Book Parties, 2015: Go Set a Watchmanpalooza!

Harper Lee Go Set a Watchman A1rBZedGc0L

Will you be reading it?

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, a novel billed as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, will be published on July 14.

It is the most pre-ordered book in HarperCollins history.

There has been plenty of controversy about the novel, though. According to an article in The Washington Post, people have questioned whether Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, had the right to sell Lee’s early manuscript of a novel rejected in 1957.  Some of Lee’s friends have said they doubt whether 89-year-old Lee, who lives in an assisted living facility and allegedly is almost deaf and blind, would have approved the sale.  Lee always said she would never publish a second book.

But all is forgotten in this fast-paced world of pre-ordering (as opposed to ordering) and book parties!

It is Go Set a Watchmanpalooza out there!

Many independent bookstores are sponsoring events–but not here.

On July 13 in Saratoga Springs, the Northshire Bookstore  and the Saratoga Film Forum will co-host a screening of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird  and a dinner at a restaurant with Southern food. At midnight, the books will be handed out.  (The event is sold out.)

Barnes and Noble is also sponsoring activities.  On July 13, the chain will host an all-day readathon of To Kill a Mockingbird.   On July 14, the store will open at 7 a.m. and you can get free coffee with your copy.

In the UK, Sam Jordison, the energetic writer who leads the book group at The Guardian, will go to an independent bookstore at midnight to pick up a his copy and “liveblog” reactions to it.  He is leading a discussion of both To Kill and Go Set at The Guardian this month.

Heaven sakes!  But maybe I would go to a midnight party. No, I can’t ride my bike at that hour.

I’ve been reading about Go Set since February.  But I am just getting around to The Goldfinch.

David Ulin’s words in The L.A. Times reflect my own  feelings.

I’d be lying if I said I weren’t curious, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that I met the news of its publication with a little bit of regret.

Why? Let’s just say that the release of any author’s early work is, at best, a mixed blessing — even in the best of circumstances. It can be revealing, yes, but it is also almost always reductive: a reflection of our desire to get closer more than any organic intention to listen or to tell.

Bye-bye, Poldark! & Reading The Forsyte Saga

Bye-bye, Poldark!

Bye-bye, Poldark!

I turned off the TV after 20 minutes of Poldark. Sorry, I am done. I didn’t even watch Aidan Turner take off his shirt.  (Hubba hubba?  Somehow not very Poldarkian.)  Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation has turned Winston Graham’s intelligent novels into a bodice-ripper historical romance.  The dialogue is flat, the scenes are abbreviated, and there is too much brooding on cliffs.

Anyway, on to John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, which I am rereading And, by the way, if you like PBS, both the 1967 TV series and the 2002 series are excellent.

forsyte-saga-john-galsworthy-paperback-cover-artThis year two bloggers, Karen of Kaggsysbookishramblings and Ali of Heavenali, are readingThe Forsyte Saga, which consists of nine novels in three trilogies, The Forsyte Saga, A Modern Comedy, and The End of the Chapter.

I rarely participate in readalongs, because I have my own books to read.

But I love The Forsyte Saga!


The first trilogy is in print in the U.S. in editions by Oxford and Wordsworth, but the other two trilogies are not.  (Sometimes the e-book versions do have all nine novels, but check the table of contents before you buy.)  Headline Book Publishing has reissued all nine books in separate paperback editions (also available as e-books).  So if you don’t want used books, that is the way to go with the last six.

Fortunately, I still have my old Literary Guild book club editions.

I just finished the third novel, To Let.

I have this set, only with the third trilogy included, The End of the Chapter.

I have this set, with the The End of the Chapter included.

To Let is fascinating and tragic. The Nobel Prize-winning Galsworthy’s style is solid, straightforward and fast-paced, and he is a master of plot and characterization. This is a story of a doomed love affair, that relfects the events of the first two books.  Our new heroine, Fleur Forsyte, Soames’s daughter, falls in love with Jon Forsyte, the son of Irene (Soames’ ex-wife) and Jolyon (Soames’ cousin).  Fleur is determined to overcome parental objections, but does not understand the past.  Neither Fleur nor Jon has been  about Soames’ and Irene’s previous marriage.  The scandal of divorce was too nightmarish.

Forsyte Saga Penguin NewAnd it is a sad story.  Many years ago, Irene was pushed into the marriage with Soames, an older man who loved her beauty (art was property to him). She was poor and in despair.  She was sexually repulsed by him during their marriage  She falls in love with an architect (and Soames rapes her).  Soames’ determination to possess Irene drives her away.  Jolyon, an artist, protects her from his private detectives, and they fall in love.

