Nickelini's 1001 List

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Nickelini's 1001 List

1Nickelini
Jan 22, 2009, 12:43pm

Following Arubabookwoman's example, I'm going to note the date I read the book (great idea!). I'm following the original 1001 list.

1. Oroonoko, 2006
2. Gulliver's Travels, 2006
3. A Modest Proposal, 2006
4. Candide, 2005

5. Sense and Sensibility, 2008
6. Mansfield Park, 2007
7. Emma, 1990s
8. Persuasion, 2007
9. Frankenstein, 2003
10. The Nose, 2007
11. Fall of the House of Usher, 1980s
12. A Christmas Carol, 1980s
13. Pit and the Pendulum, 1980s
14. The Purloined Letter, 1980s
15. Jane Eyre, 2006
16. Wuthering Heights, 2001
17. Cranford, 2008
18. Bleak House, 2008
19. The Water-Babies, 2008
20. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1970s

3Nickelini
Jan 22, 2009, 12:55pm

31. Heart of Darkness, 2001
32. A Room with a View, 1980s
33. The Thirty-Nine Steps, 2008
34. The Return of the Soldier, 2009
35. Siddhartha, 2003
36. The Garden Party, 2006
37. The Trial, 2007
38. The Great Gatsby, 1980s
39. Mrs. Dalloway, 2004
40. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1970s

4Nickelini
Jan 22, 2009, 1:00pm

5Nickelini
Jan 22, 2009, 3:19pm

7Nickelini
Jan 22, 2009, 3:43pm

71. If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, 2006
72. Burger's Daughter, 2008
73. The Name of the Rose, 2005
74. Confederacy of Dunces, 2004
75. Midnight's Children, 2008
76. The Color Purple, 2008
77. Shame, 2004
78. The Handmaid's Tale, 2007
79. Love in the Time of Cholera, 2003
80. Bonfire of the Vanities, 1990s

8Nickelini
Jan 22, 2009, 3:49pm

81. Like Water for Chocolate, 2004
82. The English Patient, 2006
83. Indigo: Mapping the Waters, 2008
84. A Fine Balance, 2003
85. The Reader, 2007
86. Alias Grace, 2008
87. Fugitive Pieces, 2008
88. Silk, 2008
89. Enduring Love, 2007
90. The Hours, 2004

9Nickelini
Jan 22, 2009, 3:56pm

10Nickelini
Jan 22, 2009, 3:59pm

Oops, two that I mis-numbered:

101. Surfacing, 2008
102. Fear of Flying, 1980s

11Nickelini
Editado: Jul 27, 2010, 5:16pm

I'm following the original edition, and not counting books from the 2008 edition in my total (the second edition was never published in Canada, and so to me isn't relevant). As a curiosity though, here are the books that are unique to the 2008 edition (and that I've read):

1. Call of the Wild
2. Pippi Longstocking
3. Half a Yellow Sun
4. The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I own a few more, and others are on my TBR list, so when I read them I'll update this list.

5. The Accidental
6. The Diviners, Margaret Laurence

Edited July 27, 2010 to add The Diviners, which I read for a class last fall. I didn't realize it was on the new list. It was good, but I could easily have lived and died without reading it.

12Nickelini
Maio 31, 2009, 2:16pm

Books 101 - 110 (please excuse the slight overlap from the list above).

101. after the quake
102. Return of the Soldier
103. Jacob's Room
104. Vile Bodies
105. Great Expectations
106. Parades' End
107. Veronika Decides to Die
108. Where Angels Fear to Tread
109. The Shipping News
110. The Graduate

13Nickelini
Set 6, 2009, 1:49pm

Here are the next 10 books from the list that I've read:

111. Portrait of a Lady
112. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
113. The Robber Bride
114. The Castle of Otranto
115. Remains of the Day
116. Death in Venice
117. The Child in Time
118. To the Lighthouse
119. Tess of the d'Urbervilles
120. Beloved

I notice that of the 20 books I've read this year, 13 are British. Yep, I definitely have a BritLit addiction! I hope to read 5 more books from the list this year.

Oh, I also read The Accidental, but I'm working from the original list, not the 2008 one, so I'm not counting it.

14soylentgreen23
Set 7, 2009, 3:54am

Hi! What a coincidence - I'm 120 books in as well :) Not that we have many cross-overs, it has to be said. I hope you're enjoying the challenge!

Oh, and what with the whole '2008' version of the book - a friend of mine in Poland was involved in the localisation for that market, and there were some really interesting inclusions (a lot more books from non-English writers, for a start). I might cheat slightly and bring the two together, and then try to read 1001 books from the combined list. That'll certainly take care of those entries that are completely out of print!

15Nickelini
Dez 28, 2009, 4:37pm

And here is the end of 2009:

121. The Story of Lucy Gault
122. The Midwich Cuckoos
123. The Sun Also Rises
124. Northanger Abbey
125. Disgrace
126. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Looking forward to more 1001 books in 2010.

16media1001
Abr 4, 2010, 6:49pm

I loved The Midwich Cuckoos.

Actually, everything by John Wyndham is great.

-- M1001

17Nickelini
Ago 27, 2010, 2:29pm

Here is my next 10, in order that I read them. It's been a slow 1001 year for me due to other priorities.

127. A Tale of Two Cities
128. Cat's Eye
129. Ethan Frome
130. Villette
131. What Maisie Knew
132. The God of Small Things
133. The Death of Ivan Ilyich
134. Orlando
135. The Lover
136. Giovanni's Room

18Nickelini
Ago 27, 2010, 2:31pm

Oh, and I meant to say .... comments on all of these are at my ClubRead thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/79448

19Nickelini
Dez 31, 2010, 1:53pm

I didn't get through as many 1001 books in 2010 as I have in other years, but I did read some good ones. Full comments available at the link in post #18.

137. Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker
138. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
139. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
140. Life of Insects, Viktor Pelevin
141. Regeneration, Pat Barker
142. Ghost Road, Pat Barker
143. Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford
144. Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote
145. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
146. Amsterdam, Ian McEwan

By far, my favourite 1001 book in 2010 was Pride and Prejudice.

20Nickelini
Jul 19, 2011, 2:42pm

Due to other priorities, my 1001 books reading has slowed down and is unlikely to pick up anytime soon. So instead of updating this every 10 books, I'm going to update the list every six months. As always, full comments are at my ClubRead thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/104427

January - June 2011

147. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
148. The Awakening, Kate Chopin
149. Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens
150. The House of Doctor Dee, Peter Ackroyd
151. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
152. The Master, Colm Toibin

21Nickelini
Dez 28, 2011, 3:14am

Here is my July - December progress on the 1001 books. This year I focused on longer books in general, so read fewer books overall. As a result, I only read 15 1001 books all year. I've reviewed each of these on my ClubRead thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/104427

153. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
154. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
155. Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
156. Possession, AS Byatt
157. Brighton Rock, Graham Greene
158. Dracula
159. Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
160. The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf
161. Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

Of these, I loved Cannery Row and Dracula, but I liked all of them.

I also abandoned Black Dahlia. Life is just too short.

22annamorphic
Dez 28, 2011, 12:36pm

Everybody seems to love Cannery Row. I'd nominate it for a group read, but I'm afraid that most of you have already read it!

23george1295
Dez 29, 2011, 2:04pm

Fear not!! I haven't read it.

24kiwiflowa
Editado: Dez 29, 2011, 5:04pm

I just read Cannery Row this year... in another few years I could read it again... have you read the follow up Sweet Thursday yet? I loved finding out what happened to all the characters living on Cannery Row.

edited to add: the 75 book challenge for 2012 group are doing a year long read of Steinbeck. I saw the list somewhere and can dig it out if anyone is interested. The first is Cannery Row for January... just if anyone is interested in discussing the books as well as reading them.

25Nickelini
Dez 29, 2011, 5:39pm

Thanks for mentioning that. It's fresh enough in my mind, so I'll pop over and join the conversation.

26Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:42pm

I've noticed that more people at this group are posting their reviews here, and since most of you aren't in the ClubRead group where I post ( http://www.librarything.com/topic/135898). I thought I'd start too.

Here are the 1001 books I've read since I last posted:

162. Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh
163. Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark
164. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
165. The Third Man, Graham Greene
166. The Red Queen, Margaret Drabble
167. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
168. Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes

I'm working from the original list, but I also read one that was on a later list: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka; I also reread To Kill a Mockingbird. And finally, I also abandoned one that I couldn't stand, Cry, the Beloved Country.

Comments and impressions to follow.

27Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:42pm

162. Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh

1928


Cover comments: You can't really see the full appeal of this cover from this shot. "Evelyn Waugh" is in silver foil, and the spine is silver, which is a very 1920s colour, and goes smashingly with the black and white photo. As for that photo itself, while it has a sort of 20s feel, it really doesn't relate to the story in any strongly meaningful way. This is a Penguin Evelyn Waugh Centenary Edition.

rating: 4 stars (I didn't like it quite as much as Vile Bodies, but still, very good)

Comments: This is Waugh's first published novel. Based on its title, and having read his second novel (Vile Bodies), I pretty well knew to expect a satirical, funny-with-a-message book about the atrophy of the British Empire. Ten points for Gryffindor!

But really, isn't all post-WWI British lit about the decline of Empire? Playing off Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Waugh wasn't even trying to be subtle. And so church, the educational system, and the aristocracy fall victim to his scathing pen and wit.

Anyway, with one caveat, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As The Atlantic says, Waugh has created a "riotously anarchic cosmos." How can you not have fun with a book where characters are named Sir Alastair Digby-Vane-Trumpington; Lady Circumference; Lord Pastmaster; Clutterbuck; Colonels Slidebottom, Shybottom and Sidbotham; Hon. Miles Malpractice, Sir Humphrey Maltravers, and Lord Parakeet. Trust me, I could go on. Great fun.

The caveat: I try not to judge older books by today's standards. And it's no secret that the British ruling class of the 1920s had utter disdain for anyone who was not them. And further, Waugh is satirizing the ignoramuses making the comments. But still, the racism (against 3 different groups, but mainly Africans) was very uncomfortable to read. So, if this bothers you, rather than miss an otherwise lovely novel, just skip chapter 9 entirely. It's one short chapter out of 26, and may increase your enjoyment of the novel. You won't have missed any story.

Recommended for: Waugh is a must-read for all Anglophiles. If you don't like British humour, this one isn't for you.

Why I Read This Now: I thought this would be a breezy, short book with some meat to it, which is what I needed to start the New Year. I was right, and it fit the bill perfectly. And it's one more off the 1001 Books list.

28Nickelini
Jun 7, 2012, 12:34pm

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee - 1960 - Reread


1. I have the lovely "deluxe gift edition" of this book. It's a hardcover with a silky ribbon marker, and the dustjacket is a reproduction of the artwork on the original edition. It fits into a cloth slipcase. A beautiful object on any bookshelf.


2. This is the 25-cent used hardcover copy my daughter is reading (her book habits preclude her from touching my nice edition, above). I find the cover art on this 1965 edition pleasing and interesting. The tree and bird make sort of a cross-symbol, and although this isn't a Christian novel, it is highly moral, so that sort of ties together. The top orange bit in the centre is a small rip into the bird, which mirrors the symbols of the destruction of the innocence in the novel.


3. This is the edition I bought my mother-in-law when I was in Italy a few years ago. I find the translation of the title so fascinating. Instead of a direct translation, which would have tied to two or three references in the novel itself, for some reason they decided to call it "Dark Over the Hedge."
-----

Why I Read This Now: I read this in grade 10 English, and my 15 yr old daughter is now reading it for her grade 10 English class, so I thought I'd brush up on it so we can discuss it.

Comments: This really is an excellent novel, and I can see why it is so widely taught in North American schools. Scout, Jem and Atticus are some of the most likeable characters I've come across in ages.

Recommended for: I think this is a must-read, not just because it's an interesting and meaningful story--and a good read--but even if just for the cultural references alone.

Rating: Based on my earlier reading and probably also two viewings of the movie, this was already in my library with a 4.5 star rating. I think I'll keep that.

29Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:42pm

163. the Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark, 1963



Cover comments:
I suppose this is meant to be one of the girls of slender means—probably Selina.

Comments: The Girls of Slender Means opens with “long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor . . . “. This is my second book in a row about young women living in poverty in the UK. Compared with The Hiding Place, the lives of Muriel Sparks characters are positively genteel, and there is a feeling that they will muddle through and come out just fine, thank you very much. After all, most people in Sparks world are witty, even in adversity.

I feel it’s a little unfair for me to make comments on this book because I know that my reading of it was unfavourably coloured by the book I read right before. Ideally, I should have taken a break between books, but I was stuck waiting in a car, in the rain, so what’s a book lover to do? So I’m sure that Girls of Slender Means would have made more of an impression on me if I had read it at another time.

Why I Read This Now: several reasons. First, I was traveling and The Girls of Slender Means is a slender book indeed. Second, there is a reading challenge at the ClubRead group to read a book published the year you were born, and I had this one in my TBR pile. And finally, it’s a 1001 book.

Recommended for: Anglophiles, readers interested in WWII culture.

Rating: 3 stars. Perhaps I would have rated it higher if I read it in a different mood.

30Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:43pm

164. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens, 1838


This cover is the 2005 movie tie-in. I don't have much of an opinion on it either way.

Comments: Oliver Twist is deeply ingrained in our culture ("Please, sir, I want some more"), and I've seen Oliver! both on stage and on screen, so I pretty much knew what to expect.

what I liked: I do so very much like how Dickens describes the filthy, depressing, dark setting of nineteenth-century England. I also really liked the social commentary in this one. He carried this off especially well by using clothing and appearances to reveal and conceal character. And I like how the title, and Oliver's surname "Twist", play on Oliver's identity (since you learn in the beginning that it's not his real name).

what I didn't like: Dickens can be very funny, but there was little (if no) humour in this book. And it dragged on in bits. Not a long book compared to many of his, but it said in the introduction that he made up the story as he went, and I could see in places where he lost direction and just sort of prattled on.

Two common complaints about this book are the unnuanced black and white characters (except Nancy), and the unrealistic perfection of Oliver himself (okay, for some reason he has impeccable character, but how did he come to speak upper-class English?). Also, the story depends on "outrageous coincidences," as Philip Pullman points out in the introduction. At times I remarked out loud "Oh, isn't that convenient!" . Yes, problematic. To enjoy this story, you really have to decide not to look at it as realistic fiction, but as a story of social satire using a lot of symbolism.

Another thing I didn't like was the harsh antisemitism around Fagan. Wow, this is my sixth Dickens novel, and I wasn't expecting that! I try not to judge yesterdays books by today's standards, but Chuck buddy, not cool!

also: My edition was the Modern Library Classics edition, which had a very pleasant feel (that sort of thing is important to me), the original illustrations by George Cruikshank, an excellent introduction by Philip Pullman, decent notes, and a good six-page explanation of "Dickens and the Poor Laws."

Recommended for: its cultural significance, 19th century literature fans.

Rating: Definitely not my favourite Dickens, but glad I read it. 3.5 stars.

Why I Read This Now: I read a Dickens a year, and this was the oldest one in Mnt TBR.

31Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:43pm

165. The Third Man, Graham Greene, 1950


This is a Penguin edition (with the orange spine), published in 1999 to coincide with the re-release of the film. The cover photo is a shot from the movie, and says to me "this is not the sort of book that will interest you."

Rating: 2 stars. I'd have given it one, but there are moments when Greene's gifted writing shines through.

Why I Read This Now: I hadn't read anything from my TBR this month, and this was a short one near the top of the pile. Also, it's on the 1001 books list (well, it was .... it was on the 2006 list, but since removed. I can see why--the movie might be spectacular, but this is not a must read book by any stretch of the imagination).

Comments: If you read the reviews on the book's page, most of the people who rave about this are really raving about the film. And even they are only giving it 3 stars. Greene himself says in the intro that this was never intended to be a novel, but instead it was his basis for writing the screenplay. So even people behind this book really aren't all that committed.

Anyway, I knew going in that this wasn't going to be my cup of tea. I just don't care about these hyper-masculine mid-twentieth century stories, unless there is all sorts of other things going on. I do try to stretch myself now and again and read something really out of my comfort zone though, so I gave it a try. Probably the thing I disliked the most was the narrator--a secondary character who spoke for the main character. Why did Greene do that? What I liked was the post-WWII Vienna setting, which was both interesting and educational.

Recommended for: fans of the film who have nothing else to read.

32Nickelini
Jun 7, 2012, 12:38pm

Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton, 1948

Comments: I decided at page 124/chapter 14, that I had had enough of this one. The story was interesting enough--but I've heard it elsewhere. It was the writing that I just found overbearingly annoying.

First, I have to say that I've owned this book for nine years, and I've tried to read it at least once a year. Each time I just couldn't get past the first page--it's like the book exudes waves of boredom. This time I finally made some progress, and I can't say that the book was particularly boring once I got into it. If I had nothing else to read, I could make myself finish it and probably not hate it. But with my overwhelming TBR pile, there is just no reason to read books that annoy me.

What did I find annoying? Well, as many people have pointed out, Cry the Beloved Country is written as a parable. I'm not a fan of reading parables. They're just too emotionally distant for me to care about. Then last night, I was looking at some online commentary on Cry the Beloved Country, and I came across an essay that compared the literary style to the King James Version. Ah ha! That was it exactly. According to this critic, the author chose the style as an appropriate way to convey his message (I agree) and also because these characters would have learned English in a mission school (seems reasonable). So with this knowledge, I read another couple of chapters, and it made sense--both what the author was trying to do, and also, my dislike of it. I've never been a fan of the KJV! I know some people think it's the only Bible to read, but it's always left me cold. As does Cry the Beloved Country.

I was also annoyed by the hero of the story, Stephen Kumalo. I disliked how he treated his sister (it was all about his shame, not about her suffering), and I didn't like how he spoke of her son, calling him the impersonal "The child." Very distant, like the rest of the book.

Sorry, I know it's supposed to be the best book ever, but to me it was a fail.



33Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:43pm

166. The Red Queen: a Transcultural Tragicomedy, Margaret Drabble, 2004


Cover comments: Very pleasing cover that suits the novel.

Rating: 4 stars

Why I Read This Now: I picked this up for fifty cents at a library sale a few years ago because it was on the 1001 Books list. But it was removed from later versions of the list, and has received many negative comments here on LT. The professional reviews printed around its publication weren't all that enthusiastic either. Further, I had very little interest in the book's description. You can understand then that I expected to read a few pages and release the book to the charity donation box. Ah, not so fast . . . .

Comments: Surprise, surprise: I really liked this novel! The first half is narrated by a two-hundred year old ghost of a Korean Crown Princess, Lady Hyegyong, who watches her young husband's decline into madness. Not just anti-modern, talking-to-plants Prince Charles crazy, but let's-cut-up-all-my-clothes and kill-my-friends-and-servants crazy. Although the tone of this section was quite chilly, and the lack of chapters or visual breaks was tedious, overall it was fascinating.

The second half of the book is the ghost channeling a British academic, who reads the Crown Princess's memoirs on a flight from London to Seoul. During her stay in Korea, she becomes obsessed with the life of Lady Hyegyong. There are many parallels between the two women, and Drabble weaves a scarlet thread through the book that connects them.

I really enjoyed the postmodern elements to the story and found it very readable. Although the characters were not always likeable, I still found them interesting. I know others see it as silly, indulgent and culturally lazy, but maybe because of my low expectations, I happily forgave it its faults. I almost gave the book 4.5 stars, but I did think it dragged a little near the very improbable ending.

Definitely will be reading some more Margaret Drabble in the future--if this is one of her "meh" books, then I expect to find some prize novels.

Recommended for: Well, since many intelligent people have dissed this book, all I can say is that if it sounds at all interesting to you, give it a try.

34Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:43pm

167. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields, 1993


This incredibley boring cover stopped me from reading this book for years.

Comments: Considering that this won the 1993 Governor General's Award, was nominated for the Booker Prize that same year, and won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, and furthermore has been in all three editions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I'm going to guess that a lot of people have already read this book. So I'll save you the book report and summary.

What I really liked the most about this was how Shields called it a "diary" in the title, but it really wasn't at all. In fact, the only section written in a strong first-person voice was the opening bit about her birth and details about her mother that the narrator wouldn't know. Most of what you put together about Daisy Goodwill's life is what other people say (or don't say) about her. And her name constantly changes (in one section she is referred to as Mrs Flett). Terrifically clever. Great writing.

