28 July 2013

How is this for catching up?

As most of you know, a while back I decided to stop writing full reviews in favor of much shorter blurbs about each of the books I completed. At the time I had totally run out of steam and found I wasn't writing anything about anything because I felt all the unfinished reviews piling up. And lets face it my idea of a full fledged review would hardly getting me printed in the local Pennysaver let alone the New York Times. So I decided to just write enough of a blurb so that the future-me could refer back to it and remember what a particular book was about and how I felt about it.

Somewhere along the way I even got too lazy to even do the blurbs. So today's post is going to be an avalanche of blurbs.

Witty diary of genteel British lady
The Provincial Lady in America by E.M. Delafield
This is the third PL book I have read, and while I have enjoyed them all, I think was the first time that I just accepted the PL for who she is and enjoyed her much more because of it. I could never quite tolerate her inability to balance her cheque book and to extricate herself from a whole lot of unpleasant/annoying social situations. But I guess third time is the charm. This time I just found it all rather amusing and only once or twice did I think how she may have handled something better.

Her trip to DC also had me thinking about giving someone the PL tour of Washington DC. Granted there isn't a lot on it, but it might still be fun.

The tragedies of imperialism
Burmese Days by George Orwell
A novel of a very small British ex-pat community at a remote station in Burma in the waning days of the empire. Flory, our tragic hero despairs of his life in Burma but realizes that after ten years he can't imagine living back in England. He hopes to marry the newly arrived niece of another ex-pat but then the realities of life in Burma set in and the divide between the two becomes too wide to brook. An enjoyable read despite a surfeit of tragedy. There are so many victims of circumstance it is hard not to feel sorry for them all.

This illustration makes Burmese Days seems much more happy-go-lucky than it really is.
Marrying a castle
The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Who doesn't love The Secret Garden? And I certainly loved an old copy of T. Tembarom I found and of course the Persephone edition of The Making of a Marchioness, but something about The Shuttle made me like it a lot less than those other two FHB novels. Basically, The Shuttle is a fictional account of the rich American heiress marrying a penniless British aristocrat. And of course he is a spendthrift asshole. It was fun enough to read a bit shallow and not all that compelling.

The ultimate comfort read by Buncle author
Anna and Her Daughters by D.E. Stevenson
Stevenson's non-Buncle novels are not nearly as clever as her claim to fame. But my goodness they are fun to read. Total, wonderful, escapist, chaste, romance. Anna is widowed at 40 and left with very little money. So what? She up and moves from London to Scotland against all advice from solicitor, family and friends who all think she can't make it outside London society. I really don't need to tell you anymore. It writes itself.

Who wouldn't want to save a dying town?
Kindling (US) / Ruined City (UK) by Nevil Shute 
Nevil Shute is the master of male romance. Plenty of can do attitude, chivalrous adoration of females, and usually with more than a little engineering of some sort. (Of course Shute can also be master of racist language but that is another story.) In this case a wealthy financier resurrects a moribund ship building town in Northumberland before anyone knew WWII was on the way. Loved it.

Atmospheric, Mediterranean travels with tubercular poet boyfriend
Year Before Last by Kay Boyle
There were moments when I really didn't like this book, but overall I was quite taken with it. Boyle does a wonderful job evoking the lives of a woman who has run away from her husband to be with her poet lover who is in the pentultimate year of TB. Think late 1920s, southern Europe, living hand to mouth, love conquers all kind of travelogue.

Epic tale of WWI-era poet, his wife, his boyfriend and the scholars who care
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
I really wanted to like this book. I was quite please for the first 100 pages or so. But then, like I did with The  Line of Beauty, I got really bored and didn't really care about anyone in the book. Unlike The Line of Beauty, I actually managed to finish this one. I've liked early Hollinghurst but these days, I just don't care.