Jon’s half-sister, June, who owns an art gallery, tries to intercede on behalf of Fleur and Jon.  She thinks her father and Irene are being old-fashioned.

Jolyon says,

Neither I nor Jon, if I know him, would mind a love-past.  It’s the brutality of a union without love.  This girl is the daughter of the man who once owned Jon’s mother as a negro-slave was owned.  You can’t lay that ghost; don’t try to, June!  It’s asking us to see Jon joined to the flesh and blood of the man who possessed Jon’s mother against her will.


Jon wants to be a farmer:  he does not think about money, though his father has plenty of it.  And he does not think of Fleur in terms of a possession.  He loves her passionately.  Fleur, however, schemes to get him, even after her mother’s lover tells her about Soames and Irene.  She feels sick about it, but doesn’t quite understand, and tries to hide it from Jon.

It ends tragically.

I had a big bike ride planned today, and  since I didn’t want to bring my huge book in my pannier, I wasted time trying to find a free edition of the fourhthe  novel, The White Monkey, and when that failed, the second trilogy, A Modern Comedy. for the e-reader.

I went to Project Gutenberg,, and Internet Archive. The Forsyte Saga was free:  why not the rest?

Because it was published after 1922!

So I can spend $1.99, which I admit is nothing, for an e-book that has all nine novels.

But I decided to read something else on the bike trip and have a $1.99  ice cream instead.

I am looking forward to The White Monkey!

A Spoke in the Bicycle Wheel of Global Warming

University of Iowa campus during flood fo 2008.

University of Iowa campus during flood of 2008.

Summer is prime time for bicycling, but global warming has intensified the severity of storms.

Yes, it is flooding again.  Not as bad as in 2008, or 2010, but it is still grim. The storm on June 24 flooded streets, parks, and buildings.

Flood 2015, Central Iowa

Flood of 2015 in Central Iowa

Roads are closed.  Trails are closed.

It has put a spoke in my wheel.  We’ve had to ride circuitous routes to reach our destinations.

It is now normal to have flooding at least once a year in the Midwest.

The University of Iowa is still rebuilding after the damage of 2008:  works in progress include the new studio-arts building, the new music building, Hancher Auditorium, and the Iowa Memorial Union ground floor.

The Iowa Flood Center was established in 2009 at the University of Iowa as a reaction to the flood of 2008.  One of the programs, “Living with Floods,” teaches “the interconnectedness of our environment and the watersheds in which we live” and strategies for mitigating the consequences of flooding.

The website explains the beginning of the center:

In between filling sandbags and moving out of flood-endangered buildings, UI researchers began collecting time-sensitive data on many aspects of the flood — from high-resolution data to document flood water elevations and contaminated sediments deposited by flood waters.

This year, we have had so much rain that it is very green and beautiful.  And then it gets dangerous.

We are terrified by storms with good reason.

The storms are violent.  Last year on June 17, 70-mile-per-hour winds ripped up a linden tree and pitched it on top of our garage.  Our garage was destroyed.  Trees were down all over the city.

Our garage hit by a tree.

Our garage hit by an enormous tree, 2014.

Global warming has increased the severity of storm, floods, hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and winter weather.  The NASA website on Global Climate Change tells you region by region what to expect.

Watch out!  You’re next.

Ann Packer’s The Children’s Crusade

ann packer the-childrens-crusade-9781476710457_hrI love a good “bad mother” novel.

And so I hope Man Booker Prize judges will take a good look at Ann Packer’s The Children’s Crusade, a tour de force about family life widely dismissed by critics as a family saga.  (Janet Maslin at the New York Times called it “shapeless” and Maureen Corrigan at NPR used the word “corny.” The novelist Valerie Sayers at the Washington Post recognizes its importance and praises its artistic structure.)

When Jonathan Franzen does it, it’s art; when Packer does it, it’s a family saga.  Go figure.  In this brilliant novel about five decades in the lives of the Blair family,  Packer asks tough questions about the American family:  is the “bad mother”  responsible for all her children’s woes? Is she even necessary when her husband is the perfect parent?

Penny Blair is a background character, and yet at the center of  the Blairs’ lives.  Her four children, Robert, Rebecca, Ryan, and James, muse endlessly about her behavior years later from their adult perspective. (About half of the book  consists of fascinating scenes of their lives growing up; the rest is told from their compelling points of view as adults.)   The first three were planned:  Penny told Bill before their marriage that she wanted only three children. The fourth child was a mistake, and, before Roe v. Wade,  Penny could not have an abortion. Penny is so exhausted by the truly uncontrollable James that she opts out of the family and moves into the shed she converts into a studio.

