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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :Gift:

Review: James Salter’s “All That Is”

james salter all that isSalter’s novel follows the life of navy-man than NY publishing house editor, Phillip Bowman, primarily through the vagaries of his romantic life. It’s absorbing, well-crafted, well-written, a writerly way of passing time. I think I’m forgetting it already, though, so I’ll summarise it as beautiful but unremarkable.

Where it came from: Birthday gift from MOD
Time and manner of reading:
An evening bedtime sampler and a morning lie-in irresistible read
Where it went: MOD
Best line of the book:
Reminds me of/that: Sebastian Faulks, Shirley Hazzard, Annie Dillard’s The Maytrees – similar sparse, poised prose
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of a solid, good read
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac; Moments of Desire edited by Susan Hawthorne and Jenny Pausacker

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Review: “The Girls from La Vie Parisienne”

the girls from la vie parisienneFrom the sublime to the frivolous. A 1960s item that proclaims itself “a superb scintillating album of endearing beauties designed for the collector-connoisseur” – aka a selection of drawings of ladies in various states of undress and precoital abandon, taken from editions of the magazine La Vie Parisienne from the 1870s through the 1920s. Apparently it was terribly popular porn in WWI, and some of the drawings are quite winning; also bizarre: watering one’s indoor plant dressed only in a hat, apron and stockings? A very fine slice of life, and (given the attention paid to clothes in states of removal) fabulous for historic costume parties.

Where it came from: Birthday gift from DC
Time and manner of reading:
A bedtime read
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: DC’s favourite caption: “Suzy, why this fuss at an insect’s buzzing? Did you not this morning give in to your cousin?”
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
You know who you are
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass

Review: Lorna Sage’s “Moments of Truth: Twelve Twentieth-Century Women Writers”

lorna sage moments of truthI read this book faster than it deserved and I just couldn’t help myself. Lorna Sage selected these essays on seminal twentieth-century women writers from among her writings; they’d been previously published as introductions, reviews, obituaries. Her subjects: Djuna Barnes, Simone de Beauvoir, Jane Bowles, Christine Brooke-Rose, Angela Carter, Katherine Mansfield, Iris Murdoch, Jean Rhys, Christina Stead, Violet Trefusis, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf. There’s an awful lot of big names there, and Sage does them such shining justice: her nuanced, informed, vastly read reading of these writers’ work – particularly to examine the concept of vocation for a woman writer – is insightful, witty, intimidating. What a joy it must be to be read with such intellectual aplomb. I’d read most of the writers included, and those I’ve missed have just been jotted up the to-read list by several notches. A fabulous book, and I will have to reread it in a few years to see if I can bring more reading and understanding to it. Highly recommended.

Where it came from: Birthday gift from MOD
Time and manner of reading:
A few days of bed, train, café and writers’ centre reads
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: “Reflection here is a kind of pun on thought and mirrors: mirrors flatter our delusions but most of us probably can’t think without them. We know ourselves best as images that are ambiguous, hypothetical, provisional.” (p.215)
Reminds me of/that: How much more – and more wisely – there is to re/read
Who I’d recommend it to:
Literary readers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass

Review: Rosemary Ashton’s “142 Strand: A Radical Address in Victorian London”

rosemary ashton 142 strandIt makes you question what you consider “radical” politics to be, really. In Victorian England, it was wrangling with medical laws, wrestling with doctrinal differences between Christianities and humanisms, championing evolution and recognising that monogamous marriage ain’t the only way to live. 142 Strand was the centre of London’s radical Unitarian intellectuals in mid-19th century London, the home and office of bookseller John Chapman, the philanderer and energised dreamer who acted as the enabler for renowned philosophers and writers such as Harriet Martineau, George Eliot (when she was Marian Evans), G.H. Lewes, Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Huxley, &c &c. Ashton’s “biography of a circle” explores the professional and personal stoushes and victories of Chapman’s intellectuals, and is moderately interesting as an exposé of the intricacies of 19th century publishing. Best recommended to true fans, I do feel better informed about the period than I was a week ago; shame none of those writers &c are among my particular favourites.

Where it came from: Sponsored shopping at the car-boot market
Time and manner of reading:
A few evening armchair reads and a mid-morning lie-in
Where it went: RB
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Historical literati
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

Review: Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”

michael chabon amazing adventures kavalier & clayA ginormous, excellently written, highly imagined novel. Chabon relates the stories of Brooklyn Jew Sammy Clay and his Czech cousin Josef Kavalier’s rip-roaring ride through comic book stardom, beginning and ending with an escape from early-Nazi Prague with the city’s Golem. It explores loss, isolation, hope, pre-McCarthy homosexuality, Jewry under Nazism and the history of the comic book – too many things to attempt to do credit to in this review. My summary would be that it was a fine novel that was just too long – I’d be absorbed for periods, then spend weeks not able to read more than a few pages. It’s too much of an ask for a book to be this huge and fabulous all the way through, but it was indeed impressive.

PS And how could forget: this book had the BEST first kiss scene ever, and it was an especial pleasure that it was a good gayboy snog.

Where it came from: Birthday gift from MM
Time and manner of reading:
Months of longer or shorter kaleidoscopic segments, wrapped up in an absorbed two-day dig in
Where it went: Loan to BH, and then?
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Comic book readers and those seeking a fat, complex, generally fun novel
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Review: “The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living”

helen, scott nearing the good lifeThis is a combined edition of Helen and Scott Nearing’s seminal books on getting back to the land and living a simple life: Living the Good Life (1954) and Continuing the Good Life (1979). The couple left New York, and went homesteading — first in rural Vermont for 20 years, then in rural Maine. Their skills, philosophies and experiences are documented here, explaining their veganism, the rejection of mainstream manufacturing and banking, their desire for stronger community, their commitment to education and civic values. Truly, an inspiring read, and I’m so glad I’ve finally read it (again, Bookclub’s been waiting a year for this to come to us, so I cut to the chase). The first is superior in writing and information quality (one suspects that Scott wasn’t up to writing Vol. 2 at the ripe old age of 95, and passed it on to Helen), and much more useful as a how-to guide; I’d even say you could skip the second one. Highly recommended, enjoy it.

Where it came from: Gift from MM when I passed a farm milestone
Time and manner of reading:
 Absorbed bed and armchair reads
Where it went: MR, LD, and probably assorted other farm readers before it returns to the Keeper Shelf
Reminds me of/that: The farm, of course! It was refreshing, and a good reminder, to read about even more radical lived politics than ours.
Who I’d recommend it to: They done it, you can enjoy just reading about it
Also reading: Rabbit #4; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews

Review: John Berger’s “To the Wedding”

john berger to the weddingWhat with the Greek odyssey-style narrative, and the wedding theme, this was the perfect read for the week of the Big Greek Farm Wedding. I’d read Berger’s art criticism before, but had never come across his novels: now I understand the high praise he’s received from various co-readers of mine. To the Wedding is of how to love Ninon, a 23-year-old nymph of a woman dying of SIDA (AIDS) in the mid-1990s. Ninon’s lovers are her Italian husband-to-be Gino, her French father Jean Ferrero, and her Czech mother Zdena. A slim but by no means slight novel, simply beautiful, in fact. Do read it. Well recommended.

Where it came from: Gift from MOD
Time and manner of reading:
Library and bed reads
Where it went: CP
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to: Readers after the beautiful and contemplative
Also reading: Rabbit #4; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews; The Golden Dress by Marion Halligan