Springtime WHIRL with the Stars!

For those of you who are new to this site, welcome!  WHIRL stand for “What Have I Read Lately,” and it’s just a quick round-up of my reading that I don’t have time to make longer posts for. (If you’d like “Points to Ponder–in-depth, thought-provoking questions for your book club–for any of these books, please let me know.)  So…here goes:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  If I gave stars like other sites do, I would give Middlesex by this author five stars, but I would only give The Marriage Plot three stars.  It was extremely disjointed, and although the section on one of the character’s descent into depression was so well-written that I felt like I was descending into madness myself, I still think the book as a whole was just not…stellar.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain.  Again, I’d have to give this novel three stars.  That is, if I gave stars.  Hmm, perhaps I’ll start.  Anyway, this novel is from another author whom I look forward to reading, but–and this speaks to my philosophy of “low expectations are a good thing”–I was disappointed in this book. Immigrant from Eastern Europe tries to make a success of his life in England.  It went on a bit too long, and I was just glad to be done with it.  Actually, that’s too harsh.  I did enjoy the book until the very end, which dragged.  Maybe three and a half or four stars.  Tremain’s writing is always good, and her character development is great. 

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.  Brutal.  Brilliant but brutal.  Five stars.  Read it.  And see the movie.  I may choose this book for my Literary Masters book groups next season.  I’m not sure, though, because it really is emotionally wrenching.  The portrait of a marriage, and the individuals within it.  A period piece that resonates for anyone in any era who strives to be special, amazing, the best he/she can be…

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron.  Another period piece that resonates with anyone who has ever felt trapped–within a relationship, within a job, within one’s own expectations.  Four and a half stars.  At first I thought this novel was rather simplistic, but it stayed with me a long time after I finished it.  If you liked Brooklyn and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, I think you will like this book.

So, what about you?  What have YOU read lately?

WHIRL is on a Roll!

As you all know, WHIRL stands for What Have I Read Lately, and I must say, I have read some wonderful books lately.  Don’t you just love it when your reading is on a roll, so to speak?  So.what have I read lately?  Read on to find out:

You know from my previous post that I loved The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham.  I loved it so much, I went to the library and took out another novel by Maugham, The Razor’s Edge.  This was one of those books that you look forward to returning to when you’ve finished whatever else it is you must do.  Many of the same themes are present in this novel that are in The Painted Veil, and there’s much here to ponder, but, as we all know, it’s the story that matters most, and this story is compelling.

Isabel is in love with Larry and he’s in love with her.  However, Isabel wants the good life, the fun life, the high society bourgeois life.  And Larry is in search of something else.  Something else entirely.  So how to reconcile their differences and hold onto their love?  This is a large part of the story–but not all of it.  You’ll meet other wonderful characters, you’ll contemplate what “love” really is, you’ll ponder how one should live, and what makes a successful life.  This is a slow-paced page-turner, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron for you.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  Oh, we all know by now that this novella won the Booker Prize this year, and you probably have read many reviews on it.  I quite enjoyed it, but I have to say, and you won’t understand this until you’ve read it, I felt a little cheated when I was through.  Yes, it is worth reading.  Absolutely.  And YES, I get that my feeling was part of the point of the book.  But I just think that it came up just short of being a WOW of a book for me.  I can’t say why because that would give too much away.  So you’ll just have to read it and see what I mean.  Enjoy!

Obviously I liked Barnes’ writing because I went straight to the library and took out Arthur and George by the same author.  Now, this book I loved.  It is a bit on the slowish side, just a tad, but it is so good.  It is based on the true story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle helping to clear the erroneous conviction of George Edalji, a half-Indian son of a vicar.  This is a fantastic book–it was short-listed for the Booker in 2005, and there is MUCH to ‘dig deep into’–I may just choose it one of these days for a Literary Masters Salon selection.

What about you?  What have you read lately?

A Wee WHIRL

I will be blogging at length about these two books shortly, but for now, just a “Wee WHIRL”:

(And you all know by now that WHIRL stands for “What Have I Read Lately”, right?)

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett:

I know this novel is getting lots of positive critical reviews, but I have to say, I was…underwhelmed.  I loved Bel Canto, the last Patchett book I read, and I was looking forward to her latest, but I found it rather lackluster and disappointing.   The story is about a woman who goes to the Amazon to investigate her company’s investment in a drug that will allow women to bear children into their old age.  Patchett raises many questions through multiple themes, one being the morality of scientific experiments, but I felt like she was forcing issues rather than authentically exploring them.  Stay tuned for a longer review, but meanwhile feel free to weigh in with your own opinion.

Nemesis by Philip Roth:

This is one of the best books I’ve read all summer.  I loved it, and now I want to read the three that precede it in its group, “Nemeses”:  Everyman, Indignation, and The Humbling.  This most recent novel from Roth tells the story of one summer in 1944 in Newark, when the local boys were either off fighting WWII or home awaiting a different kind of enemy, but one that was just as deadly:  polio.  This is such a thought-provoking book: it raises all sorts of existential questions.  I will blog at length about it shortly, but I want to say here that I highly recommend it.

WHIRLing the Summer By!

