A final bit of everything

I am determined this year to write something, no matter how inane, for every book I have read. I’ve already done a few omnibus posts in recent months to try and clear up the enormous backlog and this promises to be the last. Knowing what I am reading now, anything I will finish before the end of the year will be easily, and I hope interestingly dispatched. My reading tends to slow around the holidays as well so that should make it easier. I’m clearly not going to make it to 100 this year, but maybe a nice even 80.

This is a case where the cheesy cover actually closely approximates the text and tone of the book.
This is a case where the cheesy cover actually closely approximates the text and tone of the book.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
I think I probably grabbed this audiobook in a recent sale on Audible because the title was so familiar. I thought that was the case because I knew it as a movie title, but it turns out it is also one of the Modern Libraries Top 100 novels of the 20th century. I can see why. It’s a fun, fast-paced read about a couple of miscreants who like rough sex and don’t think twice about murder. In a way it reminds me a little bit of the fabulous Tobacco Road. They are roughly the same vintage and portray rather tragic characters who nonetheless make you chuckle at them rather than with them.

Emma by Jane Austen
Not having read much Austen, I decided to join in the December read along of Emma in honor of its (or Austen’s?) 200th anniversary hosted by Dolce Bellezza. Well, it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I’ve enjoyed all of Austen’s films, but I am not in love with her books. I definitely enjoy books that are more about manners and atmosphere, but I just don’t find hers all that compelling. In terms of the story itself, I find Emma a completely unpleasant person. I love the crazy, uncouth, social climbing Mrs Elton, and the nattering Miss Bates. But Emma herself, not so much.

The Acceptance World by Anthony Powell
A Buyer’s Market by Anthony Powell
Books two and three of Powell’s twelve-book series A Dance to the Music of time. All twelve of these books, which consist of 3,300-some pages and are most often found in four, three-book volumes, count as one single book on the Modern Library’s Top 100 list. That is absolutely nutso and I was so happy to be finally making progress in the series after having a lovely four volume-edition on my shelves for about five years. I enjoyed the first book which takes place during the narrator’s school days, but I must say I found the second two to be a little tedious. From what I understand the series sweeps through the 20th century following the same cast of characters. It reminded me somewhat of William Boyd’s excellent Any Human Heart. But I think Boyd does it better–and his book is actually enjoyable to read. I don’t think I am going to continue with the remaining nine books. If I do, it will only be to tick another box on my Modern Library list.

034Half-Crown House by Helen Ashton
I stumbled across this book and its fabulous cover during one of my book buying binges this summer and thought it was worth six dollars regardless of content. It was only after a blogger friend of mine here in DC posted a picture on Facebook of his recently finished copy of the exact same edition that I picked it up to read it. It was at that same time that I realized that Ashton also wrote Bricks and Mortar which Persephone reissued. I thought Bricks and Mortar was an enjoyable, interesting novel about a female architect so I expected more from Half-Crown House. But the book, which is about life in and around an old manor house that is open every so often to tourists for a half-crown, is really quite boring. I found myself waiting for it to be over. I think others will find it much more interesting than I did.

Fifty Days of Solitude by Doris Grumbach
Novelist Grumbach’s curated journal from 50 days of self-imposed solitude. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as good as Grumbach’s wonderful novel Chamber Music which I read this year and it didn’t enchant me like May Sarton’s wonderful journals.

Red Anger by Geoffrey Household
Not as good as Household’s Rogue Male, but they have some things in common and has a lot to recommend it. This one is a cold war spy chase through the British countryside. I love this kind of book.

i look divineI Look Divine by Christopher Coe
I found this slim volume by chance and picked it up as an afterthought when I spent an afternoon outside of New Haven in a giant book barn with about 2 million books. I’m not quite sure what to make of the story itself but I found it so sad and beautiful. Coe wrote two books before he died in 1994 at age 41 from AIDS-related complications. As I read this hard cover first edition with a very tight binding, I couldn’t help but think of this clearly unread copy, discovered like a needle in a haystack, as a metaphor for all those authors and artists and everyday people who died too young. In the bigger picture all human life is fleeting, but I was taken with the feeling that opening up this almost forgotten volume was breathing life back into the tragically short life of a talented man.