Recommended for: lovers of good writing. Some people call this a "woman's novel," but I think that sells the novel, and intelligent men, short.

Why I Read This Now: It's been in my TBR for a very long time. I read most of Shield's novels about 10 years ago, but missed this one.

Rating: 4.5 stars

35Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:44pm

A Short History of Tractors Ukrainian, marina Lewycka, 2005 (not numbered as I'm only counting books from the original list)

Comments: I was drawn to the quirky title of this book when it was first published, but didn't commit to reading it until it was nominated for both the Booker and the Orange prizes.

In short, the narrator, who is the English daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, is alarmed when her elderly widowed father announces he's marrying a 36 year old bombshell, newly arrived from Ukrainia. She, of course, turns out to be a nightmare who is in search of a British passport and as much material wealth as she can grab. Or is she just trying to pull herself out of a culture run by criminals, and trying to make a better life for herself and her teenage son?

Many people, including the critics that wrote the blurbs used on the book's cover and marketing materials, rave about how hilarious it is. I really didn't find it very funny, in fact, a lot of it made me quite uncomfortable. There were some horrible things going on, and they weren't funny. There is one point around three-quarters of the way through where the narrator says she can't take all the aggression, and that's exactly how I felt about the whole book. Too much bickering, too much unpleasantness. The only character I actually liked was Mike, the narrator's husband, and his role was minor.

Okay, there was one thing I found funny. A newborn baby is named after Margaret Thatcher. That was funny.

Rating: 3 generous stars. Although this isn't a terrible book, and I can see some of its merits, I just didn't like it.

Recommended for: Readers who follow the Orange and Booker prize nominees, people interested in the issues of immigration in the UK.

Oh, here's the cover:


Sort of a charming, but simple, cover. I've seen worse.

36Nickelini
Editado: Jun 11, 2012, 11:43pm

168. Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes, 1984, audiobook


Lovely cover -- that's a close up of green parrot feathers, if you can't see from this image. Not that I saw it much since I listened to this on my iPhone.

Comments: Oh, what a strange book, indeed! But great fun. It's a charming work of postmodern fiction, historical fiction, biography, philosophy, academic novel, metafiction and humour. Not really a novel, but then, what is it exactly? I have no idea, but Madame Bouvary has moved up my TBR pile.

Why I Read This Now: needed an audiobook, this one was nominated for the Booker Prize and is also on all versions of the 1001 books list.

Recommended for: people who like odd books with a scholarly twist.

Rating: 4.5 stars

37Nickelini
Ago 4, 2012, 9:48pm

the Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton, 1920


Oh no! Yet another cover of a faceless woman. But I actually like this cover a lot. It's subtle, classy, and I like the play of her soft brown dress and ivory skin against the darker colours.

Rating: 5 big flashing stars. Will definitely be one of my top reads for 2012.

Comments: I loved this book. It had the atmosphere of a Henry James novel mixed with the social critique of Jane Austen. It makes me want to run out and read Wharton's oeuvre (and I have a goodly number in my TBR, so that won't be a problem).

Life of New York's idle rich in the 1870s, written by one of their own after WWI, when she has put that society in perspective. Young Newland Archer is engaged to marry the perfectly perfect--but boring--May Welland, when her cousin Ellen returns in semi-disgrace from Europe. Newland finds himself smitten, and oh, what to do? None of the characters are particularly likeable--but they sure live in an interesting world. Old New York is a foreign world to me, and I loved this peek behind it's heavy mahogany doors and layers of velvet drapery.

Why I Read This Now: It was New York Theme month at the Nickelini reading ranch, and this one from my TBR pile is also a 1001 book. I've read a little Wharton in the past, and was eager to get back to her. It won't be long until I visit her world again.

Recommended for: The language and psychology isn't as tortuous as Henry James, and it's not quite as sharp as Jane Austen (and also not British), but if you like those authors, you'll like this too. It also reminded me a little of Anna Karenina, except much shorter. Age of Innocence won the Pulitzer in 1921, so I'm not the only one to love it.

edited to add: I was reading this in mid-July, and half-way through I traveled to a 5-day lacrosse tournament and completely left this world. I finally had a chance to pick it up again when we went to New York last week. I finished it last Wednesday when I woke up--which happened to be my birthday. Then I wandered through Central Park with my 12 year old daughter and we went to the Frick Collection, which fits right into the world that Wharton creates here. It was a wonderful multidimensional reading experience!

38Nickelini
Ago 27, 2012, 12:28pm

The Summer Book, Tove Jansson, 1972, translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal


Pleasing cover of an island that looks like the descriptions in the book. Not artistically exciting, and I've never seen a sky quite that shade of blue before, but still very attractive.

Comments: This is what I call a quiet book. No plot to speak of, just a collection of short vignettes about the lives of Sophia and her grandmother during summers spent on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. Charming, with beautiful descriptions and humorous dialogue. My cover has a blurb by Philip Pullman: "This is a marvellous, beautiful, wise novel, which is also very funny." Can't say it any better than that.

Why I Read This Now: I loved Jansson's Moomin series as a child, so when I heard she also wrote adult books, I knew I had to read one. The Summer Book is on the 1001 books list, so it was an obvious first choice, although one day I will read A Winter Book too.

Rating: 3.5 stars--it was a bit too meandering for me to truly love it, but I expect to reread it at some point in the future and may up my rating.

Recommended for: people who like gentle, quiet books and don't need a plot.

One more comment: last night I looked up the islands of the Gulf of Finland on a map and was surprised that the Gulf of Finland wasn't where I thought it was--it's the water that separates Finland from Estonia, which I thought was just called the Baltic Sea. I thought the Gulf of Finland separated Finland from Sweden, which in turn is in fact the Baltic Sea. That's why I love reading--I learn something new all the time.

39hdcclassic
Ago 27, 2012, 1:36pm

Both gulfs are part of Baltic Sea, the one between Finland and Sweden is known as Gulf of Bothnia.

This summer I read an article in a newspaper about the small island of Klovharu where Tove used to live for thirty years, a bit south from Porvoo, and her niece Sophia Jansson who served as the model for young Sophia (Summer Book is fiction, though the people and places apparently are real).

40Nickelini
Ago 27, 2012, 4:12pm

#39 - I think I'm ready to answer questions about it on Jeopardy! now! :-)

41Nickelini
Set 7, 2012, 12:58pm

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga, 2008
audiobook read by John Lee


This fun-feeling cover suits the book.

Comments: The first person narrator, Balram, is the White Tiger who crawls out dire poverty and into middle class India. Born into a life with no choices, he watches and listens to those he serves, and eventually rebels against the system. The novel is written in the form of letters to the prime minister of China, who is visiting India to learn about "entrepreneurs"--something Balram feels he has special knowledge about. The White Tiger won the Booker prize in 2008, and although I haven't read the other books listed, I think this deserved a prize. It had a great blend of subject, story, humour, and message. While listening to it, I really felt like I was in modern day India. One of the better books I've read this year, for sure.

This audiobook version is excellent. I'm not sure that I would have liked this book quite as much if I had read it. The reader (John Lee) captured just the right tone between humour and seriousness that made this really special. And I had to laugh out loud when he pronounced double-O words ("booze," "boobs," "Google," etc.).

Recommended for: Most reviews of this book are very positive, but from reading some negative reviews, it seems that some readers don't click with the humour, and then the book doesn't work for them. With that in mind, I recommend this book for everyone (as long as they can handle some bad language and bad behavior from their characters).

Rating: why not? I'm giving it a full 5 stars. Very entertaining and thought-provoking read.

Why I Read This Now: same reason I read all my audiobooks--because there is little else to choose from. This one wasn't on my wishlist, but I picked it anyway because it won the Booker and I had heard good things here at LT.

42Nickelini
Dez 11, 2012, 5:18pm

I was following the original 2006 list because I owned the book, and keeping a separate list of books read from the updated lists, but as the years go by this isn't working for me, so I'm just combining everything into one big list. I also found another two that I've read but didn't count:

- The Beggar Maid, by Alice Munro (I read it under a different title so didn't recognize it)
- The Wars, by Timothy Findlay (read a couple of years ago).

This brings my total up to 180 books. I will probably finish The Comfort of Strangers later today, which will make it 181.

2012 was a slow year for me and 1001 books as I had other priorities, and actually, didn't read all that much this year.

43Nickelini
Dez 12, 2012, 11:08am

The Comfort of Strangers, Ian McEwan, 1981


This cover isn't horrible, but if you're working with the setting of "Venice" and the theme of "menacing," I think you could come up with something better than this. (edited to add that someone has pointed out that Venice isn't actually mentioned in the novel, although it's clear that's were it's set.)

Comments: This novel has an atmosphere of great menace. As with all McEwan novels, everything relies on one brief moment near the beginning, and as with all his novels, the ending surprises me. Colin and Mary are a middle aged couple who are slightly bored with each other and with life. Then they meet Robert, an outwardly charming man who is domineering and had me yelling "run, run!" right from when we first meet him. But maybe that's because I've read McEwan before and know what he does with these chance encounters.

Anyway, it's a creepy short book and I feel like I've already said too much.

Recommended for: readers who like tight, suspenseful literary novels.

Why I Read This Now: I usually read a McEwan a year. Also, this was a Booker nominee and was on the 2006 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List.

Rating: 4 stars

44Nickelini
Jan 2, 2013, 1:40pm

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, Jung Chang, 1991


Cover comments: ho hum

Comments: Wild Swans is a memoir of three generations of 20th century Chinese women, written by the granddaughter. The story starts with her grandmother, who undergoes foot binding as a child and is later sent off as one of the concubines of a warlord. After his death, she escapes with her daughter and marries a much older Manchurian doctor. The daughter grows up through the horrific Japanese occupation during WWII and then the following Chinese civil war, and becomes enamored with the communist dream. She marries a communist officer, and they become mid-level party elites. Jung Chang is born in 1952 into the volatile world of Chinese communism. Despite all three women having lives of privilege, all three also suffered very real horrors and hardships. One thing this book taught me is that in 20th century China, no one was exempt from suffering. Whether it was the traditional culture, WWII, or under communism, there is one word that describes this century in China: capricious.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, the book's strength is the author's ability to show how the historical events of these periods in China affected people's lives. It was certainly an engaging and interesting read. She showed how communism seemed like a dramatic improvement at first. She also showed how the cult of Mao consumed the culture.

However, Wild Swans was written in a very factual style that left me cold. There was no dialogue at all. The grimness was unrelenting--on every page someone was tortured or just mistreated. For most of the book it appeared that the only kind people in all of China were her relatives. Everyone else was nasty at best.

I suppose some of my disappointment was that I expected the book to be more literary and less mired down in minutia. It is one of the few memoirs on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, so I was expecting something more artistic. That said, perhaps the book was better for its lack of passion, as that may have been artifice. Just a thought.

Recommended for: Unless you've read a lot about 20th century China, I recommend this book for everyone. This is an important story that needs to be widely known. I've read about traditional China, and about life under communism, but this book does an excellent job of showing the progression and how one came out of the other.

Rating: Despite my strong recommendation of this book, I can only rate it 3.5 stars, which is lower than most readers give it. I just found myself counting the pages too often, wanting to be done.

Why I Read This Now: it was one of the older books on my TBR pile.

45Nickelini
Jan 8, 2013, 12:55pm

The Colour, Rose Tremain, 2003


Oh, groan. Another headless woman in historical dress. Must be some tepid historical fiction that's making the book club rounds. Well, . . . no. This cover undersells the book. And it did have a really lovely indigo blue spine.

Comments: In the mid-1860s, Joseph Blackstone arrives in New Zealand from England with his recently widowed mother and his new bride, Harriet. They earnestly begin to homestead on the harsh South Island, but after Joseph discovers a small quantity of gold in his creek, he trades in his dream of a simple farm for the grander dream of gold wealth. As we see gold fever changing his behavior, Joseph's past (despicable) behaviour is also revealed. The parallel story is Harriet’s rise to the challenges of finding herself on the other side of the world with a worthless husband and few resources. After twelve years as a governess raising other people’s children in smothering drawing rooms, Harriet looks at her new life in New Zealand as one great adventure.

There is more going on her than you find in a typical historical novel, which is why it was nominated for the Orange prize and also included in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I really enjoyed Tremain’s writing style, and will definitely look for more of her novels. I’ve never read anything about the colonial period in New Zealand, so I enjoyed exploring a new time and place. I also liked how she wove together threads about the Maoris and both English and Chinese immigrants.

Why I Read This Now: It’s Orange January, and this is the oldest Orange book on my TBR pile. It’s the third time I’ve tried this novel—twice before I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. But this time I was hooked right away.

Recommended for: readers who like their historical fiction on the more literary side, readers who are interested in the time period or NZ setting.

Rating 4 stars.

46annamorphic
Editado: Jan 8, 2013, 1:50pm

As an art historian, I LOVE your cover comments.
Do you sometimes search out an old edition of a book because it had a better cover? I know I do.
And once I was in line to have an author sign a book -- it was Linda Sue Park I think -- and as I handed her the paperback edition I said, "Sorry, I didn't buy the hardback...." and she said, "...because it has a terrible cover design. I know! It's so awful!"
So I felt very justified.

47Nickelini
Jan 8, 2013, 2:24pm

Thanks! I totally judge books by their covers, and I'm very picky about book covers if I have a choice. I put off buying House of the Spirits for years because I never liked the covers available and knew that it was a popular enough book that eventually some publisher would put out a good edition.

Great story about discussing the cover with the author--they don't usually have any say, which would drive me crazy.

48hdcclassic
Jan 9, 2013, 3:52am

Oh yes, based on the cover alone I wouldn't bother with that book. I've read couple of short story collections of Tremain though and liked them, so I should go find this one too.

49Yells
Jan 9, 2013, 12:01pm

The Quill & Quire has a new section that shows how a cover is chosen. It shows the first draft and then gives a commentary on each subsequent draft until the powers-that-be decide on a final cover. It gives a little insight into what publishers are thinking.

(Q&Q is a Canadian book magazine for those who didn't know!)

50Nickelini
Jan 9, 2013, 12:10pm

#49 - Thanks! I'll look that up.

51Nickelini
Jan 9, 2013, 3:03pm

I just realized I've read one book from the lastest list, Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. This brings my total up to 184.

52Nickelini
Jan 25, 2013, 11:54am

185. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon, 2000


I don't like this cover because I find this style of art unappealing. However, I do think it's suitable for the book. And the book felt very nice, which was important considering how long it took me to read this $!*# thing. Also, this edition has 40 pages of extra stuff that a fan would probably love, but that I skipped.

Rating: This is a book that is not only widely popular and much beloved, but also won the Pulitzer Prize. It even made a brief appearance on the 1001 books list (2008 edition). That doesn't mean it's for everyone, though. It took me 604 pages to get into this 636 page novel. Final verdict: 2.5 stars.

Comments: It's the late 1930s, and with the help of his family, Joseph Kavalier escapes from Prague and ends up at his cousin Sam's in Brooklyn. Together they decide to write a comic book about a superhero called the Escapist who fights Nazis. A bunch of other stuff happens too.

What I Liked About This Book: Michael Chabon is a gifted writer with a huge vocabulary and a charming way with words. He is also a master of research. This is an intelligent book.

What I Didn't Like: in a word, it was boring. All the stunning detail layered on detail felt bloated and indulgent. I never wanted to pick it up, was easily distracted while reading (his details often brought up questions that I was happy to go off on a tangent and look into), and I was always happy to put this down. This is not a book I would normally have finished, because it was a huge time investment. I read it because I bought it; I bought it because it was my book club selection and I knew I'd never get through a library book in the allowed time. So I was determined to finish it. And actually, from page 604 on, I thought it was great.

I realize that although I thought I had, I have never read a comic book. I devoured piles of Archie, and Casper the Friendly Ghost, but Kavalier and Clay was about Superman, Spiderman, Batman, etc. Anytime one of those sorts of books has ended up in my hands, my eyes glazed over and I was frozen in immediate boredom. I think that was part of the problem with this novel--there is a lot going on, but the love of comics is an overriding theme that I just don't care about.

Recommended for: My book club came to a rare unanimous decision on this one: Kavalier and Clay is a very well-written book, but just doesn't interest us. Which is exactly what I expected going into it. So if everyone is telling you you must read this, but you don't think it's for you, trust yourself. But if you think it sounds interesting, you'll probably love it. I definitely want to read more Michael Chabon, but I don't know what. Any recommendations?

Why I Read This Now: my book club.

53judylou
Jan 25, 2013, 7:46pm

I don't think I have read anything by Chabon, although I have K & C and The Yiddish Policemen's Union on the bookshelf. He is one of those authors that certain friends keep telling me I should read, but I have the impression that I will feel the same as you about K & C.

54jfetting
Jan 25, 2013, 8:06pm

For me, the Pulitzer Prize is ALMOST always a warning that I will hate it. I didn't hate Kavalier and Clay, but I'm definitely not the target audience.

55ursula
Jan 25, 2013, 8:19pm

>54 jfetting: I feel the same way about the Pulitzer. I haven't investigated the actual numbers, but I feel like I've hated more than I've liked.

56amaryann21
Jan 26, 2013, 10:01am

I completely agree- bloated is a perfect description. It was a chore to get through. Who loves this book? What audience is it intended for?

57annamorphic
Jan 27, 2013, 12:17pm

Wow, I just scrolled through the Pulitzer list and you are right, most I have never read or have read and disliked. Whereas most Booker winners I have read and many I have liked. What is wrong with the Pulitzer people? A few exceptions: Carol Shields The Stone Diaries and Peter Taylor A Summons to Memphis (which I don't think is on the 1001 list and should be), and also A Confederacy of Dunces and To Kill a Mockingbird -- they managed to get those right.

58Nickelini
Jan 28, 2013, 3:12pm

#54, 55, & 57 ~ the Pulitzer is not a prize I follow, or a list of books I want to read. I thought I pretty much agreed with you, but when I check my library, I do have a handful of Pulitzer prize winners that I think are great. First, I absolutely loved The Hours and The Age of Innocence. I also enjoyed The Color Purple, The Stone Diaries, Empire Falls, Gilead, Beloved, The Confederacy of Dunces, The Shipping News, and the book that makes every list, To Kill a Mockingbird.

59Nickelini
Editado: Jan 30, 2013, 12:28pm

186. In the Forest, Edna O’Brien, 2002



I like this cover—the brooding dark green, the sweeping typeface—and the figure: why is she lying there? Is she enchanted? Sleeping? Dead? It makes me want to read the book and find out what happened to her In the Forest.

Comments: In Ireland, Michen O’Kane suffers through a sad childhood of abuse. Returning to County Clare on the west coast after a stint in prison, he is now a psychopath, and begins to menace and terrorize the residents of the area. Even the police are afraid of him. He stalks Ely, a young free spirited mother of four-year-old Maddie, who have taken up residence in a ramshackle remote cottage. When they go missing, Ely’s friends immediately suspect O’Kane (aka “the Kinderschreck,” or “children scarer”) but the authorities are slow to react.

The story is told through the eyes of many characters who witnessed the events. This is the books strength, but also its weakness, as in the beginning it was difficult to figure out what is happening and how it relates to the story. For example, when Ely and Maddie are introduced, I have no idea what gender Ely is, and that Maddie is her son. But after a while everything clicked and then the technique worked well. (I wish authors would do a better job of giving readers some markers, and not be so damn cryptically clever.). Apart from that criticism though, I enjoyed this novel. O’Brien doesn’t spend much time with flowery descriptions or melodrama—for such a dark, creepy story, it’s rather understated.

In the Forest is based on a similar story that actually happened in Ireland in the 1990s, and apparently many in the country were outraged by this novel, as they saw this ex-pat writer as simply cashing in on their local tragedy.The Guardian calls In the Forest one of those “state of the nation” books, and so this book is not just a retelling of horrific murders, but a story about modern Irish society as well. I’m sure that made some people there uncomfortable.

Why I Read This Now: it was my second Orange January read, and the book was also on the 2006 Must Read.... list. And lately I’ve been interested in reading about forests. And lastly, I’m trying to read more Irish literature.

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended for: not sure—I liked it, and it garnered some good reviews, so if it sounds interesting, give it a try.

County Clare looks so bucolic and idyllic--surely nothing bad has happened there? (wrong)


60Nickelini
Mar 24, 2013, 2:01am

187. The Beautiful Room is Empty, Edmund White, 1988


This is a library discard of a first edition. It's not in good shape, and I think it's very ugly, although I like the art deco typeface.

