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The Book Trail: From Amsterdam to Paris

I was lucky enough to spend a week in beautiful Amsterdam in early March, and am pleased to say that it has inspired me to pick up a wealth of themed reading within my yearly projects forecast for 2018.  I am actually thinking of Reading Cities as my main 2018 challenge, and focusing upon literature from and about my favourite places in the world.

That said, I hope you enjoy today’s Book Trail!  It begins in Amsterdam, and takes us all the way to Paris.

1. Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland 9780140296280
‘This luminous story begins in the present day, when a professor invites a colleague to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeerbut why has he hidden this important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of events that trace the ownership of the painting back to World War II and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work’s inspiration. As the painting moves through each owner’s hands, what was long hidden quietly surfaces, illuminating poignant moments in multiple lives. Susan Vreeland’s characters remind us, through their love of this mysterious painting, how beauty transforms and why we reach for it, what lasts and what in our lives is singular and unforgettable.”‘

 

2. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
This richly imagined fiction entices us into the world of Mary Cassatt’s early Impressionist paintings. The story is told by Mary’s sister Lydia, as she poses for five of her sister’s most unusual paintings, which are reproduced in, and form the focal point of each chapter. Ill with Bright’s disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world with courageous openness, and asks important questions about love and art’s capacity to remember.

 

2765783. The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey
In this passionate and atmospheric debut novel, Elizabeth Hickey reimagines the tumultous relationship between the Viennese painter Gustav Klimt and Emilie Floge, the woman who posed for Klimt’s masterpiece The Kiss – and whose name he uttered with is dying breath.  Vienna in 1886 was a city of elegant cafés, grand opera houses, and a thriving and adventurous artistic community. It is here where the twelve-year-old Emilie meets the controversial libertine and painter. Hired by her bourgeois father for basic drawing lessons, Klimt introduces Emilie to a subculture of dissolute artists, wanton models, and decadent patrons that both terrifies and inspires her. The Painted Kiss follows Emilie as she blossoms from a naïve young girl to one of Europe’s most exclusive couturiers—and Klimt’s most beloved model and mistress. A provocative love story that brings to life Vienna’s cultural milieu, The Painted Kiss is as compelling as a work by Klimt himself.

 

4. With Violets by Elizabeth Robards
‘Paris in the 1860s: a magnificent time of expression, where brilliant young artists rebel against the stodginess of the past to freely explore new styles of creating—and bold new ways of living.  Passionate, beautiful, and utterly devoted to her art, Berthe Morisot is determined to be recognized as an important painter. But as a woman, she finds herself sometimes overlooked in favor of her male counterparts—Monet, Pissarro, Degas.  And there is one great artist among them who captivates young Berthe like none other: the celebrated genius Édouard Manet. A mesmerizing, breathtaking rogue—a shameless roué, undeterred and irresistible—his life is a wildly overgrown garden of scandal. He becomes Berthe’s mentor, her teacher…her lover, despite his curiously devoted marriage to his frumpy, unappealing wife, Suzanne, and his many rumored dalliances with his own models. For a headstrong young woman from a respectable family, an affair with such an intoxicating scoundrel can only spell heartbreak and ruin.  But Berthe refuses to resign herself to the life of quiet submission that Society has dictated for her. Undiscouraged, she will create her own destiny…and confront life—and love—on her own terms.

 

5. Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell 6797515
In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father’s nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father’s will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris.  But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet – a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time.  His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet—and believed in his work—even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside.  But Camille had her own demons – secrets that  Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner.  A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement, Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order.

 

6. The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe
Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. Though they were often ridiculed or ignored by their contemporaries, today astonishing sums are paid for the works of these artists, whose paintings are celebrated for their ability to capture the moment, not only in the fleeting lights of a landscape but in scenes of daily life. Their dazzling pictures are familiar?  But how well does the world know the Impressionists as people? The Private Lives of the Impressioniststells their story. It is the first book to offer an intimate and lively biography of the world’s most popular group of artists.

