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The Book Trail: From Flowers to Politics

We begin with one of my favourite novels here, and find some fascinating books along the way!  As always, this list has been collated from the Goodreads ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool, which I find invaluable for ensuring that I will never get through my TBR lists, even if I should live to the age of 150 or thereabouts.

1. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
13366104The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

 

2. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar 7107515
Thrity Umrigar, acclaimed author of The Space Between Us and The Weight of Heaven, returns with a breathtaking new novel—a skillfully wrought, emotionally resonant story of four women and the indelible friendship they share.

 

3. The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy
Roy has returned with another masterpiece that is already earning international prize attention, an evocative and deeply moving tale of a young woman making a new life for herself amid the foothills of the Himalaya. Desperate to leave a private tragedy behind, Maya abandons herself to the rhythms of the 12869231little village, where people coexist peacefully with nature. But all is not as it seems, and she soon learns that no refuge is remote enough to keep out the modern world. When power-hungry politicians threaten her beloved mountain community, Maya finds herself caught between the life she left behind and the new home she is determined to protect.   Elegiac, witty, and profound by turns, and with a tender love story at its core, The Folded Earth brims with the same genius and love of language that made An Atlas of Impossible Longing an international success and confirms Anuradha Roy as a major new literary talent.

 

4. The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai 11346464
A triptych of beautifully crafted novellas make up Anita Desai’s exquisite new book. Set in modern India, but where history still casts a long shadow, the stories move beyond the cities to places still haunted by the past, and to characters who are, each in their own way, masters of self-effacement.    In ‘The Museum of Final Journeys’ an unnamed government official is called upon to inspect a faded mansion of forgotten treasures, each sent home by the absent, itinerant master. As he is taken through the estate, wondering whether to save these precious relics, he reaches the final – greatest – gift of all, looming out of the shadows.  In ‘Translator, Translated’, middle-aged Prema meets her successful publisher friend Tara at a school reunion. Tara hires her as a translator, but Prema, buoyed by her work and the sense of purpose it brings, begins deliberately to blur the line between writer and translator, and in so doing risks unravelling her desires and achievements.  The final story is of Ravi, living hermit-like in the burnt-out shell of his family home high up in the Himalayan mountains. He cultivates not only silence and solitude but a secret hidden away in the woods, concealed from sight. When a film crew from Delhi intrude upon his seclusion, it compels him to withdraw even further until he magically and elusively disappears…  Rich and evocative, remarkable in their clarity and sensuous in their telling, these stories remind us of the extraordinary yet delicate power of this pre-eminent writer.

 

5. All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani
1252537Wildly funny and wonderfully bizarre, All About H. Hatterr is one of the most perfectly eccentric and strangely absorbing works modern English has produced. H. Hatterr is the son of a European merchant officer and a lady from Penang who has been raised and educated in missionary schools in Calcutta. His story is of his search for enlightenment as, in the course of visiting seven Oriental cities, he consults with seven sages, each of whom specializes in a different aspect of “Living.” Each teacher delivers himself of a great “Generality,” each great Generality launches a new great “Adventure,” from each of which Hatter escapes not so much greatly edified as by the skin of his teeth. The book is a comic extravaganza, but as Anthony Burgess writes in his introduction, “it is the language that makes the book. . . . It is not pure English; it is like Shakespeare, Joyce, and Kipling, gloriously impure.”

 

6. Born Under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists by Rudolf Wittkower 204770
Born Under Saturn is a classic work of scholarship written with a light and winning touch. Margot and Rudolf Wittkower explore the history of the familiar idea that artistic inspiration is a form of madness, a madness directly expressed in artists’ unhappy and eccentric lives. This idea of the alienated artist, the Wittkowers demonstrate, comes into its own in the Renaissance, as part of the new bid by visual artists to distinguish themselves from craftsmen, with whom they were then lumped together. Where the skilled artisan had worked under the sign of light-fingered Mercury, the ambitious artist identified himself with the mysterious and brooding Saturn. Alienation, in effect, was a rung by which artists sought to climb the social ladder.  As to the reputed madness of artists; well, some have been as mad as hatters, some as tough-minded as the shrewdest businessmen, and many others wildly and willfully eccentric but hardly crazy. What is certain is that no book presents such a splendid compendium of information about artists’ lives, from the early Renaissance to the beginning of the Romantic era, as Born Under Saturn. The Wittkowers have read everything and have countless anecdotes to relate: about artists famous and infamous; about suicide, celibacy, wantonness, weird hobbies, and whatnot. These make Born Under Saturn a comprehensive, quirky, and endlessly diverting resource for students of history and lovers of the arts.

 

7. The New York Stories by Elizabeth Hardwick
7574318Elizabeth Hardwick was one of America’s great postwar women of letters, celebrated as a novelist and as an essayist. Until now, however, her slim but remarkable achievement as a writer of short stories has remained largely hidden, with her work tucked away in the pages of the periodicals—such as Partisan Review, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books—in which it originally appeared. This first collection of Hardwick’s short fiction reveals her brilliance as a stylist and as an observer of contemporary life. A young woman returns from New York to her childhood Kentucky home and discovers the world of difference within her. A girl’s boyfriend is not quite good enough, his “silvery eyes, light and cool, revealing nothing except pure possibility, like a coin in hand.” A magazine editor’s life falls strangely to pieces after she loses both her husband and her job. Individual lives and the life of New York, the setting or backdrop for most of these stories, are strikingly and memorably depicted in Hardwick’s beautiful and razor-sharp prose.

