Thumbnail Reviews Of Five Good Books And One Horrid One


I imagine many of you are lifelong and enthusiastic readers. Me too. Someone asked that I post book reviews now and then. Well, on an occasional basis, we just might give it a shot. Here are a few thumbnails of notable and fairly new works.

We’ve got five worth a read, and one that may be the worst ever. Something must play salt to our literary caramel, after all.

Golem and Jini

The Golem and the Jinni (P.S.)

This writer invents, sustains, and evolves an unusual construct quite beautifully. A Jini from the deserts (a man,) and a Golem, created out of clay in Russia (a woman), meet in 19th century New York. The story relies on a magical reality reminiscent of vampire novels to examine a man and a woman in love, with the constant murmuring of today’s conflicts playing a supporting but critical role. Wecker meant at first to write the story of a Palestinian-Jewish romance, her fantasy approach is genius. So often constructs disappoint, this one proves out the value of imagination and allegory.

The Widening

The Widening

This brief episodic novel tells the story of a young woman as she finishes high school, spends a semester in Spain, and then goes on to Harvard. Sounds simple, isn’t. The author is an established poet, and her language is spare, haunting, occasionally alienated but always beautiful. She’s writing about early sexual encounters, and in particular the way they happened in the mid-70s. We who were too young for the sexual revolution traveled the brave new world, picking our way through the associated debris and dangers, unknowing. As it happens, Moldaw and I were high school friends. She’s writing semi-autobiographically, so her experiences are both wholly familiar and from olden days. The book stays with you for a while.

You Should Have Known
You Should Have Known

A very small and tightly drawn suspense novel, that I won from the hilarious Blighty, British blogger extraordinaire, in a giveaway. Nice spot of luck there on my part. I can’t quite call this a mystery, as Korelitz isn’t interested in cloaks, daggers, pubs detectives, or mystery hounds on the moors. Instead she gives us a specific portrait of a woman damaged, her dependencies, resultant somewhat creepy relationships, and the path forward. With a car chase thrown in for good measure. Great bedtime read.

George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic

George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic

As I began to focus on interior design, I thought it would be a good idea to educate myself a little in its history. Where better to start than with Maureen Footer’s new book on George Stacey? As I know very little about well-known designers of yore, I can’t compare Stacey to anyone else. But I am finding his story – his personal background and the social dynamics at play in his career – fascinating. And the pictures of high-society American interiors and their evolution, well, who could avert their eyes? Not I. Footer is a good friend of my friends, Reggie and Boy Darling. Very well-recommended indeed.

Americanah

Americanah

One of my favorite books in a long time. Sticking to the thumbnail format, let’s describe the book as one woman’s relationship to Africa and America, as felt in love affairs. Alternatively, as a funny, immediate in the details, energetic to the nth degree, romance novel. Or as a look into cultures and sub-cultures that were new, at least to me, and vibrantly revealed. I pretty much grinned the whole way through, even when Adichie wrote about aspects of America that are nothing to smile about, just because I was so happy to have the book in my hands.

My Life In Loubies

My Life in Loubies

I love a good trashy or formulaic read as much as the next woman. Genre fiction, even what we used to call “supermarket novels,” all of it. This is not that. This is I know not what. This is the story of, well, hard to say. A woman. And some other people. I wish it had been a horrible shallow read about Louboutins but not even. I forced myself to read all the way through out of sheer perversity. Persistence is almost always rewarded. Note that I said almost. Suffer this only if you enjoy examples of how important a narrative, some narrative, any narrative, is to the fictional endeavor.

In Sum

Pulling together these reviews, even brief as they are, has me thinking about why I read. My motivation has changed, and I’m not quite sure how or when it happened. I find myself particularly drawn to books that reveal specific but universal patterns of life – as I have come to know it. Books where people and their beings can be deeply felt. I still admire the pyrotechnics of brilliant prose, but I don’t actually feel those explosions in my gut the way I used to. Maybe it’s a sign of midlife, or maybe I know more words than people and it’s time to make up the difference.

 

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20 Comments

  • 08/21/14
    1:35 am

    Reply

    Gam Kau said...

    “It’s so much better
    to close your eyes, sit in your study,
    lower the curtains, sweep the floor,
    burn incense.
    It’s beautiful to listen to the wind,
    listen to the rain,
    take a walk when you feel energetic,
    and when you’re tired go to sleep.”

    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/08/19/dont-read-books-zen-poems/

    08/23/14
    1:18 am
    Lisa said...

    Ah, see, I feel that poem now applies to the digital world, and books have become nature.

  • 08/21/14
    2:32 am

    Reply

    Linda said...

    I am a little older than you, and have also discovered I know more words than people. An introvert’s lament, I got a little panicky. I will learn more about humans, perhaps learn the skill–once and for all–of bringing more souls into my circle. I’ll start by reading these terrific examples you recommend above, thank you!

    08/23/14
    1:19 am
    Lisa said...

    My pleasure. Introverts are not alone in this – extroverts can know a lot of people without understanding them.

  • 08/21/14
    3:45 am

    Reply

    Esmeralda said...

    I was hoping you meant “horrid” in a Catherine Morland/Henry Tilney sense!

    Never mind, you have convinced me on all the others and I am off to see whether The Widening is available in the UK. Thanks!

    08/21/14
    8:04 am
    Miss Cavendish said...

    @Esmeralda, Love this reference; I teach Northanger Abbey in my Gothic literature class and am always charmed by how Catherine uses “horrid” as high praise!

    08/23/14
    1:20 am
    Lisa said...

    Ha! I would wish so too. Would have been much more agreeable:).

  • 08/21/14
    5:00 am

    Reply

    joannawnyc said...