Why I Read This Now: First, the reason I even own this book is because it is in 1001 books you must read before you die, and I've discovered a lot of great reads off that list. I found this copy at a charity shop for twenty-five cents, so I thought I'd give it a try even though it's not a book I would have sought out otherwise. I read it now because the book isn't very long, but my edition is big and takes up too much shelf space. And it's ugly. So, time to read it or chuck it.

Comments: The semi-autobiographical novel of a young man in Detroit and Chicago in the 1950s and 60s, and who is gay . . . couldn't sound less interesting, unless they made it a baseball or football story. I really didn't think I'd find the interest to finish it until I got to the paragraph on page 19 where the narrator talks about how he wishes he lived in the "lurid decadence of nineteenth-century Europe, with its mauve glasses and moth-eaten velvets . . . " and said "I felt nausea whenever I faced America's frumpy cuteness." Suddenly, the book had promise--he didn't like his world any more than I do.

. . . And this just showed me how good writing can make an otherwise distasteful and boring book come to life. It was a quick, compelling read. For my tastes, there were too many scenes of cruising and sex in public bathrooms, but otherwise it was enjoyable. I'm glad I read it and will definitely read Edmund White again.

Recommended for: Not sure who I think will really like this book, but if you're bothered by lots of graphic gay sex scenes, stay clear of this one.

Rating: 3.5 stars, all of those on the quality of White's writing. Imagine if he wrote something I was actually interested in!

61Nickelini
Maio 25, 2013, 8:06pm

188. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton, 1905


I love this Virago Modern Classics edition. The cover art is the oil painting "Lady Colin Campbell," by Giovanni Boldini, 1897

My daughter just got back from Europe, and brought me a bookmark from the Louvre of Tizian Vecellio's "Portrait d'homme." I immediately started using it for this book, and I think the two of them make a lovely couple!


Comments: It is the gilded age in New York City, and 29 year old Lily Bart realizes her time as belle of the ball is nearing its end, and she still hasn’t landed that über-rich husband. She has no money of her own, and is the dependent of her stodgy old aunt, but is expected by all to keep up the lifestyle of a wealthy socialite, which includes dressing lavishly and gambling regularly. Before her mother died eight years earlier, she trained Lily to expect and accept only the very best in life. Luckily for her, Lily is unusually beautiful, and knew to cultivate exquisite manners—her beauty and her manners are her currency. Her only training was to become a trophy wife. She had all but landed her mega-rich husband on several occasions, but some last minute event always came along and derailed it. Bad luck, or self-sabotage? Or is it that her worth is set so high that no one is good enough? We gradually see that Lily can’t quite make herself marry for money—she also wants love and an interesting companion.

After adoring Wharton’s The Age of Innocence last summer, I initially found The House of Mirth to be a bit boring—the problems of rich people and their endless conversations just weren’t that interesting to me. But about a third of the way through the book, it really took off as one thing after another goes wrong for Lily, and she is forced to constantly scale back her ambitions. My first impressions of her was of an entitled, snobby, prideful, self-absorbed woman who only cares about those who can do something for her, and is dismissive to anyone she deems below her. But bit by bit I saw how she was born and raised to play this role, and had few options—she is trapped in the proverbial gilded cage. She is a commodity, but not a victim either, as she enjoys displaying herself as an object for others to admire. In between her efforts to maintain her outward appearances and uphold her standing as a great beauty, her intelligence and morality are slowly revealed. The worse things get for her, the better person she seems to become. The novel forces the reader to question whether Lily’s problems were ”her own fault, or destiny?”

As critic Hannah Jordan says, the House of Mirth has all “the external elements of a traditional romance,” yet it is so much more. No true romance is ever this dark. Wharton’s writing is once again a pleasure to explore, and I take delight in her sophisticated layering of symbolism to create social commentary. The reader hopes that Lily will find someone suitable, even if it means settling for the sanctimonious and hypocritical Lawrence Seldon, but it seemed pretty clear to me from the beginning that this wasn’t a satisfying love story. There is so much more going on. And although few readers today can relate to the world of the novel, anyone who has observed how cliques ostracize and manipulate their members, or anyone who has ever watched an episode of “The Real Housewives of—“ will relate to The House of Mirth.

Recommended for: it’s a classic and on many “must read lists,” so I don’t think I need to push this book. I’ll tell you who shouldn’t read it—readers looking for a nice romance, readers who are bored with the problems of rich people—even if written in a nuanced, complex style, and readers who don’t like to have to read each and every sentence and think about what it means in context. Wharton is not a difficult author to read, but one does have to focus.

Why I Read This Now: it was my book club selection for this month (based on my encouragement).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

62Nickelini
Maio 25, 2013, 8:08pm

Wuthering Heights (Norton Critical Editions) Part 1: the novel itself

Norton Critical Edition + audiobook
I originally read Wuthering Heights about 12 years ago. I’ve always wanted to reread it, but never made time for it. Listening to it on audio book gave me the opportunity to revisit the novel. It also gave me an excuse to pull out my Norton Critical edition and read all the extra material.

Portrait of the author:


Comments: What do you get when you take a misanthropic psychopath and pair him with a histrionic narcissist, and then isolate them in a storm-tossed environment? You get this wonderful and bizarre novel, that’s what.

Wuthering Heights has been called the most complex novel in English literature (although it’s not a difficult book), and I think that’s what makes it so endlessly interesting to me. Since I originally read it, I have participated in many discussions on it. Rereading books is a luxury I rarely indulge in, but I should do it more often, as I always see things differently than I did at first reading. This time I noticed how this is really Heathcliff’s story, rather than the bit of a mish mash I saw before. This time I understood the purpose of the second half better. I also became quite fascinated by the character of Isabella, and found that under the surface I had a lot of sympathy for her. The first time I read Wuthering Heights I was struck by how completely unromantic the supposed romantic parts were—I’ve heard a convincing suggestion that Heathcliff and Cathy were more twins than lovers—but this time it did strike me as romantic. Twisted, sick, and unhealthy, but passionately romantic.

Anyway, people have devoted their careers to exploring Wuthering Heights, so I’m not going to attempt to capture everything here. I would like to focus on making a few observations and questions about the characters.

Heathcliff—truly a nasty human being, but utterly fascinating. Who is he? Where did he come from? Was he really a gypsy, or is that just what Nelly Dean called him? Was he a street waif? Mr. Earnshaw’s illegitimate son? The child of an African slave? No one knows. And when Heathcliff disappears for three years, and comes back a “gentleman,” where has he been and what has he done? I would love to know what Bronte was thinking. BTW, anyone who pines for Heathcliff needs to get to counseling right away—he is not a healthy love interest!

I have seen the 1992 Wuthering Heights movie too many times to count, and I have to say that I really like Ralph Fiennes in the role. However, I note that Heathcliff is shown more sympathetically in all the film versions than he is in the book. Maybe no one would watch if it wasn’t so.



Catherine Earnshaw Linton—I don’t like her, although I still find myself cheering for her. She’s an immature spoiled brat who makes Scarlett O’Hara appear reasonable. And I think it’s funny that she marries Edgar so she can be “the finest lady in the neighbourhood.” Hey, Cath, sweetheart, you’re pretty much the ONLY lady in the neighbourhood. I like her ghost though. That’s a cool trick.

Hindley & Frances Earnshaw—Hindley is a cardboard cutout of a jerk, so I actually cheer when Heathcliff ruins him. I’d like to know more about Frances though—from the very little we know about her, she sounds like someone who had history. Another mystery.

Edgar Linton—boring Edgar. I can’t understand what he sees in Catherine, other than she is the ONLY woman in the neighbourhood. He really needed to go away to find a wife. Some fresh DNA was really needed in this village.

Nelly Dean—our narrator. She so very much wants to be part of the action, but as the hired help, "sorry, just step back and watch us self-destruct."

Lockwood—our other narrator. A bumbler, whose brain is locked in wood.

Joseph—the “odious Joseph.” No one in the novel can stand him, nor can any readers. Ever. What purpose does he fill?

Isabella Linton—I genuinely feel sorry for Isabella. Stuck out on those moors with her wimp of a brother, I bet Heathcliff seemed pretty exciting at first. And then it was too late, and she realized she was in over her head. Really, another lesson that shows that if there are only one or two eligible men in your area, you should probably move somewhere else if you want to date. Anyway, I’d like to know exactly why she dies, and how she managed to raise such a sniveling creep of a son.

Hareton Earnshaw—often called the only likeable character in the novel.

Catherine Linton Heathcliff—Nelly often calls the young Cathy “her angel,” but Nelly is deluded, because Catherine shows too many of her mother’s bad character traits. But she has a kind side too, so I’ll just call her watered down Cathy-lite. I do find it interesting that Heathcliff hates her so much.

Linton Heathcliff—whoa, how is it possible that this whinging weakling is Heathcliff’s offspring? I laughed out loud when Heathcliff calls him “a cobweb.” Perfect. Everyone is pretty happy when he finally dies, but I’d still like to know what is wrong with him.

Which leads me to one last thought:

There is a lot of unexplained death in Wuthering Heights, and it intrigues me too. Of course the author herself was surrounded by death in real life, and I’m sure much of it was unexplained, so it all fits. And adds another layer of mystery to the novel.

63Nickelini
Editado: Maio 27, 2013, 1:36pm

189. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, 2006, translator- Alison Anderson


Cover comments: I don't mind the art on this cover, and it certainly is distinctive. The girl pictured here is different looking than the one in the story. I don't think we're supposed to notice.

Comments: This wildly popular book is one that readers either love or hate. Not much actually happens over its 325 pages and for the most part it is the philosophical ramblings of Renee, a middle aged concierge at a luxury Paris apartment, and the profound thoughts of a precocious 12 year old tenant.

The crux of the story depends on the reader buying the premise that Renee is highly intelligent, but chooses to silence herself because she has an impoverished background. I myself didn't buy it, which made Renee come off as a rather silly woman. I didn't mind the 12 year old--some readers have commented that the two are the same character, and only the different typefaces distinguishes them. I see what they mean, but I found her more interesting as she at least described actual events and actions. However, I've met this character before in other books and she's not original.

Why I Read This Now: A friend--who usually gives me good recommendations--encouraged me to borrow her copy back in 2011. I figured I should get it back to her.

Rating: I'm not sorry I read this, but I can only give it 2 stars. Sometimes it's interesting to read books one doesn't particularly like.

Recommended for: People who like philosophical books.

64ELiz_M
Editado: Maio 26, 2013, 8:13am

>61 Nickelini: The novel forces the reader to question whether Lily’s problems were ”her own fault, or destiny?”

I think you just summarized in a single sentence all my vague back-and-forth musings about this novel and why I enjoyed it despite disliking Lily so much. Thank you for the thoughtful, smart review!

65jfetting
Maio 26, 2013, 9:25am

Great reviews Joyce! I haven't been able to find any thread for you this year, and I've missed your reviews.

The House of Mirth is the only book with the distinction of making me miss my subway stop while reading it. I was all the way on the South Side of Chicago before I realized what had happened. It is such a great book, and I think my favorite Wharton novel.

66Nickelini
Maio 26, 2013, 12:13pm

#64 - Eliz - thanks! That quotation came directly from the novel. I circled it when I read it and then went back and found it when I wrote my review. I love it when an author actually tells you what their book is about, rather than reading it and thinking "what was THAT about?"

#65 - Jennifer -- I've missed you on my threads. I'm over at the ClubRead group. If you want to catch up, my current thread is here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/152640 (and the first of the year was: http://www.librarything.com/topic/146770). Please join me!

67Nickelini
Editado: Maio 27, 2013, 2:03pm

190. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934


This is one of a four-book set I bought from the Book of the Month Club in 1986. Not very exciting, but a rather nice set of hardcover editions. Here is the original cover, which is lovely:


Comments, summary: In Book 1 of Tender is the Night, 17 year old Hollywood film star Rosemary Hoyt meets Dick and Nicole Driver, and joins their social world. It’s 1925, and this group of wealthy mostly ex-pat Americans are enjoying life on the French Riviera (and then later, Paris). Although this section is narrated from Rosemary’s point of view, it’s really Dick and Nicole’s story.

Book 2 jumps back to 1917 where we learn that Dick Driver is an up and coming bright young doctor, working at an exclusive psychiatric clinic in Switzerland. Here he meets the much younger Nicole, and although he is treating her, they fall in love and eventually marry. Through a combination of Dick’s charming social skill and Nicole’s great wealth, the Drivers are able to live the lifestyles of the rich and famous. This section ends with beach scene that started the novel.

In Book 3 we see the disintegration of ‘Dicole,’ as they called themselves (and here I thought that Branelina, Tomcat construction was as recent development). As Nicole gets stronger, Dick self-destructs through alcoholism and apathy.

Comments, my thoughts: When I read The Great Gatsby back in the 1980s, I was expecting something quite specific, and was monumentally disappointed. I then tried Tender is the Night, hoping it would deliver, but gave up after a chapter. This time when I started reading it, almost 30 years later, I was surprised by how much I remembered from that chapter, and how my feelings about it were almost exactly the same. But it’s supposed to be a great modernist classic, so I thought I should give it a chance. I’m glad I did, because I had a great time reading Tender is the Night. I can see that it is going to be one of those books that sticks with me for a while.

Critics of the book complain about the non-linear structure, but I think it’s clever. Many readers also complain about the unlikeable characters, and I can see their point—especially in Book 1. I really couldn’t relate to any of them through that part of the story, and I strongly dislike Rosemary. By the time I read through Book 2 I did indeed like Nicole, and Dick to some extent. But what I really enjoyed about this novel was its complexity, symbolism, ambiguity, and layers. I know a lot of readers won’t have the patience or interest (or may lack the reading skills) to explore its literary aspects, but for the reader who enjoys that sort of thing, Tender is the Night is a rewarding experience.

Why I Read This Now: I’ve been meaning to give this another chance ever since I put it down back in the 80s, and with all the hoopla over the new Great Gatsby film, I thought now might be the time.

Recommended for: People who like classics or books about the Roaring 20s. Also, if a reader has been curious about modernist literature and isn’t sure where to start, I think Fitzgerald is a reasonable place to explore first (not as challenging as Virginia Woolf or James Joyce).

Rating: 4 stars

eta: Lois Moran was apparently the muse for Rosemary

68Nickelini
Editado: Jul 10, 2013, 2:08pm

191. The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai, 2006


What a terrible cover! I asked my husband what he thought the book was about based on it, and he said "sex," to which I said, "not three people in northern India trying to survive the Nepalese insurgency while a fourth character is struggling to get a foothold in NYC?" There's a faint little Mendhi sort of design at the bottom, but otherwise there is nothing remotely Indian about this. Probably the worst cover I've come across this year.

Comments: It is 1986 and in the foothills of the Himalayas lives a retired Judge, his granddaughter, and his cook. The cook's only son is trying to scratch out a better life in NYC. They get caught up in the unrest as the Nepalese in the area attempt to break away from India.

Desai's writing is absolutely gorgeous. She crafts her story in vignettes, and I found each of these interesting, although together they added up to a somewhat plotless novel. As with every story of India, there is disturbing unfairness and sad events; however, The Inheritance of Loss was not as distressing as some other Indian books I've read. She paints a rather enchanting picture of this corner of the country--full of exotic butterflies, colourful flowers, and oriental spices. Overall I found this a romanticized view of India.



Recommended for: readers who like books set in India have to read this one for sure.

Rating: No doubt this is a quality novel, so I'm giving it 4 stars. I have to admit though that I was never really in the mood to read it and had to make myself pick it up--this, however, is because my mind is elsewhere, and not a fault of the book itself.

Why I Read This Now: It won the Booker, was nominated for the Orange, is on the 1001 Books list, and was loaned to me in 2010.

69Nickelini
Jul 24, 2013, 1:40pm

192. What a Carve Up!, Jonathan Coe, 1994 (read by Colin Buchanan)


Cover comments: my audio book didn't come with an image, so I don't have a cover to actually comment on. It appears that this should have been the audio version cover, and although aesthetically I don't like it, it does actually fit the book perfectly (this picture is a scene from an early 60s film that is repeated throughout the book).

Comments: What a fun and unusual book. Part mystery, part satire, part state-of-the-nation, part revenge fantasy. Touching, and even heart-breaking -- What a Carve Up! has it all. The sprawling novel begins with several vignettes about members of the Winshaws, who must be one of the wealthiest and nastiest families in Thatcher-era Britain. Then we meet the main narrator, Michael Owen, who has been hired to write a biography of the family by the loony aunt who has been locked away. His life intersects with the Winshaws in both predictable and surprising ways.

I listened to this audio book mostly while I was watering my garden or pulling weeds, and there were many times I laughed out loud. My neighbours must think I'm daft.

Rating: 4.5 stars. I loved this book but didn't give it a full 5 stars because at times the political message was a titch heavy-handed (even when I agreed with him).

Recommended for: Smart, fun people. It is very British though, and I know some people just don't appreciate that brand of humour.

Why I Read This Now: Judging by the reviews, I'm not the only person unfamiliar with this book and this author. If it wasn't for the 1001 Books list, I'd never have known about this gem. And so when I saw it available at the library's audiobook queue, I nabbed it. Will be looking for more books by Jonathan Coe.

70Nickelini
Editado: Jul 4, 2015, 1:05pm

193. Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd, 1985


Cover comments: this is one of the Penguin Decades editions. The five 1980s books have covers by John Squire, and this one is the best. It appears to be a black chalk board, with at least two different scripts written on it, which fits the book perfectly. One of my favourite covers this year.

Comments: Hawksmoor is two parallel stories, told in alternating chapters. It begins with the first-person voice of Nicholas Dyer, an assistant to Christopher Wren in early 18th century London. His story is told in language Ackroyd learned from intense study of documents from that era. The other chapters are set in London of the 1980s and we are eventually introduced to Nicholas Hawksmoor, a police detective trying to solve a string of murders where the victims are found in historical churches--real churches that were designed by the 18th century architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.

I find this book really difficult to describe, and my best advice is to read StevenTX's review on the book's page. I agree with everything he says.

It reminded me a lot of another Ackroyd book, The House of Doctor Dee in that there are two story lines set a few hundred years apart, with common echoes and threads that run between them. Of the two novels, I preferred Hawksmoor. The 18th century dialogue, although still not fun, was better done here.

Hawksmoor is very dark, but it is also a terrifically clever and complex novel, with some interesting intertextuality (and I'm sure a good deal of intertextuality that went right over my head), but for the most part wasn't a particularly fun or enjoyable read.

Why I Read This Now: I collect the Penguin Decades editions, and this one is also on the 1001 books list, so I've had it for a while. I pulled it out at this point through since I was staying in Limehouse, a part of London figured prominently in the novel. I had a good laugh, reading it while I was actually there, and learning about the homeless population, the derelict houses and abandoned warehouses that made up the area in the 1980s. Now the area is full of million pound condos and gastro-pubs owned by Gordon Ramsey and Ian McKellen (Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings movies, among a zillion other roles). How things change.


Nina in front of The Grapes, Ian McKellen's pub and restaurant on Narrow Street, Limehouse.

Rating: I agree with StevenTX 4 star rating, even though I didn't enjoy large parts of the book. I plan to reread this one day, just because I think it has so many interesting things going on. I've read several Peter Ackroyd books, and I like his ideas better than his execution. There's an excellent article on this book at Wikipedia, which helped me understand what's going on, and it includes this quotation:

"Peter Ackroyd himself is a harsh critic of his novel:

"I certainly haven’t looked at Hawksmoor again, I wouldn’t dare; I’m so aware of all the weaknesses in it, it’s an embarrassment. ... The modern sections are weak, not in terms of language, but weak in terms of those old-fashioned characteristics of plot, action, character, story; they are rather sketches, or scenarios, and that rather disappoints me about it. But at the time I didn’t know anything about writing fiction, so I just went ahead and did it. It’s only recently I’ve come to realize you’re meant to have plots and stories and so on. (Nicholas Dyer’s voice is) strong, but in part it is a patchwork of other people’s voices as well as my own. Actually it’s not really strong at all ... but what it is, is an echo from about three hundred different books as well as my own. He doesn’t really exist as a character—he’s just a little patchwork figure, like his author. ... You see, I was very young then and I didn’t realize that people had to have definite characters when they appeared in fiction. I saw it as a sort of linguistic exercise; it never occurred to me that they had to have a life beyond words."