 

8. The Middle of the Journey by Lionel Trilling 544060
Published in 1947, as the cold war was heating up, Lionel Trilling’s only novel was a prophetic reckoning with the bitter ideological disputes that were to come to a head in the McCarthy era. The Middle of the Journey revolves around a political turncoat and the anger his action awakens among a group of intellectuals summering in Connecticut. The story, however, is less concerned with the rights and wrongs of left and right than with an absence of integrity at the very heart of the debate. Certainly the hero, John Laskell, staging a slow recovery from the death of his lover and a near-fatal illness of his own, comes to suspect that the conflicts and commitments involved are little more than a distraction from the real responsibilities, and terrors, of the common world.  A detailed, sometimes slyly humorous, picture of the manners and mores of the intelligentsia, as well as a work of surprising tenderness and ultimately tragic import, The Middle of the Journey is a novel of ideas whose quiet resonance has only grown with time. This is a deeply troubling examination of America by one of its greatest critics.

 

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The Book Trail: From Breathing to Tea

We begin with a relatively recent favourite of mine for this edition of the Book Trail, and consequently come across some fantastic looking tomes related to it on Goodreads.

1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 9781847923677
What makes a virtuous and meaningful life? Paul Kalanithi believed that the answer lay in medicine’s most demanding specialization, neurosurgery. Here are patients at their life’s most critical moment. Here he worked in the most critical place for human identity, the brain. What is it like to do that every day; and what happens when life is catastrophically interrupted?  When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable reflection on the practice of medicine and the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

 

2. Wondering Who You Are: A Memoir by Sonya Lea
In the twenty-third year of their marriage, Sonya Lea’s husband, Richard, went in for surgery to treat a rare appendix cancer. When he came out, he had no recollection of their life together: how they met, their wedding day, the births of their two children. All of it was gone, along with the rockier parts of their past—her drinking, his anger. Richard could now hardly speak, emote, or create memories from moment to moment. Who he’d been no longer was.  Wondering Who You Are braids the story of Sonya and Richard’s relationship, those memories that he could no longer conjure, with an account of his fateful days in the hospital—the internal bleeding, the near-death experience, and the eventual traumatic brain injury. It follows the couple through his recovery as they struggle with his treatment, and through a marriage no longer grounded on decades of shared experience. As they build a fresh life together, as Richard develops a new personality, Sonya is forced to question her own assumptions, beliefs, and desires, her place in the marriage and her way of being in the world. With radical candor, Sonya Lea has written a memoir that is both a powerful look at perseverance in the face of trauma and a surprising exploration into what lies beyond our fragile identities.’

 

97811018733593. Lord Fear: A Memoir by Lucas Mann
Lucas Mann was only thirteen years old when his brother Josh—charismatic and ambitious, funny and sadistic, violent and vulnerable—died of a heroin overdose. Although his brief life is ultimately unknowable, Josh is both a presence and an absence in the author’s life that will not remain unclaimed. As Josh’s story is told in kaleidoscopic shards of memories assembled from interviews with his friends and family, as well as from the raw material of his journals, a revealing, startling portrait unfolds. At the same time, Mann pulls back to examine his own complicated feelings and motives for recovering memories of his brother’s life, searching for a balance between the tension of inevitability and the what ifs that beg to be asked. Through his investigation, Mann also comes to redefine his own place in a family whose narrative is bisected by the tragic loss.  Unstinting in its honesty, captivating in its form, and profound in its conclusions, Lord Fear more than confirms the promise of Mann’s earlier book, Class A; with it, he is poised to enter the ranks of the best young writers of his generation.

 

4. Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor
At 28, Jessica Fechtor was happily immersed in graduate school and her young marriage, and thinking about starting a family. Then one day, she went for a run and an aneurysm burst in her brain. She nearly died. She lost her sense of smell, the sight in her left eye, and was forced to the sidelines of the life she loved.  Jessica’s journey to recovery began in the kitchen as soon as she was able to stand at the stovetop and stir. There, she drew strength from the restorative power of cooking and baking. Written with intelligence, humor, and warmth, Stir is a heartfelt examination of what it means to nourish and be nourished.”   Woven throughout the narrative are 27 recipes for dishes that comfort and delight. For readers of M.F.K.Fisher, Molly Wizenberg, and Tamar Adler, as well as Oliver Sacks, Jill Bolte Taylor, and Susannah Cahalan, Stir is sure to inspire, and send you straight to the kitchen.

 

5. A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell 9780007412006
In today’s 24-hour consumer society, it is easy to get what we desire to eat. But do we know where these everyday recipes came from, who invented them, and using what techniques? This book provides a colourful and entertaining journey through the history of cuisine, celebrating the world’s greatest dishes.

 

6. The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat by Caroline Grant
Without mantras or manifestos, 29 writers serve up sharp, sweet, and candid memories; salty irreverence; and delicious original recipes. Food is so much more than what we eat. The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage is an anthology of original essays about how we learn (and relearn) to eat, and how pivotal food is beyond the table.

