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The Book Trail: From Hours to Ours

I reread Michael Cunningham’s phenomenal novel, The Hours, back in February, and thought it would be a good place to start for a Book Trail.  As ever, all of these books have been found via Goodreads’ ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ feature.

1. The Hours by Michael Cunningham 3076525
Passionate, profound, and deeply moving, “The Hours” is the story of three women: Clarissa Vaughan, who one New York morning goes about planning a party in honor of a beloved friend; Laura Brown, who in a 1950s Los Angeles suburb slowly begins to feel the constraints of a perfect family and home; and Virginia Woolf, recuperating with her husband in a London suburb, and beginning to write “Mrs. Dalloway.” By the end of the novel, the stories have intertwined, and finally come together in an act of subtle and haunting grace, demonstrating Michael Cunnningham’s deep empathy for his characters as well as the extraordinary resonance of his prose.

 

8059692. The Collected Stories by Jean Stafford
These Pulitzer Prize-winning stories represent the major short works of fiction by one of the most distinctively American stylists of her day. Jean Stafford communicates the small details of loneliness and connection, the search for freedom and the desire to belong, that not only illuminate whole lives but also convey with an elegant economy of words the sense of the place and time in which her protagonists find themselves. This volume also includes the acclaimed story “An Influx of Poets,” which has never before appeared in book form.

 

3. Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson (another of my favourites!) 27908523
Brilliant, evocative, poetic, savage, this Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel (1934) written when Josephine Winslow Johnson was only 24, depicts a white, middle-class urban family that is turned into dirt-poor farmers by the Depression and the great drought of the thirties. The novel moves through a single year and, at the same time, a decade of years, from the spring arrival of the family at their mortgaged farm to the winter 10 years later, when the ravages of drought, fire, and personal anguish have led to the deaths of two of the five. Like Ethan Frome, the relatively brief, intense story evokes the torment possible among people isolated and driven by strong feelings of love and hate that, unexpressed, lead inevitably to doom. Reviewers in the thirties praised the novel, calling its prose “profoundly moving music,” expressing incredulity “that this mature style and this mature point of view are those of a young women in her twenties,” comparing the book to “the luminous work of Willa Cather,” and, with prescience, suggesting that it “has that rare quality of timelessness which is the mark of first-rate fiction.”

 

2669784. The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, The Keepers of the House is Shirley Ann Grau’s masterwork, a many-layered indictment of racism and rage that is as terrifying as it is wise.  Entrenched on the same land since the early 1800s, the Howlands have, for seven generations, been pillars of their Southern community. Extraordinary family lore has been passed down to Abigail Howland, but not all of it. When shocking facts come to light about her late grandfather William’s relationship with Margaret Carmichael, a black housekeeper, the community is outraged, and quickly gathers to vent its fury on Abigail. Alone in the house the Howlands built, she is at once shaken by those who have betrayed her, and determined to punish the town that has persecuted her and her kin.   Morally intricate, graceful and suspenseful, The Keepers of the House has become a modern classic.

 

5. A Fable by William Faulkner 2010541
This novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1955. An allegorical story of World War I, set in the trenches in France and dealing ostensibly with a mutiny in a French regiment, it was originally considered a sharp departure for Faulkner. Recently it has come to be recognized as one of his major works and an essential part of the Faulkner oeuvre. Faulkner himself fought in the war, and his descriptions of it “rise to magnificence,” according to The New York Times, and include, in Malcolm Cowley’s words, “some of the most powerful scenes he ever conceived.”

 

2213276. Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield
Bromfield takes a close look at the Pentlands- a fictional rich family in New England- exposing the hypocrisy and ignorance behind their luxurious facade. Bromfield’s eloquence when describing both his characters and their surroundings is breathtaking, and his accuracy in describing the characters’ complicated emotions makes it apparent that he knows human nature very well. A fascinating study on the struggle of one woman to escape the stifling influence of her husband and in-laws.

 

7. Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington 2634040
Alice Adams, the daughter of middle-class parents, wants desperately to belong with the people of “high society” who live in her town. Ultimately, her ambitions are tempered by the realities of her situation, which she learns to accept with grace and style. Alice’s resiliency of spirit makes her one of Booth Tarkington’s most compelling characters. A fascinating story that won the Pulitzer Prize. This publication from Boomer Books is specially designed and typeset for comfortable reading.

 

8197098. One of Ours by Willa Cather
One of Ours is Willa Cather’s 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the making of an American soldier. Claude Wheeler, the sensitive but aspiring protagonist, has ready access to his family’s fortune but refuses to settle for it. Alienated from his uncaring father and pious mother, and rejected by a wife whose only love is missionary work, Claude is an idealist without ideals to cling to. Only when his country enters the Great War does he find the meaning of his life.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which books have piqued your interest?