When her daughter, Rebecca, a child psychologist, looks back, she realizes, “Penny was truly beleaguered–a woman not cut out for the job of raising four children.”

Penny does become a successful artist, but only the two middle children, Rebeca and Ryan, can forgive her.

Bill, a saintly pediatrician, responds to every crisis with caring questions and psychoanalytical language.  On Thanksgiving at Penny’s parents’ house, James laughs over the mass suicide at Jonestown and says his father looks like Jim Jones and should start Billtown.  Bill asks what would happen in Billtown.

Billtown, USA!” [James] cried for good measure.  He climbed onto one of the chairs and shouted, “Subjects!  Welcome to Jamestown!”

“James,” Penny cried, “get down from there this instant!  Why are we all standing here?  Dad, this will wear you out.  James, I mean it now.”

“Come down, son,” Bill said, and he held out a hand for James.

Penny thinks James could use some discipline (and so do I), and her elderly parents are upset by his hyperactivity.  But Bill is always understanding.  After Robert complains about one of James’ antics (he lies down in the doorway of Robert’s room and refuses to move), Bill lets him stay.  He tells Robert, “Children deserve care.”  Robert privately wonders if he isn’t a child who deserves care, too.

Penny wonders if she, too, doesn’t deserve care.

As an adult, only the happily married Ryan, who becomes a teacher at the progressive day school he attended (the others went to public school),  takes after Bill in his complete attention and understanding of children.  Rebecca is a child psychiatrist,  but doesn’t have children; Robert is an unhappy, angry doctor with a wife and children; and James is an angry, unemployable man who moves from place to place.

The Blairs do not stray far from their family house in California.  Robert and Rebecca live nearby, and Ryan lives in the shed on the property.  James is the only one who has left California.  He returns from Eugene, Oregon, to visit his siblings becuase he is going over to “the dark side” (Penny) and wants to sell the house.  Penny has long wanted to sell the house so she can afford to buy a house in Taos, where she has been a successful artist for 20 years.

During their childhood, concerned that Penny wanted to stay home when the children went out with Bill, Rebecca starts a “children’s crusade”  to figure out what Penny would like to do with them.

I do think Packer has a soft spot for Penny.  The children love Bill, who needs to keep them close even as adults, but is it Penny or James who ruins the family?  (Or even Bill?)

All parents make mistakes.

This is a great American novel, the best I’ve read this year.

Pretending Your Life Is Better Than It Is & Reading Petronius During a Storm

Lightning at sunset, June 24, 2015

Lightning at sunset, June 24, 2015

It rained on Wednesday morning.

It rained all day.

It rained all night.

By 2 a.m. Thursday, I was jittery.

The thunder roared constantly.

I turned up the fan to drown out the thunder.

I could still hear the thunder.

I worried about the cats. One  was in hiding;  another mewed from a corner behind a door.  I  scooped her up and pulled a quilt over both of us.  It was too warm, but it calmed us.

We were terrified.

If we just get under the quilt…

But the thunder is really, really loud.

I was so nervous.

Satyrica Petronius 61Wxl+AAhVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I read a few pages of Petronius, because I just received my copy of an excellent new Latin edition, The Satyrica of Petronius: An Intermediate Reader with Commentary and Guided Review (Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture Series) by Beth Severy-Hoven.  It is a superb alternative to the other Latin Petronius texts, which include M. G. Balme’s heavily-adapted The Millionaire’s Dinner Party,  and Gilbert Lawall’s Petronius: Selections from the Satyricon, a very disappointing edition that provides so many notes that it is virtually translated for the students.

I was very happy to find Severy-Hoven’s book at Amazon, because it is so, so difficult to find Latin texts.  Her commentary and background essays are also appropriate for undergraduates and high school students.

By the way, those who dislike Charlie Hebdo would really  hate the vulgarity of Petronius!

Virago Classics: Moving on from Rosamond Lehmann to Storm Jameson

Storm Jameson

Storm Jameson

Rosamond Lehmann, a dazzling writer of nuanced women’s novels, cannot hold a candle to Storm Jameson, a versatile novelist who expresses herself less beautifully.

Lehmann is a bit too melodramatic for my taste.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved Invitation to the Waltz, Lehmann’s stream-of-consciousness novel about a girl’s first dance.  But the sequel, The Weather in the Streets,  is too earnest and even slightly ridiculous in its sensitive narrative of Olivia’s masochistic love affair with an upper-class married man. ( It is admittedly difficult to describe such suffering without going overboard.)