 

97802264940747. Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads by Sylvia Lovegren
Though the Roaring Twenties call to mind images of flappers dancing the Charleston and gangsters dispensing moonshine in back rooms, Sylvia Lovegren here playfully reminds us what these characters ate for dinner: Banana and Popcorn Salad. Like fashions and fads, food—even bad food—has a history, and Lovegren’s Fashionable Food is quite literally a cookbook of the American past.  Well researched and delightfully illustrated, this collection of faddish recipes from the 1920s to the 1990s is a decade-by-decade tour of a hungry American century. From the Three P’s Salad—that’s peas, pickles, and peanuts—of the post-World War I era to the Fruit Cocktail and Spam Buffet Party loaf—all the rage in the ultra-modern 1950s, when cooking from a can epitomized culinary sophistication—Fashionable Food details the origins of these curious delicacies. In two chapters devoted to “exotic foods of the East,” for example, Lovegren explores the long American love affair with Chinese food and the social status conferred upon anyone chic enough to eat pu-pu platters from Polynesia. Throughout, Lovegren supplements recipes—some mouth-watering, some appalling—from classic cookbooks and family magazines, with humorous anecdotes that chronicle how society and kitchen technology influenced the way we lived and how we ate.  Equal parts American and culinary history, Fashionable Food examines our collective past from the kitchen counter. Even if it’s been a while since you last had Tang Pie and your fondue set is collecting dust in the back of the cupboard, Fashionable Food will inspire, entertain, and inform.

 

8. Tea With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson
Who would not want to sit down with Jane Austen and join her in a cup of tea? This book shares the secrets of one of her favourite rituals. Each chapter includes a description of how tea was taken at a particular place or time of day, along with history, recipes, excerpts from Austen’s novels and letters and illustrations from the time.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which do you think I should attempt to get to first?

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The Book Trail: From Beryl to Renata

We shall begin with an intense psychological character study which I read back in September, and work our way through some wonderfully weird sounding, and important, tomes.

1. Harriet Said… by Beryl Bainbridge 9781844088607
‘Beryl Bainbridge’s evocation of childhood in a rundown northern holiday resort.  A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.  Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written.’

 

2. The Phantom Carriage by Selma Lagerlof
‘Written in 1912, Selma Lagerlof’s The Phantom Carriage is a powerful combination of ghost story and social realism, partly played out among the slums and partly in the transitional sphere between life and death. The vengeful and alcoholic David Holm is led to atonement and salvation by the love of a dying Salvation Army slum sister under the guidance of the driver of the death-cart that gathers in the souls of the dying poor. Inspired by Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, The Phantom Carriage remained one of Lagerlof’s own favourites, and Victor Sjostrom’s 1921 film version of the story is one of the greatest achievements of the Swedish silent cinema.’

 

97800609355593. One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner by Jay Parini
‘William Faulkner was a literary genius, and one of America’s most important and influential writers. Drawing on previously unavailable sources — including letters, memoirs, and interviews with Faulkner’s daughter and lovers — Jay Parini has crafted a biography that delves into the mystery of this gifted and troubled writer. His Faulkner is an extremely talented, obsessive artist plagued by alcoholism and a bad marriage who somehow transcends his limitations. Parini weaves the tragedies and triumphs of Faulkner’s life in with his novels, serving up a biography that’s as engaging as it is insightful.’

 

4. Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World by Claudia Roth Pierpont
‘With a masterful ability to connect their social contexts to well-chosen and telling details of their personal lives, Claudia Roth Pierpont gives us portraits of twelve amazingly diverse and influential literary women of the twentieth century, women who remade themselves and the world through their art.   Gertrude Stein, Mae West, Margaret Mitchell, Eudora Welty, Ayn Rand, Doris Lessing, Anais Nin, Zora Neale Hurston, Marina Tsvetaeva, Hannah Arendt and Mary Mccarthy, and Olive Schreiner: Pierpont is clear-eyed in her examination of each member of this varied group, connectng her subjects firmly to the issues of sexual freedom, race, and politics that bound them to their times, even as she exposes the roots of their uniqueness’

 

5. Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson 9780143128045
‘In a hilariously charming domestic memoir, America s celebrated master of terror turns to a different kind of fright: raising children In her celebrated fiction, Shirley Jackson explored the darkness lurking beneath the surface of small-town America. But in Life Among the Savages, she takes on the lighter side of small-town life. In this witty and warm memoir of her family s life in rural Vermont, she delightfully exposes a domestic side in cheerful contrast to her quietly terrifying fiction. With a novelist s gift for character, an unfailing maternal instinct, and her signature humor, Jackson turns everyday family experiences into brilliant adventures.’

 

6. A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter
A Jury of Her Peers is an unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000.  In a narrative of immense scope and fascination—brimming with Elaine Showalter’s characteristic wit and incisive opinions—we are introduced to more than 250 female writers. These include not only famous and expected names (Harriet Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, Gwendolyn Brooks, Grace Paley, Toni Morrison, and Jodi Picoult among them), but also many who were once successful and acclaimed yet now are little known, from the early American best-selling novelist Catherine Sedgwick to the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Susan Glaspell. Showalter shows how these writers—both the enduring stars and the ones left behind by the canon—were connected to one another and to their times. She believes it is high time to fully integrate the contributions of women into our American literary heritage, and she undertakes the task with brilliance and flair, making the case for the unfairly overlooked and putting the overrated firmly in their place.  Whether or not readers agree with the book’s roster of writers, A Jury of Her Peers is an irresistible invitation to join the debate, to discover long-lost great writers, and to return to familiar titles with a deeper appreciation. It is a monumental work that will greatly enrich our understanding of American literary history and culture.’

