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.)
Helen Garner is a bit of a national treasure over here. She’s just released a collection of shorter pieces but you should check out Joe Cinque’s Consolation from a few years back.
That is good to know. My knowledge of Australian authors is abysmal.
My favorite Peter Mayle novel is Hotel Pastis. And there’s a terrific audiobook read by John-Franklyn Robbins.
My favorite Mayle book is Anything Considered–although I read it many years ago, so not sure how I would feel about it now.
I want to read Furiously happy because the cover itslf makes one feel so happy! I have heard mixed reviews on The Portable Veblen. Nice to read your thoughts
Best part is Lawson makes you laugh fairly constantly. But lots of F-bombs.
I have been on a reading roll lately as well – and it feels awesome! I shall check some of these out :)
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Wow – a reading splurge indeed – loved these reviews. And how fun covers are getting these days!
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I still need to read Homes and Garner. I’ve had The Spare Room on my shelf for years – perhaps its times to pick it up (maybe this winter). The Portable Veblen sounds great – I have it on my kindle so that needs to be read soon. As for Hausfrau – such a terrific book! So glad you liked it! Definitely one that should be discussed. Loved your reviews and I think its awesome you are on a reading roll :)
“It’s kind of like L.A. Law meets Trollope” SOLD!
I also like the sound of “The Portable Velben” and my library has it on order, so I will definitely check that out.
I had “Hausfrau” out from the library when it looked like it might end up on the Tournament of Books short list, but then it didn’t so I returned it and read other things instead. But I wouldn’t mind getting back to it. It was short and I easily read the first 50 pages…
I really liked Holmes “This Book Will Save Your Life” but I found “May We be Forgiven” super off-putting. Maybe the parts I found to be offensive were meant to be satire and I didn’t get it. But I would read other stuff from her for sure and I have a copy of “The End of Alice” on my shelf to read.
Well worth reading Helen Garner: her deceptively simple writing is elegant and perceptive. I have just borrowed a Peter Mayle book from the library- The Marseilles Caper. Loved your comment on him!
I didn’t realize Mayle wrote more than one ‘Caper’ titled book. Perhaps the next will be a culinary tale called The Caper Caper.
Good to see some readers recommending Helen Garner. I have read a lot of her books and can recommend This House of Grief in which she writes about a notorious and tragic event and the following court case in Australia. She’s a wonderfully thoughtful writer.
Before you give up on Gallico, have you read Coronation or Love of Seven Dolls? Former is quite like Mrs H in tone; latter is v dark and v good.