St. Anne's, Limehouse -- a Nicholas Hawksmoor church and setting for one of the murders in the novel.

Recommended for: not sure. Maybe people who like unusual, dark,

71JonnySaunders
Ago 24, 2013, 9:12am

Excellent review of Hawksmoor Nikilini, realLy interesting...and a fascinating quote from Ackroyd, not just for his thoughts on Hawksmoor itself, but on writing in general!

I'm also really glad to see you enjoyed What a Carve Up! as much as I did, an unexpected gem that one!

Keep these excellent and detailed reviews coming, they are great for decding on future books to read. Edith Wharton is rapidly climbing my 'authors to-read' list.

72Nickelini
Set 21, 2013, 11:24am

194. Interview with a Vampire, Ann Rice, 1976 (audiobook read by Simon Vance)


My audiobook didn’t have a picture, so I just picked this one from the LT cover selections. They are all ugly and none of them say “read me”

Comments Vampires are people too, or so Ann Rice wants her readers to believe. The narrator Louis is a vampire suffering an eternal existential crisis—he didn’t ask to become a vampire, doesn’t want to be one, he doesn’t understand how the whole vampire-thing works, and he tries to maintain his human value system although he has become non-human.

This book that spawned a cult following is almost 40 years old (wow), so either you’ve read it or you know you don’t want to. Hence, no plot synopsis from me. A friend enthusiastically got me to read Rice’s The Witching Hour about 20 years ago, and I thought it was fun. I tried to read a few other Rice books, but found them boring. Obviously, since I haven’t already read Interview with a Vampire, I’m not into vampires , although I certainly prefer them to zombies. They participate in cultured society and generally have an element of class about them, whereas zombies are mindless, ill-mannered oafs.

What I Liked: I thought Claudia, the child vampire, was a unique and interestingly creepy character. I also thought Rice’s world building was well done—especially the scenes where she describes old New Orleans.

What I didn’t like: Whoa, serious melodrama here. The characters and the whole book take themselves far too seriously. Listening to this on audiobook made it possible for me to just roll my eyes at it all, but I wouldn’t have had the patience to read through it.

Why I Read This Now: Interview with a Vampire has been in all the editions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, going back to 2006, as well as the 501 Must Read Books. I’ve been interested to know why, and always figured a free copy would come along—and now it showed up in the library audio downloads. I have no plans to read all the books on the 1001 list, but I have found so many interesting and worthwhile books there. Even when I dislike a book, I can see why it has merit and is included. I’m not so sure with Interview with a Vampire. 1001 Books says it is all well done without veering into being “mawkish or sentimental,” and notes its “brilliant chiaroscuro.” 501 Must-read Books says : “the definitive Gothic masterpiece, Interview with a Vampire is not gratuitously scary, bloody and gory; it is literature that beautifully depicts the shared human experiences of guilt, love, sex and mortality through the eyes of the undead.”

Recommended for: like I said, I’m sure anyone who has wanted to read this book has read it.

Rating:: 2.5 stars. I was going to give it 3 because the world-building was interesting, but the overwrought emotional torment overshadowed it.

73ALWINN
Set 23, 2013, 11:15am

HAHA Loved your review. My first Anne Rice was also the Witching Hour and I loved it. Interview with a Vampire was interesting but not ground breaking for me either. I have read a few of the other Rice's vampires but after a while they just got boring. I rather have Dracula any day.

74Nickelini
Set 23, 2013, 12:28pm

Thanks, Alwinn!

75Nickelini
Set 29, 2013, 10:52pm

195. Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee, 1959, audiobook


My audiobook had no cover, so instead I'll show this lovely picture of the village of Slad, Gloucestershire, where this memoir is set.

Comments: This short memoir tells of poet Laurie Lee's childhood in an English village, and the end of a way of life that he said had gone on for a thousand years. Spanning the inter-war years, this is a series of vignettes about his life as one of the younger children in a large family that his father had abandoned. While the stories romanticize this humble country life, they also show the horrors and great sadness. And there is humour, which I'm sure accounts for the generally highly positive sentiments surrounding this book. I too found it delightful.

Recommended for: This is a VERY short book, so it's a must-read for all Anglophiles and anyone interested in the 1001 Books lists.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Why I Read This Now: it was the second book that came up on the list of available audiobook downloads and since it was on my wishlist, I thought "done!"

76Nickelini
Set 30, 2013, 5:22pm

The Children's Book, AS Byatt, 2009


I LOVE this cover--the blue colour is scrumptious, and the art work is beautiful. The main figure is a Rene Lalique broach, and it plays a part in the story. The back cover is also lovely. Well done, Stephen Parker (book designer)

Comments: To summarize this huge book in one sentence, it is the story of the Wellwood family of Kent, and their friends, neighbours, and relatives, from the late Victorian period through to the end of WWI.

I've wanted to read this book every since it was published, but was daunted by its size and suspected density. I have to be in the right place to give these sorts of books justice. And now was the time. I loved the Edwardian setting, the millions of details, and the rich visuals of Byatt's writing. I loved the Bohemian and fairy tale world building. I loved its charm, and its worlds-within-worlds, and its secrets. I preferred this to the author's Booker winning Possession.

While reading, I often went off on research tangents with the author's intriguing details. I found The Children's Book to be such a yummy visual delight that I was compelled to create a Pinterest board to store the images that arose while reading it (note that because of the way Pinterest sorts pictures, the top of the board shows images from the end of the book and they roughly follow chronological order downwards): http://www.pinterest.com/nickelini/the-childrens-book-as-byatt/

In her reviews, a LT friend, Amaryann21, always includes a sentence or two where she compares the book to food. This novel lends itself nicely to a food comparison: If The Children's Book were food, it would be a sumptuous seven course meal, served in an elegant dining room with mahogany furniture, starched white linens, and the best china. There would be summer pea soup to start, and entrees would include roast beast, poached salmon, truffles, partridge, et cetera and so on. Dessert would be Belgian chocolates and layered cream cake. Each dish of course would be served with the appropriate accompanying wine.

Recommended for: Readers who like their historical fiction rich on details. People who didn't like this book complain of "too many": too many historical facts, too many characters, too many descriptions, too, too, too.

Rating: My first 5 star book this year.

Why I Read This Now: I was finally able to devote my time and concentration to it.

77kiwiflowa
Out 1, 2013, 3:49am

Wow Joyce... that pinterest wall makes me want to run down to the other end of the house to the box I know that book resides in and fling all the books out until I get down to The Children's Book and start reading it right now...

78ALWINN
Out 1, 2013, 10:26am

I know right with this review I want to leave work right now and run and find this book.... This is a bullet that hit right on target. Thanks Nickelini ;)

79Nickelini
Out 1, 2013, 10:53am

77 & 78 -- I'm glad I found something that appealed to you both . . . but I'm warning you, once you start The Children's Book, you might just pulled into another world that will take over your life for a week or so!

80amaryann21
Out 1, 2013, 11:23am

Lovely review, and thanks for the shout out!

81Nickelini
Out 1, 2013, 11:38am

#80 - no problem, and thanks for the inspiration!

82Nickelini
Out 1, 2013, 1:41pm

Pre-review of Night and Day, by Virginia Woolf

I started reading this novel in June and it's been slow going, so I thought I'd post my thoughts on what I've read to this point. Any few pages of this book are just fine, but the problem here is that it is a novella stretched out to an almost 500 page novel.

Katherine is the dutiful adult daughter who comes from a family of literary aristocracy. She is expected to make a good marriage, but what she really wants is to study mathematics. In the first chapter, she meets Ralph, a young lawyer from a lower class, and doesn’t like him. Hence we know that they will become love interests. Katherine soon gets engaged to William, a boring poet who reminds me of Cecil from A Room with a View. Obviously not the right love interest. And there is also Mary, who works in a suffragette office in Russell Square. Two-hundred-and-sixty-six pages in, that’s all that’s happened so far. Another two-hundred-and-twenty-three pages to go.

I snapped this photo while walking along Russell Square this summer. I'm sure thousands of people look at this sign every day and have no clue that it alludes to this little-known VW novel.

83ALWINN
Out 2, 2013, 10:00am

79 Those are the books I love the most. Crap I have to go to sleep so I can get up in the morning but JUST ONE MORE CHAPTER PLEASEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

84jfetting
Out 10, 2013, 2:51pm

I want to read Cider with Rosie and then I want to go visit the place in the picture. Did you take that picture, or did you find it on the internet? So pretty.

85Nickelini
Out 10, 2013, 2:59pm

I wish! No, I found it on the internet.

86Nickelini
Out 11, 2013, 10:33am

197. Fear and Trembling, Amelie Nothomb, 1999, translated from French by Adriana Hunter


I LOVE this cover--it's one of my favourite from my TBR pile. But I'm not sure what it is that speaks to me. I love the close up of the face, and the artifice of the makeup, but what does that mean? I'll think about this one. BTW--this is a dreaded "movie tie-in" cover that we all usually hate. Not this time.

Comments: It's 1990 and Japanese-born Belgian Amelie takes a job at a Tokyo corporation. Despite speaking Japanese and being aware of the customs, she earns herself continual demotions through her blunders and lapses of Japanese etiquette. This is a short, quick read and one that I found unique and entertaining. The novella is autobiographical, but I wondered how true to life the extreme bullying behaviour of some of her superiors was, and a Canadian friend who has lived in Japan for 20 years told me that it's fairly accurate, though certainly not the rule.

Recommended for: chances are, Fear and Trembling is extremely different from whatever else you're reading, so if you're looking for a quick change of pace, pick it up.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Why I Read This Now: looking for something short and different. It's also on the 1001 books list.

87Nickelini
Out 19, 2013, 2:02pm

198. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1892


Quite a delightful cover and a nice, non-cliche use of the silhouette.

Comments: I've managed to make it through my life paying no attention to Sherlock Holmes. So I didn't really know what to expect going in to this. Of course, a lot of Sherlock Holmes has permeated our culture, so I recognized many sayings and tropes. I guess I had more of an idea than I thought I did.

I was disappointed. I was expecting palpable atmosphere and, I hoped, a little creepiness. That was entirely missing. I thought I'd enjoy Holmes's use of observation and logic, but I have to admit that I found his mystery solving techniques to be almost silly. Overall, I found the stories sort of on the boring side. I frequently checked the page numbers to see how much more I had to endure--never a good sign.

Rating: a wildly generous 3 stars. I guess it wasn't that bad, and it certainly drips with cultural significance.

Recommended for: I seem to be the only one who isn't charmed by the whole Sherlock Holmes thing. I really don't get the love, but it could be a lot worse I guess. (This is my way of saying I don't recommend it but you'll probably love it).

Why I Read This Now: I was looking for something with good October atmosphere (cozy firesides, crisp air, and something vaguely menacing). I guess it sort of maybe did that a little.

88Nickelini
Out 23, 2013, 2:44am

I just found out that this one was added to the list in 2008. Good thing, because I was thinking "wow, I've read some really lousy stuff that made those 1001 lists, and this is soooooooo much better than them. Why didn't THIS make the list?" Whew.

199. Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro, 1971


Love this classic cover. I know they're everywhere, but I don't think I've ever actually read one. And the binding was nice too, so the book felt really good to read.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Comments: Lives of Girls and Women is a bildungsroman of Del, growing up in a small town in Ontario in the 1940s. Her family lives on the outskirts of the town, so she is never really one of them, but not really a country person either. The book is made up of a series of linked stories, that I suppose could stand separately, although it really wouldn't make sense to read them out of order.

This the third Munro book I've read, and although I really like her as a person (she's very well known here in Canada), I haven't loved her books. I've appreciated them, I've seen their merit, but there was something that didn't quite click with me. One reason is that I've had trouble identifying with her characters, and the other is that at times she writes about some very uncomfortable material in a very stark manner. I've been heard to say that I feel like taking a shower after reading some of her stories.

I can confidently say that I've turned a corner her. On the surface I don't have much in common with her characters, but she writes about such very human experiences and emotions that I can't imagine anyone not identifying on some level if they're being honest. There were so many fabulous characters in Lives of Girls and Women--I especially had a soft spot for her odd, hopeful, encyclopedia-selling mother.

Alice Munro seems like such a nice old lady, but she writes some pretty raw stuff! I can also see why she is so admired by other writers--she's definitely a writer's writer.



Why I Read This Now: When she won the Nobel Prize earlier this month, I knew it was time to pull one of her books out of my TBR pile. I don't usually read back-to-back books from the same author, but I'm tempted to just start on the other book of hers that I own.

Recommended for: literature lovers. Not recommended for people who need a single plot line with a strong story arc. In reader reviews there are a lot of comments that Lives of Girls and Women is too much like short stories. However, if you've read a lot of literature, the structure won't make you blink.

89paruline
Out 23, 2013, 5:44am

Any idea what you are going to read for #200?

90Nickelini
Out 23, 2013, 10:22am

Paruline - I don't know! It's traditional to somehow make the milestone books memorable or special in some way, but I'm not sure what that would be for me. I have a lot of 1001 books on my TBR but nothing stands out as a special 200.

91jfetting
Out 23, 2013, 12:17pm

What would you recommend as a good starter Munro novel?

92Nickelini
Out 23, 2013, 1:41pm

Jennifer - Alice Munro doesn't write actual novels, although both Lives of Girls and Women and Who Do You Think You Are? (aka: The Beggar Maid are linked stories about a central character. I've read both and I suppose the individual stories can stand on their own, but you certainly wouldn't read the books out of order, and you want to read them in a fairly close time span. For me, that makes them novels, though officially they're aren't.

My first Munro was Who Do You Think You Are? which I read for university. I liked it, didn't love it. Then a few years later I read The Love of a Good Woman, which I also liked but didn't love. There is one story in that collection though, "Save the Reaper", which haunts me to this day. Something changed in my attitude toward her when I read Lives of Girls and Women. I loved it and can't stop thinking about it. I find that sometimes with authors--at first they don't click with me but I try a few more books and then BAM! That also happened with Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Joyce Carol Oates. A lesson for me to never just dismiss an author because I didn't like the first book I read (and yes, Coetzee, I will get back to you. Someday.)

Here are some links that can probably answer your question better than I can:

A Beginnier's Guide to Alice Munro: http://www.themillions.com/2012/07/a-beginners-guide-to-alice-munro.html

Where Do I Start With Alice Munro?: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/10/10/alice_munro_best_stories_to_read_...

and a short lesson on Why Alice Munro is a genius: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/the-genius-of-alice-munro/ar...

93jfetting
Out 23, 2013, 1:55pm

Oooh, links! Thanks - I'll probably start with the 1001 one also to get another off the list.

94Yells
Out 24, 2013, 10:14pm

Lives of Girls and Women will always be my fave.

95Nickelini
Editado: Nov 11, 2013, 12:57am

posts 89 & 90, above . . . well, without any planning, I guess this turned out to be a memorable book because it took me so very, very long to read, and because despite not liking it very much, Woolf may still be my favourite author.

200. Night and Day, Virginia Woolf, 1919


Cover comments: this Vintage Classics cover is nice. Not exciting, but nice.

Comments: Night and Day has been called Virginia Woolf's "most neglected novel," and I know why. It's too long, and too boring. This was a disappointment to me because Night and Day has also been called Woolf's novel that is most like Jane Austen (which just says that Woolf is not very much like Jane Austen. Neither is Stephen King, btw). My second disappointment is that the novel is about the Edwardian era--my favourite.

The novel covers the lives of a group of young adults living in London around 1908. They are each figuring out their place in the world, and each has his or her own ideas, but none of the six want to emulate their parent's Victorian world. There are two love triangles--the beautiful Katherine, her fiance William, and her cousin Cassandra; and, Katherine, a lawyer named Ralph, and a suffragette named Mary.

As boring as this book was, there were some truly lovely passages and a few interesting parts. I'd say if you edit this down from the 489 pages of my edition and make it an 80 page novella, it would be a strong book.

Woolf is recorded to have said that with this novel, her second, she aimed at "putting it all in," and that she did. Including two pages about a guy looking at his watch. Too, too much!

I started Night and Day on June 12, and have read 37 other books while chipping away at this one. It was taking me so long that I wrote a mini-review at the half-way point. This is what I said:

Katherine is the dutiful adult daughter who comes from a family of literary aristocracy. She is expected to make a good marriage, but what she really wants is to study mathematics. In the first chapter, she meets Ralph, a young lawyer from a lower class, and doesn’t like him. Hence we know that they will become love interests. Katherine soon gets engaged to William, a boring poet who reminds me of Cecil from A Room with a View. Obviously not the right love interest. And there is also Mary, who works in a suffragette office in Russell Square. Two-hundred-and-sixty-six pages in, that’s all that’s happened so far. Another two-hundred-and-twenty-three pages to go.

Recommended for: Readers who liked overstuffed Victorian-style novels and Virginia Woolf completists only.

Why I Read This Now: I'm a Virginia Woolf completist.

Rating 2.5 stars

96japaul22
Nov 11, 2013, 7:21am

Congrats on hitting 200 and on finishing Night and Day. Maybe you just need to read it a second time to really enjoy it! ;-)

97Nickelini
Nov 11, 2013, 12:36pm

Maybe you just need to read it a second time to really enjoy it! ;-)

Ha ha! That's funny. This Woolf novel though is NOT one that you need to read twice to understand. It's her "most conventional" novel, and wouldn't fall under the category of modernism at all. Obviously after she wrote this she said to herself, "that's not what I had in mind," and went on to completely change her style. So thank goodness for me, I don't have to reread this one! :-)

98jfetting
Nov 11, 2013, 7:23pm

I really need to read more Woolf. Just not, you know, that one. Thanks for the heads up!

99Nickelini
Nov 11, 2013, 11:52pm

Jennifer - yes, not that one!

100Nickelini
Dez 2, 2013, 12:23pm

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, 1813; annotated and edited by David M. Shapard, 2004


Cover comments: even the cover is annotated! This is a painting by Jane Austen's sister Cassandra, of their niece Fanny Austen Knight. Most fitting.

Comments on Pride and Prejudice in general: This is the second time I've read Pride and Prejudice. If it's not my favourite book, I don't know what is. There are two main reasons for this. The first is Austen's writing--her splendid use of language, her wit and biting social commentary, and the structure she gives the novel. I noticed on this reading (with the aid of the annotations) that there is not one sentence in the novel that doesn't contribute to either a character or to the development of the story as a whole. It is an amazing achievement and it is clear to me why Pride and Prejudice appears on pretty much every list of best novels.

In reading Jane Austen's novels, I saved her masterpiece for last, so when I finally got to it in 2010, I was well-versed in Austen's wit and social commentary. I had also seen numerous filmed versions of P&P, from the ultimately perfect 1995 BBC producition with Colin Firth & Jennifer Ehle, to the embarrassing hot-mess that was the 2005 Kiera Knightly version, to the Bollywood Bride & Prejudice, and my much-loved Bridget Jones's Diary. This brings me to my second reason for adoring this book. I didn't think the book would hold any surprises, but silly me. I did not expect the love story to be so HOT. I still can't figure out how a story with not even a kiss and where half the characters are wearing those hideously unflattering regency dresses is probably the sexiest book I've ever read (and I spent my teens reading Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins). I'm not much on romance stories and usually roll my eyes when people talk about the romance in books like Jane Eyre or the Age of Innocence, but the love story in P&P has utterly grabbed me. I won't apologize.

But really, it's the writing and social commentary.


swoon

Comments on The Annotated Pride and Prejudice: This almost 800 page book includes not only the text and annotations, but also a chronology of the novel, useful maps, and an extensive bibliography of further reading. It is organized with the text of the novel on the left page and the annotations on the right. These annotations include some drawings, word definitions, plot points, and literary interpretations. The word definitons can get tedious--they are intended to point out where a word has changed since the novel was written, but I found many of them to be pretty obvious. Fortunately, I was able to gloss over these without too much interruption. I did enjoy the other annotations very much--it was like reading along with someone who had great insights. They also helped me to study Austen's unique style of writing, which is something that has fascinated me since I read Mansfield Park for university.

Recommened for: lovers of Jane Austen and this novel, students, writers studying technique. I do not recommend any novel this heavily annotated for a first time reader. It would be far too distracting and destroy the cadence of the book.