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman
A hilarious, fun, but not inconsequential memoir of the hilarious, fun, and not inconsequential comedian Sarah Silverman. And I listened to Sarah read it so it was like being best friends with her for a week.

Latest Readings by Clive James
With a cancer diagnosis Clive James reconsiders his reading past and his reading future. It was an interesting read but James appears to be a much more serious reader than I am so my enjoyment could only go so far. He was, however, responsible for getting me off my ass to open up A Dance to the Music of Time.

The Musgraves by D.E. StevensonAfter 
I think with this little blurb, I am going to vow to not write recaps or impressions of D.E. Stevenson’s novels. I love them all in varying degrees, but they definitely all fit into a niche. So unless I read one that breaks free from the chaste-until-married, everything-turns-out-great, mold, I am going to forgo saying anything about them. We’ll see.

The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
What do these three books have in common? Not much, except that they were part of the reading challenge that Simon and I participated in with Ann and Michael of Books on the Nightstand. The four of us each read favorite books chosen by the other three. I chose the Cather, Simon chose Rebecca, Michael chose Any Human Heart, and Ann chose The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell which I quite liked and wrote about in 2014. I won’t say much about any of them here and will instead direct you to the episode of The Readers where we chatted about two of them (with links to the BOTN chat about the other two). However, in short, after reading it for a third time the Cather is still one of my favorites, on listening to the audio version of Rebecca, I am now a fan of the book which I didn’t like when I first read it, and I thought Any Human Heart was a wonderfully epic book that was a joy to read.

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
You can never go wrong with Ambler if you are looking for intelligent, vintage, spy thrillers. Having said that, this one was not my favorite Ambler. It might have been that I read it on a river rafting trip which may not have been conducive to that kind of taut writing.

7 thoughts on “A final bit of everything

  1. Bellezza December 21, 2015 / 9:38 am

    I completely concur with your thoughts on Emma, both the character and the novel. While I am not crazy about Austen, one either is or isn’t I suspect, I liked this book better than the others I’ve read by her. (Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey)

    As for Emma, she is not a heroine for me. I don’t like her, either, preferring Jane Fairfax by far. But how will Jane do married to Mr. Churchill? That doesn’t bode well in my opinion.

    I like how you summarized so many of books here. What a remarkable memory; I think I’ve read too quickly to remember much of anything lately. When someone asks what I’ve read, I tend to look at them numbly as I try to recollect something recent.

    Emma, I guess. 😉

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  2. Nan December 21, 2015 / 2:37 pm

    I don’t think you could write anything ‘inane.’ :<) I haven't written about my books this year, and though my reasons are great (grandchildren!), I do find myself missing the writing about them. I've still put them on my list, but so often I have gone back to my book reports to check on what I wrote. I think this year I got so behind, I just gave up, so will try again in the new year. I'm not an Austen fan. Interesting words about DES. I reread Celia's House this year. One of my favorites. I'm at 68 books so far.

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  3. Liz Dexter December 22, 2015 / 4:52 am

    Shame about the Powell – although I have to admit the horrifying fact that I enjoyed the Dance series more THE SECOND TIME ROUND, which I appreciate is pretty off-putting! The Helen Ashton looks great, so I think you’re right there. Well done for writing about everything. I miss something every year, and don’t usually notice until I go back to look for a review of a book that I know I’ve read …

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  4. lakesidemusing December 22, 2015 / 7:57 am

    So, I guess I’ll cross A Dance to the Music of Time off my list of potential projects for 2016.

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  5. Cal December 28, 2015 / 7:38 am

    I’ve been in that book barn new New Haven of which you speak (I mean, write), and where you found Coe’s book. Isn’t that a wonderful place!? So glad to know it’s still there – my visit was back in the summer of 1969!

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  6. Geoff W January 5, 2016 / 9:49 am

    I would say I’m sad you don’t enjoy Austen’s works but considering it was Emma I’m not in the least bit concerned. She drives me insane and it’s my least favorite of Austen’s works.

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