The Eternal Question: What Are You Reading? 8 / 2021

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The Eternal Question: What Are You Reading? 8 / 2021

Ene 5, 9:11pm

New Year, new thread!

Ene 5, 9:11pm

New Year, new thread!

Ene 5, 9:11pm

My first finished book of 2021 was The Best American Short Stories 2020, which was fine but didn't knock me out as a collection, though all the stories were well done. Maybe there were too many variations on a similar theme, a lot of drifting young adults and teenagers, and a few adults, who just seem a bit unmoored from life. Standouts for me were T.C. Boyle's "The Apartment," because it was just such a T.C. Boyle story; Michael Byers's "Sibling Rivalry," because it was a totally believable sf story all by itself in the collection; and Elizabeth McCracken's "It's Not You," because she's always so good. Looking back through them, I actually liked almost all of them—there was just nothing that left me going, "Wow, how'd they DO that?" Which is probably an awful lot to ask of a writer, I know.

Now I'm about to start Joan Silber's upcoming Secrets of Happiness, which I'm reviewing for Library Journal.

Ene 5, 10:34pm

Finished A Tempest which is a Carribean version of Tempest, and started Benediction which I thought Id read before but apparently I hadn't, but its been sitting on my tbr shelf for a while now.

Ene 6, 7:34am

I'm halfway into and liking The Parasites by Daphne DuMaurier.

Ene 7, 7:28pm

Finished Behold the Dreamers, didn’t much care for it.

Ene 8, 11:00am

I love Du Maurier. And I was a big fan of Behold the Dreamers too, in part because it was so unexpected.

I started Blue Ticket and quickly ascertained it was not for me. Dystopia+misery porn. I read Sisters: A Novel which is a bit We Have Always Lived in the Castle, beautifully written with a very good twist that I figured out just pages before the reveal. Very clever and very disturbing. Also, with a house as a major character which I love.

I am luxuriating in a police procedural Still Life and reading a book of music history 33 Revolutions a Minute which I thought I was going to dip in and out of but has turned out to be very interesting. Not the writing which is a bit belabored but the pints he makes - the shift in mood in the soul of the post-Watergate 70s, the rise and fall of Disco, Sex Pistols vs the Clash, Fela, Victor Jara, the two-tone label.

Ene 8, 4:22pm

I'm reading Better Luck Next Time which is set in Reno in 1938 at a dude ranch and centers on women waiting for their divorces to become final, so the whole thing makes you think of that part of The Women nonstop. I wish it was fizzier, but it's pretty fizzy.

Ene 10, 3:48pm

That sounds fantastic.

Editado: Ene 12, 4:48pm

>10 cindydavid4: A Promised land and Without a Country for my book group on Tues. Could not find this anywhere; apparetly Amazon published it and would not release it to indies. Fine. Went to Bookfinder, my go to for used and snatched a nice hard copy for a good price But it took two weeks to get here. I have enough time, anyway :)

ETA And I have now put it down because the writing is so poor Ah well, I suspect I'll be in the minority tonight

However am loving A Promised Land! BTW Trevor Noah had an interview with Obama a few days ago that I found very interesting. FYI

Ene 12, 10:59am

Just finished Training School for Negro Girls. Just fantastic,one of the best collections I’ve read in years. Very happy to have read it.

Ene 18, 2:59pm

I'm currently reading The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem. Not sure if it's even any good (I'm about 100 pages in), and the reviews weren't great. But, it's fairly short, so I'll try to finish. Working on reading real books (or Kindle) instead of just listening to audiobooks while I try to sleep.

Ene 24, 5:12pm

Finished on audio The Secret Lives of Church Ladies which just blew me away. It’s one of the three finalists for The Story Prize and an exceptional read. Listening to the stories read was wonderful because the book is very much about very strong voices. A major new writer.
Lisa,I’m pretty sure you read all of the finalists. Was historical corrections your favorite? I have Likes as the next one to read.

Ene 25, 3:22pm

I thought I posted this, many of you have been fans of Sharon Kay Penman over the years. She passed away Friday after a long illness. So sad; her blog is still up and people keep sending posts about what she meant to them I for one will read her last book that came out last year land beyond the sea in her honor and memory.c

Also I talked before about reading her novels starting from the one earliest in time When Christ and his Saints Slept though to the one that starts the Welsh triology. I normally dont do challenges, but Id like to try this.

Ene 26, 10:39pm

>13 alans: Alan, yeah—The Office of Historical Corrections was my favorite, and I liked Likes a lot. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies I thought was really strong in terms of plot and imagination, but the writing was just slightly underbaked—like I want to read whatever she does next, no question, but I feel like she's just stretching her wings. Anyway it's a great trio of finalists, and I'm looking forward to watching the event (remotely, sigh... that's one I always liked to catch in person).

Editado: Ene 26, 10:41pm

So I had a hell of a time reviewing Joan Silber's upcoming Secrets of Happiness. If it had been any other review venue than LJ I could have dived in happily—this was a humane, philosophical novel that was more than the sum of its parts, starting with the fact that you need to read the title and keep it in mind as you go. But LJ reviews are not necessarily about the intricacies of subtle storytelling—or rather you can say that that's what you get with this book, but you have 200 words to say it in and the purpose is for a librarian to decide whether or not to order the book. With most of what I review for them that's a pretty easy task, but this was not—just a bit too much going on under the surface. So here's what I finally came up with:

What do we need to be happy? Love? Money? Work? Family? Joan Silber takes on the question with her usual deft touch here, though without ever addressing it head on. Beginning with Ethan, a young Manhattan lawyer who discovers that his father has a second family, Silber unspools a web of lovers, siblings, parents, and children, from Greenwich Village to Bangkok, whose searches for fulfillment ripple outward in unexpected ways. From the entanglements of Ethan’s half brothers in Queens to his new boyfriend’s dying ex, whose sister watches them care for him warily even as she rekindles an old flame, to a young filmmaker living with her mother’s regrets and her sister’s capriciousness, each set of choices—infidelity, caretaking, the rejection of parents’ values and money, the work to build an extended family based on love and loyalty—affects the others in ways both subtle and large. Silber moves easily in and out of her characters’ heads; the novel is deceptively airy yet, given a reflective reading, has an ethical center without the shortcut of easy morality.

