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Jennifer's (japaul22) 2017 Reading

Club Read 2017

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Dec 21, 2016, 8:44pm Top

Hi everyone! I'm back again with another year of reading to look forward to. I read mainly classics, many off the 1001 books to read before you die list; literary fiction, often by women; the occasional mystery or historical fiction selection; and nonfiction, mainly historical biographies or cultural studies.

I live in Northern Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. and am a professional musician (I play french horn). I have two little boys, 7 and 4, who keep me busy, but I find lots of time to read.

This year my big project is to begin reading Proust. I'm hoping to read the first three volumes and probably a few books about or inspired by Proust. Wish me luck - I'll probably need it!

Edited: May 16, 7:19am Top

Possible upcoming books:

Library books:
An Artist of the Floating World
Love Medicine
The Lambs of London
Anita Brookner
The Observationists

Tour books:
Muriel Spark anthology
Penelope Fitzgerald
Change of Climate
Misery or other Stephen King
some NYRBs
Monsieur Proust

Kindle Tour Books:
library - Lost City of Z
Doris Kearnes Goodwin baseball book
Patient HM
Thinking Fast and Slow

Dec 21, 2016, 8:45pm Top

Place hold for whatever I forgot

Dec 22, 2016, 8:04am Top

Good luck reading Proust. I'm going to start with at least the first book of Remembrance of Things Past. If I like it enough, I'll continue. Slowly. We'll see what happens. :)

Dec 22, 2016, 8:08am Top

>5 The_Hibernator: Thanks! I've read difficult books before, but Proust seems especially daunting. I'm reading a short introduction of how Proust treats authors and the act of reading called Monsieur Proust's Library that is getting me in the right frame of mind. Good luck to you as well!

Dec 22, 2016, 11:29am Top

>6 japaul22: Nice! :)

Dec 22, 2016, 1:42pm Top

AHHHHHH! I made a horrifying discovery today as I flipped through the 2003 Modern Library Paperback set of Proust that I purchased last year. It skips from page 524 to 557 of the final volume!!! I'm so disturbed that I might have read all six volumes, thousands of pages, only to find that the last 25 pages of the text and the beginning of the character list are missing!!

I've contacted the publisher. I'm very curious to know if this is a problem with a particular printing, a fluke, or what. There aren't many published sets of this book out there right now. I want paperbacks in the same edition so I can take notes (no ebook). Does anyone own this set and not have this issue? Or could someone recommend the English publication they read?

I'm so disturbed!!

Dec 31, 2016, 7:54pm Top

I stopped over here for the simple act of dropping a star and discovered you are planning to read Proust. I began my Proust journey back in mid-2014 and read the first 3 volumes over a year. Then I fell off the wagon for 18 months, oops. For some reason over the holidays I started thinking about it again and started volume 4 (Sodom and Gomorrah) today!!

One resource that has been helpful to me is a blog called The Cork-Lined Room. It's from a group read several years ago, where the blog owner assigned daily reading (about 10pp/day) and wrote a post with synopsis and comments. It's been very helpful in preventing me from getting bogged down.

Now, about your missing pages. We have a 2003 Modern Library paperback edition. The last volume is Time Regained, ISBN 0-375-753125. My edition is not missing any pages. The novel ends on page 532 and is followed by another 200+ pages of notes & synopsis. Is this the same one? If you'd like I can scan and send you the last pages of the novel.

Dec 31, 2016, 8:11pm Top

>9 lauralkeet: Thanks for the tip on that blog - I will definitely check it out. I'm sure I'll need some support .

Yep, that's the same ISBN. I'm trying to contact the publisher to see if they'll send me a new volume six. I haven't heard anything, but I figured that with the holidays I should be patient. If I don't get it resolved with them, I might take you up on the scanned pages. But, realistically, it could be years before I need them, so I'll try through the publisher first! Thank you so much for the offer, though!

Jan 1, 3:27am Top

Happy New Year! I too just dropped by to star your thread, but now that I've seen about your Proust plans I'm lingering. I have been meaning (and, increasingly, actually wanting) to read Proust for years (having failed to read more than 60 pages of the first book when I was supposed to read it at university way back when). I usually read in a completely unstructured, unplanned way, but I've been feeling like I'd like a challenge for this year without knowing what. Hmmm, I might join you...

Jan 1, 5:07am Top

>1 japaul22: I also feel tempted to join you in your Proust project. In 2016 a new Dutch translation was published of Swann's Way which I immediately bought but haven't dared to open yet.

Jan 1, 6:38am Top

>11 rachbxl:, >12 Simone2:

Please do!!! We have a small group of people in the Category Challenge group who are going to try to read Proust. We have a thread set up for Swann's Way here.


I can't imagine (myself included) that we're all going to stick around til the end, so the more people we start with, the better! For what it's worth, I've read the first 80 pages and really love it. Seems like it's the later volumes where it gets very tedious.

Jan 1, 8:53am Top

>13 japaul22: Well, I've dug my copy out...

Jan 1, 10:47am Top

>13 japaul22: That sounds good, making it a group read. I am sure I can use some moral support. I'll join you!

Jan 1, 11:06am Top

Hi, Jennifer. Just dropping a star....

Jan 1, 11:19am Top

Very interesting in your Proust progress. There was a group read in La Salon several years ago that never actually happened, but led me to read the first two books before I faded out. This isn't my year to restart Proust, but I'm certainly interested in your thoughts. Combray in book one was a special experience for me.

Jan 1, 3:57pm Top

Dropping by with my star...

Jan 1, 4:01pm Top

Happy New Year!

Jan 1, 6:12pm Top

Also dropping a star

Jan 1, 6:20pm Top

Welcome, everybody!

Rachel and Barbara, so glad you're joining in on the Proust group read! We'll just call it an experiment to see how far we get. Sounds like a lot of people have a few false starts on this one, so no pressure.

>17 dchaikin: Maybe I won't get to the third volume til 2018 and you'll be ready to join in!

Jan 1, 9:11pm Top

Jan 3, 9:54am Top

#1 A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead

I'm starting off 2017 with a remarkable book about women who were active in the French Resistance during the German occupation of France in WWII. These women were arrested for varied acts of resistance against the German occupiers such as transporting Jews to the free zone, hiding people wanted by the Germans, writing political pamphlets, secretly sending letters, printing fliers, denouncing German occupation, and, for some, simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of the politically active women were Communist.

After being arrested, the women were held in camps in France. In January of 1943, 230 French women, most labeled as political activists, were put on a train and sent to Birkenau in Auschwitz. Here they faced hardship and humiliation that is impossible to describe. Those that ended up surviving were mainly in their mid 20s or early 30s, healthy to start, and found strength through each other. Most of the survivors stressed that their womanly qualities of caring for each other and their organizational skills pulled them through the ordeal. They could not have survived alone. They pooled meager food, hid the sick and wounded, and supported each others spirits.

Upon returning home, they found a wounded France, dead family members, and the inability to talk about their experience to people who largely didn't want to hear about it. Only 49 of the 230 women survived and about a third of those died within a decade of their return. Many stayed in touch, finding that only around each other could they find some modicum of peace.

Besides the obvious horrors committed by those who had clear roles as torturers and sadists, Moorehead points out the gray areas. What about all the French people who denounced their fellow countrymen and women to the Germans? Or those who saw and did nothing? This permeated every level of French society and largely it was decided that what the country needed was to move on after convicting those who committed the worst crimes. But these politically active women came home to a France where they felt that the strongest and smartest men who should have been leading their country had been killed in the war and they were left with those who had no business being in power. Some stayed active in their Communist parties, some left for other countries, and some withdrew from life altogether. A particularly moving part of this book is the final pages, where Moorehead lists every single one of the 230 women: their names, where they were from, why they were initially arrested, if they had children, and where/when/how they died or survived.

This is a sad book, a moving book when describing the tight bonds that drew these women together, and a book that will make you question humanity.

Definitely recommended.

Original publication date: 2011
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 374 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library sale paperback
Why I read this: on the shelf, heard great reviews

Jan 3, 10:02am Top

To start the year with a 5 star read... Thanks for the review. I didn't know the book, but on the wishlist it goes.

Jan 3, 11:10am Top

I read a A Train in Winter in 2014 an also found it a good read, and done very well. Looking forward to following your reading again.

Jan 3, 1:12pm Top

Excellent review Jennifer. I listened through audio and it was a very moving book for me and one I still think about.