 

78217. Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature by Elizabeth Hardwick
‘The novelist and essayist Elizabeth Hardwick is one of contemporary America’s most brilliant writers, and Seduction and Betrayal, in which she considers the careers of women writers as well as the larger question of the presence of women in literature, is her most passionate and concentrated work of criticism. A gallery of unforgettable portraits – of Virginia Woolf and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Wordsworth and Jane Carlyle – as well as a provocative reading of such works as Wuthering Heights, Hedda Gabler, and the poems of Sylvia Plath, Seduction and Betrayal is a virtuoso performance, a major writer’s reckoning with the relations between men and women, women and writing, writing and life.’

 

8. Pitch Dark by Renata Adler
Pitch Dark is the story of the end of a love affair—a story that, in Renata Adler’s brilliant telling, becomes a richly diffracted, illuminating, investigation of an exceptional woman. After a nine-year affair with Jake, a married man, Kate Ennis decides to escape. She takes off, looking for something beautiful and quiet by the sea, but finds herself in a pitch dark and driving rain on a lonely Irish road. It is only months later that she learns that she may have committed a crime, but by then she is home, once more negotiating with Jake for time, for attention, and for love.’

 

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2

The Book Trail: The Very Bookish Edition

I am focusing upon books about books here, one of my favourite genres to read.  I have used as my inspiration an absolute gem which I re-read back in September, Helene Hanff’s charmingly witty 84 Charing Cross Road.  We go through a host of wonderful books, some of which I have read, and some of which are high on my wishlist.

97807515038451. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

 

2. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Anne Fadiman is–by her own admission–the sort of person who learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate’s 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.   This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story. Writing with remarkable grace, she revives the tradition of the well-crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family. As someone who played at blocks with her father’s 22-volume set of Trollope (“My Ancestral Castles”) and who only really considered herself married when she and her husband had merged collections (“Marrying Libraries”), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of inscriptions, the perverse pleasures of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfactions of reading out loud. There is even a foray into pure literary gluttony–Charles Lamb liked buttered muffin crumbs between the leaves, and Fadiman knows of more than one reader who literally consumes page corners. Perfectly balanced 9780140283709between humor and erudition, Ex Libris establishes Fadiman as one of our finest contemporary essayists.

 

3. A Passion for Books: A Book Lover’s Treasury… by Howard Rabinowicz
“When I have a little money, I buy books. And if any is left, I buy food and clothing.” — –Desiderius Erasmus — Those who share Erasmus’s love of those curious bundles of paper bound together between hard or soft covers know exactly how he felt. These are the people who can spend hours browsing through a bookstore, completely oblivious not only to the passage of time but to everything else around them, the people for whom buying books is a necessity, not a luxury. A Passion for Books is a celebration of that love, a collection of sixty classic and contemporary essays, stories, lists, poems, quotations, and cartoons on the joys of reading, appreciating, and collecting books.  This enriching collection leads off with science-fiction great Ray Bradbury’s Foreword, in which he remembers his penniless days pecking out Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter, conjuring up a society so frightened of art that it burns its books. This struggle–financial and creative–led to his lifelong love of all books, which he hopes will cosset him in his grave, “Shakespeare as a pillow, Pope at one elbow, Yeats at the other, and Shaw to warm my toes. Good company for far-travelling.”  Booklovers will also find here a selection of writings by a myriad of fellow sufferers from bibliomania. Among these are such contemporary authors as Philip Roth, John Updike, Umberto Eco, Robertson Davies, Nicholas Basbanes, and Anna Quindlen; earlier twentieth-century authors Christopher Morley, A. Edward Newton, Holbrook Jackson, A.S.W. Rosenbach, William Dana Orcutt, Robert Benchley, and William Targ; and classic authors such as Michel de Montaigne, Gustave Flaubert, Petrarch, and Anatole France.  Here also are entertaining and humorous lists such as the “Ten Best-Selling Books Rejected by Publishers Twenty Times or More,” the great books included in Clifton Fadiman and John Major’s New Lifetime Reading Plan, Jonathan Yardley’s “Ten Books That Shaped the American Character,” “Ten Memorable Books That Never Existed,” “Norman Mailer’s Ten Favorite American Novels,” and Anna Quindlen’s “Ten Big Thick Wonderful Books That Could Take You a Whole Summer to Read (but Aren’t Beach Books).”  Rounding out the anthology are selections on bookstores, book clubs, and book care, plus book cartoons, and a specially prepared “Bibliobibliography” of books about books.  Whether you consider yourself a bibliomaniac or just someone who likes to read, A Passion for Books will provide you with a lifetime’s worth of entertaining, informative, and pleasurable reading on your favorite subject–the love of books.

 

4. The Anatomy of Bibliomania by Holbrook Jackson
Inspects the allure of books, their curative and restorative properties, and the passion for them that leads to bibliomania. This title comments on why we read, where we read – on journeys, at mealtimes, on the toilet (this has ‘a long but mostly unrecorded history’), in bed, and in prison – and what happens to us when we read.

 

97815559124065. Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction by Tom Raabe
‘A hilarious guide for book lovers that brings book addiction out of the closet.  Have you ever… awakened, the morning after a book-buying spree, unable to remember how many you bought or how much you spent?
been reprimanded or fired for reading on the job?
purchased or rented additional living space… just for your books?
You are not alone. Your complete recovery awaits you — just buy one more book!

 

6. Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
More than a sequel, Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore is a companion piece for Used and Rare. A delight for the general reader and book collector alike, it details the Goldstones’ further explorations into the curious world of book collecting. In Slightly Chipped, they get hooked on the correspondence and couplings of Bloomsbury; they track down Bram Stoker’s earliest notes for Dracula; and they are introduced to hyper-moderns. Slightly Chipped is filled with all of the anecdotes and esoterica about the world of book collecting that charmed readers of Used and Rare.