Rating: Like many readers before me, I liked Pride and Prejudice even better on my second reading. When I read it last I rated it A+++++++++++++++++. If it's even better this time, I guess I have to rate it 6 stars out of 5.

Why I Read This Now: I recently rewatched the 1995 BBC film, and just couldn't not read it. I have hundreds of books waiting in my TBR, but none of them look any good, and now I'm ruined for any other book. I'm closing my thread down now, as I'm only going to read P&P until further notice ;-)

101Deern
Editado: Dez 3, 2013, 12:19am

What a wonderful review for one of my all-time favorite books!!
I am also not much into romance novels, but Austen is an exception. Taking a closer look at many famous and more dramatic romance novels/ movies you notice that those relationships are often far from healthy. With most of Jane Austen's couples however you can believe in a real "happily every after", because they are normal and down to earth. And Darcy and Elizabeth additionally got all this chemistry. Yes, they are HOT! :)

And I must rewatch the BBC film. "In vain I have struggled..."

102Nickelini
Dez 2, 2013, 2:23pm

Deern - in the meantime you might like this YouTube video, Pride and Prejudice in 10 Minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zApKD4CFUjQ&list=FLWd7UeV-rb5aAUSlHJADNJA&am... . . . pretty much someone has taken out everything that isn't Mr Darcy. I like the post in the comments section that says, and I paraphrase, "I haven't seen this movie--I take it Mr Darcy is a stalker?" Ha ha

103Deern
Dez 3, 2013, 12:21am

Wow, I just watched the first 3 minutes (my old notebook needs frequent breaks, otherwise it gets hot - quite understandable in this case...). I had to laugh about that comment - if you don't know the story and just see CF's stare that's probably what you must think! :-))
Will watch the 2nd part after this post.

It's a little off book topic, but I need to share 2 experiences I had with the BBC film:
Once I invited 2 (girl) friends who both didn't know the story to watch the whole thing in English. In the first hour they complained that it was boring and would have left had I not as well provided food and drinks. And then they fell... :-) Absolutely smitten, glued to the TV screen, crying towards the ending - and then the DVD player broke during the last half hour!
One of them borrowed the video and watched the ending at home that very night and on the next day passed it on to the other one. Since then they are both ardent fans, read the book and bought the DVD.

Some years ago I bought the German version for my parents for Christmas. My mum knew it from TV already, and my dad was so annoyed. He saw Lizzie and said something like "She's the heroine? She's ugly!". By the middle of the film he said "but she DOES have fine eyes!" and in the end he said she was one of the most attractive women he ever saw on TV.

I know that CF and JE did have a short relationship during and after the making of the film, but as those scenes are not done in order, they managed very well that transition from average looking and disinterested to beautiful and in love. They (+ the director) really transferred that chemistry from the book to the film.

104Nickelini
Dez 3, 2013, 1:15pm

Deern - I love both of your BBC P&P stories. Although I can't imagine calling Jennifer Ehle/Elizabeth Bennet "ugly", I think a person might get that impression based on those horrible dresses and hairstyles they had to wear! Definitely not high on my list of favourite fashionable periods (although I much prefer it to the later 19th century hoop skirts-- the old black and white Laurence Olivier Pride and Prejudice is filmed in that style--I guess they moved the story up to 1855? It looks ridiculous).

The first time I watched P&P was similar to your experience with your girlfriends. A good friend of mine had just been diagnosed with cancer, and a bunch of her friends rallied around to support her with a little P&P watching (and snacks and wine). I had never thought to watch it, and didn't know anything about it. I also didn't know who Colin Firth was (this was in the late 90s). My first impressions of him were very bad, just like Elizabeth's. I thought he was a snobby jerk. And then everything seemed to turn for her when she saw Pemberly, so I wrote her off as a gold digger. By the end though, I too was won over, and it's hard to remember I ever felt that way. The problem I have with it now is that I get frustrated with Elizabeth for not seeing through Darcy's facade and just getting on with things! ;-)

105Deern
Dez 4, 2013, 11:10am

My dad (both bald and much overweight since his early 20s) is quite extreme when it comes to judging the looks of others. So for him there's pretty and ugly and nothing in between. My mum and I always make fun of that. :)
And you're right, the dresses and those horrible side curls might have played a role.

I love your story! It reminds me of the Bridget Jones books 1+2 (I ignore #3) when Jude and Shazzer always turn up in times of crisis with wine and the P&P video.
And you're right, in the film Lizzie seems a bit of a gold digger in the BBC's Pemberley scenes.

I read the book first - I did an internship in London in 1996 when the "Emma" movie was released. That was my first contact with Austen. I loved the movie and bought a complete novels edition. First I read "Emma", then "P&P". I think those were the first English classics (in English) I ever read and surprisingly I had no difficulties at all with Austen's language. While I loved most of her novels, P&P stands out. Not "just" the romance part, the whole work is perfectly paced and written. What a pity that at her time the range of topics for women writers was so limited. If she had lived later with the opportunity to look a bit into politics and society, she could have written her own "Barsetshire" or "Palliser" series.

106Nickelini
Dez 20, 2013, 7:17pm

201. The Glass Key, Dashiell Hammett, 1931, audio book

Cover: no cover with this audio book for me to comment on.

Comments: Set in an unnamed US city around 1930, The Glass Key is a story of crooked politicians, gangsters, and a murder, complete with the expected attitudes toward race and gender that you might expect from that whole milieu. I can't think of anything that sounds more boring than this (unless you add football or baseball to the above). Neither the characters nor the storyline interested me.

Why I Read This Now:: I was desperate for something to listen to while I painted. It's on the 1001 books list.

Recommended for: I guess if you like those 1930s crime stories you might like this. Also, for students of writing or literature, the narrative approach is unique, in that it is told almost as straight reportage with little commentary from the narrator, leaving the reader to have to figure out what is going on. One really annoying aspect of this is that the narrator always called the main character by his full name, "Ned Beaumont." You know, just in case the reader confused him with some other non-existent Ned. (insert eye roll here). If I played a drinking game where I took a shot every time I heard "Ned Beaumont," I would have been passed out on the floor before I got half way through.

Rating: 1 star.

107StevenTX
Dez 20, 2013, 9:12pm

the old black and white Laurence Olivier Pride and Prejudice is filmed in that style--I guess they moved the story up to 1855? It looks ridiculous

I read somewhere that they did this so they could re-use costumes from Gone with the Wind instead of having to make new ones. I agree they looked silly.

108Nickelini
Editado: Dez 20, 2013, 10:31pm

That does make sense! It was filmed during the war, after all.

109ursula
Dez 21, 2013, 3:11am

Ha! I had the same comment about the full names in The Glass Key! It drove me crazy.

110Deern
Jan 7, 2014, 3:38am

I thought this might be interesting for you: In the 75group they started a tutored read on P&P. The tutor is usually someone specialized in a genre of literature, the tutee is often a reader who previously had problems with the book. The tutee reads chapter by chapter and asks questions which the tutor then answers. Others can lurk or ask their own questions once a chapter has been closed (they are not allowed to run ahead or write spoilers though). I have followed some TRs in the last couple of years and they have always been highly informative. I will follow this one as well.
Here's the link: http://www.librarything.com/topic/163892#
Until now they mainly posted edition covers, there are some great ones!

111Nickelini
Jan 7, 2014, 10:30am

I'll check that out. I followed along on a tutored read of Emma a few years ago and it was interesting. Thanks for letting me know.

112Nickelini
Fev 3, 2014, 3:26am

First 1001 of 2014, and it's been a very long time since I've read one this old:

202. Dangerous Liaisons, Choderlos de Laclos, 1782, translated from French by Helen Constantine

This is a two-part review.

PART ONE


Cover comments: I have mixed thoughts on this. On one hand, the painting the Foot of Miss O’Murphy by Francois Boucher (1730-70), which lives in a museum in Paris, illustrates the story perfectly. On the other hand, it’s bland--I really need to focus to see the foot.

Comments: If you haven’t read this, or seen any of the film adaptations, or the stage play, here is the story told as briefly as possible: the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil are two very bored aristocratic ex-lovers who are still friends. Valmont is a libertine who finds amusement in wooing women and then destroying their reputations. Merteuil is a widow with an impeccable reputation, but who delights in manipulating other people for the sheer amusement of it. When she learns that one of her lovers drops her to marry a 15 year old virgin, Merteuil asks Valmont to debauch her before the wedding night. Seeing no challenge over this whatsoever, Valmont passes and they instead bet whether he can seduce the Présidente de Tourvel, a beautiful young wife known for her religiosity and virtue. Meanwhile, Merteuil takes it upon herself to coach the 15 yr old, Cecile, who is fresh out of a convent, on the ways of being a woman in 18th century French society—ways that Cecile’s mother would not approve. Valmont learns that Cecile’s mother has been (rightfully) talking smack about him to de Tourvel, and decides that taking Cecile as a lover in revenge is a pretty great idea. Cecile in the meantime is crushing all over her young music teacher, Darceny, who is smitten with her in return. Valmont and Merteuil pretend to help Cecile and Darceny, but actually play with them like puppets. And by the end, everything comes crashing down on everyone’s heads.

This epistolary novel has earned a deserved place in the literary cannon, and what I most appreciate about it is that it was actually published before the French Revolution (rather than just being a good bit of historical fiction). Laclos has a talent for writing completely different styles for the different character’s letters. However, for me, the novel had one huge flaw—the character of Présidente de Tourvel. She is of course instrumental to the plot—but her voice was too strong in that her letters were long-winded and repetitive, and even worse—boring! Valmont repeatedly calls her “his prude.” The woman has no sense of humour and takes angst to a new level. I don’t care about your virtue, really I don’t. Just go away if you don’t want to be seduced by Valmont. In his cleverness, Valmont adopted her language in his letters to her—which increased her voice in the novel. Really, 90% of this character could be cut and the novel would be stronger for it. The best letters by far were Merteuil—she is one of the great characters of literature. Wicked? Evil? Perhaps. But wonderfully wickedly evil.

My favourite Marquise de Merteuil quotation, speaking about her current lover who she is planning to dump: “Does he place such little value upon me that he thinks himself man enough to capture me!”

Rating: rating this is tricky. Because it took me most of January to get through (due to the snoozer of a character in Tourvel), I’m going to have to lower this from what should be an excellent rating. 3.5 feels too low, so maybe a marginal 4. I do think it will stay with me.

Why I Read This Now: I recently rewatched two film versions of this: Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont. I really do enjoy the story very much. The book has been in my TBR stacks for 7 years, so I thought it was a good time to give it a try.

Please come back later for PART TWO (it has lots of pictures!)

113Nickelini
Editado: Fev 3, 2014, 12:56pm

As promised: Dangerous Liaisons

PART TWO

I find it interesting to review the book along with the two film versions I watched. I have seen the first, Dangerous Liaisons at least six times, and I’ve seen Valmont twice. I’m positive that I will rewatch both films, but I doubt I’ll slog through the book again, despite its merits. In this case I think the two films are better than the book.



Both films are a visual treat--they were filmed in France in fabulous locations and the costumes are stunning. Both films suffer from some poor casting choices, namely that some of the actors are too modern and American to carry off a period piece—I’m sure they could have hired at least a few English speaking French actors—Juliette Binoche would have been fabulous as either Tourvel or Merteuil, for example. Dangerous Liaisons came out in 1988, was directed by Stephen Frears (who went on to do the Queen and Philomena), was nominated for a bunch of Oscars, and won three—screenplay, art direction, and costumes. This version has a dark tone, and although I think it’s probably the better of the two, it suffers from being a bit over the top. Valmont was released in 1989, was directed by Milos Forman (Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and was nominated only in the costume category. It is a much lighter spirited movie, with some silly scenes. Even the costumes are in lighter, happier colours, and music plays a more important role. This version makes some changes to the book ( but I found them logical) and so the credits say that it was “freely adapted.” Dangerous Liaisons is a film version of a stage play that followed the book much more closely.

Casting—both films have some great and some terrible casting:

Vicomte de Valmont
John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons
Malkovich reminds me a bit too much of Dracula here.

Colin Firth in Valmont


Many people say that John Malkovich owns this role. I do delight in watching his wickedness. But his Valmont is slimy, and he virtually slithers across the screen. As much as I enjoy watching him, at no time have I ever thought he would have been able to seduce me. The trouble that radiates from him is not attractive. Also, he comes across as more powerful and in control than the Valmont in the book. Colin Firth’s Valmont is actually more believable. He is very charming and persistent, but has a weaker side that is not as cruel as Malkovich’s Valmont. Also, Firth is good looking, and yes, he could have seduced me, um, immediately. But having read the book, neither of them is exactly right. I’m calling a draw on this one—Firth for believability, and Malkovich for being so fun to watch.

Marquise de Merteuil

Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons


Annette Bening in Valmont
:

The Marquise de Merteuil is the star of this book. I think Glenn Close’s interpretation of the character is spot on. When I watch Annette Bening, I see her doing a good job, but then I sort of forget she was in this movie. She does a lot of rather loud and frequent laughing—whereas Glenn Close doesn’t often laugh, but when she does, your blood runs a little chilly. Glenn Close gets this one.

Madame de Tourvel

Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons


Meg Tilly in Valmont


Difficult call here. First, I’m not a fan of either actress. Tourvel is 22 years old. Pfieffer was 30 and Tilly 29 when they played these parts. Pfieffer has always struck me as too old, too modern and too American to carry off this role. And just not pure and innocent. I don’t mind Tilly, but her breathy voice annoys me. Then I read the book and realized that maybe it’s not the casting—this character is just a pill! So, my verdict: lousy character, not great casting. (In my last viewing I think I started warming to Pfieffer and think maybe she wasn’t so bad, but really casting people . . . did you ask Juliette Binoche?)

Cecile

Uma Thurman in Dangerous Liaisons


Fairuza Balk in Valmont


Cecile is 15 years old, and at the beginning of the story, comes out of a convent. She is a CHILD. Thurman was 18 when she filmed this, Balk was 15. Even when I saw Dangerous Liaisons in the theatre when it was released, I didn’t buy into Thurman as an extreme innocent. I like her in most roles, but in this one she just didn’t seem as pure-in-spirit as she was supposed to be. On the other hand, Balk pulled off that wide-eyed “I don’t know what I’m saying” act very well. She still seemed like someone who would take off her costume and go to grade 10 math class, but when I read the book, she was the Cecile that I had in my head. My call goes to Fairuza Balk.

However! A point in the casting director’s favour, on both sides: In Dangerous Liaisons, as in Dangerous Liaisons (novel), Valmont rapes Cecile, but then Merteuil convinces them to carry on an affair. In Valmont, he rapes her, and that’s the end of it as far as the viewer can see. In public, their relationship resembles that of an older brother and teenage sister. I think, considering the ages and mannerisms of the actors, they are in the right movies. People would have freaked out if an innocent as played by Fairuza Balk would have carried on an affair with Valmont.

Darceny

Keanu Reeves in Dangerous Liaisons


Henry Thomas in Valmont


Sigh. Most of me wants to say terrible casting for both films. Darceny is supposed to be 19 and on the cusp of innocent/worldly. Both are way too modern to play this role. Henry Thomas, who played the main kid, Eliott, in ET, did a competent job, but he just exudes American Teenager ®. Keanu Reeves was better, and now that we’ve both aged and he’s done a lot of other things, I’m not so bothered by him in this role. But the first few times he looked like he was playing his character “Ted” from Bill and Ted’s Excellent adventure, caught up in one of his time travels. I kept expecting him to skateboard through the next scene. Bad casting on both parts, although over the years “Ted” has faded and I see him more as Darceny.

Gercourt

Jeffery Jones in Valmont

Jones and Bening.

In Dangerous Liaisons, Gercourt is off on military duty . . . somewhere (Sardinia? Sounds not-important, wherever he is), and therefore is offstage for the novel. Valmont, however, brings him in to the picture, and I think to good use. Between casting Fairuza Balk as the uber-innocent 15 yr old and Jeffrey Jones as the much older fiancé (his character is 36; Jones is 43), it pretty much sends the viewer the message that 1. This is creepy, and 2. Her mom isn’t to be trusted either. And although the director Milos Forman thought Jones an actor worthy of playing Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus, and so cast him as a high-ranking aristocrat in Valmont, this actor will always be Principal Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to me. So he has that double whammy of being too modern and American, mixed with a 43 yr old marrying a 15 yr old, that is just really, really disgusting.

So in the end, which movie is better?: They both have their merits and their faults. I think Dangerous Liaisons is probably technically better . It depends on my mood though, because I think they are both pretty great. Not perfect, but better than most of the chaff out there.

114hdcclassic
Fev 3, 2014, 2:34pm

I didn't care that much about Valmont, for my taste it is a bit too light and Colin Firth is just too boyish fumbler. Malkovich is a bit over the top but I like my Dangerous Liaisons with a thick slice of intrigue so he is my pick.
Close nails her role, Bening has some superb moments.
I did like Jeffrey Jones though in Valmont (possibly because I see him as Criswell from Ed Wood, a role less modern, and the creepiness fits the part).
Yeah, I like Frears' version the best.

I have also seen Cruel Intentions (set in modern California with upper class high schoolers) which is not exactly good but still entertaining with all the overacting and decadence, as well as Untold Scandal (set in historical Korea), which was delightfully aestheticised.
The story lends itself to entertaining and beautiful films.

115Nickelini
Fev 3, 2014, 2:54pm

I have yet to see Cruel Intentions or the Korean version (I knew it existed but didn't know the title)--they are on my watch list!

The story lends itself to entertaining and beautiful films. Indeed!

116Nickelini
Fev 22, 2014, 4:46pm

203. Wild Harbour, Ian Macpherson, 1936


This cover fits the story, but the picture is freaky and unsettling. I always put the book down with the back cover facing up.

Comments: This short novel was written in 1936 but set in 1944. Hugh and his wife Terry want nothing to do with the coming war and the violence that it promises, so they escape to hide in the mountains of central Scotland. The first part of the book describes mostly their efforts to survive in the wilderness. Slowly though, there are signs that the war has gone as badly as they expected and they have to face what they have avoided.


Beautiful Loch Ericht, where the story is set

This is one of the more obscure novels from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, which is too bad, as I think it would appeal to a wider audience. There is something haunting about this story, and I know that it will stick with me. Probably its weakest part for me is some of the dialogue, as the two main characters spoke as if they were in panic mode through most of the book (but didn't act panicky).

Recommended for: Fans of the Canadian TV show "Survivor Man." People like literary adventure stories.

Rating: 4 stars

Note: There is a typo in 1001 Books Before You Die, as it says the book is set in 1914 instead of 1944. That would change the whole meaning of the book. Also note that the Canongate Edition, the Introduction by John Burns contains major spoilers.

117annamorphic
Fev 22, 2014, 5:55pm

Wow, this book sounds fascinating! I will move it into my (fairly extensive) TBR pile!

118Nickelini
Fev 22, 2014, 11:01pm

It was quite fascinating. It's one of those books that I think would be a lot more popular if more people knew about it. And I think it could be made into a really good movie, too.

119Nickelini
Abr 11, 2014, 9:02pm

204. Fingersmith, Sarah Waters, 2002, audiobook read by Juanita McMann


Cover comments: no real opinion, but this doesn't do anything for me.

Comments: Sue Trinder grew up in the mean streets of Victorian London under the guidance of mother-figure and baby farmer Mrs Sucksby and her informal group of petty thieves. A conman who she calls Gentleman enlists Sue to help him defraud a young heiress named Maude Lilly, and off Sue goes to pose as a lady's maid at a country house. But Maude Lilly is not who she seems, and her relationship with Sue is not what anyone expects. The story makes several sharp twists, and slowly winds through an estate, a madhouse, south London, and then a satisfying conclusion. Fingersmith was nominated for the Orange Prize and was on the original 1001 Books list.

In places, Fingersmith pays homage to Oliver Twist, and apparently also The Woman in White (although I haven't read the later).

Overall, I enjoyed Fingersmith very much. None of the characters were completely likeable, but I did care to find out what happened to them. I found the novel interesting and well written, but I also thought it was too long.

The reader Juanita McMann was one of the best audiobook narrators I've ever heard--she did a vast number of distinct voices for the huge cast of characters, and they were all perfect for the character. I hope I come across other books narrated by her.

Note: please excuse any names I've misspelled--I only ever heard them.

Why I Read This Now: always need an audiobook.