Jan 3, 1:18pm Top

Hi Jennifer--I've resolved to be less of a lurker and more of a commenter this year, so here I am.

I was one of the participants (I use that word loosely--I never commented) in the group read of Proust in The Cork Lined Room several years ago. I only got through the first 3 1/2. I really enjoyed Proust so I'm not sure why I stopped reading. I'm half convinced to try again with your group read.

The Train in Winter sounds like an excellent book. I've added it to my wishlist.

Jan 3, 1:24pm Top

>24 Simone2: Glad to have sparked your interest. I didn't put this in the review, but the first third of the book was a little boring to read - I felt like the author was trying to follow too many women and just skimming the surface, but the rest of the book was great enough to make up for that.

>25 mabith:, >26 dchaikin: I'm sure that both of your reviews got this book on my TBR pile so thank you!

>27 arubabookwoman: I am also guilty of lurking and not commenting. A lot of times I keep up with reading threads on my phone and it's so clunky to try to comment using my phone. I would LOVE if you joined in on Proust! We'll be setting up a thread for each volume as it's needed by members of the group so maybe you could join in when we get to where you left off if you don't want to start back at the beginning.

Jan 3, 1:43pm Top

That's on my wishlist. I'll have to be more active in looking for a copy.

Jan 3, 3:35pm Top

>23 japaul22: that sounds such an interesting book - an unusual perspective from that WWII era. Groan goes the wish list pile already....

Jan 3, 4:20pm Top

>23 japaul22: another book for my wishlist. I'll need to be in the right frame of mind to read it, but I will get to it.

Jan 4, 10:31am Top

Excellent review of A Train in Winter. It does throw up some interesting questions as to how people would react if their country was occupied. Something most of us will not have experienced.

Jan 4, 9:52pm Top

Jennifer, I would also like to be in on the group read of Proust. In the past I had an old second hand copy with the clunkier translation (Scott Moncrieff?). Then a couple of years ago, I read the first volume in the newish Penguin volumes, translated by Lydia Davis, and felt full of conviction that I would continue. Then didn't.

Jan 5, 3:38am Top

Excellent review of A Train in Winter - thanks for reminding me about it.

As for Proust, I tend to have 2 books on the go at any time, one being my bedtime book, and the other which I mainly read on the train. I need Proust to be the latter, as often I only manage a page of the bedtime book. I've decided that once I finish my current train book, I'll replace it with Proust. I'm looking forward to it.

Jan 5, 7:24am Top

>33 ipsoivan: please do join us! A link to the thread is in post 13.

Jan 5, 10:57am Top

Wow. Great review of A Train in Winter, Jennifer. That definitely makes it onto my wish list.

Jan 5, 12:45pm Top

>29 RidgewayGirl:, >30 AlisonY:, >31 NanaCC: Hope you get to it at some point. It's a bit of a slow starter, so keep that in mind!

>32 baswood: I'd be interested in your perspective as someone living in France, even though well beyond the events described.

>34 rachbxl: Great! No rush, I'm sure with almost 4000 pages to read total, people will never be in the same place at once!

>35 japaul22: Thanks!

Jan 10, 4:12am Top

Good luck with the Proust! I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on ISOLT. I have the Davis translation and Jean Santeuil on the pile somewhere (I read the whole series in the Kilmartin? translation), but I'm not sure where they are.

>8 japaul22: - Ugh, that happened to me a couple years ago with Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I didn't even think about asking the publisher. I had bought the book several years before, otherwise I would have taken it back to the store. It was waitlisted as an actual book and an ebook - luckily, I found it at the university library. My other plan was going to a bookstore and reading the 30 or so pages that were duplicated.

Edited: Jan 11, 8:04pm Top

#2 Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

This is the second book I've read by Ann Patchett, and again I really liked it. Patchett has a really smart way of weaving together characters and incidents. You'll read something in an earlier chapter from one character's point of view and then it will be subtly mentioned by a different character later on. I'm sure I don't catch all of them because they seem easy to miss, but it adds what feels like a layer of truth to her books. Sort of like other characters are unknowingly corroborating the story.

Anyway, the plot is messy. Affairs, divorces, remarriages, and kids getting mixed in to new families. I had a hard time in the first few chapters keeping everyone straight - which kids belonged to which parents and which they were currently living with and who was married to who. It's one of those books that is just sort of about life, so there isn't a ton of plot, but the writing is good and the characters are mainly good; I liked it.

Original publication date: 2016
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 336 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library kindle book
Why I read this: new release that I wanted to read

Jan 12, 11:07am Top

Glad to see your review of Commonwealth, I need to read something by Patchett this year. It's always a bit more of a push for me to get to contemporary fiction for whatever reason, especially when it means adding another US or UK author to the list when I'm trying to read more globally.

Jan 14, 7:47am Top

>40 mabith: I've read two of her books now, Bel Canto and Commonwealth and have really enjoyed them both.

Jan 14, 8:02am Top

#3 Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau
Harriet Martineau lived from 1802-1876 and was a well-respected writer of sociological and economic articles and was admired for her only novel, Deerbrook. I don't believe this book is widely read these days, but for admires of Austen and George Eliot this book holds a lot of interest as a sort of bridge and also in its own right as a novel.

Martineau sets up a situation where two sisters go for an extended visit to Deerbrook to stay with relatives, the Greys, and end up finding love interests. The love stories are very messy, but present some interesting situations. There is also lots of gossip and meddling from several of the characters which harms the lives of many people in the book. Also present is interaction with the poor and a disease epidemic that explore some of the class divides of the day.

Although some of the longer didactic passages got annoying, I enjoyed this novel and am so glad to have been introduced to it through LT!

Original publication date: 1839
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 656 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: kindle book, virago paperback
Why I read this: group read

Jan 14, 8:16am Top

>42 japaul22: Interesting book from the 19th century.

Jan 14, 11:05am Top

>42 japaul22: echoing Barry. Interesting choice (or find, since I've never heard of Martineau).

Jan 14, 1:24pm Top

>43 baswood: Not quite your era at the moment, but I think you'd appreciate it.

>44 dchaikin: I had never heard of Martineau either, until someone here reviewed it in the past year or two. Considering I love reading books by women in that general time period I was surprised I hadn't ever heard of her. And then when there was a group read in the Virago group, I was excited to join in.

Jan 14, 6:00pm Top

>42 japaul22: - That sounds interesting - I enjoy reading books by women in that era also so will add it to the list!

Jan 15, 5:52pm Top

Ive just downloaded the free version of Deerbrook. I may not get to it right away, but it is in the wings!

Jan 15, 6:27pm Top

>47 ipsoivan: Great! Whenever you get to it, you should check out the group read that lyzard put together. http://www.librarything.com/topic/245181

She always shares such great information that really enhances my reading.

Jan 15, 7:16pm Top

I added Deerbrook to my list last year when someone else reviewed it, so I'm glad to see another positive review. I might try and get to it this year.

Just stopping by to star your thread to keep track of it. I'm way behind on reading threads already!

Jan 15, 7:36pm Top

>49 valkyrdeath: it's so hard to keep up with threads, especially at the beginning of the year! I find things calm down after a month or two.

Edited: Jan 19, 6:33am Top

#4 Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

I read this because it's on the 1001 books to read before you die list and it was available to read on my kindle from the library. I love the movie, and I was sort of hesitant to read the novella. I should have gone with my gut. The book is great, but just watch the movie and call it a day. Audrey Hepburn is the best.

Original publication date: 1958
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 160 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: kindle book, library
Why I read this: 1001 books

Edited: Jan 23, 9:01pm Top

#5 Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

I've begun my journey to read all of In Remembrance of Things Past and I have to say it's off to a good start. This first volume begins with the narrator as a child visiting Combray, then shifts to Charles Swann's obsession with Odette de Crecy, and then ends with a short section where the narrator meets and begins his own obsession with Gilberte, Swann and Odette's daughter.

This isn't a real review, because this is obviously only part of the whole. As such, it sets up many themes which I'm looking forward to seeing developed. Memory is important, both how it is triggered by the senses, especially smell and taste, and how it is hard to truly recreate a moment. Love, which I gather is going to be more about obsession, begins immediately, with the narrator obsessed as a small child with receiving a kiss from his mother each night. Swann's obsession and jealousy of Odette, a woman he barely knows, is already continued in the narrator's obsession about Gilberte. One thing that bothered me, though I think it was intentional to make a point, was how little Odette is developed. She doesn't have much personality of her own, and just seems to be a reflection of Swann's obsession.

