When It’s Hot: Do’s and Don’ts

IMG_3205 Do.  Go to a coffeehouse and have a cold coffee drink.  Take a picture of your e-reader and cold drink.

IMG_3199Don’t  bicycle on this lovely grassy dirt trail.  It is a tough ride on this surface even when it’s medium hot.  Today the canopy of leaves will not cool you off.

IMG_3209Do.  Stop at a Little Free Library. It takes no energy.  You’re bound to find something, even a summer thriller.

IMG_2077Don’t water your outdoor plants till night.  The water is smokin’ hot in this heat.  (And, no, these plants aren’t mine.  I do have some, though.)

troll on booksDo turn on the air conditioner and take a book off your TBR pile.  An ancient troll doll stands on top of my Top Three in Progress :  George R. R. Martin’s Clash of Kings, Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland.

Enjoy the 90-degree weather!

The Dover D. H. Lawrence Reader & Rereading Sons and Lovers

Sons and Lovers D.H. LawrenceI am a fan of the Dover Reader anthology series.

The Dover D. H. Lawrence Reader ($6) is an anthology including the complete text of one of my favorite novels, Sons and Lovers, the superb short stories, “The Prussian Officer,” “Odour of Chrysanthemums,” and “England, My England,” poems, and the essay, “Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious.”

Dover D. H. Lawrence Reader 41WpGZGkDzL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_I recently reread Sons and Lovers, Lawrence’s elegant autobiographical third novel, a study of Lawrence’s parents’ marriage, of the too-strong bond between Lawrence and his mother, and his attempts to break away with other women.

Lawrence is one of the most brilliant, lyrical writers of the 20th century, and his explorations of the relationships between men and women are spot-on.  I very much admire his sympathetic portraits of strong women characters:  in this novel, there are Mrs. Morel, Paul’s mother; Miriam, Paul’s religious, thoughtful, bookish friend, and Clara, a suffragette who has left her husband.  And of course Paul, a charming man with a sense of humor who is also a painter, fascinates all three.

In the first chapter, “The Early Married Life of the Morels,” we meet Mrs. Morel, the bright, quick, pretty middle-class woman who is 31 years old and has been married to a coarse, handsome coal miner for eight years.  She loved him deeply,  but he is unreliable, often takes a drinking holiday, and squanders their money.  She is in charge of the house, but being alone with the children and housework is tedious.   She is very attached to her oldest son, William, who is very excited about a local fair.  She allows him to go alone, and later takes her toddler, Annie; he eagerly gives her a gift of egg cups painted with roses.   She feels heavy and hot, because she is pregnant.

Marriage has not fulfilled her.  Her sexy husband too often stays out late.

She went indoors, wondering if things were never going to alter.  She was beginning by now to realise that they would not.  She seemed so far away from her girlhood, she wondered if it were the same person walking heavily up the back garden at the Bottoms, as had run so lightly on the breakwater at Sheerness, ten years before.

Despite her brooding, she is a great mother to her children.  She has two more, the artistic Paul, and the cheerful youngest son, Arthur.  The children dislike their father, who is unreliable and sometimes drunk.  The intelligent William defends their mother against Morel’s violence.  Mrs. Morel is proud of William, a clerk who studies Latin late at night and teaches at the night school.  She is  desolated when he moves to London and falls in love with a superficial, pretty young woman.  After he dies of a sudden illness, Mrs. Morel transfers her affections to Paul.

Lawrence brilliantly describes Paul’s work day in his early teens as a junior clerk in Nottingham at “Jordan and Sons–Surgical appliances.”  He soon enjoys his tasks, from writing invoices to wrapping up prosthetic limbs, and on his breaks likes to visit and sketch the women working downstairs.   They are all fond of him, especially Fanny, the sweet hunchback who organizes the group purchase of paints for his birthday.

Jessie Chambers (Miriam)

Jessie Chambers (Miriam)

Paul loves women, but none can compare with Mrs. Morel, who very much dislikes his first girlfriend, Miriam, an intense, religious, farm girl who loves books a much as Paul does.   Miriam is based on Lawrence’s first girlfriend, Jessie Chambers, who had a strong influence on his writing and gave suggestions for the early draft of Sons and Lovers.

Paul and Miriam meet once a week at the library, sometimes go to chapel together, intensely discuss books, and tramp through the fields and woods admiring beautiful flowers.  Miriam and Paul are well-suited intellectually, but Miriam is afraid of sex (and, let’s face it, she is hardly fixed up for birth control).  Ironically, years later, she loves him so much that she does have sex with him.  After a few weeks of this, he drops her, and moves in on Miriam’s friend, Clara, a statuesque married young suffragette whose breasts and shoulders are beautiful. Clara is all sex, just as Miriam is all spirit.  (Clara was based on Louie Barrows, to whom he was briefly engaged.)

