Smith, Alexander McCall. 44 Scotland Street. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.
Reason read: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is in June.
This is a delightful book if the characters do not drive you nuts. You will meet the community of 44 Scotland Street and the surrounding neighborhood: Tim, Jamie, Bertie, Irene, Stuart, Big Lou, Hugh, Angus, Ronnie, Mags, Pete, Christabel, Melanie, Domenica, Matthew, Bruce, Gordon, Raeburn, Todd, Sasha, Lizzie, and Pat. Twenty year old Pat is at the center of the story. Newly relocated to 44 Scotland Street, she rents a room from vain Bruce Anderson and finds a job in an art gallery with Matthew. She is sort of at a loss as to what to do with her life (she’s on her second gap year from university). It is only after a painting from the art gallery goes missing that the plot picks up, albeit a little predictably: Bruce is an exaggerated narcist who Pat can’t help but fall in love with, while Matthew, sweet and a little bumbling, falls in love with Pat. There are heroes and villains at 44 Scotland Street. They all have their moments of love and loss. At the center of it all is a painting that may or may not be worth some money.
Author fact: Smith has a new book coming out in October. Check it out here.
Book trivia: 44 Scotland Street started off as a daily in a newspaper so it was written as it was being published. Before that, it was an idea from a conversation with Armistead Maupin at an Amy Tan party.
Playlist: “As Time Goes By,” “The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen,” “Good-Night Irene,” “Play Misty for Me,” Red Hot Chili Peppers,
Nancy said: Pearl called 44 Scotland Street “entertaining.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scotland: More Than Haggis, Kilts and Ian Rankin” (p 198). Interesting to note that Ian Rankin does appear in 44 Scotland Street as himself.
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004.
Reason read: Austen published her first work in the month of October. Read in honor of that accomplishment.
My copy of Mansfield Park contained a biography of Austen, a timeline of what was happening during Austen’s short life, and an introduction.
I have to admit, Mansfield Park is not my favorite Austen novel. All the characters seem sniveling and persnickety. Fanny Price is a victim, first of poverty; then a victim of her family’s snobbery as they take her in and abuse her for the sake of morality. Her cousin, Edmund, is the only decent chap. One could argue that Austen was only commenting on the life she keenly observed.
Author fact: Austen died way too young.
Book trivia: Mansfield Park was first published in three volumes and was her third novel.
Nancy said: Pearl said “much lighter in view and tone” when referring to the house Austen wrote Mansfield Park, but nothing specific about the novel.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “An Anglophile’s Literary Pilgrimage” (p 20).
Powell, Dawn. Novels 1944 – 1962: The Wicked Pavilion. New York: Library of the America, 2001.
Reason read: Powell was born in November. Read in her honor. Powell also died in the month of November. Also read in her memory.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of The Wicked Pavilion is snarky. To flesh that out, it is a snarky satire about New York in all its glory. This is the second postwar satire Powell published and with every intent, laid bare all of Greenwich Village’s shortcomings. Set mostly in Cafe Julien, Pavilion’s characters are all hot messes. Unsuccessful in romance and unsuccessful at success they spend a great deal of time whining and complaining to and about each other.
Quotes I really liked, “We get sick of our clinging vines…but the day comes when we suspect that the vines are all that hold our rotting branches together” (p 697) and “She was never to be spared, Ellenora thought, a little frightened at the role he had given her of forever forgiving him and then consoling him for having hurt her, inviting more hurt by understanding and forgiving it” (p 720). Such a hopeless situation.
Author fact: Powell also wrote My home is Far Away, The Locusts Have No King, and The Golden Spur. All of these titles are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: According to the chronology in Novels 1944 – 1962, Powell begins work on Wicked Pavilion in 1950 but doesn’t publish it until four years later (p 950 – 952).
Nancy said: Pearl just said Gore Vidal wrote an essay about the works of Dawn Powell for David Madden’s Rediscoveries and Rediscoveries II (both on my Challenge list) which is how Pearl came to include them in More Book Lust.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Book Lust of Others” (p 33).
Murdoch, Iris. An Accidental Man. New York: Viking Press, 1971.
Reason read: Murdoch was born in July. Read in her honor.
While the story of An Accidental Man opens with American Ludwig Leferrier and his British girlfriend, Gracie Tisbourne, getting engaged, the “accidental man” is actually middle aged Austin Gibson Grey. He is a hapless man followed by trouble with a mentally unstable wife.
