March came in like and lion and then got bored, took a nap, did some jigsaw puzzles…
So March wasn’t the best month for reading both in terms of quantity and enjoyability. I was averaging 11 a month (including in short February) but then things just slowed down a bit in March. I only got through nine books. There were a few that were great but a lot that I just found so-so.
Here they are in descending order.
The Hunters by James Salter
I’m not sure what prompted me to buy this book. I had never read anything by James Salter and, in fact, didn’t even really know who he was. It turned out to be my favorite book of the month. Published in 1956, the novel is about an ace fighter pilot who has less than an ace time when he is deployed to Korea. I loved everything about this book. I loved the period detail. I loved the plot and character development as the well regarded pilot has trouble maintaining his reputation and starts to see the whole situation differently. I also liked imagining what Nevil Shute would have thought of this book. So many similar themes with his fiction, but so much better written. (And this from a die-hard Shute fan.) This is a book I will read again even though I know how it ends.
Free Air by Sinclair Lewis
I liked this almost as much as I liked The Hunters. I’ve read and loved most of Sinclair Lewis’s novels but had no idea this one even existed until I ran across it at Powell’s a few years ago. Published in 1919, it is a fairly humorous story of New Yorker Claire Boltwood driving her father from Minnesota to see relatives in Seattle. For health reasons she wants to get her father away from his stressful job. For herself, she seems to be searching for something but doesn’t know what and at the same time she seems to be running from her older boyfriend who would be the perfect society match if she only loved him. Along the way they run into a local who becomes so immediately smitten with Claire that he packs up his car and follows them across the country. By the time they all get to Seattle, despite the appearance of Claire’s quasi-fiancee, Claire and Milt appear to be in love. It’s that “will they, won’t they” kind of love like Pam and Jim on “The Office”. In Seattle things come to head when Milt’s working class background really begins to clash with Claire’s friends and family. It’s more light-hearted than Lewis’s magnum opus Main Street which was published a year later. It’s progressive in outlook and full of fascinating period detail. After all, who could imagine doing a road trip of that length at a times when cares were cold, slow, and uncomfortable, road were sometimes mud tracks, and decent meals and lodging were hard to find along the way.
Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts
Just like Crofts’ The 12:30 from Croydon, a very enjoyable vintage mystery from the British Library Crime Classics. This plot-driven, detail-oriented mystery at its best–well at least to me who likes lots of detail gibble gabble.
Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehman
So this was my third favorite book in March yet I remember almost nothing about it. Published in 1932 its the tale of young Olivia on her birthday and on the cusp of going to her first dance. I really did enjoy it despite not remembering much about it.
The Chateau by William Maxwell
A youngish American couple visits France in 1948 as the country tries to recover from WWII. Published in 1961, there is much I really liked about this book. Partially because I don’t know that I have ever read a novel that depicts France in the immediate aftermath of the war but also because there were so many wonderful observations about life and human nature along the way.
In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar
On some other more objective list, this novel would rank much higher than it does here. It is an excellent book about a little boy and his family living through the political purges of Qaddafi’s early regime. A fascinating story that is hard to fathom for someone who hasn’t really experienced strife in his life.
Happy House by Jane D. Abbott
Read like YA from the 1920s. Two college girls named…nuts Anne Something…I’ve forgotten their names and already donated the book to the FOTL. And no one online seems to have written about it in enough detail to give out that information. Anyhoo the two Annes switch places for the summer unbeknownst to one Anne’s estranged aunt who doesn’t know her from Adam. It was a fun story and like other books this month, I really liked the period detail–especially the perspective of college women in 1920–but it was pretty hokey. Too hokey to want to read again, which is really kind of a pity.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
One of those short books that takes too damn long to read.
Catalina by W. Somerset Maugham
Normally I am a huge fan of Maugham. but this was such a snooze fest. It’s a story of power and religion during the Spanish Inquisition. I suppose it was well written, but I just found it so tedious I couldn’t wait for it to end.
