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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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