literature

Thumbs up for A Book of One’s Own: People and their Diaries by Thomas Mallon. Literary history.

It is a crying shame this book is out of print. After contemplating at length what to say about it, I will have to bow to the supremacy of Phyllis Rose’s review on the back: “This is more than a book about diaries; it’s a celebration of life and the many ways people have of savoring it.” Yes, that.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. Literature.

A quiet woman writer who has acted disgracefully in love is shipped off by her friends to a Swiss hotel. A small, precise, witty, internal book: if you read non-genre fiction, you know the sort of thing, I think; and it is one of the best examples. Very enjoyable indeed. This was my first Brookner but it won’t be my last.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. Literature.

Lesbian love amongst an Orthodox Jewish community in London. I stayed up late to finish this book. That said, it is a peculiar work. Told in sometimes-awkward but strangely-relaxing third person from the perspective of Esti (who has stayed in the community), alternating with the just-borderline-irritating first person narrative of Ronit (who has moved to New York and become relentlessly cosmopolitan), along with sections of…Torah mysticism?… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Literature.

A sensualist wanderer and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a small French village. Good magical realism is hard to find, but Chocolat is a perfect truffle. Vianne Rocher is a witch – maybe. And the “maybe” is why it’s so lovely. Celeste Bradley once compared my novella The Portrait of Géraldine Germaine to Chocolat, so whyever did it take me so long to read it?… >> Read more

Thumbs up for The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Horror.

Even I, who like long sentences, will admit that Henry James sometimes goes overboard. Nevertheless, his style perfectly fits the narrator’s state of mind. And there’s just nothing creepier than perfect children. Genuinely eerie and highly recommended.

But it was a comfort that there could be no uneasiness in a connection with anything so beatific as the radiant image of my little girl, the vision of whose angelic beauty had probably more than anything else to do with the restlessness that, before morning, made me several times rise and wander about my room to take in the whole picture and prospect; to watch, from my open window, the faint summer dawn, to look at such portions of the rest of the house as I could catch, and to listen, while, in the fading dusk, the first birds began to twitter, for the possible recurrence of a sound or two, less natural and not without, but within, that I had fancied I heard.

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Thumbs up for A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Literature.

A Russian Count is placed under house arrest in a Moscow hotel in the early 20’s. My two coworkers and I (I work in a bookstore) all have different taste in books, with areas of overlap. A Gentleman in Moscow is the first book we’ve all adored. Very few things are as purely charming.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Romance.

My very last unread Austen! This is the funniest, I think: the others are full of satire, to be sure, but this one satirizes the entire idea of Gothic romances, while still being one (sort of): a meta-mockery, if you will. Delightful. I recommend the Penguin edition with the excellent introduction by Marilyn Butler, which provides a useful and thorough explanation about the books Austen is referring to.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for The Translator by Leila Aboulela. Literature.

I was traveling to Edinburgh and wasn’t able to find any book set there that wasn’t either too cutesy or too bleak for my taste, so I had to accept Aberdeen as a close-enough setting. The Translator is about a Muslim Sudanese-Scottish widow who works as an Arabic translator at a Scottish university.… >> Read more