It’s the old madonna/whore thing, I know.

Louie Barrows and D. H. Lawrence

Louie Barrows (Clara) and D. H. Lawrence (Paul)

When Mrs. Morel is diagnosed with cancer, this is devastating to Paul, Annie, and their younger brother, Arthur.  She is terribly ill, and she hangs on and on.  The morphia does not really relax her.  They cannot believe that she takes so long dying.  Eventually Paul and Annie decide to dump a fatal dose of morphia into her drink.   She complains that it tastes bitter;  it still takes a few days for her to die.  Mrs. Morel’s death enables Paul to break with Clara, who has already begun to bore him. She will go back to her husband.   But what will the future hold for angry, lonely Paul?

Miriam thinks she might have a chance to win him back.

Oh, why did he not take her?  Her very soul belonged to him  Why would not he take what was his. She had bourne so long the cruelty of belonging to him and not being claimed by him.

But Paul does not want her much.  He will not follow his mother to death; norw Mirism to spirituality; nor Clara to the end of sex.

This is a brilliant, intense, poetic, often frustrating novel.  Lawrence gets the difficult relationships just right, but Paul wants just the right blend of emotion and sexuality.  He cannot find it.

The ending is ambiguous.

Lawrence has an unfortunate reputation for sexism, but I don’t read it that way.  Lawrence draws characters who are fascinating, flawed, and ambivalent about sexuality.  Who gets what he or she wants?  Rupert and Ursula in Women in Love.

Sons and Lovers is one of Lawrence’s most brilliant novels.  I also very much admire his short stories and poems.

Dorothy Sayers’s Have His Carcase

Have His Carcase Dorothy Sayers 246231This is my year of rereading Dorothy Sayers.

I have always loved Sayers.  During my student days, after decoding the rants in dialect of the chorus in the Oresteia,  I would dash home from the library and curl up with my BBC-influenced leisure reading.  I was introduced to Sayers by the Lord Peter Wimsey TV series with Ian Carmichael.

(Isn’t it time for some Lord Peter Wimsey remakes?)

This year I have reread two of my favorites, Sayers’s masterpiece, Gaudy Night, an investigation of a poison pen at a women’s college, and The Nine Tailors, a mystery involving jewel theft and bell-ringing.

Sayers old penguin have-his-carcase-fc-e1291037992311And so I decided to try one I hadn’t read in decades, Have His Carcase.  It is a brilliant comedy about identity and disguise that ends with a powerful exposition of the waste of an innocent life by murderers who may or may not be called to justice.

First a few words about the main characters:  the hero of the series, Lord Peter Wimsey, is an Oxford-educated amateur sleuth who amuses us with witty banter while he dabbles in solving crimes.  He often seems sillier than he really is, in the affected style of a P. G. Wodehouse character. This novel also stars Harriet Vane, a mystery writer who was tried and acquitted of the murder of her lover.

Usually Lord Peter is too busy for a love interest, but in four of the novels, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Holiday, Sayerstraces the development of Lord Peter’s relationship with Harriet Vane.

Harriet does not return his love because she feels irritatingly obligated to him for finding the evidence that saved her life.  At the beginning of Have His Carcase, she blithely has evaded Lord Peter by taking a solitary walking tour.

This opening paragraph shows Sayers at her best.

The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom.  Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.  After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and, indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.

But life is never easy for Harriet.  On a deserted beach she finds the  corpse of a man whose throat has been cut.  She takes photographs because she is afraid the tide will wash it away.  (It does.)  It takes her hours to walk to a village store where there is a phone (after walking miles out of her way to farms that turn out not to have phones), and after reporting the crime to the police, she telephones her favorite journalist, knowing it will be good publicity for her next book.   And then Lord Peter comes immediately to help investigate (and also to save Harriet’s reputation, because again she looks like the murderer).   The police think the death is by suicide.

The victim turns out to be the Russian-born Paul Alexis, a harmless professional dancing partner at a hotel. He was engaged to a wealthy middle-aged woman who was living at the hotel, though whether he really considered himself engaged or was just humoring her is uncertain. (Many suspected the latter.)   She believed that Bolsheviks had killed him.  And his former girlfriend, another professional dancer, says that he bored her with stories about his grand relations in Russia.

