Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ten Books I Really Want to Re-Read

Inspired by Kristin's list on We Be Reading, I started thinking about rereads.  I think the only downside to reading book blogs is that I learn about so many wonderful books that my TBR list is getting enormous.  I spend so much time reading and think about these new books, I never seem to make time to re-read my old favorites, unless it's for a book group.

I'm actually about to start re-reading Love in the Time of Cholera for a book discussion group next week -- sometimes I don't reread books for discussions, but it's been so long since I read it I've forgotten most of it.  It's been almost 20 years since I read this book, so does it really count as a reread?  (I'm also leading the discussion, so I definitely want it to be fresh in my mind before the meeting).

Here are the top ten books I want to re-read, when I have time.   (Ha!)

1.  Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I have to get this one done by May 4th!

2.  Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.  I fell in love with Maugham's work all over again when I read The Painted Veil for my classics book group.  Of Human Bondage was one of the first classics I ever read for pleasure -- it was foisted on me by a guy who lived down the hall in my dorm freshman year.  He insisted I take it home and read it over the Christmas break, and since I had an enormous crush on him, I obeyed.  I ended up loving the book, though things never did work out with the guy.

3.  Watership Down by Richard Adams.  I loved this when I was a teenager, but I haven't read it since.  I'd love to know if it has stood the test of time.

4.  Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  Another favorite from middle school and high school, I first read it in sixth grade.  I used to read it over and over but it's been years since the last read.

5.  Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.  I've seen the movies multiple times but I've only actually read the book once.  I need to reread it before I go to the JASNA annual meeting in October.

6.  Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.  I've been taking Spanish classes for the past year so I want to read more Latino literature, and it would be fun to reread this (definitely in English, my Spanish still isn't that good!).  I remember loving it and the movie adaptation was excellent.

7.  Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh.  I thought this was hilarious, so I recommended it to Amanda at The Zen Leaf for our reading swap.  I want to reread it and see if it's as funny as I remember.

8.  West with the Night by Beryl Markham.  Another book I chose for my book swap with Amanda.  I remember loving it so much I read it really slowly because I didn't want it to end.  She didn't like it as much as I did so I want to reread it and see if it's just as good the second time around.

9.  Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  I recently reread Jane Eyre for the first time in years, now I want to reread this one too.  It's one of the only prequels/sequels to classic lit I really like.

10. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  After my initial reading of Love in the Time, I was inspired to read more Garcia Marquez. It's one the three novellas in his Collected Novellas which has been sitting on the TBR shelf since my husband gave it to me before we were married, so I've probably had this unread more than twenty years!  I really should just sit down and finish the whole thing, shouldn't I?

So do you find you push your rereads aside in favor of new books because of blogging?  Or do you just hear about so many new books that you don't have time for the old favorites?  What would you reread if you had the chance?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Perfume From Provence by Lady Winifred Fortescue

I am both proud and and embarrassed to have finally finished this book, which is actually quite ridiculous, since it is a both charming and delightful book, a lovely memoir written in the 1930s by an Englishwoman who moved to Provence.  It's not a long book, nor a difficult one.   I am proud because it is one of the books that has sat unread on my TBR shelves for the longest, and I am embarrassed because I purchased this book more than twelve years ago!  To the best of my recollection, I purchased it in 1998 during my first visit to Epcot in Disneyworld, at the French pavilion.  (Yes, they sell books at Disneyworld that are unrelated to cartoon characters -- I have bought quite a few.  Most of them are still unread also, le sigh.)

Before I digress any further with my rant about owned-and-unread books, I should probably actually write something about this book.  There isn't that much to say, really, except that it is a lovely memoir by Lady Winifred Fortescue.  Having lost lots of money in the late 1920s (who didn't?) she and her husband (known only as Monsieur in the book) have moved to Provence where they purchased a small cottage and renovated it.  It isn't really mentioned in the book, but her husband is Sir John Fortescue, who was the King's Librarian and Archivist (King George V), and historian for the British Army.