Now I'm reading Sylvia Townsend Warner's The Corner That Held Them, which is about nuns during the time of the Black Plague. It meanders along like a little stream and is very, very archly funny.

Ene 29, 4:33pm

I just finished The Corner That Held Them and I really loved it. What an unexpected pleasure. Historical to be sure, but so slyly humourous. I loved the way is just trickled along and BIG HAPPENINGS - which would have been the centerpiece of another different kind of novel, just kind of occur and then everyone moves on and oh yeah, there's a butterfly on a windowsill or the milk has soured. This is true of some huge historical events as well, like the Black Plague or the Peasants Revolt which hover in the background, impacting on the most human scale. It's quite astonishingly good.

I am reading Sometimes You Have To Lie which I wish wasn't quite so workmanlike but oh brother, do I love the topic and all the crazy things that weave the net that is Louise Fitzhugh, like her uncle was Peter Taylor and her writing teacher at Bard was James Merrill! It's too much.

I am also reading the first in the Persephone books William: An Englishman after watching a great interview with the press's founder. I have been buying the books whenever I can afford them or asking people to purchase them for me if they go to London and I have about 30 but I've only read one or two. So I decided I better treat them less like art objects and more like books because otherwise I'm going to die without making a dent The novel itself is very interesting, about a couple who are politically active in London on the eve of WWI - active but also clueless about history or events outside their very narrow range of interests- they marry and go to Belgium on their honeymoon in July 1914........ you can see where this is going. There is something very timely about it - people who are so invested in their political ideas that they end up being extremely shortsighted and unable to understand anything in its wider context.

Ene 31, 9:09am

Oh, I am dying for that Silber book -- I really think she's my favorite living writer now that Alan Bennett has gone largely silent.

Ene 31, 10:23am

Well, Lauren's getting the galley so you can't be too far behind. I agree—she does the American comedy/drama of manners so well.

Feb 2, 4:17am

>14 cindydavid4: I'd been in the hospital again (permanent placement of a biventricular AICD), and I'd not seen this until today. So many sad deaths this past year, but this one touches me personally & deeply due to the many hours of extraordinary pleasure I derived from reading her books.

Cindy, I'd mentioned several times over the years that one of my reading goals was to revisit her books in chronological, rather than publication, order. It was the very first reading-related activity I attacked right after I retired, and even all these years later the books held up magnificently. Spending all those hours reading it in order of the historical events was one of the best literary rides I've ever experienced.

The Plantagenets
1101-1154 When Christ And His Saints Slept (Book 1 )
1156-1171 Time And Chance (Book 2)
1172-1189 Devil's Brood (Book 3 End of the Henry &
Eleanor Trilogy)
1174-1180's The Land Beyond the Sea (King Baldwin, Saladin, Knights
Templar, Crusaders)
1189-1192 Lionheart (King Richard Book 4)
1192-1199 A King's Ransom (End of King Richard Book 5)

Justin de Quincy Mysteries Books
1192-1193 The Queen's Man (Book 1)
April-June 1193 Cruel as the Grave (Book 2)
July-Oct 1193 Dragon's Lair (Book 3)
Dec 1193-March 1194 Prince of Darkness (Book 4)

Welsh Trilogy
1183-1232 Here Be Dragons (Vol 1)
1231-1267 Falls The Shadow (Vol 2)
1271-1283 The Reckoning (Vol 3)

1459-1492 The Sunne In Splendour (Standalone masterpiece, her 1st publication)

I have so many unread books that I should attend to, but if you're serious about a chronologic challenge, I'd totally be up for doing it again. According to my calculations, (feel free to double-check me)we could start with WCaHSS and agree to read 8,654 pp at 201.25 pp/week to bring the challenge to completion by the last week in Dec. ~200pp/wk is very doable while still allowing plenty of time to read other books during the week.

Feb 2, 11:43am

Pat, I'm very glad to see you back.

Editado: Feb 2, 12:27pm

Hi Pat, good to see you! And hope you're doing OK post-procedure. I've never read anything of Penman's—where would I want to dip my toe in, if I were to?

I also finished The Corner That Held Them and agree with Lauren (quelle surprise)—it's a strange and lovely book, very drily funny and really hits a sweet spot between current events/politics and everyday interpersonal life. Beautiful descriptions of the natural world, as well. There's no plot other than that corner of the world and its history, but that's enough, honestly—or else I was just in the mood for that kind of narrative that feels as though you're floating by in a boat taking note of the details. Unlike anything else I've read in a while, and I have a feeling bits and pieces will keep surfacing in my head at odd moments.

Now on to Robert Gipe's Weedeater, the second in a trilogy of illustrated novels that starts with Trampoline, which I fiercely loved when I read it in 2015. They're set in contemporary Appalachia, and this one continues the story of Dawn Jewell, who's a punky, out-of-place teenager in the first. There's a third, too, Pop, coming out later this month. I decided last-minute I want to talk to him for Bloom about his political work with a local theater company, so I want to get as to much of the new two as I can before next week.

I also succumbed to suggestibility and got All Systems Red, the first in Martha Wells's Murderbot series, from the library. It so sounds like not my thing, and everyone who knows me says that it so is. So what the hell, it's short.

Editado: Feb 2, 2:54pm

Thanks, you two.

Lisa, definitely start with The Sunne in Splendour. It's her 1st publication, the only standalone book she's written, and it's inarguably her masterpiece. It also has a legendary story to it. She wrote it when she was a young law student after years of research before the internet (early 1980's). She was shopping the manuscript around to different publishers, but in between, she was moving into a new apartment, left the manuscript on her car's trunk, and when she came back to get it, it was gone. She insinuated she suspected a certain someone but has never mentioned a name. Anyway, she was so traumatized by losing all that work, she stopped writing altogether. It wasn't until she'd graduated and had been working for years for a tax law firm, that she up and quit one day and decided to write it all over again from scratch. I love that story, and TSiS is my all-time favorite in the genre. It totally converted me to historical fiction but set a high bar. It's also one of the few books I'll reread.

ETA: I've had All Systems Red on my Kindle for a long time. The reader reviews sold me. Might have to pull that one out.