None Turn Back Jameson 2291763Storm Jameson (1891-1986), on the other hand, writes about more interesting, even more “grown-up” subjects.  She describes her heroines’ work and political interests as well as complicated love affairs and marriages.  Jameson was a socialist, a pacifist, a member of the International Women’s League, and the president the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (PEN). She wrote a splendid autobiography, Journey from the North, and I am a mad fan of her trilogy, The Mirror in Darkness, the story of a leftist writer heroine, Hervey Russell, after World War I. It  consists of None Turn Back, Company Parade, and Love in Winter.

In her autobiography, Jameson gives a moving account of her generation’s idealism in the wake of World War I.  After graduation from the University of Leeds, she moved to London, and said she and her Yorkshire friends confidently believed they would live as equals of graduates of elite schools.

Our freedom intoxicated us; there was nothing we should not be able to attempt, no road not open to us, no barriers in the world that we children of farmers and seamen were going to walk about in as equals. Our certainty, our optimism, our illusions, are what mark our difference from every other generation which talked its tongues off its roots since. No generation has ever been so naturally idealistic. Nor, perhaps, so happy, since of all the illusions on which young men get drunk the illusion of a future, a road running toward infinity, breeds happiness more surely and quickly than even a successful love-affair.

Naturally, it was not that simple.  But this passage very much reminds me of our own hope during the social change of the ’60s and ’70s.

Jameson Women Against Men 2064158Why do I mention Jameson and Lehmann together? Jameson’s  novella, “Delicate Monster,” in Women Against Men, a collection of three novellas, like Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets, is an account of infidelity. Jameson’s narrator, Fanny, a serious novelist, is shattered by the betrayal of her oldest friend, Victoria Form, a best-selling writer of bodice-ripper romances, who seduces Fanny’s husband.

Victoria, of course, is so narcissistic that she cannot take it seriously.  She marries men, always for advantage, tires of them, and has affairs.  When a young man commits suicide because of her, she tells everyone about it.  Otherwise they wouldn’t know.

Fanny confronts Victoria, pretending not to care much, but milking her for details.  Victoria soon realizes that Charles had betrayed her to Victoria.

Poor Fanny,” she said.

“You’ve had so many men.  You might have left me mine,” I said ridiculously.

But Fanny gets over it.

You will laugh to hear what put me in the way of being cured.  Victoria wrote another novel, which I read–for no better reason than knowing it would give an account (romantic) of herself and Charles.  Victoria never waits for an experience to cool before rushing it into print.

Charles was not the main of the novel.  He was a chapter headed–you have guessed it–“Passionate Interlude.”

Surprisingly, Victoria’s novel is very funny. Tears stream down Fanny’s cheeks as she laughs at a scene where Victoria sees in the mirror that Charles’s legs are too long for the love seat.

I like Fanny’s anger.  There is nothing, nothing worse than being betrayed by a friend.  If a husband has an affair, it is bad, but if a friend seduces him, it is the worst betrayal of all.

Ten years later, Fanny and Victoria make up. Fanny has missed her friend.  They have known each other all their lives.  It is easy to understand.

Victoria continues to be a monster.  Her daughter, Camilla, a  sensible, loyal woman, marries a man of a lower class whom she loves very much.  Victoria works very, very hard to break them up.

And yet Fanny enjoys her company.  Honestly, don’t we all have friends like this?

Fanny, who becomes a literary agent after her divorce, also writes entertainingly about writers.  Not just Victoria is awful–all of them are!  So she says.  She does not enjoy her lunches with them. They all think they deserve to be famous.   She longs for her old job, as a reader.

Fanny’s anger over Victoria’s betrayal spills over into her new career.

I loved this!  I will report on my Jameson binge from time to time.

Rosamond Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz & Lady Gaga’s Cover of Panama

Rosamond Lehmann’s brilliant novel, Invitation to the Waltz (1932), is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.   Both Lehmann and Woolf use modernist techniques like stream-of-consciousness, write exquisitely, and are masters of the compression of time.  And both novels center on preparations for a party.

Invitation to the Waltz  revolves around the excitement of 17-year-old Olivia Curtis over an invitation to Lord and Lady Spencer’s dance–her first dance.  The action is compressed into two days,  Oliva’s birthday, and, a few weeks later, the day of the dance.  Divided into three parts, the novel opens on Olivia’s birthday, on which she receives the perfect gift, a roll of flame-colored silk to be made into a dress. The second part describes the preparations of Olivia and her older sister Kate for the dance.  And the third part describes the dance itself.