    Thoroughly enjoyed Americanah!

    08/23/14
    1:20 am
    Lisa said...

    Good to hear.

  • 08/21/14
    6:22 am

    Reply

    Frances/Materfamilias said...

    I loved Americanah as well, one of the standouts of the year for me, in a good year. Is it my imagination or is that a very bold cover, on The Widening. . ..

    08/21/14
    7:12 am
    Sue B @highheelsinthewilderness.blogspot.ca said...

    @Frances/Materfamilias,

    Well spotted, I think, Mater. Reminds me of a sculpture at the National Gallery…Three Witches by Anish Kapoor. I tried to post a shot of it here but think that the comment form does not take visuals….other than word pictures, of course.
    I will definitely look for The Widening now. And after you have both recommended it, Americanah as well. Time for me to crawl out of my murder mystery pit anyway.

    08/23/14
    1:22 am
    Lisa said...

    Venturing out of a beloved genre is always nice, even if only for a little while.

    08/22/14
    10:15 am
    Frances/Materfamilias said...

    Yep. I checked out that sculpture–fabulous! – and you’re seeing what I see (love seeing the Three Muses/Graces show their witchy side!

    08/23/14
    1:20 am
    Lisa said...

    Oh your imagination is quite correct, I believe.

  • 08/21/14
    6:36 am

    Reply

    Artsy in Boulder (Debbie) said...

    I’ve been saving The Golem and the Jinni for a fall/winter read. Your review gives me hope that the transition to the colder months will now be more enjoyable. I have a stack of intriguing books awaiting me, probably more than I will realistically find time for, but is there anything more enticing and (hopefully) satisfying? An introvert’s delight. Should I thank you for adding to the queue or not? ;)

    08/23/14
    1:21 am
    Lisa said...

    As long as potential joy balances out the slight anxiety of the to-read stack:).

  • 08/21/14
    8:16 am

    Reply

    Velma said...

    Bit of a class difference, apparently! :-)

    My brain valiantly tried to turn “Loubies” to “Luby’s”–a cheap cafeteria chain in Texas, where as a student I ate Thanksgiving dinner every year: http://www.lubys.com.

    Sounds like a horrid book, and you were very brave to soldier on.

    Velma

  • 08/21/14
    8:50 am

    Reply

    Drew said...

    Americanah has been on my to-read list for months. I think it’s time to move it to the top of the list.

    Thanks for the honest book reviews. It’s always fascinating to see what others are reading, and why.

  • 08/21/14
    9:32 am

    Reply

    MJ said...

    I’ll also move Americanah up the list; I’m not so sure of the others. May I also suggest “Someone”, by Alice McDermott? It’s a beautifully-drawn portrait of a young woman born about the same time as my mother, growing up in Irish Catholic Brooklyn. It’s wonderfully written and feels authentic.

  • 08/21/14
    10:43 am

    Reply

    Mardel said...

    Loved the list and the brief reviews. I wish I could catch your lightness. Americanah has been on my list a long time. Perhaps it needs a boost up the ladder.

  • 08/21/14
    10:56 am

    Reply

    Jan's Sushi Bar said...

    I’m going to see if both The Widening and Americanah are available for the Kindle. Assuming, of course, that this summer ever comes to a close and I can read something other than Harry Potter, aloud, to a 5-year-old.

  • 08/21/14
    2:33 pm

    Reply

    Emmaleigh504 said...

    Ooh the George Stacey book looks like something I would enjoy!

  • 08/21/14
    2:50 pm

    Reply

    Eleanorjane said...

    Facinating concept, reading as a way of improving one’s social cirlce. It sounds oxymoronic, but I’m convinced that wide and thorough reading is an excellent education in all sorts of things, including empathy.

    Still, one does need to move out of the library and into the coffee shop (or wherever) sometimes.

  • 08/21/14
    4:05 pm

    Reply

    Ming said...

    Will check out some of the suggestions. Sorry you spent time reading My Life in Loubies. About 15 years ago – on a beach in Maui – I put down a book I didn’t like. I was about halfway through and it suddendly dawned on me that I didn’t have to continue reading!

    Since that day – I have put down many books – I’m no longer willing to spend my time reading books I don’t like.

  • 08/21/14
    5:49 pm

    Reply

    M said...

    Thanks for the recs…especially appreciate the thumbnails. You put your finger on something I had been sensing about a shift in why I read. It does feel different now. I am going to explore this a bit more and see if I discern a pattern.

  • 08/22/14
    12:27 am

    Reply

    Sara said...

    Thank you for the book reviews. I hope you will send more also your father’s analysis too. As a fellow life-long reader, I discovered early that reading took me into the minds of people – each with their own solutions to universal problems.

  • 08/22/14
    4:37 am

    Reply

    Miss Cavendish said...

    My Life in Loubies reminds me of the time I dragged myself through Bitter Is the New Black. The concept appealed immensely (loses job, goes from Prada to nada), but I found the work to be unendurable.

  • 08/24/14
    6:41 am

    Reply

    Meg said...

    I read “& Sons” (David Gilbert”. I think you’d really like it. Gilbert is like a social anthropologist. Loved it. Great story, well written.

    08/25/14
    2:32 am
    Lisa said...

    Oh, thanks for the recommendation. Much appreciated.

  • 08/30/14
    9:09 am

    Reply

    em said...

    Always appreciate thoughtful book reviews! Thanks!

  • 09/02/16
    11:49 am

    Reply

    Toni Kief said...

    If I’m crushed by the pile of what to read next beside my bed, the police will be in contact. I started writing at a later age, and the most important aspect of writing is reading. The better the read the more I work.

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