Posts filed under ‘Contemporary Fiction’
Kate: Okay, as sick as I am of Pride and Prejudice being rewritten, and as sick as I am of Regency/Victorian reboots in general, I unabashedly loved Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible. More a reimagining than a retelling, this novel updates the original by making all of the sisters older and moving the entire thing to Cincinnati (among other things). So, Corey, first question to you: Do you think Sittenfeld’s work is successful in terms of capturing the spirit of the original?
Corey: Yes! I haven’t actually read any other retellings, but this book makes me want to. There is something so fundamentally charming, entertaining, and satisfying about this story that it feels almost like a fable or a myth. You can shift it around and change the time or the place (or both!) and it still retains its spirit. What do you think that ineffable “tale as old as time”-ness of it all is? Why do we need to keep reading and retelling and reimagining this particular tale?
Kate: Well, it’s Beauty and the Beast. Elizabeth Bennet, beauty — Fitzwilliam Darcy, beast. I suppose readers like to think that the attractive brooding asshole really does have a heart of gold, deep inside, that he’s waiting to reveal to that one special person. Which is the main heroine, a stand-in for the reader. Right? I mean, Twilight is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, supposedly. It’s all the same story.
Corey: I guess that’s my question: what is so compelling about this trope? Is it just the hope that every jerk has a heart of gold waiting to be revealed?
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…)
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…)
Mamen Sánchez’s The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman (what a great title!) tells the story of one Atticus Craftsman, heir to a British publishing house, who is sent to Spain to shut down the publisher’s failing Spanish literary magazine. This magazine is run by five women, one of whom has rather more to hide than the other four, and, in the course of closing the magazine, Atticus (altogether unexpectedly!) disappears. Or so his British father back in London thinks.
For whatever reason, I went into Disappearance expecting a bookish novel, along the lines of A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé or Tom Rachman’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (or maybe even more like Rachman’s first novel, The Imperfectionists). The book was recommended in the August edition of the IndieBound Next List, a usually reputable source of good reads, so maybe that’s where I got the notion.
In any event, Disappearance is many things — including fun, madcap, and sweet — but it is not particularly literary. It is pure fluffy goodness, something light and downright goofy that would have been a perfect beach read earlier in the summer. (Who releases a book like this at the end of August?!) (more…)
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting going into Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits. I’d read her Daughter of Fortune and her retelling of Zorro many years ago, before I’d ever heard of “magical realism” or started enjoying Spanish or Latin American books every summer. I remember them both vaguely (and positively!) and I always had it in mind to read The House of Spirits. It was supposed to be her greatest work and so, when I found it at used book store earlier this summer, the timing seemed propitious.
Having now read it, I mostly felt like The House of Spirits was two novels jammed together as one. They flow so nicely that you almost don’t notice you’ve wandered from one to the other until you — seemingly suddenly — find yourself in a Chilean concentration camp for women and wonder what happened to the puckish and magical goings-on that started the book. (more…)
I recently went through a spurt of serendipitous library reads. In keeping with the great stereotype of “beach reads,” I read these books quickly and fairly mindlessly, so I can’t say I have any particularly deep thoughts to share, but, all the same, I wanted to write a few warnings and praise for those wandering their own library aisles:
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Synopsis: The Secret History + baseball – murder
Short Thoughts: Enjoyable, male-centric summer book. You do not, repeat, do not have to like baseball to enjoy the book (says the reader who enjoys baseball), but a vague notion of Melville/Moby Dick will probably help.
More serious reviews: New York Times; The Guardian
In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Ovrent
Synopsis: Just My Type – typography + linguistics + Klingon
Short Thoughts: Terrifically engaging book about the inventiveness and dreamy tendencies of those who have invented their own languages throughout history. If you have ever feel yourself losing faith in humanity, read the chapters on Esperanto and you’ll feel a little bit better.
More series review: The Washington Post
First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
Synopsis: Any Dan Brown/Robert Langdon book – religious conspiracy theories + Jane Austen conspiracy theories + fan fiction
Short Thoughts: Charlie Lovett should not go within 100 miles of writing women. (Or, more accurately, trying to write women.) Basically, his utterly rubbish female protagonist makes a silly book even less palpable. Very disappointing for those who enjoyed his first book, The Bookman’s Tale.
More serious reviews: Kirkus Reviews; The Washington Post
Falling Upwards by Richard Holmes
Short Thoughts: Few books were so entrancing and enjoyable as Holmes’ Age of Wonders, so I was disappointed not to feel any intellectual curiosity piqued at Falling Upwards. I barely made it through the first chapter before giving up.
More serious review (which suggests I should try again!): New York Times
What have you been reading lately? Chime in below!
This post is part of our on-going 2016 Spring Reading Spree. Kick off your own reading spree this spring by giving some love to the unread books on your shelf!
As Kate has previously noted in her post on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, it is incredibly hard to write about big, excellent books. Where do you start when you love something so lengthy and for so many reasons? What do you do when you finish an epic book and want to talk about everything and everyone in the book?
Like The Count, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is a hefty tale, largely fueled by revenge and other sorts of nefariousness, that takes its time unraveling its plot and the relationships between its characters. Additionally, The Luminaries is akin to the Victorian mystery novel, but instead of having a Father Brown or a Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple to do the mystery-solving, the responsibility of figuring out what actually happened is divided amongst thirteen people. They all want to solve the mystery and they each have a specific piece of information that might do the trick, but they are often hampered by their own blind-spots and prejudices.
But more than the triple mystery at its heart, The Luminaries is an insightful exploration of character and New Zealand’s own history. (more…)