Like so many of these things, the event is better after than before.

I must admit,  I have never been to a dance, except the occasional school dance, and does that count?, and one dance at which radical feminists of the post-butch-and-femme 1970s wore men’s suits. At parties my gently hippieish friends and I sat on the floor and listened to records.  Occasionally one of the men played an electric guitar along with the Grateful Dead or Frank Zappa. No one danced.  We chatted.  We drank beer.  At a local rock concert, we sat at our campsite.  At bars, we shuffled on the floor in groups.

Virago INvitation to the Waltz rosamond Lehmann old verison 12768075Nonetheless, I understand the pressure young Olivia and Kate felt.  The nervousness about conversation, about knowing how to flip your hair, being witty, etc.  Once you get the hang of it, it didn’t matter.

This novel and its sequel, The Weather in the Streets, are very much about hopes for relationships with men.  Olivia has her own identity, but her life will be better if she marries.  She does not want to be single.  Oh, if only she doesn’t have to be single.

Olivia takes her silk material to the hypochondriac 30-year-old dressmaker, Miss Robinson.  Miss Robinson lives with her mother and sister.   Mrs. Robinson tells Olivia, “She’s been laying down with the nooralgia.  I don’t hardly think she’s fit to see you.”

But Miss Robinson enjoys chatting,  and as she flips through the fashion books, she talks about men and explains why she isn’t married.  Lehmann sketches her through pitch-perfect dialogue.  Her words can be taken as a warning.

I dare say I’m fussy.”  She looked with hauteur at her own reflection.  “I always say, with a man you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s too late, and then where are you?  Good husbands don’t igzackly grow like blackberries, do they?  No.  People don’t know when they’re lucky.  I often think us single ones are spared a lot.  Many a time Mother’s passed the remark how thankful we should be to be together.”

Olivia pities her.  She knows that Miss Robinson will never marry.  She cannot imagine herself a Miss Robinson.

Lehmann Invitation to the Waltz Signet 663-1Olivia has more compassion for people of the lower classes than her family does.  She also likes a jolly neighbor, Major Skinner, who offers to teach her to play golf, but her parents won’t allow her to socialize with this retired man from India and his  dicey twice-(or thrice?)-married wife.  It is class.

Men are a problem in this post-World War I world.  Who will be the partner of Olivia and her sister Kate at the dance?  They know no men.   Finally their mother invites her godson, Reggie, whom they have never met.  Reggie is a curate-to-be and uninterested in either of the girls. At the dance he is thrilled by their lively beautiful friend Marigold, a debutante, and enjoys the company of the jokey Martin sisters.  Olivia and Kate are too serious. for him

The dance has many painful moments.  Beautiful Kate made her own beautiful dress, and soon is dancing with a man she very much likes.  Olivia’s dress is a disaster and she doesn’t always have partners.  She longs to dance with Archie, but he forgets their dance.  She gets stuck dancing with an old man. She dances with men sent over to do their duty by the hostess.  She spends time in the cloakroom.   Finally she has a moment of peace with Marigold’s older brother, Rollo, who is in love with a gorgeous young woman–the only really gorgeous woman there.

In The Weather in the Streets, Olivia and Rollo come together again.

Invitation  is a small masterpiece, and a simpler book than Weather.  It is less wordy, and the structure is perfect.

Open Road Media has reissued Invitation, Weather, and five other of Lehmann’s books as e-books.  Very convenient!

 On a different note, I was very amused by the video of Lady Gaga‘s and the Dirty Pearls’ cover of Van Halen’s “Panama” at the Gramercy Theatre in New York on June 20.  Sure, she is in her underwear, but she is in control of her own sexuality.  I like her camaraderie with the guys, and her half-mocking dancing.  She seems to be having fun, and has that powerful rocker woman thing going on.  A waltz?  Well…

Ninety Degrees in the Shade: Ten Ways to Cool off with Books


Caroline Gordon, one of America’s coolest Southern writers.

We have fans whirling, drink pitchers of iced tea, and occasionally remember to close the drapes during the day.

I read only the coolest books in hot weather

There are three kinds of cool:

  • Books by cool writers.
  • Books set in winter or cold climates.
  • Books set in very hot summers.

So here is my list of 10 cool books (and my descriptions mostly come from my blogs).