There's lots more - the set up between the aristocratic Guermantes vs. the Verdurins, the various discussions of the arts, etc. Suffice to say I'm enjoying the dreamy, reflective writing style and looking forward to starting the next volume in a month or so.

Original publication date: 1913
Author’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Length: 606 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: purchased
Why I read this: 1001 books

Jan 24, 7:03am Top

I recently began re-reading Swann's Way to get back into RoTP as well, as I never finished all 6 volumes. I very much enjoyed reading this -- you capture the quality well, 'dreamy and reflective".

Jan 24, 12:56pm Top

>52 japaul22: One down ... way to go! I find these books difficult to review. Yours does justice to a very complex work.

Jan 24, 9:42pm Top

>51 japaul22: noting your advice

>52 japaul22: nice to get some insight into your Proust reading. Very interesting commentary.

Jan 25, 12:18am Top

I have seen Deerbrook so many times in bookstores here in China, because it is published as a Signet classic and thus very cheap, but I never picked up a copy. I guess this is a theme read, because there is a flurry of reviews...

Jan 25, 6:34am Top

>53 ipsoivan: Glad to have some company in reading this massive book. I expect to hit some rocky points along the road.

>54 lauralkeet: Thanks, Laura. It is hard to review, especially as it isn't the complete work, but I expect it to take me years to finish the whole, so I want to remember some of my impressions. I'm also taking notes and underlining in the book, something I don't do that often.

>55 dchaikin: Thanks, Dan.

>56 edwinbcn: I'd be interested in your thoughts, Edwin. And, yes, there was a group read in the Virago Modern Classics group led by lyzard who always gives such great insight.

Jan 25, 3:35pm Top

#6 Summer by Edith Wharton

This is one of Wharton's shorter novels and is set in the NY countryside amongst the relatively poor instead of the city wealthy like most of her novels. While I loved this setting in Ethan Frome, I have to say that it didn't work for me this time. I found it predictable, dark, and fairly hopeless - not really what I was hoping for right now.

The story surrounds Charity Royall, a young woman who is adopted by the Royalls and taken away from the Mountain where a group of poor, hopeless people live, to live in a small town in the valley. When Mrs. Royall dies, Mr. Royall propositions Charity and she makes it clear that she will never have that sort of relationship with him. Then Mr. Harney comes to town. He is young and attractive and interested in Charity. They develop a relationship and then the inevitable happens she gets pregnant, he leaves, and she finds out he's already engaged to another, wealthier woman in the town. There is no fairy tale ending here.

Wharton's writing is wonderful as always, but I thought this story was predictable and so hopeless that I just couldn't get on board. This is the first book of Wharton's that I've found disappointing.

Original publication date: 1917
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 120 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: kindle freebie
Why I read this: 1001 books

Jan 25, 6:40pm Top

I'm sorry this disappointed but still your review is really interesting.

Jan 25, 8:13pm Top

>58 japaul22: I liked this one better than you did, Jennifer but I agree it's a hopeless story. I just re-read my review and found this, which you might find interesting:
Charity Royall experienced emotions and physical sensations that women in the early 1900s simply didn't discuss with others. Edith Wharton was a pioneer in portraying Charity as a normal, healthy young woman, creating a new view of female sexuality. My edition of Summer included an introduction by Marilyn French that discusses this topic at length, and greatly enriched my reading experience.

Your reading is also timely because yesterday was the 155th anniversary of Wharton's birth!

Jan 26, 4:29pm Top

>60 lauralkeet: That's very interesting, thanks! I hadn't thought at all about it being ground-breaking in that respect. It's still sad to me that Wharton chose the repercussions she did for Charity's normal sexuality. I wonder if it was intended to be a commentary on the social norms? It struck me as just another story where the woman faces the consequences of a romantic relationship on her own, but now I wonder if that's unfair.

Jan 26, 8:34pm Top

Jennifer, I think you're on to something. Wharton' novels contain a lot of social commentary, especially on the status of women. She was quite the feminist.

Feb 1, 5:24pm Top

#7 Casting Off by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The fourth in the Cazalet chronicles, a WWII family epic about life in England around and during the war. I'm really loving this series. Great characters and interesting setting/time period. I like that these books are light as in easy to read (sort of soap opera-y circumstances), but are well-written, deal with some serious topics, and are so fun to get sucked into.

This installment has the best love stories so far and we see a few of the characters seeming to find happiness which is a relief. I just loved the ending, but no spoilers here!

Looking forward to the last book.

Original publication date: 1995
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 626 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: purchased series as a set of paperbacks
Why I read this: continuing the series

Feb 1, 9:54pm Top

Edited: Feb 1, 10:01pm Top

>52 japaul22: I went to a lecture the other night about the Dreyfus Affair, and the presenter mentioned in passing that it had a tremendous effect on Proust and In Remembrance of Things Past. He didn't elaborate, but this was new information for me.

Feb 2, 7:01am Top

>65 kac522: I've read about this just a little in some of the books about Proust that I'm reading. I gather it's central to one of the later volumes, though influential in all of them. Interesting circumstances and reaction as far as the Affair itself.

Feb 5, 10:18am Top

#8 The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
I picked this book up at the library because I've been meaning to get to Lippman's books for a while. She's a Baltimore author who is very active and visible in Baltimore and uses it as a setting for her mystery novels. While I don't live in Baltimore, I have several friends who do and have spent a bit of time there since it's not far from D.C.

I think that this, disappointingly, was not Lippman's best work. The mystery itself was ok, but seemed sort of familiar. A group of adults who were friends as children come together when one of the five dies. This brings up a traumatic incident from their childhood involving the death of a homeless man in the woods where they play and they finally learn the whole story.

I liked the characters and overall thought the writing was ok except for one glaring feature that I could not get past. When Lippman writes about the past she uses "we" in describing the children's adventure. But it isn't from any one of the five kid's voices, so it's almost as though there is a sixth person telling the story. But there isn't a sixth person. It's really odd and disconcerting and I can't believe her editor let her do it. I read a bunch of reviews to see if I missed something and almost everyone complained about this. It was really very odd.

So I think I'll probably try another of her books sometime, but I can't say I really liked this one too much.

Original publication date: 2011
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 342 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library
Why I read this: interested in the local author

Feb 5, 10:35am Top

>63 japaul22: I must get back to this series. My sister recommended it to me a couple of years ago, and I read the first. great characters.

Feb 5, 5:06pm Top

>68 ipsoivan: I liked the first, but I liked the subsequent books even better.

Feb 5, 8:48pm Top

>63 japaul22:. This is a series I should get to. Thank you for the reminder.

Feb 13, 1:38pm Top

#9 L'Assomoir by Emile Zola

L'Assomoir follows the hard, sad life of Gervaise from her arrival in Paris at age 18 with her partner, Lantier, and their two young boys (yes, she had her first child at 14!) through her death. I don't consider it a spoiler to say that things don't work out well for Gervaise - you can sense immediately that the world she lives in is too hard and unforgiving for her life to turn out well.

When Lantier leaves Gervaise for another woman, Gervaise buckles down and gets a job as a laundress to feed herself and her boys (one of which is Etienne, the main character in Germinal). She meets Coupeau who hounds her until she marries him. He is a good person, hard worker, and doesn't drink so she finally gives in. They have a good life until an accident at work sends Coupeau and subsequently Gervaise into a tailspin. They descend to the lowest of the low and lets just say things do not end well.

This is my second book by Zola and it was, again, an amazing reading experience. Zola creates great characters (I especially loved the despicable, leeching Lantier) and has amazing descriptive ability. He is able to characterize not only the people in his books but also the settings.

I didn't see myself ever reading all of the Rougon-Macquart series, but after reading just these two, I'm already considering it. I thought it was really interesting to see the early life of Etienne and how it would have influenced him. And I believe one of the books focuses on Nana, child of Gervaise and Coupeau and I'd really like to read that one after seeing her childhood in this book.

Consider me one of the many Zola fans on Librarything!

Original publication date: 1877
Author’s nationality: French
Original language: French, translated by Margaret Mauldon
Length: 442 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: purchased paperback
Why I read this: wanted to read more Zola, on the 1001 books list

Feb 15, 6:48pm Top

>71 japaul22: Consider me one of the many Zola fans on Librarything!
Yay! and encouragement from this quarter to read them all.

Feb 15, 7:46pm Top

>72 SassyLassy: I've really enjoyed your reviews. I think I'll read Nana next and then La Bete Humaine. I also randomly have Therese Raquin on the shelf, but now I think I've figured out that it isn't part of his Rougon-Macquart series. Do you know anything about it?