No, I have not jetted off to some remote island with no internet access–far from it.  I’ve just been busy, busy, busy reading away–trying to choose the absolute BEST books for the upcoming season of Literary Masters Book Groups and Literary Salons.  So, have I finalized my list of selected books?  No, but I’ve been having fun trying!  Check out some of what I’ve been reading:

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna.  This book was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize this year.  Is it possible to like and hate a book at the same time?  That was my experience.  Set in Sierra Leone, the birthplace of the author, the story involves characters who are trying to come to terms with their pasts–in a place that has recently emerged from a civil war.  There is much to discuss and think about with this book, but I feel reluctant to choose it for my book groups because…well, I think it drags on too much.  I am generally a very patient reader, but I found myself multiple times thinking, “get on with it.”  So, although I think this is a good book with an important story to tell, I’m not putting it on my list.

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo.  This book won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize this year.  I liked this book a lot, and I’m torn whether to put it on my list.  Written by a Peruvian author now living in Spain, it tells the story of the incredibly officious and bureaucratic prosecutor Chalcatana investigating a series of murders.  But of course, it’s about so much more than that.  I was so curious after reading it that I did some research on the Shining Path in Peru, and I even started reading Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa, but I feel these books could be just too grim for my groups.  I recommend Red April for an individual read, though, absolutely.  I haven’t yet finished Death in the Andes.

Bruno’s Dream by Iris Murdoch.  I always wanted to read something by Iris Murdoch, and now I have.  I enjoyed this book immensely, but I don’t think it will do for my groups, so I’m leaving it off my list.  Bruno, an old man who resembles a spider (the description of Bruno is worth reading the book for) and who collects stamps, is dying.  Wanting to come to peaceful terms with his estranged son, he calls for him.   I’d love to say that he then weaves a wonderful web in which he catches his son and the other characters (the book has quite a few), but alas, the metaphor is not carried through the book, or if it is, I missed it.  This novel is quite good and well worth reading, but I don’t think it will be on my list.  I’ll have to try another Iris Murdoch novel–yay!

The Sea by John Banville.  This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2005, and John Banville won the Kafka Prize this year.  I loved this book.  It is beautifully written; it carries the reader along on a tide of lyrical prose.  It’s about love, loss, grief, and memory, and it is undoubtedly worth reading.  I’m not sure if it will land on my list because I’m wondering if most people have already read it.  We’ll see.

Man Booker International Prize!

BIG NEWS in the literary world: Philip Roth has won the Man Booker International prize.  He’s the fourth person to do so, joining Chinua Achebe (read Things Fall Apart if you haven’t yet), Alice Munro (one of my favorites), and Ismail Kadare (I read his Chronicle in Stone last summer–really good).  One of my all-time favorite laugh-out-loud books is Portnoy’s Complaint by Roth.  I have never read American Pastoral (I know, hard to believe)–I’ve had it in my “to be read” pile for years.  Perhaps this summer I will get around to it…What is your favorite Roth novel?

Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum in Book Stores February 8th!

This is an exciting announcement!  You loved Madapple, Christina Meldrum’s debut novel, and you’ve asked repeatedly for more from this incredibly talented author.  Well, the wait is over!  Her new novel, Amaryllis in Blueberry, will be in book stores February 8th–that’s next Tuesday!  Her publisher, Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, thinks this book will be particularly loved by book clubs.  And who better to decide that than us?  Please let me know what you think of it after you read it!

Here’s a link to a very cool video preview of the book:
http://youtu.be/tfaz9mJ0-IE

And here’s some reviews from critics:
http://www.christinameldrum.com/amaryllis.php#praise

Happy Reading!

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman


If you just want a quick “bottom line,” here it is: read this book. It is so good. Let me warn you, however–it is not a novel in the traditional sense, but rather a series of vignettes taking place in or about the same Rome-based English language newspaper (think International Herald Tribune) at different times, with some characters from each chapter popping up as bit players or as the main attraction of other chapters.

This bothered me at first because I thought I was reading a traditional novel, but also, and more to the point, the writing captured me immediately, and I was so drawn into the first story that I wanted more. Once I realized the structure of the book, however, I went with it and just loved it.

So, rather than review each plot or character, let me say that Tom Rachman can write. The characters, the plots, the themes, the descriptions, the metaphors, everything is a pleasure. Loosely, the time period covers from 1953, when wealthy businessman Cyrus Ott decides to found an international newspaper in Rome, and progresses through to 2007, with Ott’s grandson Oliver at the helm.

The structure of alternating chapters charts the ravages of time and progress on the paper itself, followed by a chapter that illuminates the (sometimes ravaged) lives of those who work for it. Rachman is so good at drawing his characters that you feel you know them in the short time you’re with them, and you also get a feel for what it’s like to be a journalist. Yikes!

Along with the superb characters and their stories is the setting of Rome, a place where I have been but I don’t know well. Rachman knows it well and seems to love it; I was reminded of Ian McEwan’s treatment of London in Saturday. The Imperfectionists made me want to go to Rome!

I highly recommend this book. It’s compelling, it’s clever, it’s original, and it’s a darn-tooting good read. Is it a good choice for a book club? Well, I think it could be tricky because of its structure, but if you have a group that really concentrates and will sit and draw connections between all the vignettes, then it could work. If you have a chatty club that doesn’t focus well or have structured discussions, then I’d suggest you choose a more traditional novel.

Tell me what you think about The Imperfectionists. And Tom Rachman, if you’re reading this, please write another book soon!