Caroline Gordon The Women on the Porch 51XF3WC451L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1.  Caroline Gordon’s The Women on the Porch  (1944) is a small masterpiece by a Southern Catholic writer, who was married to the writer Allen Tate–twice!  A contemporary of Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, Gordon did not achieve their fame:  she is a quieter, more traditional writer. The Women on the Porch  is the story of a woman who flees her unfaithful husband in New York and goes home to Tennessee, where her female relatives live together without men.    In her novels, Gordon beautifully portrayed white Southern monied culture of the early-to-mid- twentieth century, when there lingered an immediate feeling of connection to the Civil War.

Jonathan Lethem chronic_city2.  Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City.  This is one of Lethem’s best novels, set in a New York City where it is always winter.  It is slightly reminiscent of The Great Gatsby, which in turn is related to Petronius’ Satyricon (Trimalchio’s dinner party).  But Lethem laces his work with magic realism.  The narrator, Chase Insteadman, is a wealthy former child star whom we meet when he’s  doing a voiceover at a DVD studio). He doesn’t work much, he’s a charming ornament at people’s dinner tables, his astronaut girlfriend is literally lost in space (their romance is famous), and he lives off residuals from his ‘80s sitcom. He spends most of his time with s characters who live in a kind of alternative parallel city. The most fascinating is Perkus Tooth, a former pop culture critic for Rolling Stone who takes a shine to Chase when they meet at the Criterion Collection.Perkus seldom leaves his apartment and spends most of his time smoking dope (a kind called Chronic is his favorite), watching old films, listening to little-known CDs, and making paranoid connections between disparate aspects of the culture. Chase, a rather quiet socialite, is fascinated by him.  A great, completely absorbing novel!

minor-characters-joyce-johnson-paperback-cover-art3.  Joyce Johnson, one of the best writers of the Beat Generation, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her memoir Minor Characters. She tells of growing up a rebellious young woman and then living in the East Village in the 1950s.  She was also Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend.

alexandria quartet durrell 2d3c616b7b5a141c46c9c2af280991564.  Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet.  Set in Alexandria, Egypt, it is very hot.  The prose is moody and lush. Over the course of the quartet, Durrell’s narrator, Darley, reiterates and augments a series of events in the lives of his lover Justine and a group of friends in Alexandria, Egypt. Other characters, particularly Balthazar and Clea (Mountolive is the hero of the prequel), contribute their viewpoints, so that a clearer picture is revealed. Published from 1957 to 1960, these books are elegant but occasionally too flowery. In the ’50s, Durrell’s poeticism flourished..  Set mostly in Alexandria, Egypt, it is hot, lyrical, and deals with complicated sexual relationships.  The prose is moody and lush. Over the course of the quartet, Durrell’s narrator, Darley, reiterates and augments a series of events in the lives of his lover Justine and a group of friends in Alexandria, Egypt. Other characters, particularly Balthazar and Clea (Mountolive is the hero of the prequel), contribute their viewpoints, so that a clearer picture is revealed. Published from 1957 to 1960, these books are elegant but occasionally too flowery. In the ’50s, Durrell’s poeticism flourished.

snow country kawabata 41Pjx4jNUuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country is a remarkable read.  Set in a mountain town with a hot spring, it describes the relationship between Shimamura, a married man, and Komako, a woman who learns to be a geisha. She loves him, but Shimamura is cold and insists that many of her activities, such as keeping a diary, are a waste of time.  He visits her very seldom, and we see her often falling into drunkenness at parties.  He is fascinated by another young woman whom Komako  dislikes but is reluctantly loyal  to.

6.  Beryl Bainbridge’s The Birthday Boys, a stunning novel about the doomed Antarctic expedition led by Captain Scott in 1912.

Beryl Bainbridge The-Birthday-Boys7.  Andrea Barrett’s The Voyage of the Narwhal, a stunning novel about a doomed Arctic expedition.

Walker Percy TheLastGentleman8.  Walker Percy’s The Second Coming.  In this funny, beautifully written existentialist novel by one of the best Southern novelists, Will Barrett is the anti-hero, a middle-aged lawyer who has retired early in New York and moved back to North Carolina to play golf and…what? He isn’t sure. He is hallucinating on the golf course, falling down repeatedly, blacking out, and having flashbacks to his childhood. Death is on his mind, and no wonder. His wife has died, and he is living alone. Because of the petit mal seizures, he becomes obsessed with a childhood hunting trip on which his father “accidentally” shot both Will and himself. His father later committed suicide (by gun) in an attic in Mississippi. He becomes involved with Allie, a rich, brilliant young woman, considered mad by the world, who has escaped from a mental hospital and is living in a greenhouse. The two meet when one of his golf balls smashes a window in the greenhouse. And Allie gradually becomes stronger to take care of Will.