The book is short, only about 250 pages with illustrations, and contains nine themed chapters about different aspects of life in the country, i.e., building, gardening, harvesting, driving, etc., in which she tells little stories about how charming it is.  Sometimes she's a little condescending about peasants and working-class people, but she was an upper-class British lady in the 1930s, so I guess it's to be expected.

However, Lady Winifred really does seem to love all the people in Provence, and admire them.  It seems like most of the French people were extremely friendly and hardworking, and there are many incidents in the book where complete strangers would go out of their way to help her -- in one extreme case, three truck drivers stopped to help her get her car back on a winding mountain road in the middle of a downpour -- basically, these men built a wall of boulders under her car to prop it up so it wouldn't fall down the side of a mountain!!  And they didn't want to take money for it!  (Of course she does insist on paying them and later contacts their employer and says how wonderful they were, etc.)

It does sound like a very different way of life, just in the way people do business, the pace of life, and so on, but it sounds wonderful.  According to the introduction by Patricia Wells (written in 1993), things still hadn't changed much by the end of the century.  It makes me want to visit Provence more than ever. Apparently Lady Winifred lived in Provence until WWII, and returned after the end of the war.  She published several more books which appear to be out of print, though it seems there are plenty of used copies available.

It's just so silly that I took so long to read this book, and that I have probably packed it up and moved it FIVE times.  Does this happen to everyone?  Bloggers, what is the longest you have kept a book unread on your shelves?  And was it worth it?  I have other books I've kept for years that were disappointing when I finally read them -- at least I enjoyed this when I finally got around to it.  In this case, I'm a little angry that I waited so long to read it because I did like it.  I've had other books that just made me annoyed that I'd been schlepping them around for so long, allowing them to take up valuable space when they weren't even that good!

And I seriously think I've bought more books in the past few weeks than I would have bought if I hadn't signed up for the TBR Dare, during which I tried not to buy books for three whole months.  Maybe I should take a hint from Simon at Stuck in a Book, who challenged himself last year to buy no more than 24 books the entire year.  Does that count for birthdays and Christmas and Paperback Swap??  That's dangerous too, since I either get rid of books I know I'll never read (or books I've finished and didn't love enough to keep) and replace them with even more books I want to read!  It's a vicious cycle, isn't it?

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Four Things Meme

I have been uninspired to write about books lately, but I do love a good meme.  I borrowed this idea from Amanda at The Zen Leaf and Care at Care's Online Book Club.

Four Jobs I Have Had in My Life:

1.  Library Technical Assistant
2.  Restaurant Critic
3.  Pastry Cook
4.  Foreclosure Processor (a temp job, but interesting nonetheless)

Four Books I Would Read Over and Over Again:

1.  Persuasion by Jane Austen
2.  Bleak House by Charles Dickens
3.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4.  Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Four Places I Have Lived:

1.  Mt. Clemens, Michigan
2.  Fussa-Shi, Japan (a suburb of Tokyo)
3.  Omaha, Nebraska
4.  Evanston, Illinois

Four Books I Would Recommend:

1.  Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
2.  Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
3.  Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
4.  Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Four Places I Have Been:

1.  Cairns, Australia
2.  Chaing Rai, Thailand
3.  Lokken, Denmark
4.  Alajuela, Costa Rica

Four of My Favorite Foods

1.  Cuban Sandwiches
2.  Goat Cheese
3.  California Roll Sushi
4.  Cobb Salad

Four of My Favorite Drinks:

1.  Earl Grey Tea (hot or iced)
2.  Mojitos
3.  Champagne
4.  Mango Lassi

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now:

1.  Paris, France
2.  Bali, Indonesia
3.  Seattle, Washington
4.  New Zealand

Four Things People That Are Very Special in My Life:

1.  My husband of almost 18 years
2.  My brilliant older daughter
3.  My brilliant younger daughter
4.  My mom, who's always been there for me

Four Bloggers I Hope Will Do This Meme:

Oh, anyone who's interested -- I'd love to see everyone's top fours!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Upcoming Classics Circuit: Austen vs. Dickens!