In retrospect, maybe not as bad as I thought. I think Catalina really put a damper on things.
The Hunters sounds really good to me, and your description of The Chateau makes me think of giving William Maxwell another try (I didn’t care for his So Long, See You Tomorrow). And your assessment of First Love is what I refer to as one of those “classic Thomas descriptions that keep me coming back for more, and remind me never to read with anything in my mouth.” :)
I’m loving the variety that you are finding reading from your shelves – and also the British Library Classic mysteries – I haven’t found one of those I didn’t enjoy yet.
Thanks for sharing!
After reading The Chateau I kind of feel like I don’t need to read anymore Maxwell. If it hadn’t been for the setting I’m not sure I would have finished it.
This month was not a good one for me either. Nice post!
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Given your interest in the Maxwell book, I wonder if you have read The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield. It starts from the other side –the beginning of the war. It is a coming of age story of a woman but includes her experiences in France during the war. You might enjoy it if you haven’t come across it. The Lewis road-trip book sounds great. I am putting that on my list to read.
I own The Deepening Stream but haven’t read it yet. Your description makes me want to read it now.
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I will be very curious to know what you think of it!
Free Air sounds delightful! I think of Sinclair Lewis of being a more satirical writer, but based only on Main Street. I should read more from him and should start with this title! I wonder if this has been filmed? It sounds familiar plot-wise.
I think your reading month went quite well and you are probably right, that it is just that last book that left its pall over the total experience.
When you write “nuts” or when you use that term on the Podcast, it always reminds me you are a Midwesterner. :)
It isn’t satire free but not over the top. I am so unaware of my use of “nuts” I had to go back and see how I used it.
Doesn’t seem too shoddy a month! I had a good reading month, some real belters. I have read Free Air, but does’t something sad happen to a cat in it, which spoiled it for me? I loved Main Street too but have read nothing else by him since!
Yes! Something sad does happen to a cat and I found it quite sad at the time. Really effected me. (Is that the right “a/effected”?
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Affected in this case and yes it upset me too.
Free Air sounds like fun and is available as a free e-book. I’m still unpacking my books from a recent move (http://planetjoan.blogspot.com), but somewhere, I have a book of James Salter’s letters. I had never heard of him or read anything by him, but something I read a few years ago made me want that book. Haven’t read it yet either. If only books came with the time to read them.
Even after reading The Hunters I haven’t bothered to find out anything about James Salter. And, as much as I liked The Hunters, it wasn’t until this moment that I even thought about finding other books by him. I guess reading from my TBR these days has me not even entertaining the notion of checking out books that aren’t already on my shelves.
I had the same problem in March. And unfortunately, I started out the month by signing up for 3 reading challenges, and I failed at all three.
I love that cover of Free Air. What a charming cover!
I wish I had that edition of Free Air. The cover on my copy isn’t half as nice. I fail at almost every challenge but I still sign up sometimes.
Thanks so very much for the mention & recommendation of both Fresh Air and The Hunters. I’d never heard of either of them, but have now read the former (twice over, because the story itself resonated with me, never mind the politics) and am halfway through (pausing only to reflect on the depth of) the latter. As for William Maxwell: I loved So Long, See You Tomorrow each time I read it (three times so far), and am looking forward to The Chateau. Your March is contributing to my most satisfactory April.
I got a copy of Free Air by Sinclair Lewis because of your description here! And I really enjoyed it –I read it in one sitting and found it a weird, delightful window into traveling by car in that period. Thank you for posting your comments on it!
I read Free Air in the last century and found it genial. I read Maugham’s other historical novel – Then and Now – which was as bad as Catalina sounds. Edmund Wilson claimed that Maugham was “second-rate”, “a half-trashy novelist, who writes badly, but is patronized by half-serious readers, who do not care much about writing.” Hey, quit looking at me!!