Recommended for: Well, there is a lesbian aspect to it, so anyone who is interested in lesbian characters will want to read this. Anyone interested in the Orange prize or 1001 list, anyone who likes the Victorian setting, anyone who likes a book to get lost in . . . lots of readers will like this.

120annamorphic
Abr 12, 2014, 1:08pm

I always need an audiobook too, so will add this to my list -- thanks for the review.

121Nickelini
Abr 13, 2014, 1:26pm

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, edited by David M. Shaparard, 2011, & Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks, 2013


Cover comments: both of these are lovely

Comments: When I first read Sense and Sensibility back in 2009, I was already well-acquainted with the story, having seen the Emma Thompson film several times. I was also distracted by other things at the time, and so don't think I did the book justice. On this reread, I paid much closer attention, in part by reading the annotated versions, and also by following a tutored read here at LT.

Now that I've closely examined Sense and Sensibility, I see that it pales in comparison to Pride and Prejudice (and Mansfield Park). This was Jane Austen's first novel, and it shows. I found the text bloated and conversations overly drawn out and over described. None of the main characters was particularly interesting. That said, a weak Austen is still better than most other books out there. Some of the writing was lovely. There were some great minor characters--Fanny Dashwood and Lucy Steele, of course, but the odious John Dashwood and big-hearted Mrs Jennings also caught my fancy. And of course there is Austen's wicked wit and social commentary.

Now, for the two annotated editions:

The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, edited by David M. Shaparard, is a 742 page trade paperback. The novel is on the left-hand page, and the annotations are on the right. In Shapard's annotated version of Pride and Prejudice, I found some of the definitions tiresome in their repetition, and he must have rethought this because this aspect was not a problem with this S&S edition. I enjoyed these notes very much, as they often pointed out a nuance that I didn't pick up in my own reading. At the end of the book are several helpful maps, a chronology of the events of the novel, and an extensive bibliography.

Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks, is an oversized coffee table book that will not fit in your bag to take along on the train. It is a lush edition with moire endpapers and lots of coloured illustrations. It has far fewer annotations than the same editors edition of P&P, and also fewer than the Shapard annotated S&S. Of the annotations, many are simple definitions, but occasionally there is commentary on the novel. This is where the gold is found. Some of these notes refer to academic criticism of the novel. Most insightful and interesting.

Which of the two to buy? If you want to better understand the novel, I'd go with the Shapard edition, and if you're looking for a gift for the Jane Austen lover in your life, I recommend the Patricia Meyers Spacks. Or if you're like me, get them both. However, if you've never read the novel before, start with a non-annotated version, as this level of detail would be extremely distracting and destroy the flow of reading the novel.

122Nickelini
Editado: Abr 27, 2014, 6:25pm

205. Life of Pi, Yann Martel, 2001


Cover comments: I really like the sea and the flying fish at the bottom of the picture. The rest of it is okay, but I find it sort of choppy looking.

Comments I'm sure every bookish person has an idea of what this novel is about: Indian teenager named Pi is shipwrecked while immigrating to Canada with his family. He finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger as they float eastward across the Pacific. In the end, people don't believe his story, but everyone agrees that the story with the tiger is a better story than the story without, and this is a metaphor for a belief in God.

Life of Pi won the Booker Prize in 2002 and is included in the 1001 Books list, so of course many people have enjoyed it. Some readers don't like that after a realistic beginning, the story gets more and more improbable, particularly when it gets to the blind Frenchman and then the algae island. I thoroughly enjoyed these scenes, along with the rest of the book. To me, the story is a sort of fairy tale or fable, although one that is told in a realistic style. I also enjoyed Pi's optimistic character, and the narrative voice.

Other readers have complained that this book is pro-religion at the expense of reason, and I completely disagree with that--the book is full of reason, particularly scientific facts about zoology and survival at sea. I understand this book to say that both spirituality AND reason are important. As for the pro-religion, I actually find that aspect of it sort of wishy-washy. Despite protests from his elders, Pi insists that he is Hindu, Catholic, and Muslim all at the same time. I was worried that Life of Pi might be preachy, but I didn't find it so at all.

Recommended for: I enjoyed this very much, and I think many others would too.

Why I Read This Now: I bought this for my TBR pile back in 2008 because I thought it would be a good read for any future tropical vacations I might take (I find it tricky to find the right book for those sorts of holidays). My recent trip to Maui was the perfect opportunity to pull Life of Pi from Planet TBR, and it was a good call. While I read about Pi bobbing up and down with sea turtles in the Pacific, I too was bobbing around the Pacific with sea turtles! A great vacation read--sunny and bright, but not vacuous.

Rating: 4.5 stars.


This is my daughter's attempt at a selfie with a sea turtle. That's her snorkel mask at the top and the turtle is at the bottom. She took this with her iPhone!

123Nickelini
Jun 8, 2014, 11:44am

206. Country Girls, Edna O’Brien, 1960


Cover comments: I have no opinion on this cover one way or another.

Comments Set in 1950s Ireland, The Country Girls is a short novel that feels like a memoir. Teenage Caithleen and her supposed best friend Baba are about 14, and attend school together in a rural community. The story follows them through a convent boarding school where the nuns are one part stupid and the other part inhumane, and then ends up with Cait and Baba sharing a room in a Dublin boarding house where they finally get to let down their hair a little.
Edna O’Brien is a deceptively subtle writer, fooling readers with her seemingly simple sentence structure. Cait is a naive narrator whose innocent observations illuminate the restrained society of mid-century Ireland.

Rating: I would have raved about his novel but for one thing that irritated me throughout—the character of Baba. From the beginning, she is clearly the second Country Girl, and is described bas the best friend. But she is rarely a friend, and is consistently a nasty bully. She’s a selfish, unlikable character from age 14 through 18, and hardly friend material for my enemy’s dog. But I guess there wasn’t’ much to choose from in Ciat’s small community, so Baba gets the position from being in the vicinity. She’s an interesting character, but in most novels she’d be the antagonist. Here I just wanted Cait to stand up to her and verbally smack her down.

Why I Read This Now: I was looking for something in my tbr stack from the 1001 books list.

Recommended for O’Brien is the reigning queen of Irish lit, the Catholic Church banned this book . . . what else do you need?

124Nickelini
Editado: Jun 10, 2014, 5:57pm

207. Chocky, John Wyndham, audiobook, 1968


Cover comments: my audio book came without an image, so I just grabbed this audio cover.

Comments: Eleven year old Matthew's father is somewhat alarmed at a sudden change in his son--it appears that Matthew might have an imaginary friend. But somehow, that doesn't feel right to him, mainly because "Chocky" causes Matthew to discuss things that he couldn't think of on his own.

This is a fun short book, so I'm not going to give anything away. This is classified as science fiction, which is a genre I rarely read, but if were all like this I'd read it often. Part of what I loved what that it didn't feel spacey because of its cozy mid-century middle class English setting.

I had seen Chocky on the 1001 books list but for some reason I didn't notice that the author was the same as that of The Midwich Cuckoos, a book that I loved a few years ago. That one also had a cozy English atmosphere, although it ultimately was a pretty scary story. Chocky is more strange, or perhaps creepy, than scary. Lucky me--I have several more John Wyndhams to explore. I'm surprised I didn't read his books when I was a teenager--they would have been just my thing. well, I get to enjoy them now.

Recommended for: readers who like stories that are slightly strange. Some people will be bothered by the 1960s views on women, but I wouldn't let that ruin an otherwise good book.

Rating: 4.5 stars

125Nickelini
Ago 16, 2014, 1:15pm

208. Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson, 1992


cover comments: I didn't have an opinion of this cover at first, but the more I look at it the more I find it bland and aesthetically choppy. The typeface for the title is nice, but otherwise, it's sort of an ugly yawn.

Comments: An unnamed narrator with an ambiguous gender, but who reads female to me, tells of her sexual past and love life, and how it led to her one true love, the beautiful Louise.

Some parts of this novel were story, and some parts were poetic musings about her adoration for her lover.

Rating: this is one of those books that people seem to love or hate. I fell somewhere in the middle. Let's just say I'm glad it was under 200 pages.

Why I Read This Now: It's one of the older books in my 1001 books TBR pile.

Recommended for: not sure. Not recommended for those who want a strong plot and who are bothered by bisexuality.

126annamorphic
Editado: Ago 17, 2014, 11:11am

I love your cover comments. Two of the worst covers for 1001 books I've seen have been for the American versions of Claudine's House and the book I am reading now, A World for Julius. For the first book, about a privileged, thoughtful, middle-class girl, the insane designer chose a cover showing an impoverished and slightly deranged Appalachian child. For the second, a book about a sensitive upper class blonde white boy in 1950s Peru, they chose a picture of a brooding, dark, mixed-race kid.
I changed the cover of Julius on my Library Thing page to the Spanish version just so I didn't have to show that one.
BTW, also loved your 2-part review of Dangerous Liaisons back in February.

127Nickelini
Ago 17, 2014, 12:57pm

#126 - Thanks, Annamorphic!

128Nickelini
Editado: Dez 16, 2015, 1:33am

209. The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot, 1860, Audiobook


Cover comments: my cover isn't available, so I picked this one because I like its vintage feel.

Comments: Maggie Tulliver is a spirited girl who doesn't quite fit in to the patriarchal world of pastoral England. All her life she has a love hate relationship with her older brother, by which I mean she mostly loves him and he mostly hates her. Maggie grows up and has two different men fall in love with her, but she doesn't appear to truly love either of them in return. Still, it's nice to be liked, since so many other people are really nasty to her all the time--because, well, she's sparky, and has unruly brunette hair, and oh, that dark skin of hers.

George Eliot is of course a fabulous writer, and although this novel is typically Victorian (read: too wordy by far), for the most part it was very interesting. Maggie Tulliver is one of my favourite literary characters, and I also really loved (or loved to hate) her aunts. Of the other 19th century writers I've read, this most reminded me of Thomas Hardy, perhaps Jude the Obscure (even more-so that Eliot's Middlemarch).

But the thing that most interested me about this novel is how much her life of unquestioned obedience to the men in her life (despite her better nature) is so close to the lives of women still today who live in traditional patriarchal societies (some of which are right her in North America). I wouldn't expect a novel written for a mid-19th century audience to be so relevant, but Maggie Tulliver's life is too close to the survivor blogs that I regularly read. If only those god-church-and-the-family homeschoolers would be allowed to read this book. But alas, Eliot is not on the narrow list of approved reading.

Recommended for: lovers of 19th century literature and victims of 21st century repression from extreme traditional adherents.

Rating: 4.5 stars. I would have given it 5 if it wasn't so long (the audiobook was over 24 hours).

Why I Read This Now: Audiobook, it's on the 1001 list--and others, and I usually like 19th century English classics.

129jfetting
Set 5, 2014, 9:37am

Great review! I've been sort of kind of meaning to read some Eliot for a while now, and I think I'll try this one now.

130Nickelini
Set 11, 2014, 12:27pm

210 The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, 1958, translated from Italian by Archibald Colquhoun


Cover comments: yeah, whatever

Comments: The Leopard is set during the Risorgimento of Italy in the 1860s, and follows Prince Fabrizio and his family's decline from aristocracy to discarded relics.

The author wrote The Leopard--his only novel-- over the last 12 or so years of his life, and it was published posthumously. Thus he never knew the high praise and critical acclaim it received, including being called the Greatest Italian Novel of All Time. The English translation by Colquhoun has also been met with high praise.

Although I can see the literary merit in it, and there are many magical passages, overall the book just didn't work for me. It's only 320 pages, but it took me 24 days to read it because I could only follow it if I put my complete focus on exactly what was being said. When I read normally, I'd realize that my thoughts had wandered off and I had no idea what I'd just read, and I'd have to go back and refocus. What is the exact opposite of a compelling read? Whatever the term, that's what The Leopard is. Also, there was sexist thread going through it that was beyond what I'd expect to find in an Italian novel about the 19th century. For example, at an aristocratic ball, the females in attendance are described as inbred, although somehow the males there aren't. There was too much of that sort of thing. Females are silly, females are dumb, females are like monkeys. No thanks.

Recommended for: The Leopard regularly makes all the lists of top novels, so if you're wondering why, go ahead and read it and don't take my comments into consideration.

Why I Read This Now:: It's one of the older books in my TBR pile.

131Nickelini
Set 12, 2014, 2:49am

The End of the Affair, Graham Greene, 1951, Audiobook read by Colin Firth


Cover comments: not exactly inspired, but somehow it fits the book just fine.

Comments: After reading the 81 reviews of The End of the Affair here on LT, I don't know what to write. Part of the problem is that I liked the book so much, and I find it difficult to write glowing reviews without sounding silly, trite, and gushing. Let's see . . . Maurice Bendrix, a novelist, is struggling with his emotions after his lover abruptly ended their affair. He has an unusual amount of contact with her husband (now that I think of it, more than he had with her). Lots of strong emotion--love, lust, but also a huge amount of bitterness, and some anger and hate too. And it's set against post WWII London. My description is just sad and undersells the whole thing. . .

This is my third Greene. I thought the Third Man was silly (hey, the author didn't like the novel either!), although the film is supposed to be fabulous. The other one I read was Brighton Rock, which started out "meh" but won me over by the end. I expected to sort of like this, so it was a surprise to me that I liked it so much. I liked the switching time line, the mid-century British milieu, and mostly, I loved the deep passion.

Audiobook: I'm sure a big part of my enjoyment of this was listening to the audiobook read by Colin Firth. I hate sounding like a fangirl, but he did an excellent job capturing just the right tone. I'm not the only one who thought this though--it won the Best Audiobook Prize of 2013. I think many of those who rated this book "boring" would have thought something different if they'd listened to this version. If you're interested, here's a 2.5 minute video of Colin Firth discussing the novel, reading snippets, and generally talking about his love of reading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwU1UnMUTzA&list=FLWd7UeV-rb5aAUSlHJADNJA

I look forward to relistening to this and exploring the nuances. It also makes me want to read a lot more of Graham Greene.

Recommended for: Based on the mixture of negative and positive reviews, I'm not sure. But it's definitely going on my top 5 for this year, so if you like good novels. . . .

132Yells
Set 12, 2014, 7:03am

It got 4 stars from me and I didn't even have Firth to sweeten the pot ;)

133jfetting
Set 12, 2014, 11:58am

Graham Greene is great. I love him.

134Nickelini
Set 12, 2014, 12:11pm

Jennifer - I know - I want to go read everything by him now! Lucky me, I have 5 more of his books from the 1001 list, not to mention all his books that didn't make the list.

135Nickelini
Out 28, 2014, 2:01pm

212. Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, John Cleland, 1749, audiobook


Cover comments: as usual, my audiobook cover is not available, so I picked this Oxford Classics cover as I think it suits the book nicely.

Comments: This is one eighteenth century man's idea of a woman's idea of her sexuality. It is the first-person narration of a teenage country orphan's experiences triumphing through becoming a prostitute. There's not a lot of story, it's written as one long description and no dialogue, and there is very little character growth. Despite that, Penguin Classics, one of the numerous esteemed publishers of this novel, claims that "Fanny Hill stands as one of the great works of eighteenth-century fiction for its unique combination of parody, erotica and philosophy of sensuality."

Okay, whatever you say. I mostly found it silly. However, I think it's an interesting historical document that shows us that our commonly-held belief of previous generations all being very proper people (or all prudes, depending how you look at it), is actually false. I think that's important. I do roll my eyes when Jane Austen readers get all aflutter at the suggested combination of Austen with sex. I don't think we know if Jane Austen read Fanny Hill or not, but I'm fairly positive that Mr Darcy did. I usually hesitate to pick up 18th century literature, but when I do I am usually relieved that it isn't a stuffy as so many 19th century works. And I like how Fanny was never punished for her promiscuity, as would be sure to happen in later fiction.

Recommended for:
- people who want to read the most-banned book ever
- readers interested in pre-Victorian sensuality
- writers looking for admiring euphemisms for the erect penis
- readers of 1001 books and other such lists
- people who enjoy erotica (although they should note that while the sexual acts are frequent, they may be rather tame compared to later erotica)

Why I Read This Now: When I can't find an audiobook that I really want to read, I default to something from the 1001 list. I also want to read more 18th century literature--but not the stuffy stuff!

Rating: due to the high eye-rolling activity this book drew out of me, I'm giving it 2 stars. Still, I'm not sorry I listened to it. It's just that after about 40 minutes, I pretty much had the whole book down.

136Nickelini
Dez 22, 2014, 1:32pm

213. The War of the Worlds, HG Wells, 1898


Cover comments: really ugly, however, I think that may be somewhat intentional. It looks like this was originally a B&W illustration from the 1906 edition of the book and has been colourized in a sort of tongue in cheek way. Ugly but I sort of like it because it fits the book. This picture is blurry, but on my cover I like the people fighting giant aliens from horseback.

Comments: It's 1894 and Martians attack London. Most of the city is destroyed and very few people survive. There is no gallant British defence against the alien invaders, and the nameless narrator spends most of the book running from the Martians.

This year I've complained about the lack of narrative in the books I've chosen. I can't say that this book suffers from that, but I still didn't find it very interesting. The thing that bothered me the most was the absolute lack of characters or personality in the people in these pages. It's closer to straight reportage than telling a story.

Why I Read This Now: Anyone who knows my reading tastes would predict that I wouldn't like this, so why did I even bother? Well, I like to venture out of my comfort zone now and again, and I also like to read the seminal works of important literary trends. It's on the Guardian 1000 and the 1001 Books lists. But I read it now because it showed up when I searched "Edwardian" and I needed one more book this year for that challenge. Written a few years before the Edwardian era, it's questionable whether or not it qualifies.

I'm going to say "yes," because it reveals something important about the Edwardian age that I didn't realize. I thought that the Edwardian were happily partying through their time, completely oblivious to the future they were creating. But now I learn that the fear of invasion was a major tension of the time. The War of the Worlds is part of a body of work now called "invasion literature" that spoke to this fear. The genre started with The Battle of Dorking in 1871, which was about a German invasion of Britain. I was also interested in how HG Wells foresaw both mass mechanized destruction, and poison gas--two things that were not yet known. So WWI wasn't quite the shock that I had thought it was (although the severity obviously was).

Recommended for: readers who are interested in the roots of sci-fi and Martian literature.

137Nickelini
Fev 15, 2015, 10:12pm

The Story of O, Pauline Reage, 1954, translated from French by Sabine D'Estree


Cover comments: tasteful, not bad, but sort of boring. There is some nice design on the back cover.

Comments: a notorious scandalous fable about one woman's fantasy and experience with sexual slavery. Not too many positive reviews on LT. I was puzzled by much of what I read, so did a little research that made me feel ambivalent, and now, ultimately bored.

Why I Read This Now: it's on the 1001 and lists--I think it's all the media around the 50 Shades of Grey movie that reminded me that the Story of O was in my tbr pile.

Recommended for scholars of bdsm.

138Nickelini
Editado: Dez 16, 2015, 1:41am

215. The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing, 1950


Cover comments: an understated approach that I rather like.

Comments: The Grass is Singing starts at the end--Mary Turner, a farmer's wife in Rhodesia, has been murdered and their houseboy has been arrested. The novel then tells Mary's story of how she ended up there.

After a horrid childhood, Mary makes a comfortable life for herself, living in a city that she likes, working at a job she enjoys, and hanging out with friends. Unfortunately, she bowed to peer pressure and got married to a man she didn't love. Dick Turner is a hard working farmer who has little success to show for his efforts. Away on the African veld, Mary soon finds herself trapped in a loop of oppressive heat and dust, boredom, grinding poverty, Dick's recurrent bouts of malaria, hatred for the Africans, classism, sexism, and mental illness. Mary is not a likeable person and is one of the worst racists I've come across in literature, but despite this the reader still feels empathy for her suffering.

The Grass is Singing is Novel Prize Laureate Lessing's first novel. Aside from the interesting events and characters, the writing itself is masterful, especially in how she structures the story.

Rating & Recommended for: The Grass is Singing is understandably a 20th century classic, and is on both the Guardian 1000 and the 1001 Books lists. I particularly recommend it to aspiring writers as an example to emulate. Four and a half stars.

Why I Read This Now: it was physically on the top of my TBR pile even though I had no plans to read it any time soon.

139Nickelini
Jun 21, 2015, 9:39pm

216. Fifth Business, Robertson Davies, 1970


Cover comments: This Penguin Classics edition uses a cover painting, unnamed, by Brad Holland. It's strange, and I like it. But what does it mean?