In honor of the upcoming Classics Circuit duel, I'm posing the question to all my friends in the blogsophere:  Who is your favorite 19th century author, Jane Austen or Charles Dickens?    On the one hand, we have the beloved Ms. Austen, whose works include spunky heroine in domestic situations, looking for love (sometimes in the wrong places).  Her works have inspired countless sequels, prequels, alternate versions, and lots of movie and TV adaptations.  Dickens' works are some of the most popular in publishing history.  Which would you choose?

Honestly, I don't know if I can decide.  As a lifetime member of JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America) I should automatically go with Jane.  Lizzie!  Darcy!  Anne Elliot!  Regency costumes!  I've already made my hotel reservation for the 2011 JASNA meeting this October, which is hosted right here in Texas!

But on the other hand, Dickens created some of the most memorable characters in literary history.  Seriously, who doesn't know the most famous line in Oliver Twist: "Please, sir, I want some more."  And A Tale of Two Cities:   "It was the best of times, it was the worst of time."  And Bleak House, one of my favorite novels (and favorite TV miniseries) of all time.  It has everything -- romance, satire, mystery, social commentary.  And Inspector Bucket, possibly the first police detective in English literature.   And I am determined to go to the annual Dickens on the Strand in Galveston in December.

As much as I love Jane Austen (except for modern sequels), I think I'm going to go with Dickens for my Classics Circuit choice.  I've been wanting to read Dombey and Son for several years, so this is my first choice.  Of course I have about six other unread Dickens works on the TBR shelves.  Even though some of them are shorter, I decided it was better to go with a longer book that I want to read, rather than a shorter book, just because I feel I ought to read it.

If you want to participate in the Dueling Authors Classics Circuit tour, sign up here through Tuesday, April 19.  The link has lots of information about the authors and many of their works.  I look forward to reading all the posts!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple

I have now read three books by Dorothy Whipple, who has quickly become one of my new favorite authors.   I've read two of her books published by Persephone, and based on these great reviews by Book Snob and The Literary Stew, I sought out Because of the Lockwoods.  Currently it's out of print but I was able to get it very easily via ILL (and I've heard a rumor that it's going to be reprinted by Persephone in 2012!).

Anyhow, this book is basically about two families, the Hunters and the Lockwoods, who live in a fictional industrial town in Northern England.  The Lockwoods are doing very well and are regarded as local gentry, though they are not titled, and the Hunters have fallen on hard times.  Mr. Hunter was an architect who lost money during WWI (since no one was building), and then he had the bad luck to die, leaving very little for his wife and three children.  Mrs. Lockwood pressed her husband into serving as a sort of financial advisor to Mrs. Hunter, who is pretty spineless and helpless.  Mr. Lockwood has not done a very good job of helping with the finances.  Not only that, Mrs. Lockwood and her eldest children seem to take great pleasure in constantly showing off their good fortune to the Hunters.   They were so obnoxious that I wanted to jump into the book and give these people a good smack.

The youngest Hunter child, Thea, has both brains and spunk, and she decides she's tired of genteel poverty and she's going to make something of her life.  The three Lockwood sisters are going to France for a year of school, and she decides that she wants to go too.  Of course, being poor, she'll work as a teacher, but so what?  She's dying to go to France and see the world, so off she goes.

Of course, things do not go as planned.  I won't go into detail and spoil the plot, but young Thea's desire to better herself sets off a chain of events that affects both families, in good ways and bad.  Like The Village by Marghanita Laski, this book is ostensibly domestic fiction, but it has a lot of undercurrents about the British class system and attitudes about wealth and upbringing.   Some of the characters are just infuriating with their snobbery and entitled attitudes, and I really wanted to throttle them.