Feb 16, 2:26pm Top

>73 japaul22: Thanks. Although I had read two or three books by Zola in the past, it was rebecca who really got me going on this after I followed her reviews as she went through the Rougon Macquart series.

Funny you should mention Therese Raquin, as I was looking at a sale of Oxford Classics last month, and ordered it. Then I read the introduction to La Bête Humaine where Whitehouse discussed TR, and I discovered it wasn't part of the series, but that as he puts it
Thérèse Raquin does not belong to the Rougon-Macquart cycle, yet in the prominence it gives to sexually related violence and in the macabre, nightmarish quality of some of the episodes it contains, it has as strong an affinity with La Bête Humaine as any of the Rougon-Macquart novels.

He quotes Zola as saying Thérèse and Laurent are human animals... nothing more... the soul is entirely absent', so it would appear he was already thinking about psychology and evil before he started the RM cycle novels, as TR was published in 1867 and the first novel in the cycle in 1871.

Up next for me is a reread of Germinal and I am really looking forward to it.

Feb 16, 4:17pm Top

>73 japaul22: >74 SassyLassy: I really liked Therese Raquin, I can still see the alley in which the story is situated. I couldn't finish Nana though. I am also looking forward to Germinal, which is considered Zola's best, I thought.

Feb 18, 7:37am Top

>73 japaul22: I enjoyed Thérèse Raquin well enough (it is not as good as Germinal, of course). There was a news story in NYC not too long after I finished it that resembled the climax of TR, so that added extra interest to the story.

Feb 19, 8:11am Top

Thanks for the Therese Raquin comments, everyone!

#10 Seal Woman by Solveig Eggerz

This book randomly jumped out at me from a library bookshelf so I decided to give it a chance. In reading the cover, I found out that it was written by a local author and that it is historical fiction about a woman who joined a group of German women that answer ads in the newspaper for women wanted in Iceland to help with farm work (and probably marry the farmer) after WWII. Interesting.

Charlotte arrives in Iceland broken. She had married a Jewish artist just before WWII began and he was taken to a concentration camp and assumed dead. She hid her half-Jewish daughter in a willing convent that was raided during the war and lost track of her. She assumes she is also dead, but a sliver of hope gives her no peace. In Iceland, she finds a stoic, silent farmer and his wise mother. She embraces the way of life and the myths of the land and has two boys in Iceland. This book explores how and if she can come to terms with her war experience.

I thought this book was good, though not great. The topic is interesting and the writing is good overall. Charlotte's time in Germany is told in one extended flashback which I think could have been incorporated better into her Icelandic experience. Overall, though, the atmosphere is good and I'm glad I randomly picked this up.

Original publication date: 2011
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 241 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library paperback
Why I read this: looked interesting

Feb 19, 6:42pm Top

Great Zola review. 18 more in the series.

Interesting about the Seal Woman.

Feb 20, 6:28pm Top

#11 Good Wives by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
I like reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's books - they always make me feel smarter. I think this is partly because she doesn't draw every conclusion for the reader. Instead, she presents lots of primary sources and puts them in context, but then often stops short of telling you what to think about them. Sometimes this annoys me and sometimes I really appreciate it. It's a very different approach than the current trend of narrative nonfiction.

This book explores women's lives and roles in early colonial America, namely in northern New England between 1650-1750. She covers economic roles, the community of women, childbirth/motherhood, violence committed by and against, interaction with Native Americans, religion, etc. It's a very broad look at women's lives in this time period in a very limited location. In that way it's broad but deep at the same time.

I enjoyed it, but probably not for everyone. Her A Midwife's Tale is definitely a better place to start.

Original publication date: 1980
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 281 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: purchased paperback
Why I read this: just interested in the author's works and topic

Feb 20, 9:07pm Top

I also enjoyed A Midwife's Tale. I thought it was so interesting how she took one woman's diary (narrow) and used it to present a broader history of women at this time.

I saw that Ulrich has a new book out, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870. I might be more interested in this new book than in Good Wives. My guess is that she again provides a narrow platform to talk about women in general during the great migration West.

Feb 21, 8:01am Top

>80 kac522: I heard an interview with Laurel THatcher Ulrich on NPR's Fresh Air a couple weeks ago and it prompted me to get to Good Wives, which had been sitting on my shelf for a while. I think I'll read her new book at some point. Her ancestors (and maybe herself, I couldn't tell) are Mormon so I wonder if she'll add a personal element to the book. Somehow I don't think so, but I'll be interested to see!

Feb 21, 9:20am Top

Glad to have a reminder of Ulrich's work, even if it wasn't your favorite read by her. I've had her books on my to-read list for a while.

Feb 22, 1:07pm Top

#12 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

I finally got around to reading this classic about a German soldier's experience during WWI. It was published in 1929 and of course created a storm of discussion and controversy. Remarque doesn't soften or glamorize the war, instead he gives a realistic portrayal of the horrors of death, wounds, and lack of food. He also explores the friendships and connections made on the front and the challenges of returning home during periods of leave.

I was so mad, reading this, that just a few decades later WWII happened. I'll never understand how people who lived through WWI could have allowed WWII to happen. Academically, I've heard and understand the standard answer, but I still don't really comprehend it.

I thought this was really well done and obviously an important work, but reading about war will just never be a "favorite" for me.

Original publication date: 1929
Author’s nationality: German
Original language: German
Length: 304 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: kindle library book
Why I read this: 1001 books list

Feb 23, 9:49am Top

I guess we don't learn lessons well enough to overcome political insanities. Interesting comments.

Feb 26, 8:35am Top

#13 The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble

I went into this book sort of expecting to be bored and confused based on some other reviews I read. Maybe it was my patient attitude because of this, but I actually really liked this!

This is the story of The Crown Princess Hyegong who was a Korean princess in the 1700s. The first section of the novel tells her story in her voice - her marriage to Korean Prince Sado who goes mad and is terribly disposed of by his father, the King. She has children with him, one of whom dies, and leads a fairly traumatic, though long, life.

The next section follows current-day Babs Halliway who reads the Crown Princess's memoirs on a plane headed to Korea for a conference. She is immediately drawn to the Princess's voice and identifies with her, having also lost a child and having a husband with mental illness. She explores the Crown Princess's world as a tourist and has some meaningful life events herself while at this conference.

Interwoven in this story rather loosely is the idea that there are spirits, both of the Crown Princess and of another group of spirits that are observing and slightly coordinating events in an effort to have the Princess's story more widely known in modern day. This spirit idea is ever-present but not really explained. I imagine that bothers many readers, but I was able to just accept it. Drabble also uses an odd technique in the Crown Princess's version of events where she has the Princess narrate her life story as a spirit who has witnessed historical events since her death. So she knows about modern-day ideas about mental illness and political events that she would have had no idea about during her life. That was also odd, but I liked it. I think it worked for me because Drabble didn't get bogged down in trying to explain or rationalize it, she just used it.

I was pleasantly surprised by this and read it in just a few days.

Original publication date: 2004
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 325 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library book
Why I read this: 1001 books list

Feb 27, 11:16am Top

>84 dchaikin: Very interesting review. I own both this book and the memoirs, which live perpetually at about #20 on my TBR list. You might just have given it a nudge higher!

Feb 27, 7:40pm Top

>86 wandering_star: It's definitely worth making time for. And an added bonus is that it's short. I ended up reading it over about a week because I had some other books going, but I would guess it only took 3-4 hours total.

Mar 1, 12:16pm Top

Thoughtful reviews of the Ulrich, Remarque, and Drabble books. You liked The Red Queen more than I did. I think it's my least favorite book by Drabble, whom I generally love.

Mar 1, 8:12pm Top

>88 janeajones: This was my first book by Drabble so I'm looking forward to trying more by her.

Mar 2, 1:04pm Top

#14 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

This is a debut novel by a 23 year old Southern woman, published in 1940. There were things I found very impressive about it, but overall it didn't work for me.

It centers around a deaf man, Singer, who starts out the book best friends with another deaf man, Antonapoulos (you guessed it, he's Greek). Antonapoulos is sent to a mental facility by his cousin and Singer starts to come undone without anyone to talk to through sign language. But four very different people in the town find Singer a perfect person to confide in. Though Singer means a ton to each of them, they don't even realize that they aren't reciprocating the relationship to him.