 

7. Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Book Store by Suzanne Strempek Shea 9780807072585
Suzanne Shea has always loved a good book-and she’s written five of them, all acclaimed. In the course of her ten-year career, she’s done a good bit of touring, including readings and drop-ins at literally hundreds of bookstores. She never visited one that wasn’t memorable.  Two years ago, while recovering from radiation therapy, Shea heard from a friend who was looking for help at her bookstore. Shea volunteered, seeing it as nothing more than a way to get out of her pajamas and back into the world. But over next twelve months, from St. Patrick’s Day through Poetry Month, graduation/Father’s Day/summer reading/Christmas and back again to those shamrock displays, Shea lived and breathed books in a place she says sells’ideas, stories, encouragement, answers, solace, validation, the basic ammunition for daily life.’ Her work was briefly interrupted by an author tour that took her to other great bookstores. Descriptions of these and her memories of book-lined rooms reaching all the way back to childhood visits to the Bookmobile are scattered throughout this charming, humorous, and engrossing account of reading and rejuvenation.  For anyone who loves books, and especially for anyone who has fallen under the spell of a special bookstore, Shelf Life will be required reading.

 

8. An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up In the World of Books by Wendy Werris
Little did Wendy Werris imagine that when she began a temp job at a Hollywood bookstore in 1970 at age nineteen, she had embarked on a thirty-five year career that would stretch into a journey of self-discovery and literary enlightenment. In An Alphabetical Life, Werris reflects upon how she came to embrace the book culture as her singular way of being in the world. Her career began when the book business was conducted amid an atmosphere of civility and wry humor, and her memoir captures the essence of this time and the people she met along the way. The challenges she faced, in what was then a male-dominated industry, are also discussed — particularly in 1976 when she was one of only two women repping books in the entire country. In describing the hilarious, eccentric characters that were her colleagues, lovers, and partners in crime, the essence of retail bookselling comes alive. Among the figures she profiles are Henry Robbins, editor of The World According to Garp; Alan Kahn, then of Pickwick Bookshop in Los Angeles, now President of Barnes and Noble Publishing; and many great and memorable retail bookbuyers and authors.

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1

The Book Trail: From Correspondence to the Jazz Age

I have decided to begin this particular Book Trail with a marvellous book filled with correspondence.  As soon as I began What There Is To Say We Have Said back in September, I knew that I would absolutely love it.  It leads us through a wonderful selection of biographies, all of which I am itching to get my hands on.

97805477503231. What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of William Maxwell and Eudora Welty, edited by Suzanne Marrs
What There Is to Say We Have Said bears witness to Welty and Maxwell’s more than fifty years of friendship and their lives as writers and readers. It serves as a chronicle of their literary world, their talk of Katherine Anne Porter, Salinger, Dinesen, Updike, Percy, Cheever, and more. Through more than three hundred letters, Marrs brings us the story of a true, deep friendship and an homage to the forgotten art of letter writing.’

 

2. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame by Benita Eisler
In this masterful portrait of the poet who dazzled an era and prefigured the modern age of celebrity, noted biographer Benita Eisler offers a fuller and more complex vision than we have yet been afforded of George Gordon, Lord Byron.  Eisler reexamines his poetic achievement in the context of his extraordinary life: the shameful and traumatic childhood; the swashbuckling adventures in the East; the instant stardom achieved with the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage; his passionate and destructive love affairs, including an incestuous liaison with his half-sister; and finally his tragic death in the cause of Greek independence. This magnificent record of a towering figure is sure to become the new standard biography of Byron.

 

3. Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay
9781408809723
Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective—celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism.  The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning journalist Leigh Hunt. They included Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley, as well as a host of fascinating lesser-known figures: Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Byron’s mistress, Claire Clairmont; Hunt’s botanist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kent; the musician Vincent Novello; the painters Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn; and writers such as Charles and Mary Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and William Hazlitt. They were characterized by talent, idealism, and youthful ardor, and these qualities shaped and informed their politically oppositional stances—as did their chaotic family arrangements, which often left the young women, despite their talents, facing the consequences of the men’s philosophies.  In Young Romantics, Daisy Hay follows the group’s exploits, from its inception in Hunt’s prison cell in 1813 to its disintegration after Shelley’s premature death in 1822. It is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and friendship, all of which were played out against a background of political turbulence and intense literary creativity.

 

4. Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle
Desperate Romantics, a tie-in with a new BBC series, focuses on the scandals, rather than on the group’s ideas, social experiments or artistic development: Ruskin’s loveless marriage and critical championing of Millais, who then went off with Effie Ruskin, Rossetti’s various loves, above all, Lizzie Siddal, his long affair with Jane Morris, and Burne-Jones’s obsession with Mary Zambaco.

 

97818570289115. George Eliot: The Last Victorian by Kathryn Hughes
Mary Ann Evans, aka George Eliot (1819-1880) achieved lasting renown with the novels Silas Marner, Middlemarch, and Adam Bede. Her masterworks were written after years of living an unconventional life, including a scandalous voyage to Europe with the married writer and editor George Henry Lewes. The scandal intensified when she moved in with Lewes after he separated from his wife. Eliot re-entered London’s social life years later, when her literary success made it impossible for respectable society to dismiss her (even Queen Victoria enjoyed her books). She counted among her friends and supporters Dickens, Trollope, and several other Victorian literati. In this intimate biography, author Hughes provides insight into Eliot’s life and work, weighing Eliot’s motivations for her controversial actions, and examining the paradoxical Victorian society which she documented to perfection in her novels.