Clyde Edgerton night train 51wkTl3y53L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_9.  Clyde Edgerton’s charming, humorous novel, The Night Train, inspired by James Brown, Civil Rights, and friendship, is a small, deceptively simple novel. If you missed it in 3011,  and you missed it if you blinked, you should check out this Southern rock-and-roll classic.  Of course it’s not just rock: it’s also jazz, blues, and a bit of country. Set in 1963 in the small town of Starke, North Carolina, The Night Train is the story of a music-based interracial friendship between two boys who work in a furniture-refinishing shop. Larry Lime, the son of an unemployed father and a mother who works in a dog food factory, is black and a brilliant aspiring jazz pianist, while Dwayne, the son of the owner of the shop, is white, very liberal, and the leader of a small band.

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce10.  Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land is a beautifully-crafted novel.  After an avalanche, a married couple find themselves eerily living in a deserted hotel.  They cannot seem to ski out of the village.

Zoe truly loves Jake, is charmed by everything about him from his beautiful eyes to his big ears, and describes his breath in the cold as “a faint oyster-colored mist.” The nature of love shapes this luminous novel, with its dream-like scens.  The plot is as uncanny as that of C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, a fable about the afterlife. A stunning novel.

The New Poldark

The original Poldark and the new Poldark

The original Poldark and the new Poldark

Everyone loves the new Poldark.

Me?  Not so much.  Tonight the series premiered in the U.S.

Initially I was distracted by the fashion model-beauty of the actors.

Poldark (Aidan Turner) and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson):  Too beautiful?

Poldark (Aidan Turner) and Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson): Too beautiful?

Their looks are so angular.

It is what we call at our house the Dancing with the Stars effect.  Actors must work out and be buff.  We expect Poldark (Aidan Turner) to rip off his shirt any minute.  And, indeed, Turner does so in the second episode.  (The British press already “covered” this event.)

It is not that I object to looking at beautiful people, but the softer, more natural looks  of the 1970s are easier on the eye.  Robin Ellis (the original Poldark) was dashing, but looked real:  his skin had a few acne scars, as well as Poldark’s war scar.  We remember Angharad Rees (Demelza) for her charm rather than her beauty.  Only Elizabeth (Jill Townsend, an actress I very much admire) had that neurotic, angular look.   In other words, we all could have been Ross or Demelza when we were young.

Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) and Demelza (Angharad Reese):  A softer look

Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) and Demelza (Angharad Reese): Less glamorous.

To get ready for the new TV series, I reread Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark, the first in his 12-book series.  Very well-written, very well-plotted.  Ross returns from the Revolutionary War (fighting on the losing British side) to troubles at his home in Cornwall.  His father is dead, his girlfriend Elizabeth is engaged to his cousin Francis, his house is in a shambles, and he has no money.  He is a radical, a champion of the miners, and works hard for justice.  In one of the most memorable scenes, he rescues a boy (actually Demelza dressed in boys’ clothes)  at the market,  where she is struggling to untie her dog’s tail from a cat’s, which a group of coarse boys has done.  He discovers she is hungry and has been beaten by her father. Then he hires her as a maid.  Years later, he marries her.

ross poldark graham 51NbqPxH4XL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In the mid-70s, I galloped through the first six Poldark books, because I was so hooked on the TV series.  One could buy the paperbacks at Kresge’s.  The novels are very good:  top-of-the-line pop fiction.  Six more books were published after my Poldark madness.

There are many plot changes in the new TV series:  In Episode One, Elizabeth chases after Ross in almost every scene, though in the book she is initially contented with Francis. (It has, after all, been three years since their boy-and-girl romance.)  I was especially surprised when she showed up at the market and witnessed Ross’s saving Demelza.  Not in the books!

The second half hour tonight was better than the first, and I would have enjoyed the whole hour if I were still a young thing. But is it as good as the original series?  I cannot say.  I watched the original on DVD about 10 years ago, and loved it.  The original Poldark series was 29 episodes, and this one is eight episodes. Perhaps they’ll make a sequel.

I am not a big fan of costume dramas anymore, though the BBC introduced me to so many great books when I was young.  I

Well, I’ll tune in next week, and perhaps I’ll enjoy the second episode more than the first.  I have now adjusted to the new actors.