First for the good things. The writing is smooth and mature and one of the characters in particular, the teenage girl Mick, is very well-written. I appreciated the theme of one-sided friendship.

Unfortunately, I found a lot of the other themes rather preachy, especially the attempt at race relations and communist ideals. And I really didn't care much for any of the characters except Mick.

I've heard many great things about this book, so don't skip it because of my review, but it just wasn't for me.

Original publication date: 1940
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 339 pages
Rating: 2.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: paperback, library sale
Why I read this: off the shelf

Mar 2, 4:36pm Top

89> I started reading Drabble in the 1970s when she was writing about young women and mothers. As she has grown older, her focus continually matured as well. As I am roughly her contemporary I've enjoyed growing older with her protagonists.

Mar 2, 8:43pm Top

>90 japaul22: I had similar feelings. I expected to be wowed by it and just ... wasn't.

Mar 2, 9:01pm Top

>92 lauralkeet: relieved to hear I'm not the only one who didn't love it. I kept wondering what I was missing! A good example of how books work diffferently for different readers.

Mar 7, 1:50pm Top

#15 Katharine Graham: The Leadership Journey of an American Icon by Robin Gerber

I absolutely loved Katharine Graham's autobiography, Personal History when I read it a decade ago so when I saw this book on the library shelves it called to me. It was lots of fun to relive Graham's autobiography through Gerber's focus on leadership qualities. This is a brief book comparatively and stays fairly close to the topic of leadership. Her personal traits and the growth she achieve during her career are studied. I think it would have been more meaningful as a leadership book, though, if leadership had been spelled out a little more clearly. It's there, but sort of hidden in her life/career story. I would have liked it to be a bit more explicit.

Original publication date: 2005
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 211 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library
Why I read this: interested in the topic and person

Mar 11, 4:46pm Top

#16 The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

I chose to read this book because it's on the 1001 books to read before you die list and there is a group read of it. I knew it would be a little out of my comfort zone, but I ended up really appreciating it, though I can't say I enjoyed a book this brutal.

This book is about the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo era (roughly 1930s-1960s). It starts in the present day with Urania Cabral who is in her late 40s finally returning to the country that she fled from just before Trujillo's assassination. She left as a 14 year old girl after a traumatic experience that led her to break ties with her father, a high-up political figure. Her story is slowly revealed and sheds light on Trujillo's personality and her father's fall from favor.

Another story line is that of Trujillo himself in the days before his assassination. Vargas Llosa paints a fascinating portrait of the dictator, his hunger for power, and the inner insecurities of his mind.

Along with these two stories is the story of the men behind the assassination. As they wait to ambush Trujillo, flashbacks tell how they got there.

In the end, it all comes together and you witness the brutal aftermath of the assassination and find out what happens to this small country when their dictator is gone.

Mario Vargas Llosa writes with a ton of confidence. His writing is smooth and authoritative. I believed every word of his portrait of this man, which bothered me at times since this is fiction, after all. Even though this isn't my favorite sort of book, I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in the era and topic.

Original publication date: 2000
Author’s nationality: Peruvian
Original language: Spanish, translated by Edith Grossman
Length: 404 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: paperback library sale
Why I read this: 1001 list, group read

Mar 13, 1:54pm Top

#17 The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald

This was Penelope Fitzgerald's first novel and is a classic British mystery. Set in a museum, the plot revolves around an exhibit of the Golden Child, a mummy from the ancient African culture, Garamantia. Of course there is said to be a curse around it and when people start dying, it's discovered that the exhibit is a fake.

This was fun. Good characters, interesting and slightly zany plot, and a classic, Golden Age mystery feel. Not earth-shattering, but a nice light read.

Original publication date: 1977
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 189 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: paperback library sale
Why I read this: for fun, off the shelf

Mar 22, 3:28pm Top

#18 Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown

The Lewis Chessmen were discovered in Northern Scotland in the 1800s and have been fascinating people since. They were most likely crafted between 1100-1200 out of walrus tusk ivory but where, by whom, and for whom remain largely a mystery. Brown obviously likes the Iceland theory and the possibility that they were crafted by Icelander Margret the Adroit who is known to have made a beautiful ivory bishop's crozier during the time period the chessman were crafted.

Since there really isn't a ton to say about the chessmen themselves, Brown supplements this mystery by using each chesspiece (rook/berserk, bishops, kings, queens, and knights) to talk about the history, politics, and culture of the time. She uses them as a jumping off point to talk about Scandinavian history between 800-1300 (focusing mainly on 1000-1200). There are lots of interesting stories and tidbits of history and culture.

Overall I enjoyed this, but I thought the construction was a bit loose. She sort of lost her thesis and often didn't connect her stories very well to the chessmen. This meant that even though I was enjoying the things she was telling me, part of me was bothered that I couldn't see the over-arching point. As a result, this receives a middling grade from me.

Original publication date: 2015
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 243 pages
Rating: 3 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: gift
Why I read this: love anything scandinavian

Mar 23, 7:36pm Top

I've been meaning to read this for a while -- on my wish list. Appreciated your review.

Mar 25, 8:37am Top

#19 To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

I quite liked this new book by Eowyn Ivey, a young writer living in Alaska. She uses her home territory to craft a book told through journals, letters, newspaper articles, and pictures about an 1885 expedition from Vancouver through uncharted (by white men) territory in Alaska.

Allen Forrester leads the expedition, bringing with him two young men and using Indian guides along the way. He and his wife, Sofie, intend for her to go along for the first leg of the journey but they discover she is pregnant and it's deemed unsafe for her to travel. She stays at the army barracks. While they are apart they both keep a detailed journal of their experiences and these make up the heart of the book. Forrester's journey contains many trials and descriptions of beauties and challenges of the Alaskan terrain. They travel up the Wolverine river, meeting the local Indian tribe. They are sometimes helpful and sometimes not. Some tribes are starving along with the men, some are thriving, and some are already suffering from the contact with white men. Along the way, Forrester and his men begin to experience the supernatural occurrences that are part of the Indian culture. They each believe and interact with the these events in different ways. One in particular, the Old Man who seems to fly and also inhabit a raven is also experienced by Sophie back home. This sounds sort of cheesy, but Ivey makes it work very well through her subtle writing and the way she ties it to what the Native Americans believe and have experienced. Back home, Sophie is dealing with the expectations of the women at the camp for her to behave as a "normal" wife. Instead, she begins a successful endeavor as a photographer.

All of this is revealed when an older man sends the source materials to a small museum in Alaska to see if they will incorporate the items into their collection. He and the young man curating the museum begin writing letters to each other, discussing the journals and finding material that pertains to the information in the journals.

I really liked this book. The idea was interesting and I liked the format she used to tell the story. While it was very enjoyable, though, it was somehow lacking a bit in complexity. The story was fairly predictable and I thought sections were a little over-emotional. It's one of those books that I loved reading, but as I think more about it I'm not sure if it will stay with me or not. I'll be interested to see at the end of the year what has happened to my opinion of it.

Original publication date: 2016
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 432 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library kindle
Why I read this: sounded interesting

Mar 30, 8:25pm Top

#20 The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

I really liked this novel set in the early 1900s America about a young orphan named Ren and what happens to him when he's adopted by a man, Benjamin Nab, claiming to be his older brother. Ren showed up at the orphanage as a baby missing one hand and this man has a long, detailed story about how it happened and what happened to their parents.

Ren is a good kid. This man is obviously a liar and we soon find out that he's also a thief. But throughout the book, even when put in unbelievably awful situations and even through some questionable decisions, Ren is a good person and people like him almost immediately. He's not a goody-two-shoes or saccharine-sweet, he's just the kind of person that people trust and feel connected to.

The books hinges on this idea of lies vs. truth that we're introduced to by Benjamin. This was the key concept for me - that the truth is the most horrifying scenario for these characters. After leaving the orphanage, Benjamin tells Ren the "real story" about their parents and it is absolutely gruesome. Ren says:

"I don't want to hear anymore"
"All right." Benjamin let go. "Is that what you wanted to hear?"
The man reached over, took hold of the lantern, and blew it out. Night enveloped the barn. "Well," he said at last to the darkness between them, "that's when you know it's the truth."

I really loved Tinti's writing and I will definitely read her new book that just came out. This was her first novel and it is really well done. It doesn't get five stars because parts were a little gory for my taste (they spend time as grave robbers and there's lots of violence) but it was definitely part of the story, not gratuitous. The book has this great Dickens feel without trying too hard to be a Dickens remake. The characters are fantastic and I like the underlying themes. I'd highly recommend this.