 

6. The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller
‘Following the Brontë sisters through their many reincarnations at the hands of biographers, Lucasta Miller reveals as much about the impossible art of biography as she does about the Brontës themselves. Their first biographer, Mrs Gaskell, transformed their story of literary ambition into one of the great legends of the 19th century, a dramatic tale of three lonely sisters playing out their tragic destiny on top of a windswept moor. Lucasta Miller reveals where this image came from and how it took such a hold on the popular imagination.  Each generation has rewritten the Brontës to reflect changing attitudes – towards the role of the woman writer, towards sexuality, towards the very concept of personality. The Brontë Myth gives vigorous new life to our understanding of the novelists and their culture. It is a witty, erudite and refreshingly unsentimental unravelling of what Henry James described as “the most complete intellectual muddle ever achieved on a literary question by our wonderful public.”‘

 

7. The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects by Deborah Lutz 9780393240085
In this unique and lovingly detailed biography of a literary family that has enthralled readers for nearly two centuries, Victorian literature scholar Deborah Lutz illuminates the complex and fascinating lives of the Brontës through the things they wore, stitched, wrote on, and inscribed. By unfolding the histories of the meaningful objects in their family home in Haworth, Lutz immerses readers in a nuanced re-creation of the sisters’ daily lives while moving us chronologically forward through the major biographical events: the death of their mother and two sisters, the imaginary kingdoms of their childhood writing, their time as governesses, and their determined efforts to make a mark on the literary world.  From the miniature books they made as children to the blackthorn walking sticks they carried on solitary hikes on the moors, each personal possession opens a window onto the sisters’ world, their beloved fiction, and the Victorian era. A description of the brass collar worn by Emily’s bull mastiff, Keeper, leads to a series of entertaining anecdotes about the influence of the family’s dogs on their writing and about the relationship of Victorians to their pets in general. The sisters’ portable writing desks prove to have played a crucial role in their writing lives: it was Charlotte’s snooping in Emily’s desk that led to the sisters’ first publication in print, followed later by the publication of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

 

8. Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham by Emily Bingham
Raised like a princess in one of the most powerful families in the American South, Henrietta Bingham was offered the helm of a publishing empire. Instead, she ripped through the Jazz Age like an F. Scott Fitzgerald character: intoxicating and intoxicated, selfish and shameless, seductive and brilliant, endearing and often terribly troubled. In New York, Louisville, and London, she drove both men and women wild with desire, and her youth blazed with sex. But her love affairs with women made her the subject of derision and caused a doctor to try to cure her queerness. After the speed and pleasure of her early days, the toxicity of judgment from others coupled with her own anxieties resulted in years of addiction and breakdowns. And perhaps most painfully, she became a source of embarrassment for her family-she was labeled “a three-dollar bill.” But forebears can become fairy-tale figures, especially when they defy tradition and are spoken of only in whispers. For the biographer and historian Emily Bingham, the secret of who her great-aunt was, and just why her story was concealed for so long, led to Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham.  Henrietta rode the cultural cusp as a muse to the Bloomsbury Group, the daughter of the ambassador to the United Kingdom during the rise of Nazism, the seductress of royalty and athletic champions, and a pre-Stonewall figure who never buckled to convention. Henrietta’s audacious physicality made her unforgettable in her own time, and her ecstatic and harrowing life serves as an astonishing reminder of the stories lying buried in our own families.’

 

Have you read any of these books?

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The Book Trail: From ‘Here I Am’ to ‘My October’

I am beginning today’s Book Trail with Jonathan Safran Foer’s newest (and wonderful) third novel, Here I Am.  We move through a host of (relatively) new and exciting releases as we make our way through the Goodreads ‘Readers also enjoyed…’ pages.

 

1. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer 9780241146170
‘A monumental new novel about modern family lives from the bestselling author of Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, and Abraham replied obediently, ‘Here I am’. This is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. Over the course of three weeks in present-day Washington DC, three sons watch their parents’ marriage falter and their family home fall apart. Meanwhile, a larger catastrophe is engulfing another part of the world: a massive earthquake devastates the Middle East, sparking a pan-Arab invasion of Israel. With global upheaval in the background and domestic collapse in the foreground, Jonathan Safran Foer asks us – what is the true meaning of home? Can one man ever reconcile the conflicting duties of his many roles – husband, father, son? And how much of life can a person bear?’

 

2. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
‘An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story. Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the sixteenth century and the twentieth – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.’

 

97805713278503. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
‘From the writer of one of the most memorable debuts of recent years. An eighteen-year-old Irish girl arrives in London to study drama and falls violently in love with an older actor. This older man has a disturbing past that the young girl is unprepared for. The young girl has a troubling past of her own. This is her story and their story. The Lesser Bohemians is about sexual passion. It is about innocence and the loss of it. At once epic and exquisitely intimate, it is a celebration of the dark and the light in love.’