The puzzle is almost impossible to solve, and three of the suspects are wanderers who appear again and again with and without beards, dyed hair, and dark glasses.  Who is in disguise, and who is not?  There are some unlikely twists and turns, but they seem more and more realistic as Sayers moves on to the horrifying finish.  You have to read to the end–I can’t tell you!

Under the Radar: Do You Prefer Reality or Reality-Based Journals?

The New Orleans French Quarter is more dramatic than historic downtown Winona, Minnesota

The New Orleans French Quarter is more dramatic than historic downtown Winona, Minnesota

My cousin has an idea for my blog.  She thinks it should be more dramatic.  She says  I should  incorporate scenes of what she calls ” bawling, bellyaching, and bellowing” into my  autobiographical comedy.

“You turned off the ‘like’ button,”  she says.  “You’re writing for nobody.”

I turned the off the ‘like’ button off because I think it’s silly.  I rarely cry or scream.  “I am writing for nobody.  It’s a book journal with reality-based diary entries.”

“People want gardens and cute pictures.  And more personal information.”

“I have no personal information.”

Since I refuse to  photoshop pictures of my bedraggled geraniums, or of my cousin standing behind me making rabbit ears, she suggests I eschew reality altogether.   “You should write massively untrue stuff about yourself and the books you read.”

Well, strictly speaking, that might spice things up. Instead of writing about going to Winona, Minnesota, where I actually went, I could pretend to go to New Orleans, where I have never been.  I could trawl information about New Orleans from Anne Rice’s Lestat books and  Shirley Ann Grau’s The House on Coliseum Street.   Vampires and Gothic Southern women:  it could work!

But if I wrote my blog thinking of only imaginary readers and statistics, and I had to invent New Orleans instead of chronicle Winona, I would be bored and resentful.  . I record just enough personal information that I can look back a year from now and know what I was doing.

My cousin isn’t so worried about her personal information.  As a librarian, she knows it’s all out there anyway. She bets  she can write a blog driven by  personal information and rehab anecdotes that will be twice as popular as my most popular post (about Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet.)

I don’t doubt it.

She will write about what it’s like to be a professional woman who does  not have it all .

She shrieks, “I don’t have any of it!  I don’t have friends, I don’t have money, I don’t have a boyfriend…   And I’ll recommend books I haven’t read!”

“You do that anyway.”

“And I’ll write about rehab.”

“You do that anyway.”

Though she is a librarian, she seldom reads books: she prefers to read about them at Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal.  But many of her colleagues do far worse work than she: they have catalogued Doris Lessing’s last novel, Alfred and Emily, as biography, and declared Caroline Blackwood’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, Great Granny Webster, a children’s book.

One must be true to one’s own tone.  My bookish readers don’t expect too much.  A book, a bike ride, a short trip:  that’s all we’ve got!

Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial

Kalpa Imperial Angelica Gorodischer 41ltT36E3JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial is a remarkable  novel.

First published in 1983 in Argentina and in 2003 in the U.S.,  it is a stunning mix of realism and the surreal.  It is breathtakingly lyrical, with long, running sentences that can go on for pages.  Set in “the greatest empire that never was,” it is stylistically a cross between Italo Calvino’s stories and Herodotus’s The Histories.    Gorodischer’s strange book is a collection of legends, geography, and (invented) stories of emperors and common people.  It also has traces of a Homeric epic, which at one point mischievously satirizes the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Each story begins with a storyteller who knows, or at least shapes, the story. The storyteller will say, “I’m the one who can tell you what really happened, because it’s the storyteller’s job to speak the truth even when the truth lacks the brilliance of invention…”

The first sentence of the novel begins,

The storyteller said:  Now that the good winds are blowing, now that we’re done with days of anxiety and nights of terror, now that there are no more denunciation, persecutions, secret executions, and whim and madness have departed from the heart of the Empire, and we and our children aren’t playthings of blind power; now that a just man sits on the Golden Throne and people look peacefully out of their doors to see if the weather’s fine and plan their vacations and kids go to school and actors put their hearts into their lines and girls fall in love and old men dies in their beds and poets sings and  jewelers weight gold behind their little windows…

The episodes are partly comic, partly tragic.   In “Concerning the Unchecked Growth of Cities,” the emperor Drauwdo points at a map and commands that a city be built there.   Then he forgets about it.  His descendents have no idea there is a city there.   And at first it is a poor city:  “There were more suicides than schoolmasters, more drunks than mathematicians, more cardsharp than musicians…”  But then a sculptor moves in, followed by artists and writers.  Years later, the  emperor Mezsiadar III the Ascetic, who spent “so much time and so much energy in doing good that he succeed in doing as much harm as twenty emperors…” of evil habits, is suspicious of art and destroys it.

angelica gorodischer goroIn “Portrait of the Empress,” a rich merchant’s wife cures the emperor of his illness with magic stones, becomes his advisor,  and makes governing “not a heavy legacy but a vocation, an adventure.”  She becomes the empress.