Poldark new series 13741357

Canonical Genre Books: Dorothy Sayers’s The Nine Tailors & Pat Murphy’s The Falling Woman

The Nine Tailors Sayers screen-shot-2015-03-10-at-4-06-11-pmGenre writers are seldom admitted into the canon.

But Dorothy Sayers and Pat Murphy are canonical within their genres.  Sayers, the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, is one of the “queens” of Golden Age Detective Fiction. And Pat Murphy is an award-winning science fiction writer.

I recently read Sayers’s The Nine Tailors and Murphy’s The Falling Woman, which won the Nebula Award.

Sayers’s The Nine Tailors, published in 1934, is one of my favorite Peter Wimsey novels.

Sayers’s sleuth is a witty Oxford-educated lord who dabbles in solving crimes. On  a snowy New Year’s Eve, as  Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet, Bunter, are traveling back to London from the country, Wimsey drives the Daimler across a slick bridge in the Fens and plunges into a ditch.

Sayer’s lively style, humor, and and witty grasp of figures of speech are apparent from the beginning.

The car lay, helpless and ridiculous, her nose deep in the ditch, her back wheels cocked absurdly up on the bank, as though she were doing her best to bolt to earth and were scraping herself a burrow beneath the drifted snow.

the nine tailors sayers mass market $_20The friendly rector of a tiny village, Fenchurch St. Paul, and his wife give them a place to stay for the night.  The rector tells Lord Peter that the village bell-ringers plan to ring in “the changes” for the New Year.  One of them has influenza, and Lord Peter, who rang the changes at Oxford, takes his place.

Sayers has done her research:  she describes the change-ringing methods (lots of math!) for the nine-hours of bell-ringing on New Year’s Eve.  But, as you might suspect, the bells are also part of the mystery.  Many years ago, an emerald necklace was stolen from a wedding guest at the Thorpes’ manor house in the village.  The thieves were caught, but the jewels were never found. Sir Henry repaid the guest, practically bankrupting himself. (This reminds me of Maupassant’s “The Necklace.”)   Lord Peter learns more about the theft during his stay, and attends the funeral of Lady Thorpe, who died of influenza on New Year’s Day.  A few months later, when Sir Henry also dies, they find a corpse with missing hand and a battered face shallowly buried on top of Lady Thorpe’s coffin.  Lord Peter comes back to solve the crime. And may I say the bells play a sinister role..

I read Sayers more for her lovely writing than her watertight plots:  but sheshe goes in for timetables, ciphers, and all kinds of lovely things that I sometimes skip over!

falling woman pat murphy 91fN01GqVsLPat Murphy’s The Falling Woman (1986), which won the Nebula Award, reads like literary fiction, with a touch of mysticism. (Perhaps it wouldn’t have been published without the SF label.)  The setting is an archaeological dig on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.  There are two heroines:  the chapters alternate between the viewpoints of Elizabeth Butler, an archaeologist and expert on Mayan civilization, and her daughter, Diane, who was raised by her father but after his death shows up unnanounced at Elizabeth’s dig.

Elizabeth barely knows her daughter. She was miserable in her marriage.  After she attempted suicide and was locked up in a mental hospital for  a year, she left her husband, moved to New Mexico, typed for a living, and got an education.   Elizabeth’s  “madness” has helped her make discoveries:  she sees Mayan ghosts in temples and villages as she walks around the excavation sites.  Her relationships with ghosts, and a casual friendship with her archaeologist colleague, Tony, are sufficient for her.  She doesn’t like emotions dredged up.

She is not a romantic.  When a reporter interviews her for a popular women’s magazine, she says,

I dig through ancient trash…. I grub in the dirt, that’s what I do.  I dig up dead Indians. Archaeologists are really no better than scavengers, sifting through the garbage that people left behind when they died, moved on, built a new house, a new town, a new temple.  We’re garbage collectors really.  Is that clear?”

Diane obviously wants to get to know her aloof mother,  but she also discovers she enjoys helping an archaeology graduate student survey the site.    Then something eerie happens.  Like her mother, she starts to see and hear Mayan ghosts.

I dreamed that i heard voices, unfamiliar voices.  In the private darkness behind my closed eyes, I listened, but I could not understand the language that the voices spoke.

Ghosts never see Elizabeth, but something uncanny happens:   a Mayan female prophet begins to talk to her.  She tells Elizabeth that she did not “know that shadows dreamed.”  Elizabeth learns more than she wants to about the gods and sacrifices.  She has always in the past justified Mayan sacrifices as similar to the Christian Eucharist.

The writing is eerily beautiful, and I loved this book.  It is a classic  about a mother-daughter relationship as well as SF.