I did not get to read all the books in the above picture YET. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (rereading), Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder will have to wait till my June Read List. OR, July at the rate I keep adding books to my pile (Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery, Thunderstruck by Eric Larson, and Wilson by Scott Berg). Among many others.
In the present climate of dumbing-down, I am inspired by those great writers who turn out well crafted and incredibly well researched stories and to those who support the tradition of reading. I encourage you to turn off the television for an extra hour and pick up a book.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson – NEW RELEASE
Delightful, charming, absolutely lovely. The perfect book heading into vacation season.
Bloomsbury Publishing’s description – East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent sabre rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.
When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more free thinking – and attractive – than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.
But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape, and the colourful characters that populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war
Doubts? Google images of “Rye in East Sussex” and read The Washington Post’s review (though I warn you it gives away much of the story)….
Cities I’ve Never Lived In by Sara Majka – NEW RELEASE
Moving, gothic….between reality and fiction. A youngish woman whose marriage has broken-up at one point travels from city to city volunteering in soup kitchens looking for purpose. There is a sense of great loveliness and frailty in Majka’s stories. Most are set in Maine, some in NYC.
“Majka brings the reader to startling places. . . . From certain angles, it’s a kind of New England gothic, where the lost children and dead women and doppelgängers serve to add atmosphere and meaning to the narrator’s past peregrinations, her dalliances and uncertainties. It turns out in the end that this is in fact a book about an arty person with a complicated personal life. But it’s a lovely one, written in a moving and uncanny register.”—The New York Times Book Review
Ripley Under Water by Patricia Highsmith
This is the final book of the “Ripliad” series starring Patricia Highsmith’s iconic protagonist Tom Ripley, the bisexual psychopath and forger who first appeared in The Talented Mr. Ripley. *Note I have not read Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game, or The Boy Who Followed Ripley. Nor am I inclined to. He is too polished for me. Highsmith is not. She wrote her first novel at age 29 – Strangers on a Train, which Alfred Hitchcock adapted for the screen in 1951. Lived and died in Switzerland (she was American born), and supposedly had pet snails. She was known for saying what was on her mind and some of it was rather odd.
**I found out about this book while sitting at the bar at Tandem Coffee eating one of their deliciously ambitious sandwiches and drinking cup after cup of their perfect coffee. A stylish woman came in, sat down near me, sat down with her latte and Nutella tart (making me wish I could find room for one of those) and pulled out a hardbound book copy of Patricia Highsmith’s Selected Novels and Short Stories from her bag. We talked about books and were practically giddy to share our love of the library and just finding someone else who reads – loves books. Tandem’s barista went about suggesting one of his favorite recent reads – Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. That book is on my dining room table. I LOVE talking about books with people. It’s what makes places like Longfellow Books so freaking awesome. ☺ You know what else is? That the copy I requested of Highsmith’s book just came into the library.
**I purchase probably 1/3 of the books I read locally, the rest I get from the library. Some are so obscure and some I just don’t think I need to live with.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
As my friend accurately described this book as “forgettable.”
The subject matter is RICH – young Ernest Hemingway before he became famous, the Paris years, the roaring twenties, the years he wrote about in his book A Moveable Feast. But he is not the subject of this book, and sadly neither is Paris (how could it be when the author had never been there while writing the book!!!). No, it is his unfashionable, hardy wife Hadley Richardson who is. A woman who sadly, but truthfully The NYT points out would not be the heroine in Ms. McLain’s story or in any novel, had she not been married to the famous novelist.
For the record, she is the first of four wives and while one may be sympathetic to her cause, you keep shouting run lady run.
So, this is no great romance, but then that’s Hemingway, that’s history.
But what I have the biggest problem with – after the fact that she wrote the book from a coffee shop in I think Cleveland – is that as the NYT writes – she borrows and repurposes voices. I read her book Circling the Sun about Beryl Markham and she did the same thing there – used other people’s descriptions.
It’s a quick beach read. A conversation piece if only for the who’s who that assembles in the book and the fact that most anyone and anything associated with Hemingway is always fun.
Want to know about the real Hadley Richardson, check out this terrific article from The Chicago Tribune.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Maybe read this book instead of The Paris Wife!! Definitely read it!!
The book covers the same ground as The Paris Wife – Hemingway’s years in Paris from 1921 to 1926 as a young writer married to Richardson. What became apparently clear to me while rereading the book is how truly cruel, insecure, and disloyal he was. He turned against everyone who had helped for and cared for him, with few exceptions – including Sylvia Beach, the generous proprietor of the famous Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare and Company.
He was also on the mark and his writing, his descriptions of people and place are the best I have ever read. Having spent a good deal of time in Paris I appreciate how he took notice of the light there – he did not write specifically of the colors, but the red hues – I have not seem that sky anywhere else.
Of F. Scott Fitzgerald he wrote “His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust of a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.”
Another favorite quote from the book:
“The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of early mornings, sweeping out and mopping, and luck were all you needed.”
The memoir was published posthumously.
Olives: The Life of a Noble Fruit by Mort Rosenblum
In 1986, journalist Mort Rosenblum purchased a small overgrown farm in Provence. With it, he discovered, were 150 neglected olive trees that were “old when the sun king ruled France.” Inspired to learn more about olives he travels to several Mediterranean countries to learn about the olive’s history and cultivation. The book is chocked full of rich characters, recipes (I got so hungry reading the book I went out and bought olives), the international politics, and the mafia’s involvement (note the recent 60 Minutes piece). His writing made me feel like I was deep in an olive grove with the pickers. I can only dream of having had a seat at the table when he was served an elaborate chicken dish in a Palestinian home – Jaz Musakhan from the book The Land of Figs and Olives by Habeeb Salloum and James Peters (yes, that cookbook is on my wish list). I found the book intelligent, thoughtful, incredibly well researched, and alive – Rosenblum is such a talented writer and this book was full of passion for the growers. Read his book and get to “know” people like Paco and Andres Nunez de Prado who make olive oil in Andalusia, where they have one-thousand acres where a picker might have come as a young woman and returns every year and one year her teenage son will help. Beautiful.
Review from Smithsonian Magazine.
*I would also recommend the following:
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle came out in 1989. His book A Good Year came out in 2004 (the 2006 film with Russell Crowe is adorable).
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes came out in 1996 (the 2003 film by the same name starring Diane Lane is one of my favorites).