As an FYI, the thing about Murdoch’s writing is that there are a lot of other characters to keep track of and the plot is dark and convoluted, but after a while the characters become old friends which makes the plot easier to follow. Kind of like when you are stuck in an elevator and everyone becomes familiar by the time the doors open and you are freed.
There are a lot of tragic moments in An Accidental Man so it’s surprising to think of it as a comedy. Take, for example, the scene of Gracie’s wealthy grandmother dying. Her children are desperate for the doctor to speed up the process because they just want it to be over or do they want her money? the sooner the better. The doctor tries and tries to leave but the family keeps finding excuses to make him stay.
Or, when Austin, driving Matthew’s car while drunk, hits and kills a child. Matthew helps cover up the crime because it was his automobile that struck the child. How they avoid detection from the police, I don’t know.
Or when Mitzi and Charlotte attempt suicide…see what I mean? Dark, dark, dark! However, one of the best things about Murdoch’s writing was how descriptive she could be with her characters. Grace Tisbourne is described as small calm radiant unsmiling. Just like that. It’s the “radiant unsmiling” that grabs you.
One of the worst things about Murdoch’s writing is how disjointed the story line could be. Because of the multitude of characters the plot jumps around a lot.
The message of the story is we all have to determine our moral obligation towards one another.
Lines I liked, “Crushed close together, two hearts battered in their cages” (p 4), “His parents were grateful to America, and the glow of that gratitude was shed over his childhood” (p 10), “The terrible solipsism of youth can offend the old” (p 26) and last one, “A police car kerb-crawled him and then drove away leaving the scene empty” (103). Brilliant.
As a trivial aside, I found a Natalie connection to Accidental Man. The cover is a man with puppet strings. All I could think was, “You Happy Puppet” when I saw it.
Author fact: Murdoch was also a philosopher.
Book trivia: Accidental Man is Murdoch’s fourteenth book.
Nancy said: One of Pearls all time favorite quotes is from An Accidental Man. She also indicated this was one of her very favorite Mudoch books.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very obvious chapter called “Iris Murdoch: Too Good To Miss” (p 161).
Trollope, Anthony. Framley Parsonage. New York: Penguin, 1993.
Reason read: to continue the series started in April in honor of Trollope’s birth month.
As usual Trollope’s fourth novel in the Barsetshire Chronicle is laden with characters. One of the first people readers meet is Mark Robarts, a vicar with ambitions to further his career. The gist of the story is that Robarts loans Nathaniel Sowerby money even though Robarts realizes Sowerby is an unsavory character, always gambling and up to no good. Of course there is some good old fashioned courting of the ladies going on that complicates the story.
Trollope explores human emotions such as humiliation (Robarts not being able to afford to give a loan but does it anyway), romance (between Mark’s sister, Lucy, and Lord Lufton), greed (inappropriate relationships because of lower class status) and affection (bailing a friend out of a sticky situation). The subplot of Lucy and Lord Lufton is my favorite. Lady Lufton doesn’t think Lucy is good enough for her son (what mother does?).
Author fact: Trollope wanted to be a political figure at one point in his life.
Book trivia: At the end of Framley Parsonage Doctor Thorne gets married. Remember him?
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Framley Parsonage but she did say that Trollope is one of her favorite writers.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Barsetshire and Beyond” (p 15).
Richardson, Samuel. Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. New York: Croscup & Sterling Company, 1802.
Reason read: April is Letter Writing Month. Apologies! Apologies! Somehow this missed the publication date. 😦
To read Pamela Andrews’s’s letters to her parents you have to surmise she is a really good girl. Who, as a fifteen year old maidservant, sends money home to his or her parents these days? Exactly. Keep in mind this was written in 1740.
Back to Good Girl Pamela. The trouble doesn’t really begin for Pamela until her mistress passes away and young Pamela is left deal with the grieving son…only he is not so distraught as one would think. As soon as his mother has passed, his advances while subtle are enough to cause Pamela’s parents concern, especially for…you guessed it…her father. Some things haven’t changed after all. Maybe dad is thinking as a man instead of a parent when he begins to urge his daughter to come home. Those urgings become more insistent the more Pamela tells them about her employer, Mr. B. After several assaults and an extended “kidnapping” and after Pamela repeatedly tries to return to the safety of her parents, Mr. B. reforms and finally wins Pamela’s heart the proper way.
