Whatever happened to these new books?

Back in October of 2015 Frances of Nonsuch Book and I met up at Politics and Prose. In addition to having a bookish gossip in the cafe, I was really in the mood for some new fiction. I remember very clearly. It was like I had a fever. I buy and read so many older, used books that I found myself absolutely craving new fiction. So much so that I even bought a stack of hardcovers even though I had no assurances I would like any of them.

So what ever happened to all those books? I just finished one from that trip that Frances recommended and it made me think about how long some books stay in our TBR even when they are recommended. In the case of The Infatuations almost 2.5 years. Happily, thanks to an earlier blog post, I have proof of what I bought that day so I can do a little recap of their disposition.


I’m kind of proud of myself. I’ve read 11 of the 16, didn’t finish two of them (but I tried), and didn’t read three of them.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I bought this one because it is one of the two books discussed on the recent inaugural episode of the podcast Hear…Read This. Although I didn’t think this was high art, I really enjoyed reading this lighthearted library mystery. Unlike Simon and Gavin who hated it on Hear…Read This.

The Bookstore by Deborah Merler
I was about to say that I haven’t read this one yet. Then I couldn’t even find it on my shelves and was surprised that I would get rid of a book with that enticing title without reading it. Turns out I actually read it. British grad student at Columbia works in a bookstore, gets pregnant, relationship woes, etc. It had its issues but was an enjoyable read.

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
Haven’t read it.

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

annoyed me.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Should have loved it: “…rocky patch of Italian coastline…” but really didn’t. Ended up not even finishing it.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Haven’t read it.

The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt
Two couples wait in Lisbon in 1940 for a ship to take them back to the U.S. I should have loved this book based on the premise, but I found it boring, forced, and full of moments and scenes that didn’t feel authentic to me. It is possible that this was a case of me wanting it to be something it wasn’t meant to be.

HHhH by Laurent Binet
Also on the first episode of Hear…Read This. Pretty much loved it.

The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon
Haven’t read it yet.

The Good House by Ann Leary
I really enjoyed this novel. An alcoholic real estate agent in New England.

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
Gave up way before 50 pages. Tedious.

The Bottom of Everything by Ben Polnick
Takes place in Washington DC. Readable but rather amateurish.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Aichie
Loved it.

The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble
LOVED it. Probably my favorite Drabble now.

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Holmes
Really liked it.

The Infatuations by Javier Marais
Every day a single woman has her morning coffee at a cafe in Madrid and everyday she sees the same happy couple. After not seeing the couple for some time she discovers that the man has been murdered by a homeless person. Our narrator, Maria, gets to know the widow and the dead man’s best friend. And then she finds out something shocking and creepy. Kind of hard to say much more about the plot without giving too much away.  I enjoyed many things about this book, but I think I would have liked it more if I had been under pressure to read it in time for a discussion I was set to have with my friend Pamela who was visiting from California.

For all its twists and turns, the novel is more of a character study. I found a certain rhythm to the chapters. They usually started with some plot point or notion related to the plot and then the rest of the chapter is Maria speculating and/or reflecting on that. She spends a lot of time in her head. I felt some of her habit of observation reminded me of Mildred in Pym’s Excellent Women which I was re-reading at the time. And all of Maria’s internal musings felt like Brookner to her. Something I wouldn’t have thought, but it does make sense to me. One thing I didn’t like was the ongoing references to a story by Balzac. I don’t always do well with this kind of intertexuality. Although, now that I think about it, I liked it in Providence by Anita Brookner. Maybe there is more connection between Brookner and Marias after all. I also felt like there were shades of Herman Koch in how it revealed a pretty depressing view of human nature. Overall I enjoyed it, but I don’t necessarily feel the need to go find Marias’s other books.


12 thoughts on “Whatever happened to these new books?

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings March 26, 2016 / 6:05 am

    Well done on getting through so many of them! I loved HHhH, but I struggled with The Infatuations and actually gave up on it in the end.


  2. BookerTalk March 26, 2016 / 7:26 am

    Like Karen I gave up on The Infatuations and am not inclined to try out any of his other books since I’m told the style is pretty much the same. Unlikely Pilgrimage is – well unlikely – but still a fun read.


  3. lakesidemusing March 26, 2016 / 8:11 am

    I would be afraid to write a post like this about last summer’s book sale finds. Well done, Thomas!

    The Good House was amazing on audio. Looking forward to Leary’s new book.


  4. mf4strings March 26, 2016 / 9:53 am

    Thank you. I love posts like this. You’ve sparked an interest in three new writers for me; Laurent Binet, Margaret Drabble and Ann Leary.


  5. Liz Dexter March 26, 2016 / 2:08 pm

    That’s a cool idea, to go back to a book buying session post and work out what happened to everything!


  6. ASD March 26, 2016 / 4:16 pm

    Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for your most interesting review on “The Infatuations” by Javier Marais. It has been on my pending “to read” list. I like the observation and comparison you made between Marais’ writing and AB’s. To this insightful observation, I would add two other writers; Thomas Bernhard (an Austrian novelist) and Robert Walser whose works are largely concerned with the themes of loneliness and displacement, written in the stylistic perfection and restraint.

    I will find out more about other writers you recommended. Thank you so much. I feel envious of the connection you feel with more contemporary authors you listed on this post.

    With best wishes, ASD


  7. nerdybookgirl March 26, 2016 / 9:13 pm

    I’ve never read any Drabble. I tried reading one about sisters (Seven Sisters or something like that) and I could not get into it. Should I start with The Pure Gold Baby or something else?


    • Thomas March 28, 2016 / 7:03 am

      Kind of weird that you couldn’t get into The Seven Sisters, that is my second favorite Drabble. I find it kind of Brooknerian if one of Brookners characters got a spine. I think you would like TPGB better. She writes about kids in a way that is sentimental but not overly sweet.


  8. Geoff W March 28, 2016 / 8:30 am

    I agree about Mr. P and The Bookstore! They were light-heartedish and I enjoyed the ease of them. I started taking pictures and keeping lists each month because some books started to collect WAY too much dust. I still have two from 2010 that glare at me from my TBR shelves.


  9. Susan in TX April 1, 2016 / 12:02 am

    Good for you for getting to so many. I, too, enjoyed Mr. Penumbra but couldn’t stand Mrs. Queen takes the train. I think I might be embarrassed to do a “follow-up” to see how long it took me to read through a book haul. I’ve pondered that from time to time — why it takes me so long to get around to reading books I’m “dying to read” — for me, it all comes down to the mood of the moment. Fun to see “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say.


  10. Nicola April 3, 2016 / 6:38 pm

    Yes, I thought I would love Beautiful Ruins, too. Couldn’t even get beyond the first chapter.


  11. Pamela April 11, 2016 / 1:41 pm

    I’m glad I found your thoughts on Infatuations, since our conversation was rushed, curtailed. As much as I thought that her ruminations were long-winded at the time, I too felt pressed to finish the book in time for our trip. However, I have been surprised at how much I ponder that first chapter. I love that notion of the mystery in the lives of people that we encounter routinely, but don’t actually know personally.

    I would like to have my breakfast outside in a pleasant neighborhood café on a daily basis, as the narrator does in Madrid. With waiters that bring what you ask rather than having to schlep your coffee, wobbling on a saucer, and croissant on another plate, and then jockey for a table. Not any café will do, clearly. For this fantasy, I’m grateful to the author.


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