15 April 2012

Bits and Bobs

What's a serial reader to do?
My friend Roz just finished Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire series and she doesn't know where to turn next. And don't bother saying the Palliser novels because she finished those this year as well. In fact, she read both series in the span of two years all the while voraciously reading a million other things. I suggested there are lots of other Trollope novels to read (thirty-five others, in fact) but I think she will miss the serial form as much as the fact that it is Trollope. And when I say "serial form" here, I don't mean a long Victorian novel that was serialized in a newspaper or periodical, I mean a multi-novel series like the Barset and Palliser novels.  So what say all of you? Where should she go next? I haven't read The Forsyte Saga or A Dance to the Music of Time, so I have no idea if those would be appropriate. Is The Forsyte Saga even made up of separate novels? I have read The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, and as much as I liked it, I am not sure it is a good replacement for Trollope.  Is Miss Read (may she rest in peace) too simple? Thoughts?

And speaking of Roz...
It just occurred to me that you all would like Roz and her wife Layla. First and foremost because they are readers, but also the fact that I met them thanks to their acquaintance with blogosphere luminaries Polly (Novel Insights), Claire (Paperback Reader) and (I think) Simon (Savidge Reads).  They were all part of a book club in London. When Roz got a VIJ (very important job) in Washington, DC, those bloggers said "you should meet Thomas". And so she has. Always happy to have bookish friends, I wasted no time in getting acquainted with Roz and Layla.

Meeting them within the first week of their arrival in the United States, I stopped into Kramerbooks to find an American novel or two to welcome them. My enthusiasm in choosing American novels for them bordered on the evangelical. I ended up choosing five novels each representing a different geographic part of the U.S.: Main Street for the Midwest, A Confederacy of Dunces for New Orleans, Paul Auster's Brooklyn Follies for New York, Then We Came to End by Joshua Ferris for Chicago (which is also the Midwest but in a much different way than Main Street) and of course they needed a novel about their new home, so I chose Ward Just's brilliant Echo House about a dynastic political family in old Washington. (I realize I totally missed the West Coast, but nothing popped into my head as I hastily purchased the five books.)  The best part about choosing these books for Roz and Layla, is that they actually read them with alacrity and, while they liked some more than others, didn't find a dud among them. And what is more gratifying for a book lover than to have someone enjoy one of your recommendations? How many times have you given, or lent, or recommended a book to someone only to have the book go unread? I might now be afraid to recommend anything else to them lest I choose a clunker.

And Roz and Layla are convinced that, despite the fact that I didn't like the movie (twice), I will indeed like Cold Comfort Farm. So they bought me a wonderful Penguin edition. I wonder if they know that the cover illustrations are by another Roz (Chast) who does lots of illustrating for The New Yorker?

Muriel Spark Reading Week is coming up
Mustn't forget that Muriel Spark Reading week begins on April 23rd. Simon of Stuck-in-a-Book and Harriet at Harriet Devine's Blog will be hosting the festivities. I am definitely going to read at least one Spark novel so I can join in. Spark's work is funny and subversive and quirky and she was prolific. I have read about 12 of her novels to date and am excited to see which one I read next. I have a few on the TBR pile to choose from.

Two Sentence Reviews

Gideon Planish by Sinclair Lewis: Con artist makes a living proselytizing about intellectual nonsense not unlike modern think tanks. Good if you are in the mood for the satirical dry wit of Sinclair Lewis and have already read his masterpieces.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford: A satisfying and often funny family saga from interwar England that will leave you craving the other two books in the trilogy. Will also leave you wondering why no one ever mentions Don't Tell Alfred, the third book in the trilogy.

A Glass of Blessing by Barbara Pym: I don't know why this was in my TBR pile since I read it back in 2002. Pym is brilliant and based on this experience, I think her novels are the kind one can read over and over.

Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards: A collection of short stories most of which have music and musicians as part of the story. All are about love (both requited and unrequited) and relationships and, oddly, all are told from the perspective of a male character.

Bossypants by Tina Fey: A quick, fun read IF you are Tina Fey fan. I only needed one sentence for this one.


