I have been on a reading roll lately. For once my reading ambition is meeting up with the time I actually spend reading. Not quite at the half-way point, I’m already at almost 49 books for the year. Normally this would have me worried about a reading slump, but for reasons I will discuss in a future blog post, I’m not every remotely worried about that. Just the opposite. I can’t get enough. So, all this reading means reviewlets.
The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes
This collection of short stories was fantastic. I also enjoyed Homes’ novel May We Be Forgiven, but her short stories do what good short stories do, they pack a lot of punch in a few pages. And happily, none of them left me scratching my head wondering what the hell just happened, but they did provide plenty for me to mull over. Like MWBF, Homes writes characters who don’t always have their sh*t together but are likable (or even lovable) anyway. The description of the film adaptation of this collection sounds awful–like a hot Hollywood mess.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
I’ve read a lot of books recently with awesome covers and this one might be the awesomest. Even after reading this memoir I only have a vague notion of what blogger Jenny Lawson does, but I feel like I have a really good sense of who she is: funny and quirky and pretty darn delightful, with side orders of mental illness (her words). I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed reading this, but I had a ton of fun listening to her read it. I also learned a boatload about mental issues and how the world needs to quit being so judgmental and expecting everyone to fit a particular mold. It has a certain Lena Dunham quality to it but from a less millennial standpoint and more from someone my own age (GenX in the house!). I look forward to listening to her other book.
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
Kind of funny to follow the taxidermy-laden Furiously Happy and it’s mental health medicine-taking narrator with a squirrel-obsessed, mental health medicine-taking narrator in The Portable Veblen. The similarity ends there, but it did seem kind of funny at the time. This Bailey’s Prize short listed novel follows Veblen as she courts, and becomes engaged. Sometimes I fear book prize short lists because they seem to reward hard-to-read, too-clever books, so I approached this one with hesitation. The reference to economist/sociologist Thorstein Veblen also had me worried this was going to be a case of an author trying too hard. But, much like the influential squirrels in the novel, the squirrel on the cover won me over, and I am glad he did. The potential mismatch between Veblen and her research-scientist boyfriend as they hurdle toward marriage reminded me a tiny bit of Margaret Atwood’s first novel The Edible Woman. But, as with my Furiously Happy connection, that is where the similarity ends. McKenzie’s tale is much funnier and not as deep–but it does seem to have more to say, at least on more topics.
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
A 60-something woman stays with a 60-something friend of hers so that she can undergo three weeks of alternative medicine to treat her untreatable cancer. Not surprisingly, it is kind of dark and sad and made me think a lot not just about dying and how I would face dying, but also how I would handle someone else dying. The former in philosophical terms, the latter in practical terms. I suppose the book is not for everyone but it has me wondering if I would like other books by Garner. Maybe something without cancer.
The Partners by Louis Auchincloss
I’ve read two novels by Auchincloss now. The first, The Book Class, was about women of his mother’s generation and the places they held in upper class social circles in Manhattan. It didn’t necessarily go anywhere but it was interesting and funny at times, and was a great look at a slice of New York society. The Partners kind of falls into that same category. This time, the cast of characters, and slice of New York Society, centers on the goings on at an old, establishment, white-shoe law firm. It deals mainly with partnership issues and administration of the firm, but that uncovers a lot of fascinating characters and relationships along the way. It’s kind of like L.A. Law meets Trollope.
The Lonely by Paul Gallico
After reading 4 or 5 books by Gallico, the lesson I have learned is: Stop buying books by Gallico. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris may be one of my favorite books, but the rest of his stuff (so far) is boring and predictable. I could spot the end of this one a mile away.
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
If you are looking for a lighthearted, quasi-thriller, focused on wine collecting, then this is the book for you. It will take you about 10 minutes to read and leave your mind relatively free of thought both during and after. Mayle’s depiction of Americans is not clever or insightful, but more like the American characters on As Time Goes By. And let’s not even mention the role of women in his books—nothing incendiary, just the fantasies of an old white man who fancies himself a catch.
Housefrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
When I first saw this book popping up on social media I loved cover design with its juxtaposition of the floral bouquet with sans serif font. I was inclined to buy it, but then I started seeing it everywhere and my inner grouch got the best of me and decided against it. But recently I’ve been doing two things that are slightly uncharacteristic for me: 1) using the public library again; and 2) looking at the new arrivals shelves. In the process, I picked up Housefrau and thought “why not?” and “why didn’t I want to read this?”.
This novel absolutely begs to be discussed. American housewife Anna is living in Zurich with her Swiss husband and she is bored, and depressed, and can’t quite figure out what she wants out of life. One could get into all kinds of heated discussions about Anna’s actions and there are also plenty of plot points that beg to be discussed both at face value and in terms of their literary value. I found parts of it moving and worth the read, but I’m not running around wanting to tell people about it. (Like I guess I just did.)