Between writing and wading my way through Ada, or Ardor I haven’t really had much time for my blog. So I thought I’d post about some of the books I’ve been reading lately. I joined Goodreads awhile ago, then forgot about it, and then started obsessively updating it and posting reviews. It’s a good way to keep track of what I’ve read. But anyway, here’s some of what I’ve been reading lately.
Gatsby’s Girl by Caroline Preston
(*** of five)
In a lot of ways I’m sort of ambivalent about this book. I did quite enjoy the story; the youth and middle age of a debutante in the early twentieth century. But I’m not sure it benefited from it’s link to F. Scott Fitzgerald. The girl in question is Ginevra Perry. She’s beautiful, she’s rich, she’s popular and because she’s bored at her all girls boarding school she decides it would be quite pleasant to fall in love with that young writer from Princeton who she met on a frigid night in St. Paul and who writes very lovely letters. But since youth is fickle she throws him over most callously and marries a boring aviator, only to repeatedly find herself in the pages of her former flame’s popular novels. This is Ginevra’s story, through and through, and I enjoyed her growth as a character. What irked me slightly is that this could have easily been loosely based on the Scott Fitzgerald/Ginevra King story without going so far as to name the author and keep the first name of the girl. This is not particularly about Ginevra King, but more a conglomeration of the debutante and every character that it’s been rumored was based on her. The author of this book wrote the book she wanted to write (in evidence by her afterward), and it was compelling; Ginevra is a strong, likable character, despite her flaws, but it wasn’t entirely the book I wanted. I would recommended it, but not as proper historical fiction.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
(***** of five)
This book was, in a word, resplendent. I had never heard of this book when I unwrapped it on Christmas morning, but I’m lucky in the fact that my mother knows me very well. This is the story of the year 1938 in the life of a one Katherine (alternately Kate or Katey) Kontent. A chance meeting on the night of the new year propels her through a tumultuous year of ups and downs, hellos and goodbyes, and rags and riches. Katey’s a wonderfully realized character and all of the friends, lovers, and acquaintances who swan through her life leave lasting impressions, both on the narrator and the reader. I loved everything about this book. The dialogue was pitch perfect, the tone not to light and not to dark, and the scenery was like looking at lush black and white photographs of a time you wish you could have experienced. Like nostalgia for what you never had. I don’t often give out five stars, but this deserves it.
The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
(**** of five)
The Sign of Four is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes story. Let’s just be clear here, I’m a big Holmes fan. It might have something to do with the fact that one of my great literary crushes is John Watson (see, here). Or maybe I just really enjoy stories about socially awkward people who do pretty impressive things. ‘The Sign of Four’ begins with Holmes lolling about, shooting up cocaine, in between cases and Watson trying his utmost not to say anything about it. Luckily, in walks Mary Morstan with a scintillating case. Her father disappeared ten years hence and now as of late she’s received a note saying she’s a wronged woman and a collection of fat pearls. She entreats Holmes to discover the mystery, which involves a one legged man, a penal colony in Malaysia, a hidden treasure, and plenty of deceit. And if that wasn’t enough then there’s the element of romance, as by the end Miss Morstan is well on her way to becoming Mrs. Watson. It’s typical Holmes fare, and that’s a good thing.
Club Rules by Andrew Trees
(*** of five)
I had a very complicated relationship with this book. In the beginning, when every chapter a new characters was introduced, I almost got fed up and put it down. But I don’t really do that. So I trudged on until there were at least a few characters for me to grab onto. This is, essentially, the story of an entire town show through the eyes of a handful of its residents. The town in question is Eden’s Glen, Illinois, a fictional suburb of Chicago. Eden’s Glen is nice, it’s prestigious, and there’s apparently a minimum requirement of asshole if you strive to live there. Meaning, you should be one. Every single character in this book is a horrid person, if only because they treat everyone else around them like shit, don’t communicate with their spouse and/or offspring, and climb over each other’s backs to achieve a modicum of status elevation. At the center of this group of hideous individuals are the Winthropes; Preston and Anne who everyone want to be. They’re rich, they’re glamorous, they’re falling apart. Like every other man in the book Preston screwed around on his wife and they never discuss it before Anne moves out leaving her son behind. The son, of course, Baird, is the only vaguely likable character in this whole show. He’s got issues, but they’re most sympathetic and he does seem to TRY, even if he never gets it right. But, he’s a teenager, he’s not SUPPOSED to get it right. And at least it gave a change from every single man bitching inwardly about his wife gaining wait or wearing the wrong clothes or not screwing him readily every night.
Now, don’t think I misunderstand, this is a satire of a suburban stereotype that doesn’t really exist. (See ‘Suburgatory’, American Broadcasting Company for further reference) And in a lot of way it does succeed. We often see the same exchange from several sides, which is usually amusing enough to keep me holding the book instead of throwing it across the room. But, I would have like to see a few less narrators. I couldn’t get a grasp on most of them and grasping, social climbing Norman, for example, didn’t propel any sort of story along. But overall it was an amusing mess that moved along quickly and I don’t regret reading, even if I wouldn’t pass it along to any friends.
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
(**** of five)
I picked up this book because I got the rather strong and sudden impression that Rachel Cohn and David Levithan must be very fond of Dashiell Hammett. Nick and Norah was one thing, that could be a coincidence, especially with the altered spelling of the heroines name, but Dash and Lily is too obvious. Too gloriously clear. Now, why this should be a reason for someone to pick up a book is something I can’t rightfully answer (and if I can’t then no one can), but it was. I read Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist sometime around when the movie came out. I found it intriguing, cute, and miles beyond what is usually pumped out for Young Adult audiences. I should maybe point out here that my opinion is skewed as I am in no way a Young Adult anymore. Only at heart. And maturity. Also beside the point.
‘Dash and Lily’ takes place on and around Christmas in New York City. Both teenagers find themselves inexplicably alone for the holiday and each need someone to reach out to in order to occupy their time and their sanity. He’s finicky, bookish, and a myriad of other adjectives you can already imagine from the two I’ve already presented, and she’s adorable, somewhat immature, and all heart. At first it’s hard to believe that these two might actually hit it off, despite a shared love of perceived newness and J.D. Salinger. But eventually it becomes more and more clear that while they have many differences, they are probably what they need in another person.
It was a pleasant little book that didn’t take long to read and was filled with likable and well rounded characters. And that’s really what this story is about. The story meanders through the streets of Manhattan with crazed mothers, overenthusiastic friends, lots of relatives, and lebkuchen cookies, but this is really about Dash and Lily, through and through.
My only problem? Franny Glass was never going to Yale, that was never in question. She was, in fact, already in college (probably Smith or one like it) and visiting Lane Coutell at what was probably Princeton for the Yale game. She talks extensively about it. Nit-picky? Sure, but there’s a bit of Dash in me.
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