Author Archive

Companion Reads: ‘The Monuments Men’ and ‘Agent Zigzag’


I’m not entirely sure why, but I often find myself reading about World War II when I travel. It isn’t a topic I usually find myself gravitating to, but for some reason when you put me on a plane destined for far-off shores, I turn to WWII.

For my most recent holiday, I ended up reading The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (by Bret Witter and Robert M. Edsel) and Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal (by Ben Macintyre) within a few days of each other. Unsurprisingly for two books about various intrepid “good guys” triumphing over various forms of Nazi horribleness, they pair together quite well.

Both books are what might be categorized as “popular history,” i.e. lighter historical fare intended for the general public. In addition to presenting big stories in a more digestible form, these books are liberally sprinkled with factoids and usually insert dialogue throughout to make the overall book feel a lot like an adventure novel. Accordingly, they’re easy, interesting, comulsively readable books. I devoured two in three days! (more…)

March 17, 2017 at 6:41 am Leave a comment

‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has been sitting on my shelf for almost three years. It was given to me when I lived on Nantucket largely, I believe, because it’s about a bookshop on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. In addition, Fikry is billed as a book for book-lovers, an ode to the delights of a good independent bookstore.

This all sounded very much up my alley and so an astute coworker got it for me for my birthday years ago.

And indeed, the fictional bookshop of Fikry, called Island Books, will seem very familiar to anyone who has ever shopped at Mitchell’s Book Corner in Nantucket. With its small children’s section, the smaller upstairs area, and apartment above, Island Books must have been inspired in part by a visit to Nantucket.

And indeed, the book does dwell on the kind of curmugeonly book-love that borders on snobbery with which many bibliophiles will be intimately familiar. Our hero, A.J. Fikry, owner of Island Books, disdains anything with vampires, young adult books as a rule, and sappy novels about widowers.

Fikry also dutifully resurrects the old e-book vs. physical book debate that used to feel like such a civil war in the reading community. (A.J. is, unsurprisingly, one of those “I’ll be damned if I use one of those contraptions!” / “E-books are killing bookstores!” people.) I like to think we’ve moved beyond this sort of reductiveness; one can like multiple formats and each has its own benefits.

But, for all that Fikry is about an island bookstore and however much the characters love books, I was stunned and disappointed to discover that it is, at its mushy heart, actually that which A.J. himself disdains: a sappy novel about a widower. (more…)

March 9, 2017 at 6:19 am 2 comments

‘The Muse’ by Jessie Burton

Jessie Burton’s back, people!

Some of Literary Transgression’s more loyal readers may recall my, ahem, lukewarm reaction to her, shall we say, disappointing The Miniaturist back in 2014. There was a lot of hype surrounding that book and, in the end, a lot of misplaced expectations. After reading it, I was actively irritated and very nearly swore never to read Jessie Burton again.

Despite that fiasco, however, I decided to give her a second try when this beautiful piece of Library Loot came my way. (more…)

March 6, 2017 at 4:18 pm 2 comments

‘The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle’ by Russell Miller

adventures-conan-doyle
I’m ringing in the new year with biographies, which are proving an excellent ladder out of my non-reading pit of the last few months. Russell Miller’s The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle is the first on my list and it proved to be an appropriately entertaining biography to end 2016 and ring in 2017.

Miller, the first biographer given access to papers held by the Doyle family, divides Conan Doyle’s life into three, roughly equal parts: the Doctor, the Writer, and the Spiritualist. The first is the most satisfying as Miller’s unexcitable style fits best in retelling the childhood and early career of a country doctor. The latter two sections are slightly more dissatisfying as Miller continues to present the facts with little embellishment or noticeable excitement despite the increasingly noteworthy happenings in his subject’s life. (more…)

January 2, 2017 at 1:27 pm Leave a comment

The LT Year in Reading: 2016 Edition

darkershade 9780141199795

It’s that time of year again: what topped our list in 2016? And what did we absolutely despise? Check out Kate and Corey’s picks for their best (and worst!) reads of 2016:

Best Library Loot
Corey: Definitely A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé. It was one of those serendipitous library reads that you magically happen upon and turn out to be incredible. I was so lucky to find this one in the stacks this year!

