highlights

Thumbs up for The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Literature.

A young man–worldly and introspective relative to the society in which he lives, but that’s not saying much–is engaged to be married to just the right girl. Then her cousin, who is actually worldly, shows up from Europe…. Sometimes I think reading classic literature is hardly different from reading fantasy or science fiction.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Taking the Medicine: A Short History of Medicine’s Beautiful Idea, and Our Difficulty Swallowing It by Druin Burch. History.

If the history of medicine, in the specific sense of “things we take to feel better”–from opium to thalidomide, penicillin to aspirin–sounds at all interesting to you, read this book. That won’t apply to most of you, of course.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language by Eva Hoffman. Memoir.

A magnificent book. Ironically and wonderfully – since it’s about Hoffman’s struggle to express herself, and find her identity, in English – Lost in Translation is more gorgeously and elegantly written than most books by native speakers. There were so many passages I wanted to copy out.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for The Fox’s Tower and Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee. Science fiction and fantasy short stories.

I’ve raved about Lee’s work here before and will do so again. If you’re not ready to commit to his bizarre and wonderful trilogy about starship warfare based around calendars, try The Fox’s Tower. Most of the stories are at most a page or two, poetic and strange and warm.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Paperbacks from Hell: the Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix. Literary history.

When I requested an advance reader’s copy of this from the publisher, my expectations were low. It might have been a boring catalog of authors and publishers. Or it might have centered around mocking old horror paperback cover art, while being light on historical detail.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac. Literature.

Every time I think of Balzac I think of the West Wing episode in which Balzac is made fun of for his windiness. This is not wrong – at least in the first chapter. It was good that the introduction (by E.K. Brown) in my edition warned me that Balzac front-loads his books with lots of description, setting the scene and placing the characters within it before the story gets rolling.… >> Read more

 

Thumbs up for Polly; The Bachelor’s Wedding; and The Edge of Winter by Betty Neels. Romance.

These three are not among my favorites books by Betty Neels, but their inclusion here warrants a batch review explaining why I read them in the first place.

Betty Neels wrote 123 books, each of which clock in at around 185 pages. They are what we now call ‘sweet’ romances–not a reflection of their girly gushiness, because they haven’t got any of that, but ‘sweet’ being one end of a romance-literature spectrum of explicitness which passes through ‘sexy’ and eventually ends up at ‘porn.’ There is no sex in Neels’s books, even on the occasions on which there is a marriage of convenience.… >> Read more