Original publication date: 2008
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 325 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library book
Why I read this: interested in the author

Apr 5, 1:43pm Top

#21 Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Pnin is a Russian immigrant in the U.S., working as a professor of Russian at a small liberal arts college. This book is a humorous portrait of his trials and tribulations trying to navigate American culture and his personal life. Really, I had no idea Nabokov could be so funny. You end up feeling amused by, sorry for, and impressed by Pnin. It's a short novel, and one that made me feel that every word was considered in the writing process. I really enjoyed it and I'm glad to have read something besides Lolita by Nabokov. I just couldn't get past the subject matter in Lolita, so it was great to get to admire Nabokov's beautiful writing with a more palatable subject.

Original publication date: 1957
Author’s nationality: Russian
Original language: English
Length: 143 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library book
Why I read this: 1001 books list

Apr 5, 6:27pm Top

So, I've had The Good Thief on my tbr and now I want to read it. And I've got to get to Nabokov. I've read Lolita, of course, but there's so much more.

Apr 5, 7:58pm Top

>102 RidgewayGirl: I thought of you as I was reading The Good Thief and wondered if you had read any Hannah Tinti! I'd love to hear your thoughts on The Good Thief.

Apr 8, 6:43am Top

#22 Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
This is a weird book, in the very best sense of the word. Natalie Waite is a young woman about to go off to college. We are introduced to her in her family setting, with her intellectual and domineering father, her boring and normal mother, and her unimportant brother. All of these descriptives are Natalie's point of view because there is no escaping Natalie's point of view in the book. Though it's not told in first person, there is almost no difference between the omniscient narrator and Natalie's point of view. It's an extremely interior book. And Natalie has a weird mind.

At first her mind seems "normal" in the sense of being quirky but I thought that most readers would identify, especially if they remember the teenage years, the fantasizing and odd thoughts that come to mind at that formative age. When Natalie goes off to her small liberal arts college and is faced with living with hundreds of other young women of varying character and morals, things devolve quickly. She develops an odd relationship with a girl named Tony (I actually couldn't tell if Tony was real or imaginary) and things get weirder and weirder.

I loved it.

The book isn't scary, but it's slightly creepy to witness someone's mind changing (desintegrating?) so rapidly. This book deserves to be talked about as much as We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, Jackson's more famous novels.

Original publication date: 1951
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 218 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: used paperback
Why I read this: like Shirley Jackson

Apr 8, 7:51am Top

Seems you've been reading some good books. Encouraged by your Ivory Vikings review. And very interested in the Nabokov and Jackson books and your response.

Apr 8, 8:56am Top

>104 japaul22: I first heard of this book from a review by rebeccanyc and have meant to read it ever since. Other comments about it have also intrigued me. Thanks for the reminder.

Also echoing dan, in that your books have been really interesting.

Apr 8, 10:52am Top

>105 dchaikin:, >106 SassyLassy: Thanks! I tried a new system this year for my reading where I listed 25 books from the 1001 books to read before you die list and 25 books from my shelves that I want to get to this year. Based on my typical yearly reading, that leaves room for about 30 books that grab my attention away from the goal books. I think it's helping me achieve a better balance of books and so far I've kept things very even without it feeling like a chore.

Apr 8, 11:35pm Top

>101 japaul22: My mum passed me her copy of Pnin and keeps asking if I have got to it yet... I will definitely have to try it now!

Apr 10, 8:52pm Top

>108 wandering_star: It was really good - I think you'll like it.

Apr 10, 9:20pm Top

#23 Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust
In this second volume of In Search of Lost Time, the narrator is now a teenager and accordingly is obsessed with girls. That pretty much sums it up, but I guess I'll go into a little more detail. :-)

The first section is "Madame Swann at home". Here we see the narrator fall in and out of love with Gilberte, the daughter of Swann and Odette. Even though Gilberte is the object of the narrator's love and obsession, really he spends so much time describing Odette that she seems more to be the object of his obsession. I did think the narrator was sort of funny throughout this book because the language is very beautiful and mature and lyrical, but the ideas really are just of a typical teenage boy concerned with how others view him and thinking about the girls he meets. It was an odd mix.

In the second section, the narrator goes with his grandmother and Francoise (their servant and my favorite character) to Balbec, a seaside town, for his health. He meets and develops a friendship with Saint-Loup. He also sees a group of girls parading around the beach and falls in love with them. Among this group is Albertine, the next object of his affection. His descriptions of the girls and their interactions with each other and him are absolutely on point for the typical teenager experience. I really liked this section.

As in the first volume, there were large swaths of this that lost me, but I just keep reading and eventually something grabs me again. Overall it's been a really good reading experience for me so I'm excited to continue on in another month or two.

Original publication date: 1919
Author’s nationality: French
Original language: French
Length: 730 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: purchased paperback
Why I read this: my current project

Apr 10, 9:20pm Top

Argh, I got so behind on your thread. Well, caught up again. You've done some interesting reading this year.

Apr 11, 8:22am Top

>110 japaul22: there were large swaths of this that lost me, but I just keep reading and eventually something grabs me again.
Yeah, that's how I feel about Proust too. You also made a comment on the group read thread that resonated with me, something about the work as a whole being more memorable than individual books.

Apr 11, 8:44am Top

>112 lauralkeet: yes, I was observing that already after only reading 2 of the 7 volumes, I can barely remember which sections belong to which volume. It feels like a complete work, not separate books. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by that since it's how it was conceived, but it's making me not want to read it too slowly. I definitely need a break, but I want to keep thinking if it as one whole book. The themes seem to be keeping a very strong connection through the various parts.

Apr 13, 12:24am Top

>104 japaul22: I also like Shirley Jackson, so on the wishlist it goes!

Apr 14, 8:29pm Top

>114 Simone2: I think I liked it better than either of her more famous one, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Haunting of Hill House.

Apr 14, 8:42pm Top

#24 School for Love by Olivia Manning
Yet another NYRB publication that I ended up loving. It's been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years because it just didn't sound that interesting, but it turned out to be just my kind of book.

The novel takes place in Jerusalem just after WWII. A young boy, Felix, arrives to live with Miss Bohun, a distant relative, after his mother dies of typhoid. His father had already died in the war. Miss Bohun is an elderly woman who is quite a piece of work. She's a member of the "Ever-Readies" a second-coming religious group but she is also one of the cheapest, stingiest people you'll ever meet - of course having excuses for every one of her penny-pinching ways. She runs a boarding house (charging Felix his "fair share") and rotating tenants according to how she can make the most money and feel best about herself for helping the unfortunate. Miss Bohun isn't all bad, though, which is what makes this such a lovely book. She definitely has some redeeming qualities (I think) or at least she's amusing to read about. The other boarders all have their own stories and Felix's interactions with them form the book. The city of Jerusalem and the various people who find their way there during and just after the war are also an important part of the story.

The best relationship in the book is Felix and the cat he befriends, Faro. This thread added a really nice touch to the book.

After reading this, I'm very interested in reading Manning's Balkan Trilogy which is I think her best known work. This was another great read to justify my constant NYRB purchases; they don't just look good on the shelf, they have almost all been great books to read as well!

Original publication date: 1951
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 192 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: purchased paperback
Why I read this: on the shelf

Apr 16, 2:01am Top

>116 japaul22: I'm drawn to NYRB books, too, but have been reluctant to purchase authors I don't know. Great to hear this one is so good. I have a couple Elizabeth Taylors and Stoner. Next time I see Manning, I'll need to pick it up.

Apr 16, 9:55am Top

>116 japaul22: intrigued by the place, time and author, the 1951 publication date and, especially, your review. I might like this. Noting.

I really enjoyed your Proust review. I think the Odette sections in both the first two books were tough for me - although the love interest was fun. But I have some emotional attachment to Balbec. Unfortunately, I paused here and I'm still paused.

Apr 16, 11:39am Top

>117 kac522: I've known very few of the ones I've purchased and I've been happy with them all. NYRB has a very interesting publication list.

>118 dchaikin: The politics of the time are only lightly gone into, but it definitely provides a backdrop and creates some of the drama.

It's going to take real stamina to get through Proust, I can see. It's not easy reading, but I'm finding it rewarding so far. Maybe once you've made it through Pynchon, you'll go back to it.