 

5738967. Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir
In this delightful memoir, Jean Renoir, the director of such masterpieces of the cinema as Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, tells the life story of his father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the great Impressionist painter. Recounting Pierre-Auguste’s extraordinary career, beginning as a painter of fans and porcelain, recording the rules of thumb by which he worked, and capturing his unpretentious and wonderfully engaging talk and personality, Jean Renoir’s book is both a wonderful double portrait of father and son and, in the words of the distinguished art historian John Golding, it “remains the best account of Renoir, and, furthermore, among the most beautiful and moving biographies we have.”

 

8. Dawn of the Belle Epoque by Mary McAuliffe
A humiliating military defeat by Bismarck’s Germany, a brutal siege, and a bloody uprising Paris in 1871 was a shambles, and the question loomed, “Could this extraordinary city even survive?” Mary McAuliffe takes the reader back to these perilous years following the abrupt collapse of the Second Empire and France’s uncertain venture into the Third Republic.   By 1900, Paris had recovered and the Belle Epoque was in full flower, but the decades between were difficult, marked by struggles between republicans and monarchists, the Republic and the Church, and an ongoing economic malaise, darkened by a rising tide of virulent anti-Semitism.   Yet these same years also witnessed an extraordinary blossoming in art, literature, poetry, and music, with the Parisian cultural scene dramatically upended by revolutionaries such as Monet, Zola, Rodin, and Debussy, even while Gustave Eiffel was challenging architectural tradition with his iconic tower. Through the eyes of these pioneers and others, including Sarah Bernhardt, Georges Clemenceau, Marie Curie, and Cesar Ritz, we witness their struggles with the forces of tradition during the final years of a century hurtling towards its close. Through rich illustrations and evocative narrative, McAuliffe brings this vibrant and seminal era to life.”

 

Have you read any of these?

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The Book Trail: From The Lonely City to Lions

We begin this edition of The Book Trail with an incredibly thoughtful and well-written essay collection, Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City.  As always, I am using the Goodreads ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool to generate this list of fantastically intriguing tomes.

1. The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
28693032What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we’re not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Fascinated by the experience, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works and lives – from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks to Andy Warhol’s Time Capsules, from Henry Darger’s hoarding to David Wojnarowicz’s AIDS activism – Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed. Humane, provocative and deeply moving, The Lonely City is about the spaces between people and the things that draw them together, about sexuality, mortality and the magical possibilities of art. It’s a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive.

 

2. The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries by Jessa Crispin 24000166
When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road, in search not so much of a home as of understanding, a way of being in the world that demands neither constant struggle nor complete surrender.  The Dead Ladies Project is an account of that journey—but it’s also much, much more. Fascinated by exile, Crispin travels an itinerary of key locations in its literary map, of places that have drawn writers who needed to break free from their origins and start afresh. As she reflects on William James struggling through despair in Berlin, Nora Barnacle dependant on and dependable for James Joyce in Trieste, Maud Gonne fomenting revolution and fostering myth in Dublin, or Igor Stravinsky starting over from nothing in Switzerland, Crispin interweaves biography, incisive literary analysis, and personal experience into a rich meditation on the complicated interactions of place, personality, and society that can make escape and reinvention such an attractive, even intoxicating proposition.  Personal and profane, funny and fervent, The Dead Ladies Project ranges from the nineteenth century to the present, from historical figures to brand-new hangovers, in search, ultimately, of an answer to a bedrock question: How does a person decide how to live their life?