Cronin's most famous (but not best) tale of a provincial doctor
The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
A friend of mine who is head of English at an ex-pat British school recently had a student ask him to oversee a paper for her. (I'm no expert on the English ed system so I am sure I am about to say something incorrect.) She plans to be a doctor one day so she wants to write her paper on Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis and The Citadel. Both are about doctors and both of those doctors pursue scientific studies. I'm not sure what my friend thought of Arrowsmith (I think it is a brilliant book) but I know that he wondered how the heck he would advise about The Citadel because it had next to no literary merit and he couldn't figure out what she could say about it from a literary criticism point of view. Since I stumbled across The Citadel while we were in Jackson earlier this month, I thought I would give it a go. I certainly enjoyed reading it. I am far from an expert on literary merit, but I could see what my friend meant when he said it didn't really have any. I also had to pause at some of the medical scenes described. Like the infant who goes 30 minutes without breathing while the doctor attends to saving the mother's life. Miraculously the infant is brought to life. Fine, but surely the baby must have had severe brain damage after 30 minutes without oxygen.

Growing up gay and Black in 1986
Blackbird by Larry Duplechan
This was another book I picked up at a great used bookstore in Jackson, WY when we were there earlier this month. Despite the pile of books I took with me I had a hankering to not be so constrained in my reading, a little free form if you will. Plus I wanted to support the bookseller who had unusually good stock that seemed to be selected just for me. Lately I have also had a hankering to re-read some of the gay fiction I read when I was in high school and just discovering what it meant to be gay (see also below for Dancer from the Dance). I had never read this one but thought I would give it a whirl. Blackbird is a wonderful, funny, romantic coming of age tale. Didn't matter that the protagonist was Black, I could understand quite well most of what he was going through. This was definitely a good, unexpected find.

When I was in high school these St. Martin's Press Stonewall Editions were like manna from heaven.
Plume also provided more than a few gay reads for me in those days.
What must a 16-year old think of this?
Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran
I first read Dancer from the Dance when I was in high school. As a fairly isolated gay youth in the mid-1980s I looked to any port in a storm to identify with people who were like me. In Dancer from the Dance and so many other gay novels of the time what I found was lots of graphic sex and social mores that even today I don't really understand. What in the world did I think of this at 16? I really don't remember. I will say that children reading adult scenes (smut) doesn't necessarily mean they are going to say, "hey cool, let me try that". If that were the case I would have been one oversexed, depraved high schooler. Unlike Blackbird (see above) this one doesn't really offer much to youth other than a primer on the racy, pre-AIDS gay scene in New York in the 1970s. Other gay novels like those of Ethan Mordden introduced me to the notion of kept boys and house boys and other things to really aspire to.(!) And then of course there was the cavalcade of AIDS novels that, while many had many redeeming qualities, had the net effect of convincing 16-year old me that I would be dead by 30.

One of the interesting things about reading Dancer from the Dance this time around is that I began to wonder what gay dance/club music was like in the early 1970s. I thought it was too early for disco, so what could it be. Well Holleran sprinkles this novel with the names of songs that his characters danced to. Thanks to the magic of the Internet and Spotify I was able to find most of these songs and get a sense of what propelled them all to the dance floor. To my surprise the music was very much disco. I guess it started 5 to 10 years earlier than I thought. And his favorites that he includes were pretty much exclusively by African American artists.

Kind of lovely and kind of boring
Ordinary Families by E. Arnot Robertson
If this one hadn't been to fill a year for my Century of Books list, I probably would have sent it packing. There were parts that I found quite charming. Young girl is interested in sailing and birds and eventually boys. The story follows her and a few other local families. In a different mood I think I would have liked this one more. As it was I had to force myself a bit to finish.


  1. Ordinary Families actually sounds like I might like it. I like sailing - not that I do much of it nowadays. And sometimes the charm is enough to carry me through a book that has little else going on.

    - Christy

  2. I am pleased to see that my opinion of The Citadel has some support here -- I had to read it in Grade 11 English class and felt that it had no literary merit even then! I called Christine's fate from the first page and was very disappointed that I was right -- too easy. I can't believe I was forced to read it in high school. But then we read so many dreary books it's surprising that I still loved reading after I finished school...

  3. Thank you for these blurbs. I like to hear personal opinion feedback about books rather than just read the PR.

  4. I loved Ordinary Families! Though I recall being a bit surprised by how it ended. Not quite sure I would have described the main character - Lalage, was it? - as interested in sailing, but perhaps I missed the point and she loved it really... anyway, there's enough sailing in for nostalgia, so I think Christy might enjoy it.