Once again, Whipple's characters are brilliantly drawn.  I loved Thea and hated the Lockwoods, and I was rooting for one particular character who was working really hard to make a better life for himself and his family.  Again, like The Village, some of the characters were so passively accepting of their situation, and some had the gumption to make something of themselves.  I guess it is just my innate American-ness that can relate to this -- it's that pioneer spirit, in which anyone can come here and make something of himself if he works hard enough.

[By the way, the cover in the image is sort of deceiving -- by the hairstyle, it looks vaguely 1950s to me but in fact it's set between the wars.  That edition happens to be published in 1949, so there you are.]

Now that I have a new favorite author, I have a dilemma -- do I read all of her books at once, or spread them out and make them last longer?  It's a conundrum, especially since she's dead and won't be publishing any more books.  Bloggers, what do you do?  Do you become obsessed with an author and read all the works right after the other, or do you ration them out?  Should I read the rest of the Whipples or save them for later?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Top Ten Books I'd Love to See Made into Movies

Okay, I'm a little behind with book reviews, and I've just started another Big Fat Book -- Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens.  But I feel that I have been neglecting my blog lately.  Hence, the list. This was a bit of a challenge -- since I love classics, a lot of my favorites have been made into movies already.  But here's what I'd love to see.

1. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.  Lenny Henry brilliantly narrated the audio, so I always picture him as Fat Charlie.  I don't know if anyone could play the role as well, though I admit it's written for someone younger.

2.  The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  I hesitate to even include this book, since I think a movie would never capture all the craziness in this book.  It's fun to imagine it though.

3.  The Village by Margahita Laski.  One of many Persephones that would make great films.  Another Persephone is currently in film development right now, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, so there's hope for all the Persephone fans.

4. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.  A novel about a German girl in WWII, narrated by Death.  Sounds perfect for a movie, right??

5. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl.  The story of an idle, spoiled rich man who becomes a modern-day Robin Hood.  It would be perfect for a movie adaptation.

6.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  To be released this summer, featuring some amazing actors, including  Allison Janney and Viola Davis.  I hope it does the book justice.

7.  The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton.  This starts out slow but has some great plot twists.  The casting would have to be spot-on.

8.  The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs.  A creepy juvenile novel about an orphaned boy who goes to live with his uncle in a mysterious house.  I loved it as a kid and I think it deserves a revival among the Harry Potter set.  An animated version inspired by the Edward Gorey illustrations would be amazing.

9. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  A brilliant Newbery winning book.  Again, I don't know if a movie could do it justice but I can only hope.

10.  Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason.  I hope the demand for Scandanavian thrillers spills over and this book gets the attention it deserves.  Another series about a brooding, unhappy detective in a cold country, it would be perfect for a film or TV adaptation.

I borrowed this Top Ten Tuesday meme from The Broke and The Bookish.  Thanks for the great idea!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Slow Start for Readathon (and a Few Book Bargains)

Well, I thought I had this all planned out perfectly.  Amanda and I had booked a hotel room, packed our suitcases, and selected piles of books.  We had the perfect readathon planned.  So how come I didn't even start reading until 4 p.m.???

We had a good start last night:  checked in to our lovely hotel room, had an excellent dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, and made it to the 8:15 showing of Jane Eyre (which we both found underwhelming).  But I just could not get started reading today.

Part of the problem was that Readathon always falls on the second Saturday, which is also the day of our monthly book discussion groups.  Our classics group (at 10. a.m.) was discussing I Capture the Castle, of which I am terribly fond, and I could not miss that.  Immediately following was the Jane Austen Book Group (at 11 a.m., discussion of Jane Austen's biography by Claire Tomalin, which I hadn't actually read), which I missed last month, and I felt too guilty to skip it again.  Then it was lunchtime -- see how this is going?  Already lunch and I hadn't read anything yet!