I have to admit. If my master hid in a closet for whatever reason I would find that to be a bit creepy. No. Not a bit. A lot creepy!
Author fact: Like Benjamin Franklin, Richardson was an apprentice to a printer.
Book trivia: Pamela is Richardson’s first novel.
Nancy said: Pearl called Pamela one of the earliest novels written in the form of a letter.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 79).
Mansfield, Katherine. “Garden Party.” Garden Party: and Other Stories. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1922.
Reason read: June is National Short Story Month.
“Garden Party” illustrates many themes: wealth versus poverty, insensitivity versus compassion, death versus life.
Wealthy Mrs. Sheridan has been preparing for an elaborate garden party with flowers and tents, food and music. Servants and gardeners and workers toil like busy bees here, there, and everywhere setting up chairs, organizing the musicians, placing the flowers just so. The excitement catches with her four children, too. But when a terrible accident leaves a man dead right outside their gates daughter Laura doesn’t thinks it’s appropriate for the show to go on. She questions the sensitivity of their actions. Later Mrs. Sheridan allows Laura to bring a basket of food to the dead man’s family. Walking through the poor neighborhood gives Laura a new perspective and in the face of mortality she learns about living.
Quote to quote, “The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty stricken” (p 71). What a devastating image.
Author fact: the location of the garden party was modeled after Mansfield’s own property.
Book trivia: my copy of Garden Party was marked up like someone was editing the book. Bummer.
Nancy said: Pearl asked her readers not to neglect Mansfield, calling “Garden Party” brilliant.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever! New Zealand in Print” (p 124).
Wilson, Sloan. The Man in Gray Flannel. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.
Reason read: Wilson was born in the month of May. Read in his honor.
This is the story of Tom Rath and economic survival in the 1950s era. Tom’s wife, Betsy and their three children want the good life. Tom is determined to give it to them, even if it means slogging to work doing a job he doesn’t completely enjoy. When a new prospect for employment pops up Rath jumps at the chance to move up the ladder but it is not without consequences.
The Man in Gray Flannel epitomizes the proverbial meaning of life in a material world. It is also a study of 1950s conformity and climbing the corporate ladder. You have one man who is a slave to his workaholic lifestyle and is miserable because of it while another man is angry because he can never get ahead. Tom’s boss, from the outside, projects an image of ease and calm amidst his wealth while Tom encounters roadblocks in every aspect of his life. The new higher paying job is not what he thought it would be. Secrets from his time as a solider in World War II will not stay buried. His wife wants more and more. Even the seemingly straightforward last will and testament of his grandmother’s estate doesn’t seem to be in his favor.
Confessional: the odd thing is, despite all of Tom’s setbacks and struggles, I couldn’t entirely feel for him. I felt more for his boss.
Author fact: This is Sloan Wilson’s first book.
Book trivia: The Man in Gray Flannel is autobiographical.
Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about The Man in Gray Flannel.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade:1950” (p 177).
Jaffe, Rona. The Best of Everything. New York: Penguin Books, 1958.
Reason read: August is the best time to read Chick Lit.
The year is 1952 and women in the workplace are finding their collective ambitious voice. In The Best of Everything five young women seemingly only have the employment of a New York publishing company in common. Caroline wants to climb the corporate ladder; to go from typist to editor. April is as naive as they come but learns the timeless power of sex appeal. Gregg has the life of a jet setting actress, but secretly wants to settle down and be a housewife. Barbara is a single mother with a young daughter and Mary Agnes is mousy; too shy for words.
One central theme to The Best of Everything is the need women feel to protect themselves from predatory men. They are always defending themselves against the less than admirable advances of the amorous kind. There is a great deal of strategic purse shuffling and genius body blocking at parties and at the office. Yet, they all want to be married to respectable men.
A few quotes (out of hundred) to quote, “It’s like holding hands and jumping off the top of a building; did we think it was going to be any easier because we were holding hands?” (p 95), “It was like trying to categorize something in order to make it exist” (p 118), “The hard mechanical palm he had extended to her in his handshake had not been a unique phenomenon, it had simply been an uncovered part of the entire unyielding whole” (p 164), and probably the most tragic quote ever, “She leaned out the window and all of a sudden the mile long limousine with the two of them in it and the liveried chauffeur and the armful of rises and the soft music and the hip flask if bourbon wasn’t glamorous anymore; it was ridiculous; they were two frantic stupid people speeding through an ugly-smelling countryside to attend the murder of love” (p 194).
