Tag Archives: classic books

July Books

I had a very good reading month in July, which is great because I haven’t read anything since! Yikes!

“The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood

This short story was recommended as one of the scariest stories ever, and as you know, I love a scary book. I found “The Willows” to be really intense and a really great read. There is looming doom through the whole book. Definitely one to read in October if you have a chance. I am going to request this collection again this fall to see if I like any of his other “weird” short stories.

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

This is supposedly Forster’s “masterpiece” but…I didn’t love this. Maybe it was over-hyped? While I appreciate Forster’s writing and I liked the story, it wasn’t a book that I was eager to pick up every day. I appreciate the social commentary–a modern, bohemian woman married to the conservative older man, and refusing to adapt to his old ideas–but this book just didn’t grab me the way that A Room with a View did. I do wonder if I would like it better after a book club discussion. (Fun fact: most of our book club reviews get better after the discussions!)

Stationery Fever by John Komurki

I borrowed this for the eye candy and ended up reading it. It’s full of pictures of vintage and new stationery, divided by topic. At the end of each chapter, there are a few pages highlighting stationery shops around the world. It was a good overview of the history of the most useful stationery supplies, and delves into classic companies that make them. It left me wanting more…not in a bad way…in a I’ve had a taste, now I want more details kind of way. Also, now I want to travel the world seeing the best stationery shops.

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett 

This was for book group. If you don’t know, Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man Series which were turned into some of my favorite old movies. In our group, the book got mixed reviews. It is about a detective hired to clean up a town that is out of control with corruption. The characters and alliances are very confusing…I actually made a character map to try to figure things out. As someone in book club said, once you give up trying to figure things out, it’s an enjoyable read. Hammett is a really sharp writer and there were so many quotes that I marked as perfect descriptions or things that made me laugh. I really love Film Noir and this book made me feel like I was reading an old movie. Supposedly The Glass Key is one of his best, so I’ve added that to my list for later this year.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury 

I can’t remember ever reading Bradbury before. This one came up in a discussion as a great summer read and I love a seasonal book so… It was really lovely. I just notice the library stickered it as Science Fiction, but it wasn’t sci-fi at all. It was a coming-of-age story (How many of those have I read this year?) about a boy growing up in a small town in Illinois. Basically, he realizes his mortality this summer and learns to appreciate the moments of life, especially the making of dandelion wine with his grandfather. The wine will be enjoyed over the winter and remind them all of specific happenings on these summer days. Supposedly the book is semi-autobiographical. Dandelion Wine was just a beautiful summer reading experience.

Bright Center of Heaven by William Maxwell

Have I mentioned how much I love William Maxwell? This was his first novel, and it definitely wasn’t as developed as Time Will Darken It or Song of the Lark or The Folded Leaf, but Maxwell already had honed his perfect ways in describing relationships and feelings. The story revolves around artistic guests and the lonely owner of a boarding house in the early 1930s. It takes awhile to get to the “conflict” which is the tension between the black lecturer who was invited to stay at the boarding house and the other guests, but even though the conflict is imperfect, the rest of the story is engaging and beautifully written. (But I may be biased…) I have one more Maxwell to read and then I’ll be finished with his novels…it feels bittersweet. I might save it as a Christmas present to myself.

This Saturday is book club and we’re reading an autobiography…looking forward to finishing my first book for August!

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March Book Report

 

It’s almost the end of April, but I wanted to squeeze a February/March book report in before I write the April one. My reading really slowed down after my Hibernation January. Two of the books in the stack above are short story collections that I only read one selection from. Everything was a pretty quick read, except one, which sucked the life out of me for awhile…

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

This has been on my Goodreads list for years. For some reason I was having a hard time finding a copy and then all of a sudden, it was in the library system. It was such a fun read. Just charming. A little old fashioned mystery in a bookshop run by a delightful older couple. I really enjoyed it from beginning to end.

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

This is a short story that I’ve apparently read before but I didn’t remember it until the very end. It’s great, and has really made me realize that all of my favorite short stories are pretty macabre.

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

I discovered this book because of Goodreads! Blog reader and pen pal Cath (Hi, Cath!) was reading Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa and it popped up on my Goodreads feed. I was intrigued since I’ve been trying to read more Japanese authors. It’s about a sweets shop worker who befriends an older woman who is disfigured from a childhood disease. She is an expert in making Japanese sweets and she helps him transform his mediocre sweet shop. It’s such a heart-warming and bittersweet story about multi-generational friendships and acceptance and the trauma of being an outcast.

Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner

This book killed me last month. I probably should have given up on it but I really wanted to see it through because the premise is so good. It’s about an aristocratic British woman, Sophia, whose husband cheats on her so she decides to raise their 2 children alone. (Slight spoilers ahead!) When the children die unexpectedly, she goes to Paris to find her husband so she can get pregnant again because she feels motherhood is her only purpose in life. While she’s in Paris, she meets her husband’s lover, Minna, who is free-spirited Russian who gives dramatic readings and lives a very bohemian life in Paris, making little money with her talents. All of this is happening during the 1848 revolution in France. Sophia’s character develops from a “lady” to a more free-spirited resister who falls in love with Minna, but it’s all kind of bogged down in the details about the revolution. (I really think I spend two weeks on the middle hundred pages of the book…) The novel is a feminist tale and it is an early example of lesbian fiction. In the end, I’m glad I finished it because the ending was worth it but I would say, if you’re going to read Sylvia Townsend Warner, start with Lolly Willowes because it’s fantastic. (Lolly is the reason I read so many spinster novels.)

