All Passion Spent was my very first Vita Sackville-West. She’s a figure of some intrigue who has floated peripherally around my studies and reading for many years, but I’d never read any of her books until now, which, as it turns out, is a real shame.
My New York Book Club chose All Passion Spent as their September read and I’ve been loyally reading along, long-distance. So while I don’t know what they made of the book, I certainly enjoyed it.
All Passion Spent has been described as the literary companion to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which is a pretty accurate description. Passion tells the story of the eighty-something Lady Slane who, having spent her entire life denying herself in service to her politician husband and string of children, decides to move out on her own to a cottage in Hampstead after her husband’s death. It shocks her children, but, so close to death, she decides she has well-earned the right to make her own choices.
Stylistically, Passion isn’t a very novelish novel—the entire middle portion is a philosophical musing by Lady Shane over the course of one afternoon about her life and feminism—but it is a very satisfying one. (more…)
A book equally quiet and serious as its own protagonist, Stoner by John Williams is, like The Secret History, another perfectly autumnal read. Indeed, despite the story spanning decades—an entire man’s life, in fact—there is something distinctly autumnal about the book’s tone and outlook even apart from its academic setting.
Stoner relates, in an emotionless and detached manner, the life of William Stoner, a man raised by farmers and ensorcelled by academia. As his life progresses, one gets a creeping sense of futility—that it hardly matters what choices Stoner makes as all of them seem to turn sour until his inevitable death. (more…)
I still wasn’t quite done with all my books from my last haul (I’m looking at you, Vita Sackville-West!), but a few more inter-library loan requests arrived this week with impressive speed.
Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones
I discovered this “X-Men meets Ocean’s 11″ novel in my last go-round of Library Loot from Kay at It’s a Book Life. Can’t wait to dig in—the GoodReads reviews are uniformly glowing!
Also this week, I made my first trip out to Nantucket’s own literally-titled “take it or a leave it,” a remarkable place where people drop off all manner of randomness and either depart empty-handed or come away with someone else’s randomness. It’s a total melee, but it also has an incredible book room, which is piled high (and low) with gently-used and completely free books. I consider this something of a library (after all, the books most often end up returned) and took the following from the take it or leave it this week:
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
I’m willing to try pretty much anything by the man who created The Escapist.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
I feel like everyone has read this book and/or told me to read this book at one point or another.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is a book that almost defies explanation. At the end of it, I closed the book, leaned back, and felt utter blankness. This was followed closely by confusion. And then slight annoyance. I give you: the Four Stages of Reading The Miniaturist.
Stage One: Intrigue
The Miniaturist starts off strong, opening on Amsterdam in 1686 with our heroine, the newly-married Nella Brandt, arriving at her new husband’s home and attempting to fit in with her new family. The house is peopled with mysterious figures, none terribly welcoming, including her husband, Johannes. Among his unexplained acts is the gift of a miniature model of the house to Nella. For reasons also unexplained, she is then expected to fill the tiny house, which causes her to seek out the titular miniaturist.
Stage Two: Whiplash
The Miniaturist is many things, none of them meshing terribly well together. It seems to aspire to be a female companion to David Liss’ The Coffee Trader—an excellent book dealing with a similar moment in Dutch history from a male perspective—while borrowing some mood from The Night Circus and a taste for the historically saucy from Philippa Gregory and Sarah Waters. The combination could have been excellent if only Burton would stick to the story of new-to-the-big-city Nella and the mysterious miniaturist who seems to know her and her new life all too well.
However, about halfway through the book, readers are dealt a twist that is so wholly unexpected, unexplained, and seemingly irrelevant to the plot Burton was building towards in the first half that you get literary whiplash. The second half of the book attempts to reconcile the first half with this sudden development. Success is limited at best. (more…)
Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History is a terrific autumn, back-to-school read. At once pulpy and thoughtful, The Secret History is the ideal book to ease you into autumn’s cooler, saner days after a summer of more frivolous, light reading.
At its heart, The Secret History tells the story of a murder. This may seem humdrum enough, but instead of telling the story as a mystery, The Secret History is an exploration of the psyche—it’s a whydunit, not a whodunit. From the very first pages, readers are introduced to the murderers, the victim, and how/when he dies. The rest of the novel seeks to explain how they all got to that point and what happened after. Tartt is less concerned with the act itself and more interested in what could possibly compel seemingly sane people to commit such an act. And what happens to seemingly sane people after they do. (more…)
Increasingly, I use my inter-library loan privileges as a To Be Read list of their own. When someone recommends something, I request it from the library and settle in to wait until it comes in. Whenever that happens is a pleasant reminder that it’s time to check one more book off my TBR list.
This week, unfortunately, three books I’d requested over the past few months all arrived at the library at the same time! Cut to two weeks of reading furiously.
Stoner by John Williams
Recommended by Lisa Hill!
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Recommended by NYMag as one of the “hottest titles at Book Expo 2014.”
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
This is my New York Book Club‘s September/October pick and I’m looking forward to reading along as their long-distance member.
Meanwhile, I use my Kindle pretty much only when I travel and even then I’m still reluctant to actually pay for books on it. Ergo, library loot on my Kindle!
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
When the New York Times wrote of Lev Grossman’s amazing The Magicians as “like The Secret History crossed with Harry Potter“, and I hadn’t heard of, let alone read, one of those books, I knew I had a new entry on my TBR list.
(And, in the interest of full disclosure, I actually got this book out of the library twice over—first as a physical book and then I switched to Kindle in preparation for a lengthy plane journey to Charleston.)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
I’ve been wanting to read something by le Carré forever. Aforementioned recent plane journey seemed as good a time as any to load one of his books up on my Kindle.
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
Yes, I own this in hardback. But I still wanted to have it on my Kindle in case I ran out of other reading material during my trip.
Can we talk about magazines? I feel like magazines get pretty short shrift on blogs about reading and books (i.e. they are never, ever mentioned), which makes them a perfect fit for a blog called “Literary Transgressions”! I’ve been reading a few back-issues of New York lately as part of my goal to make time to read everyday and have come to conclusion that magazines should have their day in the book blog sun.
In particular, I’ve been wondering what magazines the bookish of the world gravitate towards. In my ideal world, I would be able to subscribe to a magazine that focused on all aspects of bookishness, from the act of reading itself to book history to publishing to design. I want literary essays (a la Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris and Alberto Manguel’s The Library At Night), obligatory book recommendations (perhaps categorized by type of reader, rather than type of book), a section about typography, something about book history, and a funny little page at the back with a personal essay or cartoon about the reading experience.
Does this exist already? Because I have my wallet out ready to subscribe if someone could only point me in the right direction. (more…)