  5. When Simon makes it to DC, I'll fly up there and tour around with you both! :)
    Glad to know that I'm not the only one that wanted to slap the PL. I thought she was worse in London than the first book. It's made me a little unsure about the rest, but since I haven't been able to find them yet, that's ok. I'm on the lookout for the America book. I've got The Shuttle sitting on the TBR shelf...I'm content to wait on it based on your blurb. Thanks for "catching us up!"

  6. I'm pretty sure that I never read Dancer from the Dance even though I came out in 1978. It's funny because I thought I read a lot of gay stuff in those years, but when I think back I can't think of much that I read: "The Front Runner", maybe some Rechy, Isherwood, quite a bit of poetry, the Advocate most weeks, Hoffman's Gay Plays anthology, Rowse's Homosexuals in History... oh and of course, Tales of the City which, at least in the first couple of books, most closely captured the life I was actually living. I fell in love with Michael Tolliver. Partly, I suppose, it's all those unpleasant A-gay privileged East Coast men who figure so prominently in fiction of the period, and partly it's the oh so highly colored prose (I can't read Edmund White, for instance).

  7. Thinking about this topic, I went to the bookshelves, and I don't have a lot of gay fiction, maybe a dozen books or so, and I haven't read all of them, partly, I suppose, it's because I've gotten rid of some of it, though all I can think of off the top of my head is Rechy and Warren. recently, I've been buying gay YA stuff as it turns up at my bookstore, but I haven't read any of it yet; the reading experiences of today's high schoolers must be very different than it was for you, and certainly for me.
    So... I pulled books I liked off the shelves: Mordenn I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Truong's The Book of Salt (I imagine that you've probably read these); Mallon's Fellow Travellers which I've recommended before, but which I suspect you would not like; Aciman's Call Me by Your Name (which I know you hated).
    And IF you can find them, I absolutely loved two novels by Mark O'Donnell (one of the co-authors of Hairspray)- Getting Over Homer and Let Nothing You Dismay.
    I would also mention two book-length autobiographical poems by the Canadian Daryl Hine - Academic Festival Overtures and In and Out. Don't be put off by the fact that they're in verse, they read easily as stories

  8. I enjoyed the shorter version very much.

  9. Lots of good reading suggestions here. I smiled at your mention of 'Dancer from the Dance.' One of my friends in the late 1908s was a gay man who worked in a bookstore, and one summer we shared a house with several other friends, and everyone read all the Stonewall and Plume books he brought home from the store. I still have my copy of 'Dancer from the Dance' - its aura of doomed romanticism hooked me, back then, but it's been years since I've re-read it. I did recently find a secondhand copy of John Preston's 'Franny the Queen of Provincetown' though, and re-read that, all these years later. It seems so simple, but really... isn't.

  10. Oops, late 1980s... (Always proofread!)

  11. Christy: I think there is more to recommend Ordinary Families than just the sailing. I just wasn't in the right head space for it.

    Mel: I must say I enjoyed reading it. Just realized that there isn't much there.

    Angele: Welcome to My Porch. I am glad you like the blurbs.

    Simon: Done.

    Geranium: Well, maybe she wasn't interested in sailing so much, but there is a lot of it described in the book.

    Susan: Well, you better get your ticket for October because he has his!

    Steve: I have never really taken a shine to EW, although I continue to read him and really did like Hotel du Dream. Much of what you list I have not heard of let alone read. That's always good.

    Mystica: Glad you liked them.

    Sarah: I kind of like the idea of a 1908 gay man working in a bookstore. Maybe I should write that novel.

  12. Love your writing. Love the garden photos!!

    Trying to track down a copy Anna & Her Daughters. Where did you find yours?

  13. Protector of Vintage: I don't remember where I got Anna. About a year ago I hunted around on the internet and bought about 8 different DE Stevenson titles from various places. Most were hardback and not very cheap. As prolific as she was there aren't as many floating around out there as you would think.


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