We did try to read during lunch, without much luck.  I did read a couple of short stories from The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami, but then they became so odd I had to put the book down.  In desperation, I chose Mrs. 'Arris Goes To Paris, which I have been saving specially for Readathon.  I have a cute little edition published in 1958 which I purchased in a charming antique bookstore during my Christmas vacation in Baltimore.  It's 157 pages and a tiny little book, only about five by six inches, so it was a quick read.  At last, I've completed something!

I did read a few pages of the Jane Austen biography this morning, and a bit of a nonfiction book called Jane Austen and Crime, which is intriguing.  Right now I'm finally reading one of the books I've owned the longest, a book of essays called My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum.  I purchased this book about ten years ago when I was living in Nebraska.  It had a local connection since Ms. Daum was a resident of Nebraska at the time.  I have been moving it from house to house ever since, quietly unread.  I've read four of the ten essays so far and they're quite good, so at least I'm not angry that I didn't donate it to the library book sale.

And other than reading, eating, and book discussions, Amanda and I also entered an online mini-challenge and ahem, went to the Half-Price Books -- I had been longing for a copy of The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh which I saw months ago.  It was still on the shelf, so obviously, I was fated to buy it.  And also Stoner, a NYRB Classic that Thomas at My Porch raved about in this review.  It was half-price and in very good condition, and besides, my library doesn't own a copy.  I had to buy it, didn't I?

And I'm not even going to discuss my outing yesterday to a fundraising book fair for one of the local school districts.  There were thousands of books, paperbacks all 50 cents and hardcovers for one dollar.  Here's what I added to the TBR shelf:

From top to bottom:
  • Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope (I now own five of the six Pallisers novels, still haven't finished a single one yet)
  • The House at Sugar Beach by Helen Coope
  • Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane
  • The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford (an NYRB Classic and it looked interesting)
  • Return to Thrush Green by Miss Read
  • The Three Daughters of Madame Liang by Pearl S. Buck
  • Drood by Dan Simmons
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Total cost:  $5.50 (I also bought a book for each of my daughters, so my total output was $7.)  Such bargains!

Anyhow -- I hope to make some progress and actually finish some of the other SEVENTEEN books I brought with me.  I'm crazy, I know.  But I need choices.  You should see my carry-on luggage when I travel.  I really do need to break down and buy an e-reader someday.

How's everyone else doing with Readathon?  I hope to post with more progress before the end of the night.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Readathon Retreat

Eat. Sleep. Read. Repeat.  Sounds like a Readathon mantra to me!

I had a great time during the October Readathon, in which I read several novellas and a graphic novel.  However, I kept thinking about how great it would be if real life didn't get in the way -- cooking dinner, letting the dog out, et cetera.  I have always had fantasies about being locked in a library or a bookstore, as long as there were plenty of snacks and squashy couches.

But it also occurred to met that a hotel room would be much more comfortable, though it would have less books.  But it would have a pool!  And room service!  And didn't I already own, oh, about two hundred unread books on my own bookshelves, just waiting to be finished??

So I jokingly remarked to my good friend Amanda from The Zen Leaf about how fun it would be to get a hotel room for Readathon.  And she immediately thought it was a great idea, so we've booked a hotel room for the weekend and are having a Readathon Retreat!  We'll check in on Friday, have dinner, and then we're planning on going to see the new Jane Eyre movie (adapted from one of my all-time favorite books, so that's book-related, right?).  Saturday, we have our classics book group, then the rest of the day is basically, read with no distractions other than eating, blogging, and the occasional break in the pool or the exercise room if we're feeling too sedentary.  It's going to be about 95 degrees here in San Antonio this weekend, so indoor exercise might be a good thing.  And we might take a side trip to the Half-Price Books nearby. . . if we run out of things to read!