  1. There is Angela Thirkell's long series, sent in a 20th-century Barsetshire, and borrowing character names and history from Trollope. I think the later books get a bit thin, but the early ones, especially those just before and during World War II, are wonderful. I too love series and following characters through their lives.

  2. Oh, I am thrilled that you have become friends with Roz and Layla! That fills me with such a warm, fuzzy feeling.

    A more hollow feeling of guilt is experienced when I fully realise that I am one of said friends and acquaintances that is ungrateful when it comes to book recommendations and gifts... I'm dreadful and apologise. I shall rectify this, I promise. If it's any consolation: I do not limit this to you (I'm truly dreadful).

    Will you be visiting London and/or Oxford during your impending visit to the UK? I met with Miranda and Donna last week and we were hoping to have the delight of seeing you again.

  3. I found Miss Read delightful, though I think I've only read three of them so far. She has a wry sense of humor, and if Roz is a Barchester fan, she might really enjoy the descriptions of village life.

    I know she'll miss the serial form, but I HIGHLY recommend Trollope's The Way We Live Now, one of the best novels I've ever read.

    If she's really into series, maybe she'd be interested in Zola. There are 20 novels in the Rougon-Macquart cycle and most of them are available in recent translations. They don't need to be read in order, though the first in the series, The Fortunes of the Rougons, will be published in a new translation by Oxford World's Classics in August.

    The Forsyte Saga is good but not that long compared to Trollope. It consists of three novels. I read the combined edition which really didn't take me any longer than a very long Trollope. Haven't read A Dance to the Music of Time but I've heard good things.

    Another great series, though very different, is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I'm not normally a fantasy reader but the drama and intertwining stories are great. I got hooked on it after watching the HBO adaptation. And how cool that you got to meet your blogger friends in person!

  4. Mrs Oliphant's Carlingford Chronicles are brilliant, roughly contemporary with the Barchester books she takes Trollope's themes and reworks them a bit even having a sly dig at him from time to time. Mostly out of print but reasonably easy to get second hand.

  5. Awww, I feel touched that we merited a blog. As it happens, I’ve mainly been listening to Trollope as I’ve been running (and I am sure I am the only person in the world who ran their first half marathon to Timothy West’s dulcet tones describing Obadiah Slope)... In need of a substitute yesterday and without a recommendation, yet, I began to listen to Great Expectations which has been very fabulous. But I won’t know what to do when I get to the end of it without a sequel. Lawrence Durrell is not my cup of tea, I fear. I have already read (listened) to The Way We Live Now (which was tremendous). What else of Trollope’s would you recommend? Even better than a British author who writes a series would be a US one. I fear it is far too British of me to be listening to Trollope (or Dickens) as I skirt the Washington Monument...

    I should mention, for the sake of honesty, that our large TBR pile was being shipped from the UK to the US when we met Tom, which helped focus my mind on his books!

  6. Not that this is remotely similar to Trollope (I have only read The Warden) or vic-lit, but I recommend Maupin’s Tales of the City; 6 books total I think. They are very fun to read and they would tick of the West Coast which Thomas forgot about when choosing his representation of America in Books.

  7. Lisa May: I only recently found out that there was such a Thirkell series. I think I need to check it out.

    Claire: I certainly didn't mean to cast aspersions. Maybe it is a case of the Tell Tale Heart.

    Karen: I've tried a little bit of Zola, but it didn't pull me in. I like Miss Read, but I started to go a little OCD crazy because I owned some of them but not the earliest ones and I couldn't imagine reading them out of order so I gave them all to Book Psmith.

    Desperate Reader: Compared to the uber prolific Mrs. Oliphant, Trollope looks like a slacker.

    Molly: I don't know how you can run and listen to Trollope.

    Ruthiella: I think she may have already read the Maupin. I did years ago in one quick swoop.

  8. I'm just catching up on your posts and was reading about Roz and Trollope when I realised that I know her too (although I think I've only met her about 4 times at book group.) It's really great that you have become friends. I can't really think of literary series except for C.P. Snow's Strangers and Brothers series and Anthony Powell's The Dance to the Music of Time series.

  9. Sakura: It sounds like you do indeed know Roz. I've read one CP Snow but don't know much else about him. I might have to look into that series for myself.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.