26 April 2013

Reading Rundown

Another rapid-fire round of the briefest of thoughts on my recent reads.

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay
Loved, loved, loved this book. Macaulay follows the women in a family over the course of a summer in 1920, each one of them representing a different age/generation. It was beautiful, thoughtful, sad and overall really wonderful. A must for the Persephone crowd.

Final Payments by Mary Gordon
After taking care of her invalid father for eleven years (since she was 19!) Isabel finds herself without a life when he passes away. (Imagine missing your 20s.) When she gets into the work world the descriptions of sexual harassment would seem totally overdrawn if it hadn't been written in 1978. Parts of the book reminded me a bit of Mary McCarthy's The Group.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
I really liked this novel and can understand why it won the Booker. Such an interesting take on memory and regret. I could empathize with protagonist Tony Webster when he receives a letter that he had written decades before. What seemed so justifiable and clever in his early 20s was in reality cruel and over the top and mean. Fascinating stuff. The friend who gave it to me said it reminded him a bit of Anita Brookner. Kind of made sense, but too much happens to be truly like Brookner.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
When I realized I would never make it through Mrs. Dalloway,  my Century of Books choice for 1925, I had to find a replacement. (I thought I would be okay with Mrs. D given that I have seen the film version twice and The Hours twice. Didn't work.) The reason Gatsby didn't make my Century of Books list in the first place is that I had read it before and I was trying to keep re-reads off that list as much as possible. And then trying to find a copy that didn't have Leo DiCaprio on the cover was not an easy task, but I managed it. As it turns out I might as well never have read Gatsby for all I remembered about it. So what did I think? Does it matter? Everyone and their dog have analyzed this one. I will say that it's wonderfully evocative and provides a disporportionate number of things one could discuss for its slim 180 pages. I particularly liked one description. At one of Gatsby's parties the bar was "stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another." Imagine a cordial that was so old fashion that it was already forgotten in 1925. And what could the flavors have been?

I won't be seeing the movie. The trailer pisses me off.

And if you have ever wondered how movie tie-in covers sell compared to other covers, check out this article in the New York Times about the Gatsby covers.

Most Talkative by Andy Cohen
The autobiography one of the mastermind behind Bravo's reality empire. Love his live nightly show and I loved parts of this book. Made me laugh out loud. But it got a bit boring when he got into what turned out to be the not very tell all part of this tell all.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
I think I would have liked this better 39 years ago. Charming and all that but so tedious to read with no child around.

Under Fire by Henri Barbusse
A story of life in the trenches during World War I, written while the war was still going on. Very interesting (and gruesome) to read a treatment of the war written before the author knew how it ended. Not unlike the war, it felt like a slog. (How's that for trivializing war?)

The Judge by Rebecca West
I have liked (and loved) other books by Rebecca West, but The Judge will never join that list. Man, I disliked this one. Might have been much more compelling if it had been half as long. West's editor must have been on vacation.

16 April 2013

Bits and Bobs (the new books edition)

(photo credit: Christopher L. Smith)
One of my favorite bookstore in Manhattan
There are many amazing bookstores in NYC, but  I think Three Lives & Co. is one of the best. A gorgeous little gem on west 10th Street in Greenwich Village, Three Lives is particularly good for literary fiction. It is one of those bookshops that seems curated rather than stocked. The resulting table displays and staff picks are too exuberant to be elitist. This is a store that makes readers want to pick up books by the armful. I am not prone to buy new books, but Three Lives always makes me do just that. Even when my luggage is too full.

I ran into a few other wonderful shops on our recent trip to New York, most of them secondhand stores (my preference) and I did find one or two other items, but alas I failed to even note the names of the other stores. I have also decided once and for all that The Strand is for chumps, tourists, and wannabes. Now before you take me to task for such a leap of hyperbole, I realize that it can be just the ticket for finding any number of treasures, but god almighty the weekend crowds are annoying as all get out. They make me want to stay up front to buy bags and t-shirts and not even try and squeeze down the narrow aisles and find an actual book. If you do go, at least do it during the week. Might not be as insane.

The books
The Gardam is the third in the Old Filth trilogy. The Barnes and the Jekyll were gifts from my friend Ron who was with me.

The Potato Peel Pie Award for Precious Title goes to...
The cover covers up for this hokey title. I have a sneaking feeling I won't actually like the book. Stay tuned.

I am on the Supreme Court of judging books by their covers
We all do it. I just wish I could get paid to do it. In addition to the Ellis above, these two and the Swift jumped into my hands thanks to their alluring covers.

My friend Ron pointed this one out and bought it for me. I am just waiting for my OCD to kick in which will require me buying the whole series.

I would buy a new Lively no matter what, but this beautiful cover made it truly irresistable.

Although the Lively cover shows a Tulip Magnolia (of which we have a lot in DC), it reminded me of these cherry blossoms I put in our living room a few weeks ago. They had fallen off a neighbor's tree after our late March snow so I brought them inside where they continued to bloom and even to sprout leaves.

What would Anita think?
I know Brookner wouldn't mind a drink, but what would she think of my friend enjoying a Cosmo while reading
Look at Me? I picture her drinking tumblers of brown liquor.

01 April 2013

The Real Housewives of Oxford Street

Even the publicity photo looks like one for a Real Housewives show.
I watched the first two hours of Mr. Selfridge last night. Overall an amusing period diversion, but has the potential to be as shallow and laughable as Downton Abbey.

Just like when I watch any of the Real Housewives shows, all I could think was "can't everyone just get along?"

In particular, poor Agnes Towler. Already within the first two hours she has the following to worry about:
  • A supervisor who has it in for her from day one
  • Trashy co-workers who also have it in for her and make fun of her
  • A developmentally disabled brother who is unknowingly getting caught up in a theft scheme
  • A father who is a mean drunk and embarrasses her at work
  • A chief of staff who thinks she is trying to blackmail him
  • A soon to be boyfriend who almost became a high class hooker
As for Mr. Selfridge, he is doing himself no favors by:
  • Embarking on an affair with a mercenary actress
  • Becoming beholden to Lady May who will, no doubt, ask for more than a pound of proverbial flesh at some point
  • Alienating his wife who is probably going to embark on an affair with a hottie artist
  • Taking advice from his Machiavellian mother who will probably just enable his bad behavior but could also cause him trouble in other ways
Other observations:
  • The opening scene where Mr. Selfridge interacts with the floor walker at Gamages. I have had similar customer service experiences in England.
  • Jeremy Piven seems unable to act preferring to utter every line as a proclamation. But he looks sexy as all get out with his beard.
  • The scene where Mrs. Selfridge meets the hottie artist at the National Gallery would have been much more believable if they had written the scene so that the artist was sketching/painting in the gallery and the greenhorn from America struck up a conversation with him in her enthusiasm for his work. As it was written the way the artist approached her, and her non-reaction was totally unbelievable.
  • I keep waiting for Mrs. Slocombe to make a pussy joke.