I've already set aside a stack of books as possible reads -- I know I can't possibly finish all of them, but I hope to complete a couple of novellas, some short stories and essays, and one Persephone book which is an Interlibrary Loan and needs to be returned next week. Here's a photo of my tentative stack:

From top to bottom: 

  • Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico
  • The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery
  • The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
  • Doreen by Barbara Noble
  • The Complete Stories by Saki
  • The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami 
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullerton
  • One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
  • My Misspent Youth: Essays by Meghan Dowd
Of course, I may ending adding or subtracting books at the last minute, but I think I have a good mix of genres and styles.  I have novellas, short stories, essays, and nonfiction, so there should be something to keep me amused the entire time.  Plus, all but one of these are books from my unread shelves, so I'll make some progress on that Owned-and-Unread Challenge.  If you want to see what Amanda's bringing, you can read her post here.

What are you doing for Readathon?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Village by Marghanita Laski

So, now I'm up to my 28th Persephone book, and this one is a real winner.  This publisher's catalog keeps getting better and better.  Almost every time I read one of their titles, I think to myself how glad I am I've discovered them.  (And how happy I am that I have more than 60 left to read!).

Like many Persephone titles, this is domestic fiction, and deals with the rapidly changing society in British.  Originally published in 1952, The Village begins in 1945, on the very last night of the war.  Two middle-aged ladies, Mrs. Trevor and Mrs. Wilson, are spending their last night together on overnight duty at the Red Cross station in their village, a suburb not far from London. The war has made them co-workers and equals, but before the war, Mrs. Wilson, a working-class woman, had worked as a domestic for Mrs. Trevor, one of the gentry.  The next day, things will return as they were, with Mrs. Trevor will be the social superior of Mrs. Wilson.

Or will she?  Times are changing in postwar Britain, and quickly.  Mrs. Trevor is barely getting by in genteel poverty, as her husband, a wounded veteran of WWI, can barely make a go of his business.  Her oldest daughter Margaret, aged 17, is described as sweet but a bit dull and not particularly pretty, and she doesn't have much future in sight.  The younger daughter Sheila is terribly bright, and it's the family's hope that she'll someday become a school headmistress or mathematics teacher or something equally suitable.  The family is barely scraping by on a few pounds a week, and Mrs. Trevor is miserable.

The endpapers from the Persephone edition of The Village

Mrs. Wilson's family, on the other hand, is doing very well.  Like many working-class families, everyone in the family is hard at work and making money -- much to the chagrin of the gentry.  Her son Roy has recently returned from the war and is doing very well as a printer.  It seems terribly unfair to the upper-class people that these laborers are doing better than they are, and that more and more often, class and breeding seem to be less important than hard work, and they can't get over their snobbery.  Relationships in the village become very complicated due to friendships, jobs, and love affairs that begin to cross class boundaries.   Some people seem very willing to accept change and some are fighting it tooth and nail.

This book seems at first to be classic domestic fiction, but it's really about class differences in Britain and how everything changed in the last century.  Having grown up in an extremely middle-class neighborhood in suburban Detroit, I was much more aware of ethnic and religious differences than class.  Nobody I knew was old money -- all those people lived in different neighborhoods miles away.  Now, I'm living in a Texas neighborhood where million-dollar houses are just a few streets away from tiny bungalows, and my daughters' school mates could be the children of professors or oil executives or domestics.

Marghanita Laski
(who reminds me a bit of Anne Hathaway)
One of the characters in the book is an American woman married to an English upperclass man, and she can't understand why the class differences in England are so important and why it's so impossible for people to overcome them like Americans do.  It's pretty obvious she feels superior about it until her husband points out the racism in America and how unlikely it would be for someone in her family to befriend a Negro (so weird to write that, but I am quoting the book which was written in 1952).  He points out that Americans are just as class conscious, but it's just repositioned as racism.  It made me think about my family and friends and the way I was raised in a very segregated suburb.

This is the third book I've read by Marghanita Laski, who is one of Persephone's most beloved authors.  Another thing that struck me was how very different all three of the books have been -- the first, The Victorian Chaise-Longue, was a bit like a ghost story; the second, Little Boy Lost, was an intensely emotional book about a man's search for his missing son in postwar France.  I liked them all but I think was my favorite of her books so far because it resonated the most.