Comments: When Fifth Business was published, the New York Times said "Its plot seems outlandish in summary, and adjectives won't do. Perhaps I'd better just say that after one reads it one begins to muse, and the more one muses, the more interesting it gets." Well, that pretty much says it. The novel is about a professor reflecting back on his life, but that barely describes it.

Rating: I can't find a fault in this novel. Despite that, this 252 page book took me three weeks to read. I don't know if I'm just off reading, or what. Anyway, glad to see this one gone.

Why I Read This Now: a friend from my book club was reading it and asked me to do a buddy read. I'm afraid I wasn't much of a buddy for her.

Recommended for: it's a classic, and on the 1001 books list. Not a difficult read. Interesting, I guess. Don't know why I'm so "meh" on it.

140Nickelini
Jun 29, 2015, 2:10pm

217. The Swimming Pool Library, Alan Hollinghurst, 1988


Cover comments: I think this is fabulous. The image under the shimmering blue water is a detail from The Dying Slave by Michelangelo. Fits the novel perfectly--the designer obviously read and understood the book.

Comments: The Swimming Pool Library is a beautifully written, layered novel, set in a London inhabited almost entirely by gay men just before the AIDS epidemic. The story is told by Will, a privileged 25 year old, and is mirrored in the story of his new friend, an elderly Lord.

Rating: I really didn't expect to like this at all. I bought a used copy of the book years ago when I had just started collecting books from the 1001 list, but never expected to read it just because I have so many other books. Right from the start, it was a pleasant surprise. 4 stars.

Why I Read This Now: not really sure what exactly made me pick this up. I loved The Stranger's Child by the same author and thought I should at least give this a chance before I chucked it in the charity bin.

Recommended for: readers who like literary fiction and books set in London. Readers who don't like reading about promiscuity should skip this one.

141japaul22
Jun 29, 2015, 2:14pm

Interesting reaction to Fifth Business. I'm a little disappointed because I have heard such good things about Davies and the Deptford Trilogy is the one I own. Well, hopefully I'll like it more than you!

142Nickelini
Jun 29, 2015, 2:19pm

>141 japaul22: -- I dunno, I really think it was just the mood I was in at the time. You will probably do much better with it. I read it because I promised my friend that I would, which is usually not a good reason for me to read a book. I promised myself something light and airy after it, but then picked up The Swimming Pool Library which I liked better, but didn't fulfil light and airy either. Now, seriously, where are the light and airy books in my TBR . . . .

143M1nks
Jun 30, 2015, 4:45am

Read a Wodehouse. Perfect antidote for too serious and literary books.

144Nickelini
Editado: Set 27, 2015, 2:33pm

218. Howards End, EM Forster, 1910


Cover comments: I adore this cover. It is part of my EM Forster set (the only edition I'm missing is A Passage to India). The cover extends around the spine, and they look splendid on my bookshelf. The picture itself is a detail of Brightwell Church and Village by John Constable

Comments The classic novel of the clash of ideas occupying Edwardian England, with many shades of the devastation awaiting them in the near future. The ideals are played out by the lively and progressive Schlegel family, the traditional and imperialistic Wilcoxes, and the struggling Leonard Bast and his questionable wife.

I've seen the Merchant Ivory film twice, so no surprises in this one. There was some lovely writing. A solid and enjoyable book, but not my favourite Forster.

Why I Read This Now: It's been on my shelf for years and it's the sort of book I get in the mood for this time of year. Love those Edwardians.

Rating: 4 stars


Filming location for the film version of Howards End. In real life, it's Peppard Cottage, Rotherfield Peppard, near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

145Nickelini
Nov 23, 2015, 5:52pm

219. Hard Times, Charles Dickens, 1854


Cover comments: A very pleasing and fitting cover. If you look closely, it's actually a modern picture, which is common with Premier Classics editions. I like this line--they're pretty bare bones, but they are nicely put together and are tactilely pleasing.

Comments: Hard Times isn't anyone's favourite Dickens. The story is pretty straightforward, there isn't much humour or pathos, and there aren't any of those great big Dickens characters. It can also at times be confusing. That said, it was still a decent read, and I managed to copy the writing that I found notable sufficient to cover 6 pages in my journal.

Why I Read This Now: it's been at the top of my TBR for about 5 years.

Recommended for: Dickens fans. Don't suggest it as a first Dickens, even though it's short.

146Nickelini
Editado: Nov 30, 2015, 11:09am

220. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates, 1992


Cover comments: So very ugly

Comments: I read JCO's fictional retelling of the Chappaquiddick incident in one sitting last night. Oates, as always, is very readable. Black Water is on the 1001 books list and I believe was in running for a Pulitzer.

Going in to this, I didn't know much about Chappaquiddick. I was six when it happened, and growing up in Canada I had no interest in the lives of US politicians. Still, I did absorb the main points through common culture. Oates brings the story forward to 1988 and changes the victim (although they are similar). I didn't allow myself to Google anything until I was finished the book, but then read Wiki and see that she didn't make any major changes (or maybe she did). I'm surprised that this got published, considering the influence of the Kennedy family.

Oates uses an interesting technique of starting with the moments before death, moving the story forward in flashbacks, and then circling around to death again. This would be a good example to use in a creative writing course.

Rating easily 4 stars, hey, let's go crazy and make it 4.5.

Recommended for: A wide readership, and I don't think you need to know much about US politics to understand this (some references I didn't get, but it didn't get in the way of the story).

Why I Read This Now: I was looking for something I could start and finish in one sitting, and I hadn't read any Joyce Carol Oates for a while.


Those blondes are a dime a dozen anyway.

147Tanglewood
Dez 20, 2015, 6:19am

I love that you critique the covers! I completely judge books by their covers and spend quite a bit of time looking for an attractive edition I've seen on LibraryThing. I will definitely look for the audio book read by Colin Firth when I get to The End of the Affair. The film with Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes was one I really enjoyed, so I've been meaning to read him.

148M1nks
Dez 20, 2015, 12:05pm

I've picked up a bit of Nickelini's critical eye over covers. I find myself studying them a fair bit more than I used to.

149Nickelini
Dez 20, 2015, 6:20pm

> 147, >148 M1nks: As an art person, I think covers are important too, so I like to comment on them. Glad that you get something out of it.

150Nickelini
Dez 23, 2015, 1:43pm

221. Smilla's Sense of Snow, Peter Hoeg, 1993, translated from Danish by Tina Nunnaly


Cover comments: undebatably a very ugly cover, but even worse now that I've read the physical description of Smilla and this face isn't hers. Sure, just throw in any picture of a dark-coloured female--it'll do.

Comments: Lots of great atmosphere of deep winter in Copenhagen and Greenland, all sorts of interesting details on a wealth of subjects. Other than that, this Scandinavian crime thriller was less than thrilling and left me rather cold. Too much going on that didn't make sense--I never did figure out why everyone on the ship was trying to kill Smilla.

Smilla's Sense of Snow is on the Guardian 1000, the 1001 Books and the 501 Books lists.

Recommended for: lots of people liked this one a lot, but I can't recommend it.

Why I Read This Now: it's been in my TBR forever; it seemed like a nice chilly December read

Rating: 2 stars

151Yells
Dez 23, 2015, 6:41pm

It is an odd book isn't it? I wonder if a lot was lost in translation. The imagery was great but the storyline was weak and confusing.

152Nickelini
Dez 23, 2015, 7:45pm

>151 Yells: The imagery was great but the storyline was weak and confusing.

Yep, that sums it up perfectly.

I often find that translated books are stilted, and wonder whether it's the translator or the writer, or the original language.

153Nickelini
Jan 27, 2016, 11:27am

222. Girl with Green Eyes, Edan O'Brien, 1962


Cover comments: the design says late 80s. Really, I have no opinion. Dated in the wrong way, but not terrible.

Comments: Girl with Green Eyes (aka Lonely Girl) is the second in O'Brien's semi-autobiographical Country Girls Trilogy. At the end of the last book, we saw Cait and Baba flee their Irish village and start their young adult lives in Dublin. That's were Girl with Green Eyes picks up. Cait soon takes up with an older, non-Catholic man who is estranged from his American wife, and pretty much everyone she knows flips out. Her drunken abusive father comes down to Dublin to force her home, and later, a posse of drunken village men attack the couple. The infantilizing treatment and assumed ownership of a 21 year old woman is appalling.

Cait is naive and immature, but she is realistically drawn. Baba isn't as much of a bully in this second novel, probably because she isn't around as much.

I enjoyed this more than I expected to, and perhaps even more than the first novel, The Country Girls. I will eventually find a copy of the third novel to see how this story wraps up.

These books make me very, very glad that I didn't live in Ireland in the 1950s.

Why I Read This Now: Always looking to read more Irish literature and it was on the 1001 Books list.

Recommended for: readers who like books set in the mid-20th century and in Ireland.

Rating: 4 stars.

154Nickelini
Mar 13, 2016, 8:59pm

223. Exercises in Style, Raymond Queneau, 1947. Translated from French by Barbara Wright, 1958


Cover comments: suits the book well enough.

Comments: This book tells the same very short story, which was originally 1/3 of a page long, over and over again in 99 different literary styles. Some of them are terrifically clever, some are gibberish ("ards midda one day tow r platform you the rea saw . . . "). Despite my English degree, some of the techniques were previously unknown to me, so I looked them up so I could tell what effect the author was going for. A very interesting exercise in writing, but not much narrative thrust or character growth. But of course, that would be a silly thing to expect from this book. I read about four or five entries at a time--it would get annoying to read much more.

Recommended for: people who like experimental writing, lovers of word play, writers.

Why I Read This Now: it's a 1001 list book that's about writing.

Rating: incredibly clever, but I can think of some other approaches that would have worked better than the nonsense ones.

155jfetting
Mar 15, 2016, 8:38am

That sounds fun, actually.

156Nickelini
Mar 15, 2016, 10:30am

>155 jfetting: Yes, it is. And it's very short, even though I don't think it lends itself to reading in one or two sittings.

157hdcanis
Mar 15, 2016, 1:00pm

I read it in one go or two, but admittedly at some point I just started skimming the book, the idea becomes clear so then I was just looking shortly at what had been done this time and this, and moving on. Here it works, though your way of reading sounds good too. But indeed it is not really a book to read from cover to cover.

158Nickelini
Mar 15, 2016, 1:13pm

>157 hdcanis: But indeed it is not really a book to read from cover to cover.

True. I tried my best so that I could check it off the 1001 list without a tinge of guilt, but the nonsense gibberish made that a challenge.

159Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Mar 15, 2016, 1:54pm

What a shame you couldn't get on with The Leopard (a little while back). I found it a very powerful reading experience, and I was in pieces by the end.

The Grass is Singing sounds interesting. I might well bump that one up my list.

160annamorphic
Mar 16, 2016, 5:53pm

>154 Nickelini: I think that the cover art (which continues inside) is part of the original edition of the book. I remember reading in the intro perhaps that it was famous at its own moment. I loved this book but then, I don't have an English degree!

161Nickelini
Mar 16, 2016, 6:36pm

>160 annamorphic: I heard about the popularity of the art too. I'd need to see more of it before I could comment. My copy must be a cheapo addition because I just had what is on the cover, and that's not enough for me to assess. I'll keep my eyes open for a more complete copy in my travels.

162Nickelini
Abr 18, 2016, 11:42am

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck , 1939


Cover comments: this is an old Penguin mass market paperback. Dated in its layout, but the painting (by William Low) is actually rather nice.

Comments: The Grapes of Wrath is considered Steinbeck's masterpiece. It won the Pulitzer Prize. I've loved other books by him. The Grapes of Wrath has made every sort of top 100 books list out there. It is the next book for my book club.

Despite all of that, I could not make it past page 60. The biggest problem is that I just have no interest whatsoever in this story. But I wasn't interested in the story of Cannery Row either, and that turned out to be a 5 star book for me. So I tried, I really did. But when I ran into pages of dialogue that was nothing but dialect and dropped word endings (". . . we been havin'. Dust comin' up an' spoilin' ever'thing so a man didn't get enough crop to plug up an ant's ass. An' ever'body got bills at the grocery." That's a sample from page 60. Just. can't. do it for another 521 pages. The descriptive bits are indeed masterful, but any time a character opens his mouth (all hims so far), my eyes glaze over. No point in going on.

Why I Read This Now: I've been in this book club for 12 years and this season has been outstanding for books I disliked -- I've hated the last 4. I trust next year can only be better.

Recommended for: I'm sure this is as fabulous as its reputation and deserves to be on every must-read list. At this point, I'm just nowhere near the head space required for this one. Life is too short to read books that aren't clicking.

163M1nks
Abr 18, 2016, 4:07pm

At this point, I'm just nowhere near the head space required for this one. Life is too short to read books that aren't clicking.


Amen to this!

Although I will confess that I have a tendency to persevere with 1001 books just because they are 1001 books. But, if one really wasn't working for me then I think I would stop reading it. I've got another 1100 or so to finish so maybe I'll come back to it at some point?

164Nickelini
Maio 11, 2016, 1:20pm

224. Blaming, Elizabeth Taylor, 1976


Cover comments: I'm not too keen on the latest editions that Virago Modern Classics has designed for Elizabeth Taylor's novels, although I guess it's okay. None of the characters in the book look like this woman, so I'm not sure what this picture is all about.

I prefer the old classic green cover:


Comments: Middle aged Amy is on a cruise with her husband in Turkey when he suddenly dies. Martha, an American living in London helps her get back to England, and they form an unusual friendship. Oh dear, I'm not describing this very well.

Taylor is a master at writing relationships and round characters. Her observational skills remind me of Jane Austen. I absolutely loved this book; however, as with another Taylor I loved (Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont), it was depressing. But still fabulous.

Blaming is on the 1001 books list.

Why I Read This Now: I love mid-20th century books written by British women.

Rating: 4.5 big shiny stars

Recommended for: readers who love books with well drawn characters.

165Nickelini
Maio 16, 2016, 2:04pm

225. Life & Times of Michael K, JM Coetzee, 1983


Cover comments: Yawn. I looked at the other covers used for this book, and there isn't a single one that I like. This isn't the worst.

Comments: Life & Times of Michael K begins when Michael K is 31 and ends a year or two later. So much for life and times.

Michael is born with a cleft lip and his single mother, who worked as a maid, abandoned him to an institution in Cape Town. He grows up to become a city gardener, but his mother gets ill and tells him he must take her back to her rural birthplace to die. In this alternate South Africa, civil war is raging, and martial law is imposed. Without travel permits and documentation Michael learns to live under the radar and become as much of a non-person as he can be. Early on their trip, his mother dies. Michael tries to live off the land and hides on an abandoned farm in the veld. He is captured, put into a camp, escapes, lives off the land, captured, repeat. His only goal is to tend his garden.

When I was reading this, I thought "This is unlike any book I've read before," but then I realized that while that is true, it also reminded me of every book set against apartheid for its setting, and Bartleby the Scrivener for the main character, Kafka for the 'K' and also a man lost in a system he doesn't understand, Being There for a deceptively simple man who just wants to garden, the film "The Gods Must Be Crazy" for a man who doesn't value western possessions and also who can't live under society's restrictions, and even "District 9" for the incompetent South African authorities.

One aspect that I found really interesting is that although this novel is obviously a chastisement against South African apartheid, race is never mentioned. There is one sentence that identifies Michael as "CM" (coloured male), but that's it.

Life & Times of Michael K is short, the language is clean and simple, and the story packs a strong punch. It is on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list and won the Booker Prize in 1983. Coetzee also won the Pulitzer Prize.

Recommended for: highly recommended for a wide audience.

Why I Read This Now: I was moving some books and decided to read the first page of each of them. This is the one that caught my attention.

Rating: Although I thought this book was very good, it's not really my thing, so I'm going to give it 4 stars.

166Nickelini
Jun 4, 2016, 1:14pm

226. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov, 1967 (written in the 1930s), translated by Mirra Ginsburg


Cover comments: It's striking, and different, and relevant to the story, so I guess that's pretty good.

Comments: Satan and his entourage arrive in 1930s Moscow, subsequently, wild and crazy things start to happen everywhere.

I expect Russian literature to be dour, serious, and difficult, and I'm happy to say that The Master and Margarita was none of those. It was humorous, but a bit to frantic and manic for my tastes. I adored the two chapters, 'Azazello's Cream' and 'Flight,' where Margarita turns in to a witch. In fact, I liked them so much that I immediately went back and reread them.

I had to question why this is considered an important example of magic realism, since most of the magic was of the traditional black magic type. I see though that it's a subversive piece of political satire, which is one of the strongest marks of magic realism, so yes, I agree that it's MR after all.

My edition didn't have notes, so I didn't have the option of getting bogged down in all the allusions to Stalin and the Soviet system. I didn't worry about it.

Why I Read This Now: I've been listening to podcasts about mythology of the ancient world, and have bumped in to Satan and Hell. What I've always learned about these two topics is very different from the historical record, and so I looked in my TBR pile to see if I had any relevant books. The Master and Margarita was at the top of the list, and the same day I discovered this, I read Avidmom's excellent review and was encouraged to give it a go.

Recommended for: a wide audience. It can be read on many levels. The Master and Margarita is on many of those "must read' lists.

Rating: a bit of a mixed one for me, so 3.5 stars.

167Nickelini
Set 24, 2016, 2:06pm

227. Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1984


Cover comments: not terrible or anything, but what even is this? What does it represent? However, nice colour and the typeface is appropriate and pleasing.

Comments: Reading Neuromancer is an exercise of going far beyond my comfort zone -- my brain just isn't wired for this sort of science fiction. Despite that, there were some interesting parts, some excellent writing, and I can see why this book is considered important and how it was influential to not just sci-fi, but to culture and technology.

Fans of the book--people who have read it two or three times-- talk about how dense and packed with details it is, and how difficult to understand everything going on. But in the end, with the aid of Shmoop.com and Wikipedia, I think I got the main idea and picked up on a few of the cryptic details as well.

This is the novel from where we get the word "cyberspace." It won the triple crown of sci-fi awards: Nebula, Hugo, and Philip K Dick award, and is on pretty much every best-of list that it qualifies for.

Rating: sort of a balance between "not a good reading experience" and "wow, I can see why this is so highly regarded" makes this a 3 star read.

Recommended for: people who like to read books that are highly influential, and in particular, people who like technology for technology's sake. Personally, I like technology for what it can do for me and am not much interested in it as a subject itself. Still, I often found bits in the novel about technology that even I found interesting.

Why I Read This Now: I was looking to check off some boxes* and was perusing potential books. The opening sentence: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel," which is simply brilliant, caught my attention.

* boxes checked: 1001 list, Guardian 1000 list, something from my TBR pile, Canadian author (Gibson has lived here in Vancouver since 1972 and used to teach at UBC).

168Cliff-Rhu-Rhubarb
Out 3, 2016, 6:52pm

My boss, who never reads anything, is having a bash at this at the moment. I'll show him your review and see whether he concurs.

It is one of those books that people often wax lyrical about, so good to see your take on it.

I cut my teeth on science fiction, but find it difficult to read much now. Philip K Dick is often cited as a great sci-fi author, but I cannot get on with him for love nor money. I still like Ray Bradbury though.

I love Kurt Vonnegut's piece on sci-fi from Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons. I first read it many years ago. Your review got me thinking about sci-fi, so I went went looking for it online, Guess where I found it? On a William Gibson forum! Here you go, in case you're interested.

169Nickelini
Editado: Out 28, 2016, 3:06pm

I'm Not Scared, Niccolo Ammaniti, trans. from Italian J. Hunt, 2001


Cover comments: depicts the feeling of the book.

Comments: I struggle to describe this 225 book without giving anything away, so I'm going to be a little vague here:

In the heatwave of 1978, 9 year old Michele discovers some chilling secrets while playing with his friends in rural Italy. The reader follows his transformation from innocence to horrible realism.

I didn't take to the novel at first. I found the atmosphere stifling and didn't like any of the characters. But by page 70 I was gripped by this unusual story. For most of the book, I had no idea what would happen next.

Rating: Because it got off to a slow start and then ended in a flabby manner, I'm only giving it 3.5 stars. The middle part of the book, however, was excellent.

Recommended for: Despite my middle-of-the-road rating, I actually recommend this one quite highly to most readers. I expect I will remember it for a long time.

Why I Read This Now: it's been high on my TBR list for ages. I think I should read more Italian literature, since my husband and daughters have Italian citizenship.