Kate: Hmm. Probably A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was not a book of short stories by a recovered alcoholic that hopscotched all across the Southwest. Just wonderful.

“Hey, I didn’t know that!” Award for Best Nonfiction Read
Kate: Can I take a second to brag about the fact that I really tried to branch out into nonfiction this year? And still, somehow, only read a few. But Cooked by Michael Pollan was the best of them, probably, filled with compelling stories and facts about the food we cook and how we eat it.

all-the-single-ladies

Corey: Rebecca Trainster’s All the Single Ladies was so chock-a-block full of “hey, I didn’t know that!” moments, I think I irritated pretty much everyone I ever happened to be reading this book next to; I couldn’t stop myself from shouting out tidbits and marveling at Trainster’s research.

Best Reread
Kate: The Likeness by Tana French. Shades of Donna Tartt and Kate Atkinson. Plus, it takes place at Trinity and just outside Dublin, so I got to feel all nostalgic.

Corey: I only reread one book this year — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — and it was, as usual, a total delight. (more…)

December 29, 2016 at 6:37 am Leave a comment

Reading, and more often not reading, in late 2016

Temporary book storage c. 2010
At the risk of stating the obvious, we here at Literary Transgressions haven’t been posting lately. Our apologies, dear readers. This lapse is for a variety of personal reasons — as well as the utterly miserable current political climate in the states — but it’s also for the simple reason that I just have not been reading.

This is a truly unusual situation for me; I always read. I read before work. I read after work. I’ve read through subway commutes standing up with no pole in sight. I read walking home. I’ve read on bumpy ferry rides and turbulence-filled Cessna journeys. I read in 100+-degree weather, stopping briefly to take cold showers. I’ve read through depression, I’ve read through joy, and I’ve read even when I didn’t really feel like it, but did so anyway.

But now, suddenly, I’m not reading. I haven’t finished a book in months. I’ve barely even started a book in weeks. There’s something in the air, a feeling of just too much, that means I haven’t been able to pick up a book.

Normally, books are a refuge and an inspiration for me. But, as 2016 draws to a close, I just can’t. I can’t muster the energy or the hope to crack open a book.

I have high hopes that I will return to my readerly ways in 2017. I love reading (again, the obvious!) and, with a snowy winter forecast by the Farmer’s Almanac, I anticipate lots of snowed-in, cozy afternoons with hot chocolate, buttered graham crackers, my warm little dog, and a good book.

But until I muster up the ability to put one foot in front of the bookish other, I just wanted to check in with all of you. How are you holding up, dear readers? Have you been avoiding literary escape? Or have you dived in more passionately?

Here’s to a brighter 2017 — and stay tuned for our annual “Year in Reading” post next week! Despite this time of non-reading, Kate and I did read some great stuff earlier in the year.

December 22, 2016 at 12:16 pm 5 comments

Recent Reads: Autumn 2016 Edition

After raiding the library recently, I found a couple of quick-but-good reads. What have you been reading lately? Share in the comments!

book-of-spec
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
Synopsis: Sailor Twain – illustrations + tarot + librarians
Short Thoughts: Terrific first outing from Erika Swyler!
Balancing a bookish mystery on modern-day Long Island with a traveling carnival in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, The Book of Speculation is well-crafted and entertaining to read. Swyler veers into soap opera territory in the final fourth of the book, but all the threads still come together neatly by the end with minimal melodrama.

My only complaint was that the shadowy book dealer who kicks off the whole thing never really gels — he could have been a more interesting and/or more sinister figure, but instead floats in and out of the story without any particular point.
More serious reviews: NPR and Publisher’s Weekly

on-writing
On Writing by Stephen King
Synopsis: Strunk & White + memoir + advice – formality
Short Thoughts: Would you believe I’ve never read anything by Stephen King? This is my first and, although I know none of his other books are like it, it made me want to read more Stephen King. Equally personable and helpful, On Writing is a great examination of where that writing itch comes from and how to hone your own.
More serious reviews: The Guardian and The A.V. Club

October 14, 2016 at 6:01 am 2 comments

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