 

3. The Bad Mother by Marguerite Andersen
27969969Translated from the award-winning French novel La mauvaise mère, prolific author Marguerite Andersen fictionalizes the important moments of her life resulting in this unflinching account of her relationship with her three children and her years spent following her caprices and lovers, trying to regain the agency she lost when she became a mother.  Born in Germany, Marguerite was just into her twenties when she moved to Tunisia with her French lover. She thought she was choosing a life of adventure and freedom, but what she got was children and a marriage that quickly became abusive. Constrained by the minutiae of everyday life, Marguerite longs for the agency to make her own choices. Eventually she flees, leaving her children behind for a year and a half.  As the world labels her a wife, a mother, and eventually a bad mother, Marguerite wrestles with her own definition of personhood. Can you love your children and want your own life at the same time?  A half-century later, this fictionalized account of Andersen’s life is written with brutal honesty, in spare, pithy, and often poetic prose, as she expresses her own conflicted feelings concerning a difficult time and the impact it had on her sense of self. Andersen confronts the large and small choices that she made—the times she stayed and the times she didn’t—all the while asking, “What kind of mother am I?”

 

4. Fifty Days of Solitude by Doris Grumbach 394346
Faced with a rare opportunity to experiment with solitude, Doris Grumbach decided to live in her coastal Maine home without speaking to anyone for fifty days. The result is a beautiful meditation about what it means to write, to be alone, and to come to terms with mortality.

 

5. Mad in Pursuit by Violette Leduc
99088‘In the second remarkable volume of her life story, Mad In Pursuit, the war is finally over. A new generation of writers has appeared in Paris, among them Camus, Genet, Startre, and Cocteau, and every day, they can be seen writing at the marble-topped of the Cafe de Flore. Already in her thirties. Leduc burns with hero-worship and an obsession to become a celebrated writer herself. When she finds a mentor in none other than Simone de Beauvoir, she is pulled into the center of Parisian literary life — “a beehive gone mad. “In the no-holds-barred style that made her a legend, Leduc paints a vibrant picture of the brilliant minds around her — and the dark passions and insecurities that drove her to write.

 

6. Genet by Edmund White 53011
Bastard, thief, prostitute, jailbird, Jean Genet was one of French literature’s sacred monsters. in works from Our Lady of the Flowers to The Screens, he created a scandalous personal mythology while savaging the conventions of his society. His career was a series of calculated shocks marked by feuds, rootlessness, and the embrace of unpopular causes and outcast peoples. Now this most enigmatic of writers has found his ideal biographer in novelist Edmund White, whose eloquent and often poignant chronicle does justice to the unruly narrative of Genet’s life even as it maps the various worlds in which he lived and the perverse landscape of his imagination.

 

7. Love in a Dark Time: and Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature by Colm Toibin
43705Colm Tóibín knows the languages of the outsider, the secret keeper, the gay man or woman. He knows the covert and overt language of homosexuality in literature. In Love in a Dark Time, he also describes the solace of finding like-minded companions through reading.  Tóibín examines the life and work of some of the greatest and most influential writers of the past two centuries, figures whose homosexuality remained hidden or oblique for much of their lives, either by choice or necessity. The larger world couldn’t know about their sexuality, but in their private lives, and in the spirit of their work, the laws of desire defined their expression.  This is an intimate encounter with Mann, Baldwin, Bishop, and with the contemporary poets Thom Gunn and Mark Doty. Through their work, Tóibín is able to come to terms with his own inner desires — his interest in secret erotic energy, his admiration for courageous figures, and his abiding fascination with sadness and tragedy. Tóibín looks both at writers forced to disguise their true experience on the page and at readers who find solace and sexual identity by reading between the lines.

 

8. Lions and Shadows: An Education in the Twenties by Christopher Isherwood
In 1938 the legendary Hogarth Press published the first of Christopher Isherwood’s autobiographical writings, Lions and Shadows. The book evokes the atmosphere of Cambridge as Isherwood knew it and describes his life as a tutor, a medical student, and a struggling writer. Above all, Lions and Shadows is a captivating account of a young novelist’s development in the literary culture of 1920s Cambridge and London and of his experiences as he forged lifelong friendships with his peers W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Edward Upward.

 

Which of these books whets your appetite the most?  Have you read any of them?