So many books. So little time. However, now that we've sanity back in the White House, Pentagon, and State Dep't., I feel like I can finally get back to my pre-Trump reading concentration level.

Editado: Feb 2, 8:37pm

oh pat Ive been thinking of you, so glad you are well, Re your order of reading, Im about half way through WCSS, and still amazing. She will indeed be missed but well remembered. Just saw her obit in NYT, does a very good job about what I loved about her writing, and how much of an impact she had ot readers and writers around the world RIP; hope you are somewhere having a mug with Richard the III, Henry and Eleanor, and Llewylyn at last.

ETA challenge yup, you are on!

Editado: Feb 2, 9:11pm

What page are you on in WCSS? Take a breather for a couple of days and let me catch up. Then we'll do the 200pp/week thing until Dec. Sound good?

Editado: Feb 3, 1:39pm

Um I exaggerated a bit - on pg 203. I'll wait :) BTW 200 pgs per week means we;d be done in one month not December. Or did you mean as we go through the books 200 pgs per week?

Feb 3, 3:27pm

Yes. I meant all the books in chronological order.

I am having an overdue movie day with my Dad, but I plan on spending most of the night with Maude & Co. My post-retirement chronological read was a few years ago, so this is going to be kind of fresh.

Feb 3, 10:29pm

ok then; are we discussing it as we read? or when we finish? Or are we just reading, which is fine for me

Feb 3, 11:25pm

Whatever you feel like doing, Cindy, is good with me. It's not like these are new publications we want to protect against spoilers. Plus, it's all fairly well-known history, right?

I don't know if you noticed, but I opened a dedicated topic for us here.

Feb 4, 8:42am

Ha, yes I did see that!!! Cool, our very own discussion thread (and possiblly others who'd like to join) can I post it on Sharon's FB page?

Editado: Feb 5, 10:48am

All my library books came in at once. I just read The Truants which is a bit like the Secret History meets The Great Gatsby but in England - regular girl who never fit in with her middle class family falls in with a posh crowd at college led by a charismatic professor and murder - maybe- ensues. There's addiction, compulsive lying, sad sex and a house on a remote Italian island. The narrator is a bit too dumb to be believed - don't go to that island! - and I'm always uncomfortable when a female narrator talks about her unkempt curly hair and bone-thinness because I'm never sure what they are telling me - but the Agatha Christie sideplot kept me engaged. Now I am reading Before the Ruins which also features a clump of young people, a death, a disappearance and a mysterious abandoned manor. There must be something in the water over there.

Feb 5, 11:43am

>31 laurenbufferd: "a posh crowd at college led by a charismatic professor and murder - maybe- ensues"

At this point, I think this scenario deserves its own genre designation.

Feb 5, 10:36pm

>30 cindydavid4: Of course. I think that's an excellent idea, Cindy.

Feb 6, 10:55am

cool, will do

Editado: Feb 6, 4:32pm

Before the Ruins was a bit of a surprise, especially coming on the heels of a not-very-satisfying novel about posh people, in crowds, and charismatic professors. This too started with a group of misfit teens and it has a mystery element to it - a death, a disappearance, a manor, a diamond necklace. But it's more coming of age and grittier. I found myself very moved, especially by the narrator whose wretched childhood causes almost insurmountable problems as an adult and whose struggle for wholeness and sanity becomes much more significant as the story progresses.

Mr Fufferd gave me Mary Tyler Moore's memoir After All for Christmas as we have been watching the MTM show religiously for several months, one show per night before bed. The show is genius. The memoir, heartbreakingly sad. I knew some things - the struggles with alcohol and diabetes, but what a crummy childhood. I really need to get to the MTM years.

Feb 10, 1:08pm

After All was a wee disappointment. I wanted some serious MTM dish and i didn't get it. I found her road to recovery really sad, in some cases, hitting close to home and in others, just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Oddly enough, another little book Growing Up Again of hers was much better, using diabetes as a lens to view her life through. I still need the gossip about the MTM show but where to find it?

Just started Secrets of Happiness.

Feb 10, 11:45pm

Getting caught up with my New Yorkers and I came across this by Joyce Carol Oates:

This is Not a Poem

Here's a bit:

"...sere grasses hiss-
ing like consonants
in a foreign language...."

I mean, seriously. Is there anything that woman can't do?

Feb 11, 11:40am

I just slogged through A Country Doctor by Balzac and am a few pages into Country Music Originals: the Legends and the Lost.

Editado: Feb 14, 9:10am

Last week I finished up Robert Gipe's Weedeater, which is the second in his Canard County trilogy. It was a sweet, offbeat book about the many ways you can't save the folks you love—and also the shifting currents of motherhood and friendship, whether art or politics can redeem a body, class, drugs, community—the book is set in early 2000s Appalachia—and unrequited love. Along with the story itself, Gipe does a fantastic job with both the dialogue/dialect—no easy thing to do well, and he nails it—and the wonderful, fourth-wall-breaking, deadpan illustrations that help move the story along. This is way different from anything else I've read lately, compassionate and quirky without ever being cute, and I liked it a lot.

I also read the very short All Systems Red, the first in Martha Wells's Murderbot series. It hadn't sounded like anything I'd like, but a few friends sang its praises to me, and they were right—it's science-fictiony enough to be entertaining in that vein, but also whimsical and action-packed. Plus Murderbot is really charming. Much as I don't love series, which always seem to run out of juice as they go, I'll probably try some more of those.

And speaking of series, I'm about halfway through the third in Gipe's trilogy, Pop: An illustrated novel, and while I'm not sure I have the same degree of love for it as the first two—there's more action, more new characters, and the interiority I liked in the others isn't quite there—it's still a lot of fun. I talked to Gipe for a Bloom piece that's going up in a couple of days, and he's really interesting... one of those cases where talking with an author augments the book for me, much as I always try to keep those things separate.