Author fact: In 2005 Jaffe wrote a foreword to The Best of Everything. In it she admitted her rise to success happened before she had even published the book. Who she knew helped a great deal.
Book trivia: The Best of Everything is Rona Jaffe’s first novel and it became a New York Times Best Seller and a movie.
Nancy said: The Best of Everything is a given when thinking about the category of fiction that primarily explores the lives of young, single women.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Chick Lit” (p 53).
Wharton, Edith. “Xingu.” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916.
Reason read: June is short story month.
This is a story of contradictions. Even though this story is less that fifty pages long, it packs a wallop of a punch. Though billed as a satire it is also a humorous and witty commentary on human psychology. Some even think it is a cerebral jab at Henry James after he criticized Wharton’s writing. No matter how “Xingu” is perceived or meant to be perceived, Mrs. Roby is my hero.
In a nutshell, a group of snobbish high society women form a lunch group to gather and discuss didactic topics and one-up each other. In their view, the weakest link is Mrs. Roby, a seemingly not-so-bright woman who doesn’t appear to fit in with them. She asks all the wrong questions and clearly doesn’t know societal protocol. When the group invites an even snobbier author to discuss her latest book, “The Wings of Death,” the event falls apart. Osric Dane is even more dismissive than the snobs in the group. It isn’t until Mrs. Roby one-ups them all by mentioning a xingu philosophy. No one has ever heard of xingu but they all, including author Osric Dane, must pretend they know it well. Only after Mrs. Roby and Ms. Dane leave does the group dare to look up the word xingu and discover they have been duped. Xingu is actually a river in Brazil.
Author fact: something I did not know about Wharton is that she was a designer.
Nancy said: if you have never read Wharton Pearl suggested starting with the novella “Xingu” (p 144).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144).
DeLillo, Don. Underworld. Read by Richard Poe. New York: Recorded Books, 2003.
Even though this is a long book I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. From the prologue I was hooked. By the way, everyone loves the prologue best. But the book as a whole, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a stand-alone novella in itself. I guess I could equate Underworld to a bumble bee ride. At times the plot flies over time and space, flitting from one character to another without really touching down long enough to establish foundation. But, there there are other times this bee lands, spends an inordinate amount of time digging around one particular scene and rooting among the details; rolling through the dialogue and repeating itself a lot. Diverse yet nitty gritty. If you get to the part when Nick is trying to talk to his wife while she watched a movie you’ll see what I mean. Excruciating! I found their dialogue painful.
As a whole, Underworld is a biography of 20th century American culture, flayed and dissected and analyzed. Guts and all. It’s 50 years of society spanning the country, from Arizona to New York and points in between. It’s 1951 and fifty years beyond. There is no real plot. There is no real point other than to show the complexities of the times we live in.
Reason read: February is National History Month and Underworld is chock full of history, real and imagined.
Author fact: Although Don DeLillo is mentioned five times in Book Lust I am only reading three of his books, Libra, White Noise and of course, Underworld.
Book trivia: Underworld is a huge book – over 800 some odd pages long. I had to borrow an audio recording and a print version just to finish it within the month!
Audio trivia: I just had to mention this since it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a library do this: the Westborough Public Library warned me, “the cost to replace this item is $109.75 Please handle carefully!” Why not make it an even $110? Just saying.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American History: Fiction” (p 22).
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Perigee Books, 1954.
What high school English lit teacher hasn’t put Lord of the Flies on his or her syllabi? What student hasn’t read at least one excerpt from this book? I shudder to think classrooms have moved to the movie version, but if that means Golding’s story lives on, so be it.
This could be called the most chilling sociological experiment of all times (besides Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game.) What happens when you take the most prim and organized society (proper English boys from a prep school), hand it the suggestion of chaos and violence (they are escaping a nuclear war), then leave it to its own devices without guidance (a deserted island without adults)? All normalcy goes out the window when the boys try to build their own hierarchical, structured society. In a Darwinian approach some boys, the strongest & smartest, rise to the top while weaker boys become scapegoats and victims of paranoia. In the beginning the group is held together by necessity. They recognize the need for fairness and organization, especially if they want to be rescued. But all that vanishes when the younger boys become increasingly convinced there is a monster on the island. No amount of rationalizing can calm them. Fear and violence escalates until there is no turning back. All calm is lost to tragedy.
