Thumbs up for Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Romance/Literature.

And then to the Austen that is the favorite of very few people indeed. I can see how this book goes down hard for a modern reader. If pious, careful Fanny were a contemporary woman, she would be a complete stick-in-the-mud. Here’s my advice for this one: treat it like science fiction.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Persuasion by Jane Austen. Romance/Literature.

I’ve had more than one Austen fan tell me their favorite was Persuasion, and I was in an easy-reading-classics kind of mood. I think this one might be my new favorite, too.

She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! alas! she must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.

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Thumbs up for The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Literature.

The unnamed narrator, as he tells us in the first pages, can see two sides to all things. A hard trick to pull off for an author, but it flies. The narrator is a Communist (the story begins just before the fall of Saigon) though he to all appearances works doggedly on behalf of the Southern Vietnamese government-in-exile.… >> Read more


Thumbs up for The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Fantasy.

The Thursday Next novels (of which this is the first) are some of the few books I’ve read multiple times and plan to read again. They’re so stuffed with jokes about literature and history that they stand up well to re-reading; you’re never going to remember all that, and you’ll probably get more of the references each time.… >> Read more


Thumbs up for The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. Literature.

A slim novel composed of vignettes about six-year-old Sophia and her elderly grandmother, all set on the island on which they summer. It is wise but not sweet. I am going to go about this review sideways and say that, in a possibly singular event, the foreword, by Kathryn Davis, beautifully expresses why it is such a great work.… >> Read more

Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Literature.

I have a friend who jokes that I don’t read any living male authors. I do, of course; I just don’t read non-genre literature by living male authors—or living anybody, really. This book on my shelf was a counterexample of one. (And that is a beautiful irony, that David unwittingly got me to read John Irving, because he’s a snob who probably hates John Irving.) Anyway, in a nutshell: the eminently slappable middle-aged professor John Wheelwright looks back on his boyhood friendship with Owen Meany, a very distinctive character who from an early age believed that God put him on Earth for a mission.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden. Literature.

Nuns: the novel. If anything could convince you that I read purely by whim, this would be it. I read something laudatory about it, a long long time ago, and I don’t know what or where or when it was, but it made me put a nice copy on my shelf, and then every time I purged the shelves I’d reach for this book to get rid of, but it would say, “No, you want to read me someday, trust me, you’ll love me.” And I did, eventually, and it was right.… >> Read more