Editado: Feb 15, 6:50pm

I'm a little late getting to Shuggie Bain but gosh, it's so good that I'm glad I waited until I had a lot of cooped-up (pandemic + ice storm + part time job) time on my hands. I do think Stuart has a habit of ending every chapter on a ta-da/cliffhanger/revelation/take-THAT kind of moment, but part of me thinks it's a nod to Dickens or Trollope or any other of a dozen doorstopper authors who serialized things back in olden times so I'm not really objecting. But you do get trained to expect something surprising or at least super dramatic at the end of every chapter, so it does the opposite of what he intends and ends up not surprising at all. That's not a complaint, I guess - the whole thing is very good.

Feb 15, 2:03pm

Finished Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. Chilling and timely. I loved it.

Then on to What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron. Dark and strange in the most fabulous way. And such beautiful writing.

Feb 15, 6:52pm

The Cameron book is so weird and lovely -- it did make me think a little of his previous Andorra, which in comparison feels a little like a dry run for this one.

Editado: Feb 19, 3:08pm

I have Shuggie Bain and am waiting for the right time to read it.

I had loads of things out of the library and since I wasn't going into work, had lots of time to read.

Black Widows you know I will watch or read anything about polygamous cults so this was right up my alley. Husband dies in a grisly murder, which one of his wives did it? As a mystery, it's a bit meh, it's researched to within an inch of it's life, and that ending is just too good to be true but I still enjoyed it. The pace is brisk, the characters are very engaging and the story really sucks you in. A few red herrings along the way keep the story lively as well. I don't know why but you can tell that the author is British even though the story takes place in rural Utah.

Little Cruelties Very clever novel about three completely reprehensible brothers in a morally suspect family. One has died and the other two at his funeral but you really don't know which one is a dead until you get to the end. If you enjoy novels about posh people behaving REALLY badly, this will tick every box.

The Third Rainbow Girl this was a toughie. I rarely read true crime - actually never- so I don't know if the structure is unusual or if the fact that the crime is never completely solved is true to the genre. As it is, I'd give it an A for effort but the execution is a bit lacking.

The narrative is split into two - the story of the crime, the search for the murderer, the trial(s), the effects on the community and Eisenberg's own story - her arrival in West Virginia first as a volunteer and then a paid employee at an organization that assisted young girls in career and college counseling, her relationships, her sexuality, her connection to the place, her grappling with the poverty, sexism, racism in her community as well as the tremendous sense of camaraderie, fellowship, and joy she experienced. She tries hard to get out from under the stereotypes of Appalachia without ignoring the complexities and how repressive it is for men and women both.

I think the biggest problem is that her personal story is not that interesting and she is not quite strong enough as a writer to make you care. Which is not to say that she doesn't make some very strong points along the way and one's I will continue to think about. She is wise about the nuances of Appalachian culture - like anywhere, it's not just one thing. I just don't think her ideas about the community and the crime itself add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. It feels like an antidote to Hillbilly Elegy etc but I just wish that the writing was better. Or it had been an essay.

Secrets of Happiness is spectacular but I think DG is reading it so I won't say anything except that never has a novel about ideas been so buoyant.

Feb 20, 3:04pm

>44 lisapeet: DG probably isn't reading Secrets of Happiness unless he got another copy, because I haven't made it out to the post office yet to mail it. But I will! Probably this week. The NYC post office is the worst, because there are no parking lots and neither of mine is near the house or near public transportation, so since I'm not commuting downtown it's a trek. But I'll get there!

Speaking of Appalachia and getting away from that Hillbilly Elegy, I finished the final installment in Robert Gipe's Canard County trilogy, Pop: An Illustrated Novel. I didn't love it as much as the first two (Lauren, did you read Trampoline back when I was raving about it a few years back?) but that was a lot of love to live up to. This one's more sprawling and less intimate than Trampoline and Weedeater, but a fun ride—there are ghosts and visions, teenage entrepreneurs, a murder, and at least one surprise reveal. If there's a lesson here, it's that things are not always what they first seem (except for the guy who gets killed), and it's good to approach what you think you know—people, regions, and politics—with care and attention. And the illustrations, as always, are top notch. I suspect this is Gipe's last Canard County book, and I'll genuinely miss the cast of characters.

I'm reading a book for LJ review, Enchantments: Joseph Cornell and American Modernism—I love Joseph Cornell and I'm always up for an ambitious chunk of art theory, but this one's going slowly—probably because I'm reading it in the evenings when I'm totally bleary from sitting in front of a screen all day. I should have some nice reading down time this weekend, though.

Much more suitable to bedtime reading is the gorgeous Telephone Tales, a super thoughtful gift from dear Lauren B—dreamy little bedtime stories and fab illustrations on thick creamy paper, with inserts and foldouts... just the thing for my tired and jaded eyes.

Feb 21, 2:42pm

Hey Lauren, Your link to Secrets of Happiness leads to the wrong book. I kept trying to figure out what was so special about it til I realized you were talking about the Silber one.

Feb 21, 2:43pm

I finally read The Dutch House. Patchett never lets me down.

Editado: Feb 22, 9:52am

I liked The Dutch House too - quite a bit - and I have been let down by Patchett! I didn't like how everything was resolved so neatly by the end but I am sucker for a novel about a house.

I am reading Marianaand it's just the kind of thing for reading when you are home on a snowday or curled up on a rainy afternoon. It's just a delicious kind of novel with loads of things - food, clothes, interiors - set in and around London in the 1930s with a scrappy, not altogether likable young woman, coming of age.

Mar 3, 10:26pm

I took a break from Joseph Cornell and read Jess Walter's The Cold Millions, which I liked a lot. It was a thoroughly enjoyable combination of setting, period, and historical period—the IWW labor wars in the first decade of the 20th century in the Pacific Northwest—with two itinerant Irish American brother running up against bosses, corrupt cops, and anarchist double-crossers. The pace was good, the writing very nice, and even though it was a boys' tale, there were a few fine kickass women characters as well, including real-life labor agitator Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the fictional, wonderful Ursula the Great, who does a burlesque act with a live puma and moves up in the world from there. The teenage protagonist, Ryan Dolan, is terribly sweet, too.

Before I go back to Cornell, my hold on Artificial Condition, another one of those Murderbot novels, just came in, so I'll read that first. It's another shortie.

Mar 4, 10:53am

>48 lisapeet: "The Cold Millions" was one of the first library loans I copped when I re-up'd my library membership. Unfortunately, it came in when I was still feeling poorly and having trouble concentrating. It had a bunch of holds on it, so I just returned it. I did read about the first 30pp or so and made a note to return to it sometime.