Probably the most frustrating part about the book was something very deliberate on Golding’s part. When the boys are finally rescued the Naval officer is embarrassed by the children, especially Ralph’s emotional breakdown when remembering how it all fell apart. You want the officer, the adult, to be more understanding, to take the boys more seriously.
Book Trivia: Lord of the Flies influenced musicians like U2 and Iron Maiden and sparked television parodies but a full length movie has yet to be made.
Author Fact: Golding won a Nobel Prize for literature.
Favorite line: “The group of boys looked at the conch with affectionate respect” (p 128).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads: Decade by Decade (1950s),” (p 177).
Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. New York: Signet Classic, 1964.
House of Mirth is one of those classics you read to analyze society from several different angles: society and the woman’s role it in; society and the pitfalls of economic status (or lack there of); society and the role of etiquette. House of Mirth is the book you read in college, in grad school and then go on to write about in your dissertation.
In a nutshell, Lily Bart is an orphaned young woman desperate to keep up with the Joneses. She is in love with status and wealth. After her father’s ruin and subsequent death, Lily’s mother pins her hopes of future fortunes on her daughter’s good looks. Only she too passes before Lily can put her beauty to good use and be married off to some wealthy bachelor. Lily is then taken in by a wealthy relation who tests Lily’s morality in the face of greed and luxury. In a modern spin, Lily is a classic gold digger, looking to “land” a prosperous mate at whatever cost.
How Lily describes New York, “”Other cities put on their best clothes in the summer, but New York seems to sit in its shirtsleeves”” (p 7). How I sometimes feel, “She wanted to get away from herself, and conversation was the only means of escape that she knew” (p 20).
The perfect example of Lily’s “sacrifice” for wealth, “She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce – the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice – but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honor of boring her for life” (p 29). Really?
Author Fact: Edith Wharton got married when she was in her early 20s in 1885 but wasn’t afraid to get a divorce 28 years later. Rock on, girl!
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170). But, also from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1900s (p 175).
Drake, Jane and Ann Love. Yes You Can!: Your Guide to Becoming an Activist. Ontario: Tundra Books, 2010.
Right away I have to say I wouldn’t have classified this as “juvenile” literature. The language might be a little simplistic, definitely geared toward young adults, but the message is something we should all sit up and take notice of no matter what our age: if the world around you makes you sick do something. It’s the age-old promise, “you CAN make a difference!” But first you have to DO something.
Yes You Can is a how-to manual of sorts. Each chapter covers a different step to becoming an activist including an example of someone taking that particular step. The histories of organizations such as Amnesty International and Save the Children illustrate what can happen if the right steps are taken successfully. For every chapter there is a section on the historical time line of that step in action. There is also a section on the accomplishments as well as the challenges called, “Milestones and Setbacks” which put everything into perspective. Almost like a textbook there is a checklist to test what the reader has (or hasn’t learned). My favorite piece of advice was “know your cause inside and out.” The ability to see both sides of any argument can go a long way in the effort to sway opinion or make a change.
My only sticking point? This classification of juvenile literature. Why juvenile? It really should be “for all ages” because the vocabulary used in Yes You Can! is not consistent. There is talk of “family” and “classmates” in one chapter and “colleagues” in another. I don’t know any child who would refer to his or her peer as a colleague.
Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.
Judging by how many people have Tipping Point in their LibraryThing libraries and how many reviews have been written about it I feel as though I am late to the Tipping Party. And I call myself a librarian! Sheesh!
This book was fascinating! Within the first 22 pages I was hooked. I found myself googling different references Gladwell made like the names Darnell McGee and Nushawn Williams. To explain a tipping point Gladwell used some variation of the word ‘yawn’ no less than 25 times. His point was yawning is contagious and by using the word over and over he could get me to yawn. He didn’t, but I understood his point.
Malcolm Gladwell explains the tipping point as epidemics, fast-paced mysterious changes in society such as the sudden interest in a fashion or a sharp decline in crime in an isolated area. It’s a fascinating look at why major shifts in societal influence happen so suddenly and without warning. He explains how a single idea or behavior can influence an entire population. Everything from fashion trends to severe life-threatening epidemics are analyzed. Have you ever wondered where the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon came from? Gladwell explains it and the root of where it came from. You can thank a man named Stanley Milgram.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “BBB: Best Business Books” (p 33).