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The Book Trail: From Anne Michaels to Anne Carson

This edition of the Book Trail kicks off with one of my most recent loves – Anne Michael’s Skin Divers – and takes us through a plethora of fantastic independent presses.

1. Skin Divers by Anne Michaels 479087
From the author of Fugitive Pieces, this work provides a collection of poems, meditations on how love changes in order to survive and how we move from obsolete science to new perceptions.

 

2. Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair by S. Jane Sloat
I can find no blurb for this, but very much love the idea of what the independent press who publish this chapbook are doing: ‘The dancing girl press chapbook series was founded in 2004 to publish and promote the work of women poets and artists through chapbooks, journals, book arts projects, and anthologies. Spawned by the online zine wicked alice, dgp seeks to publish work that bridges the gaps between schools and poetic techniques–work that’s fresh, innovative, and exciting. The press has published over 90 titles by emerging women poets in delectable handmade editions. Our books are available via our website, at select independent bookstores, Chicago area literary events, and through author readings. Also a purveyor of paper, ephemera, and vintage-inspired arts and crafts, dancing girl press & studio occasionally hosts readings, discussions, and workshops related to poetics, publishing, DIY, and book arts.

 

3. Snow by Maxence Fermine
107943An international bestseller, “Snow “is “a novel that reads like a poem. Limpid, delicate, and pure like its title.”* In nineteenth-century Japan, a young haiku poet named Yuko journeys through snow-covered mountains on a quest for art and finds love instead. Maxence Fermine’s prose is hypnotic, and his sensuous love story envelops you as if you¹re wrapped in one of his dreams with your eyes wide open.  Yuko has all the makings of greatness, but must learn to reach beyond the silent starkness of snow, his ultimate inspiration, to find the color pulsing through life. Color enhanced by love, without which he will remain invisible to the world. On his journey to enlightenment he learns how fragile the balance of life can be through the tragic story of his blind master, Soseki, and the love of his life, a French tightrope walker named Snow. Love and art finally converge in a most startling and exquisite way when a special young woman opens Yuko’s heart to the purest of color and light.’

 

4. The Weather Stations by Ryan Call
The debut collection of ten short stories from Ryan Call, including stories originally published in Keyhole, The Lifted Brow, Lo-Ball, The Collagist, The Los Angeles Review, Hobart and Web Conjunctions.

 

5. Howling at the Moon by Darshana Suresh 28822274
Tell me, Atlas. What is heavier: the world or its people’s hearts?  In her debut poetry collection, Darshana Suresh explores what it means to be alive, and how hurting and healing can often be overwhelmingly intertwined.  She does not write about recovery. Instead, she writes about carrying on until you are ready to recover.

 

6. Letters from Medea by Salma Deera
A collection of poems that reincarnates one of the most wicked women in classical literature into the modern day. It is a collection that celebrates and understands girlhood, loss, and love. These are Medea’s letters to the modern girl.

 

7. Blue Hour by Carolyn Forche
393726Blue Hour is an elusive book, because it is ever in pursuit of what the German poet Novalis called ‘the [lost] presence beyond appearance.’ The longest poem, ‘On Earth,’ is a transcription of mind passing from life into death, in the form of an abecedary, modeled on ancient gnostic hymns. Other poems in the book, especially ‘Nocturne’ and ‘Blue Hour,’ are lyric recoveries of the act of remembering, though the objects of memory seem to us vivid and irretrievable, the rage to summon and cling at once fierce and distracted.

 

8. Men In the Off Hours by Anne Carson
In Men in the Off Hours, Carson offers further proof of her tantalizing gifts. Reinventing figures as diverse as Oedipus, Emily Dickinson, and Audubon, Carson sets up startling juxtapositions: Lazarus among video paraphernalia, Virginia Woolf and Thucydides discussing war, Edward Hopper paintings illuminated by St. Augustine. And in a final prose poem, she meditates movingly on the recent death of her mother. With its quiet, acute spirituality and its fearless wit and sensuality, Men in the Off Hours shows us a fiercely individual poet at her best.

 

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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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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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