I'm taking a break from my Penman and reading The Arctic Fury about an all-woman, 19th century Arctic expedition.

Mar 4, 12:25pm

I want to read that too Lisa.

I am reading The Once and Future Witches which honestly has no business being as good as it is. Late 19th c mash up of witches and suffragists, nursery rhymes and charms, fairy tales and dystopias. I honestly can't tell you why it works because it sounds just as twee as hell but it does and it's just loads of fun. Even though at 400+ pages, it's a bit too long!

OI also read a mystery by Nicci French (who I always get confused with Tana French) House of Correction. Much less formulaic than I expected, with a really engaging main character. A pleasant surprise.

Mar 4, 1:05pm

>49 Pat_D: Pat, I think you'd like it.

>50 laurenbufferd: Lauren, you too. And hmm... I'm usually congenitally allergic to books with "Witches" in the title, but that sounds kinda interesting.

Mar 4, 2:28pm

>50 laurenbufferd: The Witch book is written by the same author who wrote Ten Thousand Doors of January that Lynn really liked and recommended.

Editado: Mar 4, 3:59pm

>50 laurenbufferd: I am reading The Once and Future Witches which honestly has no business being as good as it is. Late 19th c mash up of witches and suffragists, nursery rhymes and charms, fairy tales and dystopias.

Ok that hits all my buttons, add that one to the list! Tho Pats comment gives me pause because I really didn't like the January book. But I'll give it a go, sounds up my alley

Editado: Mar 4, 4:17pm

I just finished That Time of Year by Marie NDiaye. It's a novella, really, translated from French and published by Two Lines Press. It apparently was a big hit in France. I've had a Two Lines Press subscription for a couple of years now, and I really love it. You rarely get a book that you've (or I've) heard of, and the books themselves are always interesting looking and nice to own.

Anyway, this one was kind of a highbrow Twilight Zone episode. I was puzzled throughout the first half, but then it got delightfully weird. Recommended.

Mar 4, 4:26pm

I also am happy to have finally started Cantoras by Carolina de Roberts.

It takes place in Uruguay, beginning in 1977, when the country became ruled by an oppressive military government. Many things, including homosexuality, were punishable by torture, prison, and death. Five lesbians, singers (I've yet to discover how the singing comes into it), discover a tiny remote cape, where they make a home and community for 35 years.

I don't know anything about the history of Uruguay, but I'm going to brush up quickly in the hope that I will enjoy the book more.

Mar 4, 5:48pm

That Two Lines Press sub looks really intriguing. Not that I need to bring more books into this house, but when did that ever stop me?

I've had Cantoras on hold from the library a bunch of times and had to pass it up because I was reading other things and the time wasn't right. Let me know what you think, though—I should probably try again.

Mar 5, 4:08pm

I'm interested in that too.

I just started Shuggie Bain and it's so good and so painful all it once.

Mar 6, 2:17pm

I had never heard of publishing house subscriptions until I saw a discussion about them on Goodreads. There's a woman who runs several groups there who talks about them a lot. Her name is "lark" and she is an amazing reader and reviewer. Does anyone else know her? She also turned me on to the Graywolf Press subscription, which is great. I finally found a cure for my envy of those who receive pre-pub books!

Editado: Mar 9, 6:38am

I've been hesitant to talk about reading Shuggie Bain because it's hands down my favorite read of the past five or six years, and I've noticed that I'm already defensive about it. Like if someone says they didn't like it, my esteem for them actually lowers a bit and I wonder where the flaw in their education was.

I said it elsewhere, but Agnes Bain is truly one of the great complicated (and I mean COMPLICATED, with all that entails: good, bad, absolutely terrible) heroines of modern lit, even if she doesn't quiiiiite fit the hero mold. And when I say "doesn't quiiiiite," I mean "does not at all."

Mar 9, 11:02am

dg, I am within 50 pages of finishing Shuggie Bain and you are right, it is all that. My quibbles are so small they are almost non-existent and I almost think they are additions that his editors asked for to explain some sociological something about Glasgow. I have audibly gasped and this morning something was so dark and horrible (and yes, it involved Agnes and one of her neighbors) that it made me bark with laughter. Even with all the sorrows in the novel, it is also a joy to read.

Mar 9, 12:35pm

I'm so looking forward to this. Holley is reading it now.

Mar 9, 1:01pm

I have that too, and ditto.

Finished Artificial Condition, the second installment in Martha Wells's Murderbot series, which was fast-paced and fun. The short format along with the engaging voice inclines me to keep on with this series—they're real palate cleansers in between other reading.

Now back to Joseph Cornell for a bit. Still waiting on my hard copy, but now that I've had a rest from PDF-reading I feel ready to jump back in and it's moving right along. It really feels like 1980s ArtForum, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Mar 11, 5:34pm

>60 laurenbufferd: Okay, well that's it. I've had "Shuggie Bain" on my Kindle for quite a while. Guess I'll check it out tonight.

Mar 14, 6:14pm

I’m almost finished listening to Galveston by the creator of True Detective.I haven’t seen True..yet,but I’ve wanted to read this since it first came out. I really dislike the entire thing. It’s heavy duty noir which I usually like,but this is so cliche and annoying.

Editado: Mar 20, 10:32pm

I just turned the last page in Shuggie Bain, but it's too soon to type about at length or with any intelligent assessment. Except, I have to say here and now that Leek will hold a tender spot in my heart for a long time. The part where Shuggie puts 2+2 together and realizes Leek's been watching over him all this time? That about destroyed me.

With no distractions, I should finish the first book in our Penman read tonight.

I've also started 3 other books: This is How They Tell Me the World Ends, The Arctic Fury, and The Rebel Nun.

ETA: Corrected title spelling.

Mar 19, 9:39pm

>65 Pat_D: I want to hear more about The Rebel Nun just because the title is so awesome.

Mar 19, 9:52pm

Pat, I could slow down if you'd like, its more fun to discuss if we are on the same book :)

Mar 19, 10:53pm

>67 cindydavid4: Yeah, sorry, Cindy. I got distracted with a few other reads. It's just the two of us, so I see no reason to stick to a schedule. It's my second chronological read but I'm not skimming. It's been so long I'd forgotten a lot of the details.

