Books may look good, and turn out to be or not to be.
Although I buy classics, I am dismayed when I buy a bad new novel, or even a very good one that I won’t reread. Much as I enjoyed Kent Haruf’s quiet novel, Benediction, I could have saved myself a “giveaway” and trip to the post office had I borrowed it from the library. Annabel Lyon’s The Sweet Girl, a well-written novel about Aristotle’s daughter, is less than compelling, and I will probably not finish it. And Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon is brilliant, but I am not that keen on metafiction.
I should have borrowed these three.
And so I have finally developed a practical system, which most of you have employed for a very long time. I make lists of books I read about online and check them out of the library, because no matter how much I enjoy the reviews and blogs, I may not necessarily enjoy all the books.
I check out way, way, way too many library books. There is a box of library books in our computer room, many by very good authors, but I can’t possibly read all of them.
My cats also enjoy library books.
My cats are readers. I even have read to them on occasion. They love The Princess and Curdie and The Beastly Feast. They sit on my lap and mark the books after they’ve marked me. The books are their books, and I am their human being, except when they claw the Library of America edition of Willa Cather’s novels, and then I say, “No no!” Sometimes they push a book off the coffee table when they want attention. “No no no no no!”
Tonight I encouraged them to prophesy whether I should or should not read my library books.
My cat Clodia is not quite sure about the well-reviewed new novel by Peggy Hesketh, Telling the Bees. She might enjoy it, but is more interested in the book bag.
I have read 70 pages of Hesketh’s charming, well-written mystery, which is told from the old-fashioned point of view of a refined, elderly beekeeper. The narrator, Albert, has been a beekeeper all his life, and though the orchards in the once beautiful neighborhood have been bulldozed and housing developments have taken over, he is surprised by the intensity of young new neighbors who drink beer in their “garage workshop” and protest the electric overhead wires, which they believe are responsible for deaths in the area. (Albert thinks they’re crazy, but admits he has heard the bees humming through the wires.) Then he considers the past, and recalls his discovery of the murder of two beekeepers in 1992, on an unseasonably warm Sunday morning. A policeman tried again and again to persuade him to talk about the two spinsters, but mostly he told him about bees.
Many people will love this book, possibly even the same people who liked The Secret Life of Bees, which I disliked. But here’s the problem. I don’t really like mysteries. And I didn’t quite understand that it WAS a mystery until I started to read it. It’s shelved in the literary fiction section.
I went back to the review in The Washington Post and discovered that the reviewer DID compare it to an Elmore Leonard book, though she said others are comparing it to The Remains of the Day. I simply didn’t remember the Elmore Leonard part.
And so…I’m tempted to skip to the end and see whodunit. Oh, I just did.
Now I don’t have to finish it.
Again, many of you will love it. It’s just not for me.
Clodia seems very keen on Colleen McCullough’s Caesar’s Women, which was an impulse check-out. When it’s between reading a Persephone and a historical novel, she’ll go for the historical novel every time. I would very much like to get hooked on the Master of Rome series, because there are so many, but these are very long beach books: I’d be better off rereading War and Peace. (If anyone knows the Master of Rome books and thinks they’re worthwhile, please tell me.)
Look at this dialogue following the scene in which Clodius Pulcher dresses up in women’s clothes and crashes the Bona Dea festival.
I mean, it’s only some silly old women’s binge–everyone gets stinking drunk and makes love or masturbates or something…”
“Clodius, the Bona Dea isn’t like that. It’s sacred! I can’t tell you what exactly it is, I’d shrivel up and give birth to snakes. Bona Dea is for us!”
Sometimes I love bad-good historical novels, but I don’t expect to read this.
I was also pleased to find a Persephone, Jocelyn Playfair’s A House in the Country. The preface is fascinating, but the novel looks less than brilliant. As I have already read one extremely bad earnest novel by Perephone author E. F. Delafield this year, Faster! Faster! (though this one was published by Bloomsbury Reader), I am a little hesitant to take on another lacklustre middlebrow women’s novel. So this will go back to the library unread, and I’ll try it another time..
So do your cats influence what you read?
Mine also make me drink out of a cat mug ($3 at the HyVee).