 

4. The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
‘dam is a stay-at-home dad who is also working on a history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. He is a good man and he is happy. But one day, he receives a call from his daughter’s school to inform him that, for no apparent reason, fifteen-year-old Miriam has collapsed and stopped breathing. In that moment, he is plunged into a world of waiting, agonising, not knowing. The story of his life and the lives of his family are rewritten and re-told around this shocking central event, around a body that has inexplicably failed. In this exceptionally courageous and unflinching novel of contemporary life Sarah Moss goes where most of us wouldn’t dare to look, and the result is riveting – unbearably sad, but also miraculously funny and ultimately hopeful. The Tidal Zone explores parental love, overwhelming fear, illness and recovery. It is about clever teenagers and the challenges of marriage. It is about the NHS, academia, sex and gender in the twenty-first century, the work-life juggle, and the politics of packing lunches and loading dishwashers. It confirms Sarah Moss as a unique voice in modern fiction and a writer of luminous intelligence.’

 

5. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien 9781783782666
‘In Canada in 1990, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie. Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.’

 

6. We’re All in This Together by Amy Jones
‘A woman goes over a waterfall, a video goes viral, a family goes into meltdown — life is about to get a lot more complicated for the Parker family.  Like all families, the Parkers of Thunder Bay have had their share of complications. But when matriarch Kate Parker miraculously survives plummeting over a waterfall in a barrel — a feat captured on a video that goes viral — it’s Kate’s family who tumbles into chaos under the spotlight. Her prodigal daughter returns to town. Her 16-year-old granddaughter gets caught up in an online relationship with a man she has never met. Her husband sifts through their marriage to search for what sent his wife over the falls. Her adopted son fears losing the only family he’s ever known. Then there is Kate, who once made a life-changing choice and now fears her advancing dementia will rob her of memories from when she was most herself.   Set over the course of four calamitous days, Amy Jones’s big-hearted first novel follows the Parkers’ misadventures as catastrophe forces them to do something they never thought possible – act like a family.’

 

231650917. Close to Hugh by Marina Endicott
‘Close to Hugh is a glorious, exuberant, poignant comic novel about youth and age, art and life, love and death–and about losing your mind and finding your heart’s desire over the course of seven days one September. As the week opens, fifty-something Hugh Argylle, owner of the Argylle Art Gallery, has a jarring fall from a ladder–a fall that leaves him with a fractured off-kilter vision of his own life and the lives of his friends, who are going through crises (dying parents; disheveled marriages; wilting businesses) that leave them despairing, afraid, one half-step from going under emotionally or financially. Someone’s going to have to fix all that, thinks Hugh- and it will probably be him.  Meanwhile, beneath the adult orbit, bright young lives are taking form: these are the sons and daughters of Hugh’s friends, about to graduate from high school and already separating from the gravitational pull of their parents. As bonds knit and unravel on cellphones and iPads and Tumblr and Twitter, the desires and terrors and sudden revelations of adolescence are mirrored in the second adolescence of the soon-to-be childless adults.   With exquisite insight and surefooted mastery, Endicott manages something surprising: to show us, with an unerring ear for the different cadences and concerns of both generations, two sets of friends on the cusp of simultaneous reinvention. And, as always in Endicott’s wonderful fictional worlds, underpinning the sharp comedy and keenly observed drama is something more profound: a rare and rich perspective on what it means to rise and fall and rise again, and what in the end we owe those we love.’

 

8. My October by Claire Holden Rothman
‘Luc Lévesque is a celebrated Quebec novelist and the anointed Voice of a Generation. In his hometown of Montreal, he is revered as much for his novels about the working-class neighbourhood of Saint-Henri as for his separatist views. But this is 2001. The dreams of a new nation are dying, and Luc himself is increasingly dissatisfied with his life.  Hannah is Luc’s wife. She is also the daughter of a man who served as a special prosecutor during the October Crisis. For years, Hannah has worked faithfully as Luc’s English translator. She has also spent her adult life distancing herself from her English- speaking family. But at what cost?  Hugo is their troubled fourteen-year-old son. Living in the shadow of a larger-than-life father, Hugo is struggling with his own identity. In confusion and anger, he commits a reckless act that puts everyone around him on a collision course with the past.  Weaving together three unique voices, My October is a masterful tale of a modern family torn apart by the power of language and the weight of history. Spare and insightful, Claire Holden Rothman’s new novel explores the fascinating and sometimes shocking consequences of words left unsaid.’

 

Have you read any of these?  Which would you recommend?  Which are you inspired to pick up?

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1

The Book Trail: The Short Story Edition

Another set of wonderful books now, starting with a collection which I very much enjoyed.  All of the tomes collected in this post are filled with intriguing short stories, all of which are high on my TBR list.

1. The Last Animal by Abby Geni 9781619024373
‘The Last Animal by Abby Geni is that rare literary find — a remarkable series of stories unified around one theme: people who use the interface between the human and the natural world to contend with their modern challenges in love, loss, and family life. These are vibrant, weighty stories that herald the arrival of a young writer of surprising feeling and depth.

“Terror Birds” tracks the dissolution of a marriage set against an ostrich farm in the sweltering Arizona desert; “Dharma at the Gate” features the tempest of young love as a teenaged girl must choose between man’s best friend, her damaged boyfriend, and a beckoning future; “Captivity” follows an octopus handler at an aquarium still haunted by the disappearance of her brother years ago; “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” details a Greek chorus of Jewish girls at a summer camp whose favorite counselor goes missing under suspicious circumstances; “In the Spirit Room” centers on a scientist suffering the heartbreaking loss of a parent from Alzheimer’s while living in the natural history museum where they both worked; in “Fire Blight” a father grieving over his wife’s recent miscarriage finds an outlet for comfort in their backyard garden and makes a surprising discovery on how to cherish living things; and in the title story, a retired woman traces the steps of the husband who left her thirty years ago, burning the letters he had sent along the way, while the luminous and exotic wildlife of the Pacific Ocean opens up to receive her.

