It’s summer, and still, to me, that means time to laze on the sofa with a tall stack of (library? they’re free! and they take them back and put them on their own shelves!) books and unlimited Diet Cokes, for days at a time.
Alas, I can’t quite convince Lucy that’s how summer should go. I’ve still managed to work in some reading in the evening time I usually spend watching TV. Funny how many books I’ve managed to read since summer TV started; perhaps I should reprioritize when real TV comes back? Ho hum. At any rate, some notes on recent reads:
A Dance to the Music of Time 1st Movement, Anthony Powell (“POE-uhl”): This fat volume contains the first three novels in Powell’s 12-volume masterwork, set from the 1920’s onward. Narrated by Nicholas, an aspiring writer character, the tone is dry and cutting and, if you go for that kind of thing, pretty hilarious. Everything I read about these novels compares them to Proust. English Proust. Proustian. I see why some knee-jerk that response, as the novels are fairly episodic and many supporting characters are allowed to appear, become really important for 50+ pages, and then never appear again. However, Powell’s project here isn’t at all like Proust’s project, and I think the novels are better for it. Nine more to go for me; will I finish this year?
A Gay and Melancholy Sound, Merle Miller: All serious readers should love and revere Nancy Pearl, really and truly. I know Book Lust seems like a stunt, and maybe it is. However, Pearl is so smart and well-read, and she knows what makes a good book. We should all be jumping for joy that she, in partnership with Amazon, is working to republish some of her favorite out-of-print books. A Gay and Melancholy Sound is the first of them, and if it’s any indication of the quality of the rest of the series, I’ll read every single thing Nancy Pearl will sell me. Also written as a first-person narrative (pay attention; a theme for this batch of reading notes), the novel is about a man who’s decided to kill himself. He spends his last week dictating notes about his life to a tape recorder. I loved that I couldn’t trust the narrator. I loved that he was nuts. I loved that he was sad. I loved the way he would remember something like, say, liberating a concentration camp, and spend about two sentences on it, while he’d remember a dinner conversation with his mother for about fifteen pages. Not a perfect book, as it is a little overlong and tends to sag in places, but a very worthy read. Thanks, Ms. Pearl.
The Healing, Jonathan Odell: Hoo boy, this one wants to be big stuff. From the cover blurbs comparing it to The Help to the black slave women protagonists, this novel poses itself to be something big and bad. Hello, though: Jonathan Odell is a white man from Mississippi. Maybe I would have been happier not to see the author photograph on the back flap? Or maybe I’d be more charitably inclined towards this book if I hadn’t actually spent time in graduate school reading about real, violent, nasty slave revolts? A lot of woman-vagina-moon-menstrual-midwifery moony silliness, which is also hard to swallow from a male author. NONETHELESS, it was an excellent read. Well-written, fast-paced, meant to be consumed in great gulps like all good summer reading.
Part of the Furniture, Mary Wesley: To those of you who miss Downton Abbey, and who have been furtively consuming those trashy BBC WWII miniseries flicks on Netflix as a shameful and thrilling stopgap: do yourself a favor, head up to your library’s dusty fiction stacks, and check out every book Mary Wesley’s ever written. Part of the Furniture is about a seventeen-year-old English girl named Juno who is set adrift by WWII. Her beloved boys have gone to war, her mother has fled to Canada, she doesn’t like her aunt and she DOESN’T want to be a Land Girl. On the night she says goodbye to the two boys she believes are the loves of her life, she takes random shelter from an air raid with a man who then dies in his sleep. To say much more would be to spoil the book, but it’s romantic and silly without being overly saccharine or sentimental. Even gritty at times–Jean Rhys meets Downton Abbey, minus the abortions, perhaps?
Treasure Island!!!, Sara Levine: I love you, Shawn Hunter. No, really. Remember Boy Meets World, the 90s sitcom we all loved until they went to college and it got stupid? OK, now remember Rider Strong, who played dreamy Shawn Hunter, and who we all have to admit we sort of had a crush on. Turns out he’s a writer! And he reads smart things! And he is still dreamy! With Julia Pistell and Tod Goldberg, he hosts a new books podcast called Literary Disco. On the most recent episode of the podcast, the gang read and rave-reviewed Treasure Island!!! It’s about a 25-year-old girl set adrift in the early 21st century by her liberal arts education. (See above.) She doesn’t want to get a real job. She doesn’t want to end up like her sister, in credit card debt and living with their parents. So she takes up Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, decides to live her life by its principles, and proceeds to lose her dead-end job, buy a parrot she hates, and mooch off her boyfriend. And then she moves back in with her parents in the end, anyway. It’s Girls, with a different kind of laughs. This book is just about my favorite kind of book to read: a first-person narrator, preferably (but not necessarily) female, who’s batshit crazy and doesn’t know it. Things usually start out bad for this narrator, and deteriorate quickly. See also: Wish Her Safe At Home, Benetar; The Dud Avocado, Dundy; even Bridget Jones’ Diary. 172 pages, a millon scornful laughs, choose this book.
Up next: Knut Hamsen, Hunger (another Rider Strong pick, *swoon*); Katherine Dunn, Geek Love (thanks, Julia Pistell of Literary Disco–seriously, every episode adds four or five books to my TBR list); Jane Gardam, Crusoe’s Daughter; Mary Wesley, A Sensible Life; Reynolds Price, Kate Vaiden.
What’s at the top of YOUR pile this June?