Mar 19, 10:56pm

>66 lisapeet: I'll report back. It's an intriguing story, isn't it? It's based on real events though completely unfamiliar to me.

BTW: Amazon has it on sale for the Kindle for $8.69

Mar 20, 12:39pm

>69 Pat_D: Even better, my library has it! At some point when I'm out from under my required reading, I'll check it out (literally).

Mar 20, 7:54pm

Pat, I think one of the great things about Shuggie Bain is that the title tricks you a little into thinking it's going to be mostly about Shuggie and while, sure, it is, it's also EQUALLY about the other Bains and the fullness of the depiction of each member of the family (and even some of the neighbors) comes a complete surprise. Even Catherine, who basically disappears early on, is pretty clearly outlined.

Editado: Mar 21, 3:02pm

FFS. I just typed a few thoughts and lost the whole damn post somehow. I'll come back later to repost them.

For about the whole first half of the book, I kept wondering why it wasn't titled "Agnes Bain." As it turns out Shuggie is the hero of the story. Although, IMO, nothing is possible without Leek's quiet guardianship. Catherine was the pragmatic one. No Irish romantic, that one. She was always going to get out first chance she got.

Mar 22, 12:46pm

I agree with everything said about Shuggie Bain so far. I felt very strongly about all of Agnes' children.

I had to read The Kingdoms for review. One of those books where I don't know if its me or the book. I though it was a mess. It could be that I am not someone who loves time travel stories because they hurt my brain. This felt esp convoluted.

I finished Muse, Odalisque, Handmaiden which I don't imagine anyone here will even be interested in. It's by rose Simpson and it's about the brief years that she was a part of the Incredible String Band. I loved it - but it's very much my thing. I didn't think she was such a great writer but her perspectives a unique one. And somehow she never lost sight of who she was and as the rest of the band drifted into Scientology, had the wherewithal to pack up and get out.

I'm reading essays in The Ballad Collectors of North America for fun and also The Snow Ball which is a tiny baroque masterpiece.

Mar 24, 6:34pm

I am for some idiotic reason listening to the Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. I found a copy in a lfl and I can’t throw away a book until I’ve read it. This has to be one of the worst books I have ever read,and people love Tyler! I listen to whole sections and I’m amazed by the triviality and uselessness of the whole thing. I remember taking an English class thirty years ago and the prof said he never would imagine he would consider Ann Tyler a great American writer, the book is horribly painful. Just trivial and idiotic.

Mar 25, 9:41am

Ninth House . It's fantasy, college murder-y, set at Yale where all the secret societies are actually magical. Like grown up Harry Potter with junkies and assaulting ghosts and hideous preppies. I don't know why it's so fun but it is.

Mar 25, 10:30am

>74 alans: at the time Tyler was one of my fav writers; I loved her querky style and even querkier characters. Got to a point tho that several years back, all of her books were the same, just change characters and setting. So its been awhile. But that book, plus others, were gold to me (realize that I have not reread them in a while and am very hesitant to do so!)

However your mileage may vary; so carry on

Another author of that time for me was John Irving. Same thing, loved several of his early books but then I stopped reading them.

Mar 25, 10:30am

>75 laurenbufferd: started reading that and stopped when it started getting too dark. Should try again I think

Mar 25, 11:15am

>75 laurenbufferd: I loved Ninth House! A little disappointed that it ended on an obvious to-be-continued note, but I'm totally up for the next installment anyway. That combo of higher ed and dark supernatural makes me very happy.

Mar 25, 2:59pm

cindy, there's a very gruesome image early on but if you can get past it, it's quite a fun read. so far.

Mar 25, 3:48pm

I love Anne Tyler, but Accidental Tourist was a long time ago and if I recall correctly was quirkier than most of her others. Her writing is deft and I find her current novels to be so smooth.

Mar 25, 4:51pm

>79 laurenbufferd: ok I think I will, maybe I'll close my eyes when I turn the page :)

Editado: Mar 28, 8:47pm

Like Lauren, I read Brigid Brophy's The Snow Ball, and what a fun, odd, and specifically atmospheric novel it was—I can't think of anything else like it I've read. It all takes place during one New Year's Eve costume party in England in the early 1960s, I think (it was published in 1964), with the guests dressed as 18th-century figures—many out of Don Giovanni, which makes me wish I were more up on my opera, but it's not necessary to enjoy the slightly plotless action: a one-night stand, a deflowering, a death, a pompous professorial lecture, and a bunch of missed connections with masks on that make the whole thing quite delicious.

Also finished Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning, in which journalist Tom Vanderbilt follows the lead of his grade-school-age daughter, who apparently takes endless lessons, as good Brooklyn children do, and sets out to cultivate "beginner's mind"—the cognitive shift that comes with learning a new skill, and the benefits that accrue when doing it at age 50+. It's pop-psychy, which I didn't mind, and you have to maneuver around the fact that his learning process, while enjoyable to follow, still involves a succession of fabulous teachers, coaches, surfing camp in Costa Rica, "swimming wild" off the coast of Corfu on vacation with his family, etc. But hey, either he's got the resources and time or he's spending down his book advance, and either way more power to him—they're interesting experiments, and I enjoyed the book. I meditate, and there's a lot of talk about beginner's mind, and also approaching life with a sense of curiosity, and you know... After 12-1/2 months of this I have ZERO curiosity left in my body. I'm getting stuff done to get stuff done and then afterward I have no energy for fun, and I'd really like to goose my engagement factor a little. I have a lot of free sketching courses on YouTube lined up, and maybe if I can find time to watch them that'll get my creative juices flowing. But right now oy, I got nothin'. (Which is why I'm going to write a Bloom essay on it this week, which will probably be kind of a Bataan Death March of creative flow but what the hell, I'm supposed to fill my slot on Tuesday and it totally slipped my mind, so.)

Now I'm reading Judith Schalansky's An Inventory of Losses. I know, so cheerful!