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell 

We read this for March’s book club and it was brutal. It was so good, but his descriptions of restaurants and housing and the general living conditions of the “down and out” in the 1920s was so vivid that I couldn’t eat or drink while I was reading it. The book really consumes you, and even though Orwell wasn’t really poor, and he could have walked away at any point to go back and live his middle class life in London (making you question whether or not this is a true memoir,) he didn’t. It was a great book club discussion, too!

Trifles by Susan Glaspell 

This is a tiny, feminist, one-act play about a rural murder. (It’s also a short story, “A Jury of Her Peers.” If you don’t enjoy reading plays, you can read it in short story form.) Highly recommend…it’s less than twenty pages…I can’t say much else!

The Covenant by Beverly Lewis

One of my friends had an idea to start a bonnet-rippers book club. There was wine involved so I joined and I actually enjoyed the book…it’s definitely not a genre I would pick up on my own, but we had a really good feminist discussion about the book. The Covenant is the first in a series of five(?) books and there’s a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, but I don’t think we’re going to finish the series as a group. I haven’t decided if I am going to go on…

I’ve been in the middle of two books all month and I read my book club book, but I’m sort of slogging through the reading right now. I just started a new one to see if I can get my mojo back. This week I am preparing for a craft show and next week I’m traveling, so hopefully I can sneak in some good balcony and bedtime reading so I have something to talk about for April!

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

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Summer Book Report, Part 1

summer book report, summer reading, little women, o pioneers!, the precipice, classic literatureI’m only halfway to my goal of reading ten books for the summer. Of course, I consider September summer still…autumnal equinox isn’t until September 22 after all. I need to buckle down and put my phone down more often and pick up a book from my towering stack of library options. (I’ve also been reading some non-fiction–cookbooks, a book about tomatoes, and a book about cleaning–on and off while I watch TV. I suppose I should consider these in my ten summer books but they’re more for personal and garden improvement. I’ll probably do a separate post about those kinds of books.)

I know I’ve mentioned my book club before, but we only read books written before the 1950s. We’ve made some exceptions, but nothing we’ve read is contemporary by any means. I cannot express how much I love these books, which are sometimes tedious and slow but almost always rewarding. Our discussions are usually really good, even better when we disagree on how good the book is or have different interpretations about a character’s motive or something. Someone in the group always brings up something really profound about the book that no one else thought of. And usually by the end of the meetings, we all like the book more than when we initially finished. When I read things on my own, I find myself popping onto Goodreads to see what other people say about the book, just so I can try to learn more and see things I didn’t see during my reading.

So…a little synopsis of my reading thus far:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868/69): We read this for book group in June and half of us had read it as children and the other half were experiencing it for the first time. I was in the latter group. It didn’t hold the same magic for me that people talk about when you mention Little Women. I found the little vignettes to be tedious and saccharine. I’ve since read some feminist perspectives about the book and Alcott that made me appreciate it more, but…I think I missed my chance to fall in love with Little Women. It probably would have been dreamy in fifth grade.

The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski (1953): Kathy recommended this one to me a long time ago and I finally had to just buy a used copy because no library could get it for me. It reminded me a lot of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which I’ve read too many times to count. Victorian Chaise Longue is terrifying and haunting. A modern woman who has tuberculosis falls asleep on a used chaise lounge and wakes up ninety years earlier (mid-1800s) in the body of another woman who also has tuberculosis. It’s a good feminist read, and sort of sticks around in your head after you’re done.

The Precipice by Elia Wilkinson Peattie (1914): We read this for book group last month and I flagged so many passages. The main character is a Chicago social worker at the turn of the century during the early years of Hull House. All different types of women are portrayed, from feminist progressive women, to women who held traditional roles as wives and mothers to women who were making compromises between the old and the new worlds and career versus family. It felt a little contrived at times…everyone fit into a box, but it was a nice perspective about life for women at that time and it’s always fun to read a Chicago book.

Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers (2015): I talked about this one last week. If you like light reads and the post office, I recommend this book! (Mom, you would like it!)

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (1913): We just finished this one in book group over the weekend. I just love Willa Cather. (The group read My Antonia before I joined, and we read Song of the Lark a few years ago, which is the opposite order that the books were written as the “Great Plains Trilogy.” We also read Lucy Gayheart, which is one of her later books, and another Chicago book.) Her prose is so lovely, and O Pioneers! was a peaceful read. Nothing happens for the first two-thirds of the book but you don’t mind because she’s painting a beautiful picture and setting up the “action.” (I use that term loosely.) Her story structure is so good…there’s a point in the book where there’s a perfect break, a tiny breath between acts. And her description of winter as a pause between the abundance of fall and the promiscuity of spring was nothing less than life-changing. (Mom, you would love this one, too!)summer book report, summer reading, little women, o pioneers!, the precipice, classic literature, Presley the cat

Next up for me is Consequences by E.M. Delafield. It came as a recommendation as a good post World War I spinster book during a podcast about Lolly Willowes (which probably deserves its own post…it was such a fun read and so different from the other spinster novels of the era! We read it for book club and it was a surprise pick that everyone loved!)

Presley and I would love to hear what’s on your nightstand.

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