Apr 16, 11:47am Top

#25 The Wonder by Emma Donaghue

I really liked this new novel by Emma Donaghue. It explores a small Irish community's reaction to an eleven year old who stops eating. She has survived 4 months and is considered a miracle by her highly Catholic and superstitious community. The local leaders decide to set up a watch manned by two nurses to verify that Anna really isn't eating and is a living miracle. Lib, a skeptical nurse who worked under Florence Nightingale, is the main focus of the book. How she uncovers truth from fantasy and religious fervor is central to the story.

A modern reader will probably see the truth behind the miracle coming from a long way off, but I thought this was sort of the point. Lib was modern for her time, but still couldn't see the truth behind what was happening until it's almost too late.

This book was less over-the-top than the other two Donaghue books I've read, Slammerkin and Room. I really liked it and would definitely recommend it.

Original publication date: 2016
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library kindle
Why I read this: like the author

Apr 16, 1:13pm Top

>120 japaul22: I've added this to my wishlist. I enjoyed Slammerkin, and this one sounds like one I'd enjoy as well.

I should read The Balkan Trilogy which has been sitting on my shelf for ages. I'm sure it is right up my alley.

Apr 16, 1:50pm Top

I'll definitely be tracking down School for Love.

Apr 16, 7:46pm Top

Enjoying reading your reviews of Proust's In search of lost time. He is another one of the great authors I have not tackled yet.

Apr 16, 9:26pm Top

I loved The Wonder and so I'm glad you liked it.

Apr 20, 1:17pm Top

#26 The House With the Blind Glass Windows by Herbjorg Wassmo

This is a novel written in 1981 by Norwegian author, Herbjorg Wassmo. I learned about this book from the 1001 books to read before you die list, and I'm so glad I did. It is a tough subject matter, centering around a young girl who is being sexually abused by her stepfather, but Wassmo manages to make the book about so much more without negating the trauma of abuse.

Tora lives in a small Norwegian fishing village with her mother, Ingrid, who is a social outcast after having an affair with a German soldier during WWII. Tora is the outcome of that relationship. Ingrid later marries Henrik, a man who is an alcoholic and is sexually abusing Tora while her mother works the night shift at the local plant. The book centers around Tora, Ingrid, and Ingrid's sister Rachel. Rachel has a happy marriage to Simon. They are well off financially though have the sadness of not being able to conceive children.

The book is beautifully written and subtly but thoroughly explores several themes, many centering on women's interactions and relationships with each other, the good and the bad. Apparently this is the first of a trilogy, but I'm having trouble finding the other books in English translation. If anyone has any leads on that I'd be very interested. I bought this book used as I think even this first volume may be out of print in English.

Definitely recommended.

Original publication date: 1981
Author’s nationality: Norwegian
Original language: Norwegian
Length: 223 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: used paperback
Why I read this: 1001 books list

Apr 21, 7:26am Top

>125 japaul22: According to the covers of the second book uploaded here on LT, there never even was an English translation? Strange...
I also liked this book very much, written so beautifully.

Apr 21, 8:10am Top

>126 Simone2: Yeah, from what I saw on the internet it looks like her only books that have been translated to English are The House With the Blind Glass Windows, Dina's Book and Dina's Son which are the first two volumes of a separate trilogy. The last volume of the Dina series was published in 1997 but hasn't been translated to English.

I'm hoping that I just haven't dug deep enough and someone else knows of one. It's disappointing if not!

I really like reading Scandinavian translations - I feel like they work really well in English. When I read a Russian translation, I feel the whole time that something is off and that I can tell it's a translation and I rarely feel that with Scandinavian languages. I think it's because the languages are much more closely related. I wish there were more available. Maybe when I retire in 10 years I'll learn Norwegian and translate books!

Apr 21, 12:38pm Top

>127 japaul22: I read Dina's Book and Dina's Son not half as good, but then again, I read them when I was much younger.

If you're into Scandinavian and haven't read him yet, try Tarjei Vesaas's books, they are sooo great.

Apr 21, 1:57pm Top

>128 Simone2: yes! I've read The Ice Palace and The Birds and LOVED them both.

Apr 24, 3:42pm Top

If you haven't read Tove Jansson's adult books (originally written in Swedish though she's Finnish), you should. They're really wonderful.

Apr 24, 3:44pm Top

If you haven't read Tove Jansson's adult books (originally written in Swedish though she's Finnish), you should. She's wonderful.

Apr 24, 4:21pm Top

I've read a few of Tove Jansson's adult books (and a couple of the Moomintroll novels with my son) and love them! A good reminder to read more, though!

Apr 25, 1:46am Top

I loved Dina's Book and the rest of the series, though maybe the third book was not quite as good. I think you could read the first two even if the third is never translated, they can be read separately.

Apr 25, 12:44pm Top

>133 FlorenceArt: Thanks, good to know!

Apr 25, 12:59pm Top

#27 An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

I loved this historical thriller centered around the Dreyfus Affair that happened in the French military in the late 1800s. I don't usually read books in this genre, but the historical nature of the book really gripped me and I flew through this long book.

The Dreyfus affair refers to the case of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French military, who is charged with treason for informing the German military about French military secrets. He has already been convicted and sent to a remote tropical island in isolation when Georges Picquart is chosen to be head of the Espionage unit of the French military. Picquart is asked to "shore up" the evidence against Dreyfus, but when he starts digging he quickly begins running into a different french officer named Esterhazy. Picquart finds definite proof that Dreyfus was wrongly imprisoned but the military is in it too deep and refuses to acknowledge the mistake or admit that there were those who knew of this before Dreyfus' trial and went ahead with it anyway. Of course, Picquart finds himself in quite a bit of trouble as well.

From what I gather, the historical accuracy of this book is pretty close to exact for a novel. The events don't need to be changed or embellished much to make a satisfying thriller - what really happened reads like fiction anyway. Of course, a large part of the conspiracy, cover up, and popular opinion revolved around Dreyfus being Jewish. There was open anti-semitism in France at the time and Dreyfus certainly suffered from that.

I picked this book up because I'm about to read volume 3 of Proust's In Search of Lost Time and I've heard there are many references to the Dreyfus case. I felt that I really needed some background on the case presented in an entertaining manner and I certainly got that. I might have liked a bit more delving into the heated public opinion of the day. Certainly, Zola and his famous "J'accuse" is present in the book, but I would have liked one level deeper on public opinion. It's a minor quibble, though, as I can admit that may have made the book too long.

Original publication date: 2014
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 425 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library book
Why I read this: to become better acquainted with the Dreyfus affair

May 1, 7:57pm Top

#28 The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

This is a biography of the late 18th/early 19th century naturalist/explorer/scientist/writer Alexander Humboldt. To be honest, I had never heard of Humboldt, so I was interested to see how famous he was in his day and what an influence he had on others that I had heard of.

Humboldt's main claim to fame was beginning the movement that saw nature as a global whole, not just getting stuck in the classification system on a small level. His travels throughout South America and particularly in current-day Ecuador where he climbed Chimborazo, an enormous active volcano, opened his eyes to the ways nature is connected around the globe. He realized that plants from different regions are often the same or similar when growing at the same altitude. He was also one of the first to point out man's destructive impact on nature.

This biography tells a lot about the people Humboldt influenced. In this book Simon Bolivar, Darwin, Thoreau, and John Muir (among others) are all talked about extensively and tied to Humboldt's ideas. I found this interesting but at the same time, sort of distracting. I wanted to get back to Humboldt during each diversion.

Overall, this was an interesting biography, but not a great one.

Original publication date: 2015
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 576 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library kindlen book
Why I read this: interested in the topic

May 4, 11:23am Top

#29 The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin

I'm not sure if the problem with this book is that I'm just not into science fiction or with the book itself. Not having read much science fiction, I'm not sure I can write a great review for this, but here are my thoughts.

I was hoping to be engaged and transported to a different world. Instead, I felt bogged down by first having to learn about this different world and then felt preached at about different forms of government and their pros and cons. The characters felt secondary to the world-building and political thought. I was bored.

I think that pretty much sums up my reading experience. I apologize to the many LTers who love Ursula K. LeGuin!

Original publication date: 1974
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 400 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library kindle book
Why I read this: 1001 books

Edited: May 5, 11:53pm Top

>138 kac522: I've read 3 books by LeGuin, and the only one I've been able to appreciate is Searoad. It's the only one of hers that I've read that is not science fiction nor true fantasy, although you might say it has some "magical" or spiritual elements. It's a collection of stories/vignettes about a town in the Pacific Northwest. This town by the sea (Klatsand) is the true "main character" of these pieces. You might try this one--more literary, with some lovely writing.