Unflinching, exciting, ambitious and yet heartfelt, The Last Animal will guide readers through a menagerie of settings and landscapes as it underscores the connection among all living things.’

 

From nature to a collection which explores similar themes, and which I’m coveting…

97819368736232. By Light We Knew Our Names by Anne Valente
‘From ghosts to pink dolphins to a fight club of young women who practice beneath the Alaskan aurora borealis, By Light We Knew Our Names examines the beauty and heartbreak of the world we live in. Across thirteen stories, this collection explores the thin border between magic and grief.’

 

We move to a book which has been incredibly highly praised…

3. Antarctica by Claire Keegan 9780802139016
‘Published to great critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, the iridescent stories in Claire Keegan’s debut collection, Antarctica, have been acclaimed by The Observer to be “among the finest contemporary stories written recently in English.” In “Antarctica,” a married woman travels out of town to see what it’s like to sleep with a man other than her husband. “Love in the Tall Grass” takes Cordelia down a coastal road on the last day of the twentieth century to keep a date with her lover that has been nine years in the waiting. “Stay Close to the Water’s Edge” tells of a young Harvard student who is pitilessly humiliated by his homophobic stepfather on his birthday. Keegan’s writing has a clear vision of unaffected truths and boldly explores a world where dreams, memory, and chance have crippling consequences for those involved. The stories are often dark and enveloped in a palpable atmosphere, and the reader feels that something “big” is going on in each of these carefully sculpted tales.’

 

The next tales have a very focused Irish setting…

97809550152984. There Are Little Kingdoms: Stories by Kevin Barry
‘Kevin Barry received widespread critical acclaim and the Rooney prize for Irish Literature following the publication of this first book of stories in 2007. His stories have since appeared in The New Yorker and in the Granta Book of the Irish Short Story. His debut novel, City Of Bohane, was published by Jonathan Cape in April 2011. Could easily have been titled These Are Little Masterpieces. Barry gathers all the bewildered exasperation that Irish playwrights from Tom Murphy to Marina Carr and Enda Walsh have identified, and brings it, most brilliantly, to his dark, blackly hilarious and horrifically realistic narratives.’

 

We move from Ireland to Switzerland with this intriguing collection of translated tales…

5. We’re Flying by Peter Stamm 9781590513248
‘Following the publication of the widely acclaimed novel Seven Years comes a trove of stories from the Swiss master Peter Stamm. They all possess the traits that have built Stamm’s reputation: the directness of the prose, the deceptive surface simplicity of the narratives, and deep psychological insight into the existential dilemmas of contemporary life. Stamm does not waste a word, nor does he spare the reader’s feelings. These stories are a superb introduction to his work and a gift for all those who have come to regard his fiction as a precise rendering of the contemporary human psyche.’

 

Next stop on the Book Trail: humans in all of their weird and wondrous forms…

97800620692216. Further Interpretations of Real Life Events: Stories by Kevin Moffett
‘A dazzling new story collection from brilliant, young, award-winning writer Kevin Moffett, Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events illuminates the intimate experiences of characters caught between aspiration and achievement, uncertainty and illumination, inertia and discovery, the past and the future. Channeling unexpected, eclectic voices in a collection perfectly suited to readers of Daniyal Mueenuddin, Alice Sebold, and Dave Eggers, Moffett delivers a nuanced, powerful, humorous, and moving meditation on the trials of transitions and liminal living in today’s modern world.’

 

Darkness saturates the next collection…

7. Ladies and Gentlemen by Adam Ross 9780224087742
‘After his widely celebrated debut, Mr. Peanut, Adam Ross now presents a darkly compelling collection of stories about brothers, loners, lovers, and lives full of good intentions, misunderstandings, and obscured motives.

A hotshot lawyer, burdened by years of guilt and resentment, comes to the rescue of his irresponsible, irresistible younger brother. An unsettling story resonates between the dysfunctional couple telling it and their listening friends as well. A lonely professor, frequently regaled with unbelievably entertaining tales by the office handyman, suddenly fears he’s being asked to abet a murderous fugitive. An awkward but nervy adolescent uses his brief career as a child actor to further his designs on a WASPy friend’s seemingly untouchable sister. A man down on his luck closes in on a mysterious, much-needed job offer while doing a good turn for his fragile neighbor, with results at once surreal and hilarious. And when two college kids goad each other on in an escalating series of breathtaking dares, the outcome is as tragic as it is ambiguous.’

 

Our final book is all about women, and the many dramas they face…

97819325119188. This Is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks
‘Eleven women confront dramas both everyday and outlandish in Caitlin Horrocks’ This Is Not Your City. In stories as darkly comic as they are unflinching, people isolated by geography, emotion, or circumstance cut imperfect paths to peace—they have no other choice. A Russian mail-order bride in Finland is rendered silent by her dislocation and loss of language, the mother of a severely disabled boy writes him postcards he’ll never read on a cruise ship held hostage by pirates, and an Iowa actuary wanders among the reincarnations of those she’s known in her 127 lives. Horrocks’ women find no simple escapes, and their acts of faith and acts of imagination in making do are as shrewd as they are surprising.’

 

That’s it for today’s Book Trail; another one will hit your screens soon.

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