Mar 30, 7:02am

I loved An Inventory of Losses - it's the type of book I frequently fall for, like Mark Doty's Still Life with Oysters and Lemon

Mar 31, 11:02am

>83 DG_Strong: I'm actually going to have to put it on hold for a month or so—I need to read five novels in April to get ready for an LJ author event I'm moderating. It's really DENSE, kind of a dwarf star of a book, and I feel like rushing through it isn't the way to read it. Although I had to read the second essay, on the Caspian tiger, with a hand over my eyes—that description of the animals fighting in the Roman circus was too much for this snowflake.

I have yet to read Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, though it's been on my wishlist forever, mostly because of your recommendation, DG.

Mar 31, 2:29pm

I'd like to know what five novels, Lisa.

The Brophy was wonderful and weird, wasn't it?

I'm kind of curious about the Vanderbilt book - in part because I've tackled learning two new things in the last two years and I think a lot of has to do with my age and just having zero fucks to give about whether I am 'good' at them or not. But your description is a bit off putting.

I loved Ninth House and was really impressed how she pulled all the threads together, in part, because I felt like The Kingdoms was kind of a mess and it was fresh in my mind. I just finished How much of These Hills is Gold? which I thought was pretty amazing and a bit like There, There in that it makes you think literally about the land you walk on and every lie you were told in school. It's also a beautiful book stylistically, very elegant.

Mar 31, 8:57pm

>85 laurenbufferd: It was indeed. Like nothing else I've read in a while, with such vivid, oddball visuals.

I think I gave the Vanderbilt book kind of short shrift. There's a lot more to it than that little whiff of privilege, and really I only mentioned it because it felt like it was a bit of an elephant in the room, but I also could have been cranky. I mean, the New Yorker sends its reporters all over the world and I don't sit here thinking, "Gee, I wonder how many frequent flier miles they had to redeem to do THAT?". The whole thing was a bit lite but also interesting, and I've committed myself to using it at least as a jumping off point for a Bloom essay.

My five April books:
Uwem Akpan, New York, My Village
Bernhard Schlink, Olga
Lauren Groff, Matrix
Amor Towles, The Lincoln Highway
Margaret Verble, When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky

They're all fall books, I think.

Mar 31, 10:00pm

>68 Pat_D: no worries, I finished Devils Brood and really think it would have been a better book without so many minor characters having conversation to tell us whats happening. But maybe I need to take a break perhaps? BTW a celebration of life is planned for April 22 7 pm live on Facebook (not sure how this works ....) Anyway if you want more info go to her FB page.

Mar 31, 10:04pm

>86 lisapeet: Oh I am very interested in The Lincoln Highway, really like Towles keep me posted on what you think

Im in between about five books right now that are the same I've been reading but have just been very distracted this last month. It'll calm down eventually

Editado: Abr 1, 1:13am

>87 cindydavid4: Dang, woman. You're way ahead of me.

I'm a recent library ebook convert, but I haven't figured out how to plan my loans. Either nothing is available, or all my requests show up at the same time.

For example The Lamplighters came in and now that's 3 library books I have to get through.

Abr 1, 9:17am

>87 cindydavid4: note: I am skimming a bit :)

Abr 1, 1:35pm

I am dying to read Matrix!!!

Abr 1, 5:55pm

>91 laurenbufferd: It's like Lauren Groff read The Corner That Held Them and decided to go from there! Total reading serendipity.

Abr 1, 6:08pm

heh I was wondering about that!

Abr 2, 10:36am

>83 DG_Strong: I'm reading that right now!

Abr 6, 11:46am


I read Luster in two days - what a book and what gorgeous crazy long sentences. There's a plot and it's a good one but its so much about being young and scrounging for a job and paying student loans and a black woman in NYC right now (well, not right now, it's pre-covid) that it almost doesn't matter what happens, it's just all that. I loved it.

I have to read a new Chris Offut for review so am reading My Father, the Pornographer which is superb. DG, have you read this? It might not be the right time but it seems very up your alley.

Abr 6, 1:14pm

>95 laurenbufferd: I thought My Father the Pornographer was fantastic. (Also, in hardcover best cover ever!) Offutt's new novel comes out next month and is getting all kinds of great buzz from indie booksellers.

Abr 6, 1:16pm

Oh yes, I am all caught up on Offutt.

Abr 7, 12:44pm

>95 laurenbufferd: You know, I was kind of put off Luster by the plot—oh no, another young woman in publishing novel—but that makes me think I might like it after all.

I finished Lauren Groff's Matrix, which imagines the life of Marie de France, was pure fun—especially after having read The Corner That Held Them—another tale of an abbey set a couple of centuries later—earlier this year. Groff inhabits the "what if" of history really adeptly, and Marie's story is interesting, spirited, and ultimately infused with a gentle affirmation of faith that doesn't grate. I do love a good nun novel.

Now reading Margaret Verble's When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky, which looks like it'll be really interesting as well.

Editado: Abr 10, 4:54pm

I dropped everything, returned unread library books, because Willy Vlautin's new book is out now: The Night Always Comes. I honestly believe no other writer today captures the American Everyman's/woman's story so authentically.

The Night Always Comes.

Abr 12, 5:33pm

I finished Willy Vlautin's new one in one sitting. I don't understand why his books aren't more popular. His stories of the downtrodden yet good-hearted are completely devoid of sentimentality and gimmickry. There's no convoluted use of literary devices, just plainly told stories about real peoples' struggles. Every single one of his books and I've read them all, leaves behind at least one unforgettable character who will break your heart. In Motel Life it's Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan. In Northline it's Allison Johnson. In Lean on Pete it's Charley Johnson and Del Montgomery. In The Free it's the trio of Leroy, Freddie and Pauline. In Don't Skip Out on Me it's the half Paiute wannabe boxer, Horace. With his latest, The Night Always Comes, it's Lynette, who may be his most devastatingly authentic character yet. I have one small criticism of his latest, and it's when he gets a little too on-the-nose with the politics of the day, but it occurs only briefly and hardly warrants a mention. I know it's become a trite description, but I believe Vlautin's the closest thing we have to a modern-day Steinbeck.

Abr 13, 8:09am

"I don't understand why his books aren't more popular. His stories of the downtrodden yet good-hearted are completely devoid of sentimentality and gimmickry."

