. Try Three Women, The Third Child, Fly Away Home, or The Longings of Women.

9 thoughts on “Bits and Bobs (the book edition)

  1. Karen K. March 3, 2012 / 5:37 pm

    Love your rant against Book of Lies, I had to go reread the one about The Whole World Over. Picking up adopted babies at the airport desk? Seriously?

    I suppose someday the technology will exist to make cars adjust to the proper speed limit, but I've never heard of it and I agree, did NOT EXIST in 1998.

    I was similarly turned off by The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The main character's son mourns his mother in an online support group. In 1992!! I think that's when I first heard of the internet in 1991, much less knowing enough other people to form a support group. The internet was pretty primitive back then. Plus the main characters two best childhood friends are a Chinese girl and a black jazz musician. Really? A Japanese boy in 1940s Seattle is best friends with a black jazz musician? Riiiight.


  2. Teresa March 3, 2012 / 7:59 pm

    Apparently it's called The Book of Lies for a reason. Free babies at the airport, magic speed-adjusting cars–all LIES!

    I liked Sons and Lovers pretty well in college, but not well enough to have read any DH Lawrence since. Well enough to think I might someday though. Same deal with Conrad. I liked The Secret Agent and liked Heart of Darkness on a second read (loathed it the first time). But I haven't had the urge to try another of his since college.


  3. StuckInABook March 3, 2012 / 8:08 pm

    I loathe Conrad (based on one book) but I do like a spot of Lawrence now and then. I have a feeling that, if you will ever like him, it will be with a novella. Well, I've only read one of his novellas actually, so I'll just say it: The Fox. The best of the three things I've read by him.


  4. Mystica March 4, 2012 / 6:56 am

    I am glad I am not alone on the Lawrence book. It has been half read for the last three months and lying there accusing me every time I turn that way!


  5. Rose City Reader March 5, 2012 / 3:07 pm

    Your post made me laugh several times. Great stuff.

    I find myself loving Lawrence even when I think I loathe him. They end up lingering in my brain in a good way.

    Not so Conrad. Heart of Darkness was OK in school then I really liked The Secret Agent. But, whamo! Lord Jim knocked me off the Conrad train for sure. I could not stand it. Nostrano is a pretty decent yarn, so I was happy to have read it. But I am still very bitter about Lord Jim taking up brain space. I need that space for Lawrence.


  6. Ruthiella March 5, 2012 / 6:00 pm

    Glad to find a fellow D.H. Lawrence loather. He spends so much time describing all the contradictory aspects of a character’s personality so that usually by the end of the paragraph or page, I have no idea what his point is. IMO, his books are only worth reading for the occasional pretty descriptions of landscapes and because THREE of his books are on the Modern Library’s 100 best list. Thankfully, I have all three behind me now.


  7. Thomas at My Porch March 7, 2012 / 11:49 am

    Denise: I hope you do, and then spread the word.

    Karen: Maybe it was one of those alt listserv things they had back then. I never could figure out how to use those.

    Teresa: I think Conrad would be way more enjoyable in a class where one dissects it closely with others.

    Simon: The problem is that Women in Love is more than a spot of Lawrence. More like a big whopping barrel of Lawrence.

    Carole: She's great.

    Mystica: I think my copy may end up similarly neglected.

    Rose City: You mean I am going to dislike Lord Jim even more than I dislike the other two? Rats.

    Ruthiella: The only reason I am trying to read Women in Love is because it is on the ML100. But I think I am going to give up anyway. Why do both he and Conrad have so many damn books on that list?!


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