170Nickelini
Editado: Nov 27, 2016, 11:58am

229. Amongst Women, John McGahern, 1990


Cover comments: Uninspired! But hey, men can also look away, so it's equal opportunity. The monochromatic dull colours fit well though. Makes me ask: Did anyone enjoy life in Ireland in the mid-20th century?

Comments: Michael Moran was once a guerrilla leader in the Irish War of Independence. Now he's a widowed farmer, with five older children and a new younger wife. He's principled and pious, but rather a tyrant, and everyone walks on eggshells around him. McGahern writes with clean, sparse language that rewards the close attentive reader, but will bore others and anyone looking for a strong plot.

The title, Amongst Women, refers to Moran living with his wife (the most likeable character in the novel) and three grown daughters. It also refers to a line out of the Hail Mary prayer that they spend much time reciting every day. I'm not Catholic, so had to have one of my RC friends explain what was going on -- this family spent a huge chunk of their lives on their knees with their rosary beads.

I can appreciate what other readers have said in their 5-star and 2-star reviews, but I fall somewhere in the middle. A few years ago I read McGahern's The Dark and I was blown away (although I don't remember details of it); I didn't like Amongst Women as much even though it is considered his masterpiece. It's 184 pages without chapters, and with few paragraph breaks, which is a structure that I find unnecessarily tedious. Give the reader some little breaks, m'kay?

Amongst Women was nominated for the Booker Prize, is on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and Guardian 1000* lists, along with many other "best ever" lists.

*Guardian 1000 has it under their State of the Nation category, which I can see, but I would have put it under Family & Self for sure.

Recommended for: people who like subtle novels. Readers who raved about it often said that the main character reminded them of their Irish dad, grandfather, or neighbour. I'm not Irish, and I don't know any men like him, so that wasn't a factor for me. Readers who didn't like it often said they were just sick of novels that sympathized with patriarchs who probably needed to get their asses kicked. I paraphrase.

Why I Read This Now: I've wanted to read it since I read The Dark.

Rating: It is well written and all that, but several things didn't mesh with my brain, so for me it's a 3.5 stars. YMMV. If you haven't read McGahern, try The Dark -- the one that got the Catholic Church in a tizzy.

And for your entertainment . . . . since we're talking about Ireland and Catholics . . . in 2013 we flew from Vancouver to London. My family had seats in the centre of the plane. Near the end of the flight, my teenage daughters realized there were two seats by a window a few rows behind, so moved. When I saw on the screen map that we were above Ireland, I stood up and asked my older daughter "hey, we're over Ireland, what do you see?" (yes, stupid question, but after 8 hours in coach, any distraction will do).

She replied: "It's green!" She turned to look out the window, then looked back at me. "I see potatoes!. . . . And Catholics!"

Everyone who heard laughed. But like I said, 8 hours in coach can make you stir crazy.

171Nickelini
Jun 20, 2017, 10:07pm

So far this year I've read three 1001 books. Two rereads: Pride & Prejudice and Like Water For Chocolate, both 5 star reads, and this:

230. A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro, 1982


Cover comments: Perfectly nice unassuming cover, which is exactly how I'll describe the novel.

Comments: Perfectly nice unassuming novel (told you I'd say that).

It's around 1982, and a Japanese woman who has lived in England for ... a while? ... looks back on a summer in Nagasaki several years after the war, and in particular, remembers a friendship with an odd woman who had an odd young daughter. Easy to read and interesting, but not a lot happens. Apparently readers get more out of it the second time around.

I was intrigued by all the reader raves, so read up on it a bit. It looks like there are two main readings and it's up to the reader to decide. I have problems with both readings.

Version 1. Take the novel at face value, except the friend is really her, and the daughter represents her adult daughter who recently committed suicide. Certainly there are umpteen parallels between the two women and their situations. I find this reading sort of lacking.

Version 2. She murdered her friend's daughter, and all the other murdered children. I guess I prefer this reading, but there is no motivation that I saw at all. Or maybe that's why we all seem to need the second reading.

I don't know, neither of those really works for me.

Rating: 3.5 stars. Nice to read, didn't stand out. On the sentence level the writing is good, and the atmosphere is very good, but it felt somewhat pointless.

Recommended for: people who have already read it once? Also people who like ambiguous, subtle novels; people who like novels set in Japan.

Why I Read This Now: it checked off my "Japan" category and my "1001 Books" category.

Note: If you read this, and your reaction to my post is: "OMG you are so dumb," please enlighten me on what I missed.

172Nickelini
Out 29, 2018, 11:44pm

231. Perfume, Patrick Suskind, 1986. Translated from German by John E Woods


Cover comments: Pretty good, I guess. It's the movie tie in cover, which isn't awful as those go. Doesn't really capture the feel of the book, but does capture the meaning.

Rating: 4.5 stars.

Comments: Well, this was different. I liked that.

Originally written in German, but set entirely in 1700s France, Perfume is the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenoulle, who mother birthed him into a pile of fish guts and immediately abandoned him. He has no scent at all himself, but a supernatural sense of smell, being able to discern scents from even a distance and to store them in his memory. Rising out of the stench of 18th century Paris, he attaches himself to the perfume trade. But his lack of personal smell mirrors his lack of humanity. Smell is all and everything for Jean-Baptiste.

The only thing I have to add is that the whole bit about sultry young virgins having magical scent was sort of ..... ugh and snore at the same time. Obviously written by a man. Do better, male writers! But then again, this was 1986, so ....

Readers who don't like description probably won't like Perfume, but I thought there was some fine writing (and translating). Two of my favourite parts, from the first chapter:

"In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlours stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulphur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneriers, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. people stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplaces, stank, the churches stank, the stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces. The peasants stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master's wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter. For in the eighteenth century there was nothing to hinder bacteria busy at decomposition, and so there was no human activity, either constructive or destructive, no manifestation of germinating or decaying life that was not accompanied by stench.

And of course the stench was foulest in Paris ..... "

(I'm betting that the author read the opening of Dickens' Bleak House). I also love:

"...Grenouille's mother, who was still a young woman, barely in her mid-twenties, and who still was quite pretty and had almost all her teeth in her mouth and some hair on her head and--except for gout and syphilis and a touch of consumption--suffered from no serious disease, who still hoped to live a while yet, perhaps a good five or ten years ..."

Why I Read This Now: Many readers describe this as "creepy," and it's also classified as a crime novel, two things I like to read in October. Didn't really scratch my creepy itch, and not what I think of as a crime novel. YMMV.

Perfume is also on the 1001 and Guardian 1000 lists, and while I'm not actively reading those, I do like to check off some books now and again.

Recommended for: hard to say-- one of those polarizing books with readers at both ends of the scale with valid points. If based on the above bits, you think it sounds good, and you like dark, give it a try.

173puckers
Out 30, 2018, 1:26am

>172 Nickelini: Welcome back! I also enjoyed Perfume very much (I think I gave it 5 stars in my pre LT days), even if it got a bit OTT later on.

174DeltaQueen50
Out 30, 2018, 3:41pm

Joyce, I just wanted to drop a note to say that I have been reading quite a lot of 1,001 books this year and many of them are from the list that you gave me quite some time ago. I have found some real gems, a few stinkers, and plenty that either taught me something or gave me something to think about.

175Nickelini
Out 30, 2018, 7:51pm

>173 puckers: Welcome back! - thanks! I do hover around every few weeks, I just don't have a lot to add to the conversation at this point.

>174 DeltaQueen50: - I've been following your thread. You've read so many great 1001 books! I'm cheering you on in your race

176Nickelini
Mar 13, 2019, 10:00pm

232. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carre, 1974


cover comments: quite sharp, although I'm not sure this event actually happened in the book

Rating: Ugh! This is considered one of the best spy novels ever written, but I give it barely 2 stars.

Why I Read This Now: Le Carre is mentioned in the non-fiction book I'm reading, and that reminded me I've been meaning to tackle this in my interest to read a spy novel. and it's on the 1001 & Guardian 1000 lists.

Comments: This 379 page novel did have glimmers of brilliance--maybe even a complete paragraph here and there, but for me, this was beyond terrible. On the surface, it doesn't seem like something I'd like, but sometimes books like this can surprise me so I like to try. And I made myself read the whole thing. Excruciating. I know lovely, intelligent people who love Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or le Carre's other books. I also know lovely, intelligent people who feel like this about my beloved Jane Austen--it's all even, I guess.

So no one reading this cares what it's about -- Cold War, spies in Britain in the 70s, the decline of Britain as a world power, British class commentary, relationships between spies, blah blah blah.

After about 20 pages, I thought "What am I even reading?" and looked at reader reviews -- everyone said "whoa, super confusing at the beginning but then about half way I really got into it and it was brilliant!!!" I listened to not one but two podcasts discussing the book. Kept waiting for it to click. Nope. Bored until the end. There's a 1-star review on GoodReads by "LeeAnn" who says what I feel, but does it better, so go read her review. Basically, it's slow paced (and if you look at my library you can see I'm not exactly and action plot reader), but this was just a guy reading about stuff that happened in the past with some other guys doing things in between. Everything is said in a weird vague manner (and no, it wasn't too "British" for me--again, look at my library). As LeeAnne from GoodReads says, it's "purposely convoluted and obscure." Characters and places pop in and out without introduction. This is written to build mystery, but the result for me is to think "why should I care about this?"

Through the whole book, I thought: "I understand all these words, but not the sentence." or "I understand this sentence, but why is it here? What is it trying to tell me?"

Fail, fail, fail.

But every once in a while there was a short bit that I thought was amazing. So I can see why some people might like this. Maybe the rest wasn't as much of a muddle for them. One telling thing I noticed in reader reviews is that this book grows on repeated readings. Which I think by definition takes it right out of the "thriller" category (my cover quotes The Spectator: "A great thriller . . . ")

Recommended for: obviously I'm in the minority, but I think this is unreadable, and I'd recommend it to no one.

177Nickelini
Out 27, 2020, 12:13am

It's been a year and a half since I read a 1001 list book . . .

233. The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham, 1951


cover comments: I ordered 6 of these Penguin Wyndham editions from England a few years ago, so that means on some level I really liked them. I'm guessing this is the main character Bill Masen, and we never get a description of him. Yet, I think if he was written with neon lime green hair, Wyndham would have mentioned that.

Comments Classic 1950s British sci-fi or post-apocalyptic fiction. I feel like I don't need to give the story outline, but until I picked this up a few weeks ago, I actually thought this was the base for the movie "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers." I was wrong, it's not. So here's the basic story . . . in an alternative 1951 world, there exist Triffids -- odd plants that were engineered by the Soviets, and that have a deadly sting and they can amble around (kinda like zombies). But generally they are "docked".

That's the background. In the opening of the novel, the protagonist, Bill, is in the hospital about to be released from surgery to his eyes. On his last night in the hospital, the earth passes through comet debris and there is an unprecedented celestial light show that he can't witness due to the bandages. The next morning almost everyone on the planet is blind, except those few who missed it. He emerges to a new world. And the triffid plants are emboldened to become more aggressive and start to take over the planet.

I did have my doubts early on when Bill got out of the hospital and wandered around London, and the novel felt way too much like two other books - War of the Worlds, which I did not like, and Blindness, which I loathed deeply. But it quickly changed course and I got along with it better.

Rating: 4 stars. An interesting and engaging read throughout. The ending got very exciting, but not n an action-thriller way. I wish I'd read Wyndham when I was 18-21 -- this would have been right up my alley and a 5 star read for me then.

Some readers complain about the gender stereotypes, but I know going in that I'm reading a book written in the mid-20th-century by a man, so I factor that in. And I have to give him a nod for having the other protagonist, Josella Playton, be the author of a best-seller titled Sex Is My Adventure. She was the best character in this novel.

Recommended for: Readers who like "scary" stories that aren't horror

Why I Read This Now: I specifically bought all those Wyndham novels a while ago, so it was time. This one came first because it's the last of his books on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list (and my first 1001 this year!). Not spooky, but it kinda fell under the general Spooktober umbrella.

178puckers
Out 27, 2020, 3:11pm

>177 Nickelini: Nice to see you back again.

179DeltaQueen50
Out 29, 2020, 12:41pm

I am a fan of all the John Wyndham novels but I really enjoy the 1962 movie they made of this novel. It's perfectly cheesy and over-the-top. While you may not want to sit through the whole thing, seeing the characters act terrified as they fight giant shrubbery is hilarious.

180Nickelini
Out 29, 2020, 3:33pm

>179 DeltaQueen50:
That sounds awesome! I'll keep an eye open for it

181Nickelini
Dez 31, 2020, 3:52pm

Just found out this was added to the 2018 1001 list:

234. Winter, Ali Smith, 2017


Cover comments: I love the covers for this series and think this one is especially lovely

Comments: I read the first in this series, Autumn, in autumn 2019 and I remember enjoying it but don’t remember a lot about it. I suspect I will be the same with Winter. This one is about two sisters and their son/nephew getting together over Christmas. Their relationships are fraught, but the son, Art, has brought along a stranger, Lux, who he is paying to act as his girlfriend. This is all set against the backdrop of England after the Brexit vote, the refugee crisis, and other recent world events.

Overall this was an interesting and enjoyable read. I was initially very confused about the floating head that Sophia was seeing, and I thought there was too much about that and it distracted rather than added to the novel.

Why I Read This Now: needed a book to read over Christmas, and this novel was set at Christmas so if not now, when?

Rating: Solid 4 stars. I will go on to read the remaining two books in this series

Recommended for: People who like literary novels about unusual families and their dynamics, readers who like books set in recent times

182Nickelini
Mar 16, 1:25am

235.
Passing, Nella Larson, 1929


cover comments: I like it, and the more I look at it, the more it grows on me. I'm pretty sure this scene didn't happen in the book, but it still fits. The painting is The Subway, 1930, by Palmer Hayden. I love how this scene doesn't look that out of place today, yet it was painted 91 years ago. Certainly, life on the subway (well, pre-COVID) was the same

Rating: Like my opinion on the cover (above), I started this book thinking it was "okay," but the more time I spent with it, the more I liked it. There were lots of layers of meaning, which was all the more impressive considering this was a book of only 114 pages. I also loved the 1920s setting. Somewhere between 4 & 4.5 stars

Comments: Irene and Clare, both light-skinned African-Americans, were friends in childhood. Years later, on a hot summer day, Irene is lunching at a breezy roof restaurant at a department store in downtown Chicago and hoping that no one will recognize her race. She's married to a black doctor back in New York, and spends her time "passing" as a happily married middle-class wife and mother, involved in the arts and intellectual life in Harlem. But right now, to sit in this luxurious restaurant, she needs to pass as white and not draw attention to herself. Yet someone is staring at her. And here Clare drops back into her life. Irene learns that Clare has married a racist white husband who doesn't know her race, and has spent years in the capitals of Europe where she doesn't meet any other black people. Irene sees trouble, and tries to avoid Clare, but is also strongly drawn to her at the same time. Clare is missing something in her life, and is drawn to Irene's life in New York with its charity balls and diverse crowd. And so their lives twist together toward a surprising end.

I'd love to have studied this book at university when you can really dig into all the variations of passing. This is a good book to reread, I expect.

Side note: As with my last book, Mothering Sunday, I loved the 1920s setting. And as with that book, this one too has an upcoming movie. Apparently it will be on Netflix later this year. Watching that one for sure.

Why I Read This Now: I've owned Passing since 2010, but there it sat. Now my book club is reading The Vanishing Half this month, and the author Brit Bennett was heavily influenced by Passing. So I thought that this was the time (Interesting video of Bennett talking about Passing to the NYTimes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtbK8Nufxd4 )

Recommended for I thought it was great. If you have a "I'd like to read more . . . " reading list, I'm sure it ticks off some box.

183Nickelini
Mar 23, 11:45pm

236. Whatever, Michel Houellebecq, 1994


cover comments: next level awful

Comments: I've seen Whatever described as a "study of contemporary alienation," and that fits well. The 30 year old unnamed narrator goes through life in 1990s France in his stable, but uninspiring, job as a computer programmer. He's incredibly unpleasant and there's no real plot to speak of.

Rating: 3 stars. The first section, which was 50 pages, was pretty awful but it got more interesting after that point. I didn't like this book, but I didn't hate it either.

Why I Read This Now: I've never read this author before, although I've owned three of his books for years. This one was short, and also on the 1001 list, I was in the mood for something French.

Recommended for: readers who like nihilistic short novels

184Nickelini
Abr 11, 3:14pm

237. Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino, 1972, translated from Italian by William Weaver


cover comments: meh. The picture would be nice if it were large enough to see

Comments: Marco Polo visits the court of Kublai Khan and describes 55 cities he's imagined. There is no plot. The cities he describes are dreamlike, contradictory, and mostly impossible. This book is essentially a literary game and writing exercise where Calvino arranges the blurbs describing the cities in a mathematical pattern. There is a chart at Wikipedia to explain this.

Although there were frequent snips of beautiful, evocative writing, overall I found this tiresome and lacking in purpose.

This is definitely a book from the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list that you do not have to read, ever.

Why I Read This Now: I started this for a challenge last week, that I didn't use for the challenge but kept reading anyway. It was fairly short.

Recommended for: people who want to read the 1001 and Guardian 1000 lists

Rating: Ugh. 2.5 stars. There are many 5 star reader reviews (especially at GoodReads), so don't let my disdain for this stop you from reading Invisible Cities. I found it pretentious, but you might find it brilliant.

185ursula
Abr 12, 1:01am

>184 Nickelini: Interesting. I looked back at what I said about this one and I found that it enhanced my understanding of Venice quite a lot. But I think that is because I was living near Venice and I had been there a number of times without really seeing what people found so magical about it. These city descriptions helped me see different aspects of the city.

186Nickelini
Abr 12, 2:04am

>185 ursula:
Oh wow, that's great! I tried to keep Venice in mind when reading it, to limited success. If I had read the book in your situation, I'd have looked at this much more favorably. I've been to Venice once, in 1992, and it was pretty magical, for a really touristy famous place. It's unique for sure. I feel this is related and relevant . . .

My daughter lives in Switzerland, and remember last year when the pandemic hit and we thought, okay, a few weeks . . . months. . . . Well, we had to cancel our trip to Slovenia-Italy-Switzerland, but travel restrictions lifted within the Schengen zone in June 2020, and my daughter had to use some holiday days or lose them, so I encouraged her to go to Venice before the tourists came back. Her Swiss boyfriend had Death in Venice at front of mind, but he was convinced to go, and they had a truly magical experience. They got a hotel room near La Fenice overlooking a canal, and she snapchatted me at midnight, on a Friday, twirling in St Mark's Square. I counted 8 people there! How fabulous would it be to have Venice pretty much all to yourself? The downside was she said they ate mostly pizza because the restaurants were still closed. (I could do that for a weekend to have an empty Venice)

187Nickelini
Abr 12, 2:08am

>185 ursula:

I forgot -- where were you living in Italy? I loved reading your Italy posts. We did quite a bit of Northern Italy in May 2019 and it just made me want to go back and do more. My husband wants to do the south though. After our 2019 trip, we planned to go back to Italy and Switzerland every year (at least as long as our daughter lived there) but then the pandemic happened, so so much for that plan. Now our younger daughter is looking at going to Australia for 2023 and wants us to come visit, and I can't believe I've never gone back to Australia since I lived there in the 80s . . . but right now I feel like I'll never go anywhere ever again

188ursula
Abr 12, 2:14am

I was living in Padova - so about 35 minutes by train to Venice. I went to Venice first in 2013, visiting Padova from Belgium (my husband had a conference). Then when we moved there in 2015, I went ... I don't know how many times. I took all kinds of different approaches - visiting early, in cold weather, when it was foggy, during Carnevale, during the acqua alta ... But the last train to the mainland was at 9 maybe? so I never got to see the middle of the night. My last visit was on the first train though, at something like 5 AM so I saw the sunrise and the place was pretty quiet then.

I've wandered so much of that city, and I feel like seeing all the different moods and sections is what finally made it click for me.

I know what you mean about feeling like you'll never go anywhere again, kind of. We moved in the middle of the pandemic (August), from California to Istanbul. But the place I know here best so far is the inside of my apartment.

189Nickelini
Abr 12, 2:39am

OMG you moved to Istanbul? Wow

190ursula
Abr 12, 8:29am

Haha yes. I moved to Istanbul! I'm enjoying it so far.