I believe you just answered your own question. There are a handful of authors I admire and read religiously stuck in the same boat, I think. I liked Lean on Pete quite a bit -- I'll see if I can round this one up.

Abr 13, 11:24am

I also really liked Lean on Pete. I'll definitely check out the new one. Thanks, Pat.

Abr 13, 5:44pm

I liked Lean on Pete a lot too. I have The Motel Life and this new one, neither which I've read, but that characterization pushes me in that direction for sure.

I finished Margaret Verble's When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky, which could have used a bit of tightening—and hey, it's a galley so it well might get it before publication—but it was fun. The setting was great bit of history to play with—Nashville amusement park in the 1920s—featuring a Cherokee woman who does a horse diving act, an unconventional murder mystery, and some of the best non-anthropomorphized animal characters I've come across in a while.

Now reading Bernhard Schlink's Olga, which is, so far, sooo old world but pleasant.

Editado: Abr 13, 11:25pm

I think I know every writer and now I read about Willy Vlautin who I’ve never heard of so I’m really grateful for sites like this one. Will definitely check him out.

Have any of you read Anne Enright’s Actress? I’ve never read her,always on my list,but I got a very cheap copy of this and the story interested me. I didn’t get far and had to drop it. I can see why some people might like it,but I found it so trite and about nothing. I kept waiting for the big reveal and..I guess I expected the wrong thing. I find these days I need to read things that jolt me in some way. This was so bland and dull,dosed with Irish something.

Abr 14, 4:21am

>101 DG_Strong: Who are some of the ones you admire, deeg?

Abr 14, 4:36am

Here's a Web site with an excerpt from The Night Always Comes and multiple links to download an e-galley, although if there's one author who deserves support, it's Vlautin. All of his books are highly discussable, but this latest one, with its theme of homeownership = the American Dream is especially so and relevant.

Abr 14, 6:43pm

I did a quick search through Vlautin’s work,could someone please suggest one to start with. One of them is about a woman obssesed with Paul Newman movies,not my thing.

Abr 15, 9:12am

I've been zooming through library books lately - When No One Is Watching which I'd give an A- for ideas but a lower grade for execution. Its kind of like a Get Out about gentrification in Brooklyn and it has some great points to make but the novel isn't paced right and it just ends in a mess. I'll give it a giant pass because I think it probably attracts readers who may not have put all the dots together and so perhaps is a palatable way to introduce some of the links between prison pipeline, gentrification, war on drugs, but for me, it was kind of a miss.

I also read Aftershocks which is a really superb new memoir by Nadia Owusu about her family and her personal struggle with mental illness and genetically inherited trauma. She grew up all over the world - Ethiopia, England, Italy - her mother is of Armenian descent and her father was from Ghana - and her mother left the family when Nadia was quite young. For me, the use of an earthquake as the lens to see how the break-up of the family affected her was quite effective. There is a tiny bit of oversharing and the constant shift in time and place can be a little confusing but mostly, I'd say this was an extremely well written and articulate memoir that offers something new.

I am reviewing Chris Offutt's new mystery Killing Hills - super for sense of place, but the actual crime is a snooze-fest. I am also reviewing Love and Fury to help out my editor. There are so many reasons I often avoid historical fiction but this is quite good.

Editado: Abr 15, 7:29pm

Leave the World Behind has to be the worst book I’ve read since the last bad book I’ve read. I realized very late that it is a dystopian novel and that’s really not a genre I enjoy. The spookiness of the book,which is why I picked it,was done better by any episode of The Twilight Zone. The book is supposed to be a commentary on race but apart from the introduction of the mysterious visitors,there is no difference between the two couples. A very bad book which has received enormous praise and is apparently being made into a Netflix film. Really bad Stephen King. The idea of the book-something mysterious and terrifying out there-but never actually explained is exactly like a play which won the Pulitzer Prize years ago.

Editado: Abr 15, 10:38pm

>107 alans: Based upon the positive response from people here who've read it, Lean on Pete seems to be the most popular (it also enjoys that very rare thing: an excellent film adaptation). I became a diehard fan after reading his first novel, Motel Life. I'm completely biased, but I think all of his books are wonderful. Even Northline (the Paul Newman obsession one you mentioned), which is about much more than a movie star fanatic.

Abr 15, 11:08pm

Reading and enjoying The Greenhouse Think I will need to look up her other books (which I hope are translated!)

Abr 16, 11:31pm

Thank-you Pat

Abr 17, 7:12pm

Finished Bernhard Schlink's Olga, which is kind of hard to sum up. It's the story of one woman's life from a couple of points of view—her narrative, that of a man who was a boy and then a man in her company, and then a third section of her letters to her absent lover. Understated and old-wordly, this is a lovely, solemn novel of the many ways a person can be lonely—including while being loved—and still have a life that matters in ways large and small. But mostly small... it's on the sad side.

Now reading Amor Towles's The Lincoln Highway.

Abr 17, 9:40pm

Thats on my list!

Abr 18, 12:47pm

For me, there is something abotu Schlink that is literally lost in trasnaltion. I don't dislike but I read his books, think 'huh' and then totalyl forget them five minutes later.

I am reading Red Island House and it is everything!!!!!!!! Nancy, you would love this. Any Andrea Lee is worth the wait and this is no exception.

Abr 18, 3:57pm

I'm reading The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, a library hold for which I'd been waiting. So far, the first 20pp or so have been about nothing but a dress one of the characters selected for an event. Unlike the last 3 holds that came in for me, I'm determined to finish this one before it disappears from my Kindle, because some of the reviews were very intriguing. However, it's trying my patience.

Abr 19, 4:23pm

Wow, Lauren. I have never even heard of Andrea Lee. Thank you!

Abr 19, 5:11pm

I really regret not picking up a galley of Red Island House—the blurb didn't excite me, but all the excerpts I've read have been terrific. I'll probably end up borrowing it from the library at some point.

Abr 19, 9:34pm

Lisa, it's heavenly................

Ayer, 10:42pm

I found you’re thread over here. Been keeping up with your reading on notifications when you post a review. Glad to have found you.

Ayer, 10:44pm

>120 blackdogbooks: Hey, long time no post! Good to see you here, and hope you're well.