May 6, 9:05pm Top

>138 kac522: Good to know, thanks!

May 6, 9:32pm Top

#30 Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

This was Virginia Woolf's last book and was published posthumously, not fully revised by her. I found it had moments of brilliance but was pretty uneven.

It takes place on a summer day with the inhabitants of a small village putting on and watching a play. The interesting part is the interactions that take place between the locals around the play. The play itself (almost all of it is described and scripted in the book) was really boring and I must have missed the point. It's sort of a retelling of English history and it seemed totally inane. The observers in the book seemed to think so too, so I wasn't alone, but Woolf must have put it in for a reason, right?

Anyway, the relationship between the husband and wife pair, Giles and Isa, is the most interesting. It's subtly told, but both are attracted to other people, at least superficially, but in the end they wind up as always, with only each other to talk to once the guests all leave.

This is good for Virginia Woolf completists, but otherwise I'd recommend her more well-known books as the place to start.

Original publication date: 1941
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 219 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: purchased paperback
Why I read this: 1001 books, reading all of Woolf's novels

May 6, 9:49pm Top

Enjoyed your last three reviews. Interesting that Harris made a thriller out of Dryfus and also, I'm impressed and intrigued that you're prepping for Proust by learning about Dryfus. The Wulf book sounds terrific. And the LeGuin - that's what I worry about when I think of reading scifi.

May 6, 9:55pm Top

>140 japaul22: just saw this. It won't be my first Woolf.

May 7, 8:58am Top

>141 dchaikin: I can't claim credit for this book. I got the idea from someone here in Club Read. Maybe Elizabeth?

>142 dchaikin: I would make Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse your first Woolf.

May 14, 1:09pm Top

#31 Eline Vere by Louis Couperus

A Dutch 19th century psychological character study of a woman and the society she tries to fit in to? Yes, please! I was so happy to discover this Dutch classic through the 1001 books to read before you die group. It fit right in with some of my favorites: Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Middlemarch, and Age of Innocence.

This book is the story of Eline Vere, a well-to-do but mentally unstable young woman living in The Hague. Her manic-depressive tendencies make her various relationships volatile and unfulfilling. Eline and her relationships with her sister, brother-in-law, and various love interests are central to the over-arching flow of the book, but there are plenty of other characters to follow as well.

I loved this book and definitely recommend it to others who love this time period of writing. I think it is "under-known" in English. In fact, the only print copy of it I could find easily in English translation is an Archipelago publication from 2013. It was my first Archipelago book and, as a side note, I love the book quality - very nice cover, binding, paper, etc.

Original publication date: 1889
Author’s nationality: Dutch
Original language: Dutch
Length: 507 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: purchased paperback
Why I read this: 1001 books

May 16, 6:22pm Top

Just been catching up on your thread and there's so many interesting reviews here. I'm thinking of making Pnin my first Nabokov book to try. Also glad to be reminded of An Officer and a Spy, which I've been thinking of reading ever since I read a chapter in another book about the Dreyfus affair and found it a horrifying but fascinating story.

May 19, 4:08pm Top

>144 japaul22: I hadn't heard of this book, but it sounds as if it might make an interesting counter to A Posthumous Confession, "a Dutch nineteenth century psychological character study" of an unstable man.

>136 japaul22: On the TBR calling me whenever I catch sight of it. You've been doing some interesting reading.

May 22, 3:03pm Top

#32 Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Most of you will realize that this isn't my typical sort of book. It's a self-help book about using habits to build a better life. The author starts by categorizing people into four broad categories: upholder (follows through with both inner and outer expectations), obliger (follows outer expectations but has trouble with inner expectations), questioner (obvious), and rebel (obvious).

I read this because one of my friends whose thoughts and intelligence I absolutely trust has been raving about the author - her books and her podcasts - for over a year to me. We've been talking a lot at work about good leadership and she thinks that understanding these different personality traits really helps her leadership of a varied group of people.

I get it and I did think there were some interesting suggestions in this book, but overall I was really, really annoyed by the author's tone. I suspect she was trying to use self-deprecating humor sometimes, but she came off as very smug. And the whole book was based around her life as an upholder set up vs. "the others". As if she was doing it all right and everyone else should aim to be like her. So annoying.

And then there was the troubling fact that she and I have almost the same habits and tendencies which made me wonder if everyone I know thinks I'm as annoying as she was to me!

So, I don't know, it came highly recommended but I can't think of anyone here who would really like it.

Original publication date: 2015
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 320 pages
Rating: 2 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library kindle
Why I read this: recommendation

May 23, 8:25pm Top

#33 The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver is one of those authors that I avoided for a long time because of the very snobby idea that an author that popular couldn't be very good, i.e. very literary. I'm so glad I took a chance because I've loved all of the books I've read by her. She is gifted at creating characters you care about and using interesting settings. That makes her easy to read and popular, but her books are not at all common, light, or simple.

In The Lacuna, she delves into a young man named Harrison Shepherd through his diaries which are compiled by V.B. (later we learn this is Violet Brown). Shepherd is the son of an American father and Mexican mother. At age 12, his mother leaves his father and takes him with her to Mexico, where they live in a string of locations following her boyfriend of the moment. When he strikes out on his own, he ends up as cook, aide, and eventually friend to Diego Rivera, the famous muralist, and Frida Kahlo, the famous painter. He and Frida have a close relationship and it resurfaces throughout the novel, even after he leaves Mexico. He moves back to America, to Asheville, N.C., after a traumatic incident involving Trotsky (yes, Trotsky) and begins writing historical fiction novels. His ties with the Communists during his time in Mexico come back to haunt him as the McCarthy Era begins.

Normally I don't give that much of a plot summary, but the history really shapes Shepherd's life in this book. Somehow even with all the famous characters and true history drama, Kingsolver usually manages to keep the focus on Harrison Shepherd and his internal life. The symbolism in the book is subtle and deep and the characterizations are very believable.

I thought at times that the history overwhelmed the main character just a little bit, but I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.

Original publication date: 2009
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 507 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library book sale paperback
Why I read this: off the shelf, like the author

May 24, 7:05am Top

>148 japaul22: great review. I've only read The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver - it was a while ago, and if I remember rightly I found it hard going in places but overall enjoyed it.

Your review has reminded me to get back to her one of these days.

May 24, 8:06pm Top

>149 AlisonY: I think you'd like this one. I really liked The Poisonwood Bible and I also read The Bean Trees which I also liked but didn't find quite as memorable because it doesn't have the dramatic setting and history.

Yesterday, 2:05pm Top

#34 The Observations by Jane Harris
This was fun. I loved Jane Harris's second book, Gillespie and I, and have been meaning to go back and read this, her first book. While it didn't have the depth and twists of Gillespie and I, it was very entertaining to read.

The story is told by "Bessy", a very young lady in Victorian times who strikes out on her own and winds up as a maid in a secluded household in a small town. The woman who owns the house, Arabella, hires Bessy despite her obvious incompetence as a maid when she learns she can read and write. Things quickly get weird, and Bessy realizes that she is one of a string of maids that Arabella has hired to study and experiment on. She also finds out that one of the previous maids ended up dead under suspicious circumstances.

Bessy writes the book and her voice is amusing and entertaining. This is the sort of book that I will probably remember that I liked, but not actually remember much of the plot or confuse it with others of a similar nature. But that doesn't change the fact that I had a ton of fun reading this book and will definitely read more by Jane Harris. I believe she has another book coming out this year.

Original publication date: 2007
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 407 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Format/Where I acquired the book: library book
Why I read this: like the author and found it at the library

Yesterday, 6:59pm Top

>148 japaul22: You have piqued my interest on this one. Have you read Prodigal Summer? I loved that one.

Yesterday, 7:01pm Top

>151 japaul22: This is the sort of book that I will probably remember that I liked, but not actually remember much of the plot or confuse it with others of a similar nature. But that doesn't change the fact that I had a ton of fun reading this book...

Yup. Reading your review I thought, "this sounds familiar," and sure enough I read it back in 2012. But if you had asked me about it out of the blue, I woudn't have remembered a thing. I enjoyed it, but liked Gillespie and I more.

Yesterday, 8:05pm Top

>152 NanaCC: I've not read that one, but one of my friends at work who I always talk about books with recommended it as well. I'll have to get to it soon!

>153 lauralkeet: Yes, Gillespie and I was better but this was fun too. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who forgets books!

Group: Club Read 2017

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