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The Fifty Women Challenge: ‘Paul’s Case’ by Willa Cather ***

One of Yamini’s choices for our 50 Women Challenge was Willa Cather.  I shall begin by saying that I do not tend to get on well with Cather’s work, and I always feel as though I should enjoy it far more than I do.  Rather than a novel which I may well have been disappointed with, I chose to read one of her short stories, Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament

Initially published in McClure’s Magazine in 1905, the subject of Paul’s Case is a suspended schoolboy – named, unsurprisingly, Paul – who was ‘to appear before the faculty of the Pittsburgh High School to account for his various misdemeanours’.  He becomes frustrated with his relatively privileged lifestyle, and decides to flee Pennsylvania for New York City.

Cather’s descriptions were my favourite part of the story, particularly those of Paul himself: ‘His eyes were remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy and he continually used them in a conscious, theatrical sort of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy’.

The tale is rather a depressing one, but it does hold the interest throughout.    The whole is engaging and intelligent, but there is a curious distancing to the whole – perhaps due to the third person perspective which Cather has used.  Whilst I enjoyed reading Paul’s Case, it has not quite made me want to rush to read any more of Cather’s work.

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Five Great… Novels (C-D)

I thought that I would make a series which lists five beautifully written and thought-provoking novels.  All have been picked at random, and are sorted by the initial of the author.  For each, I have copied the official blurb.  I’m sure that everyone will find something here that interests them.

1. Wise Children by Angela Carter
“A richly comic tale of the tangled fortunes of two theatrical families, the Hazards and the Chances, Angela Carter’s witty and bawdy novel is populated with as many sets of twins, and mistaken identities as any Shakespeare comedy, and celebrates the magic of over a century of show business.”

2. The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
“A study in emotional dislocation and renewal–Professor Godfrey St. Peter, a man in his 50’s, has achieved what would seem to be remarkable success. When called on to move to a more comfortable home, something in him rebels.”

3. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
“Behind this rather prim title lies the hilarious fictional diary of a disaster-prone lady of the 1930s, and her attempts to keep her somewhat ramshackle household from falling into chaos: there’s her husband Robert, who, when he’s not snoozing behind The Times, does everything with grumbling recluctance; her gleefully troublesome children; and a succession of tricky sevants who invariably seem to gain the upper hand. And if her domestic trials are not enough, she must keep up appearances. Particularly with the maddeningly patronising Lady Boxe, whom our Provincial Lady eternally (and unsuccessfully) tries to compete with.”

4. The Songwriter by Beatrice Colin
“New York, 1916. Monroe Simonov, a song-plugger from Brooklyn, is in love with a Ziegfeld Follies dancer who has left him for California. Inez Kennedy, a fashion model in a department store, has just one season remaining to find a wealthy husband before she must return to the Midwest. Anna Denisova, a glamorous political exile, gives lectures and writes letters while she waits for the Russian people to overthrow their Tsar. Although the world is changing faster than they could ever have imagined, Monroe, Inez and Anna discover that they are still subject to the tyranny of the heart. In this richly atmospheric and deftly plotted novel, their paths cross and re-cross leaving a trail of passion, infidelity and betrayal, before hurtling towards an explosive climax.”

5. Jerusalem the Golden by Margaret Drabble
“Brought up in a stifling, emotionless home in the north of England, Clara finds freedom when she wins a scholarship and travels to London. There, she meets Clelia and the rest of the Denham family: brilliant and charming, they dazzle Clara with their flair for life, and Clara yearns to be part of their bohemian world. But while she will do anything to join their circle, she gives no thought to the chaos that she may cause…In this captivating story of growing up and moving on, Margaret Drabble explores what it means to leave a disregarded childhood and family behind.”

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Abandoned Books

Until last year, if I was reading a book which I wasn’t enjoying, I would struggle through to the end and then feel inevitably dejected about the entire process. The deciding factor of abandoning books for me came with Nancy Pearl, who suggests that if you aren’t enjoying a book by page fifty, you should stop reading it, and either put it aside for the future when you might get on with it a little better, or abandon it altogether. It was with this in mind that I decided to abandon two books over the first weekend in August, because they just weren’t for me.

Circles of Deceit by Nina Bawden
I do really enjoy Bawden’s novels on the whole, but the blurb of this one didn’t appeal to me very much at all. I have been reading one of her books each month with two of my Goodreads friends, and on the whole, the experience has been a great one. I was, however, very disappointed with our July pick, The Ice House, which I abandoned as soon as page fifty was in sight. I had hoped that Circles of Deceit would be far better, but I was disappointed once again, so much so that I didn’t even make it to page fifty. The narrator was egotistical, the male narrative voice was not consistent or believable, the characters were in interesting, the plot contrite and the writing style awkward. I didn’t hate it – I have read far worse books in my time! – but it failed to capture my attention in any way.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
I’m fighting a losing battle with Cather’s stories. I’ve read quite a few now, and they all seem to start off well and then lose whatever momentum they had by about the halfway point, if not earlier. In consequence, I feel rather indifferent about their characters and endings. Contrary to my other Cather reads, Death Comes for the Archbishop did not even interest me from the outset. I love her descriptions, but I found this storyline rather stolid, and the religious aspects of it did not interest me in the slightest. Not an awful book, but just not one for me.