“Down There in the South” is my favorite:  the story of Liel-Andrassador, a rich usurer who  becomes a fugitive after he kills a well-connected royal gambler who accused him of rigging the game, which he had done. After many adventures he reaches the South,  where he finds philosophy, wisdom, and a new name.  How he becomes an emperor is surprising.

Gorodischer, considered one of the best science fiction and fantasy writers in Argentina since the 1960s, said in a 1989 interview in Bomb Magazine that life in Argentina was surreal.

We are a people with a bad memory, a people hostile to memory. Old houses, the national library, the national archives—we destroy the very things that constitute our country’s memory. The country lacks an abiding urge to accumulate, safeguard and circulate reliable documentation. The crucial task of the writer here is to remember, to try to remember. Not that we should all literally note down facts and events. But memory is inscribed in a literary text in a process I don’t think anyone really understands.

There are obviously parallels between Kalpa Imperial and Argentina, though I certainly cannot expound on Argentine history

Translated by the award-winning science fiction writer, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kalpa Imperial was published by Small Beer Press in 2001.

Vacationing in Winona, Minnesota, & The Great River Shakespeare Festival

Winona, Minnesota

Winona, Minnesota

Vacationing in Winona, Minnesota, may not sound ideal.

Yet it is.  This beautiful college town, located on the Mississippi River, has scenic bluffs, twin lakes, wide bicycle lanes, a riverfront park,  a historic downtown, the Blue Heron coffeehouse (which serves local, organically grown food), and even two bookstores.

But we really come for The Great River Shakespeare Festival (June 24-Aug. 2).   Great acting, great directing–and the plays are indoors, in a lovely auditorium on the Winona State University campus. There are free concerts on the Green afterwards (with food trucks)

Beatrice (Tarah Flanagan) and Benedick (Christopher Gerson) in

Beatrice (Tarah Flanagan) and Benedick (Christopher Gerson) in “Much Ado About Nothing”

This year we saw Much Ado About Nothing.  I expected little–a light comedy.

Yet Much Ado is not so light:  it is both hilarious and chilling; witty and suspenseful.  We laughed at the banter between Benedick (Christopher Gerson) and Beatrice (Tarah Flanagan), the brittle couple who cannot quite fall in love because of their sharp tongues.

From Act 1, Scene 1:

118 What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet
119 living?

120 Is it possible disdain should die while she hath
121 such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
122 Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you
123 come in her presence.

And so the flippant, harsh teasing goes on.

And yet they come together, by the comical plotting of Don Pedro (Andrew Carlson), who manages to tie up their love up neatly with a bow.  With the help of the much nicer, duller romantic couple,  Hero and Claudio, the men and the women separately talk loudly about Benedick and Beatrice’s love so Beatrice and Benedick can overhear.

But that is not all. There is a  gruesome turn to the plot , when  the prince’s evil brother, Don John (Robert Ramirez), breaks up Hero and Claudio, by persuading the men that Hero is a wanton.

Claudio devastatingly confronts Hero at their wedding and says she is a slut he will not marry.  All the women know Hero is innocent.

Naturally, it all works out.  We knew it would.  But there is the serious trope of Hero’s feigned death. (Love and death!)   The Friar, who believes Hero’s insistence that she knows no man but Claudio,  decides the men should be told that she died  because of their accusations. (She is, of course, alive.)  This trope also occurs, only tragically, in Romeo and Juliet, which you can also see at GRSF this summer.

One thing we like about The Great River Shakespeare Festival is that, though there has  been some turnover, many of the actors are here every year and are now coming into the starring roles–and doing beautifully.

In 2009,  we saw a production of The Tempest with Tarah Flanagan as Ariel, Christopher Gerson as Caliban, and  Michael Fitzpatrick (the witty, sophisticated Leonato in Much Ado)  as Stephano.  We have seen them grow as actors.  They are all superb.

If you stay in Winona for a few days, you must also check out the Root River Trail (east of Winona).  If you start in Lanesboro, a historic town on the bluffs with antique shops and restaurants, you can have dessert in Whalan at World’s Famous Pies.

A lovely place for a short vacation!

Rereading Doris Lessing’s Children of Violence Series: A Proper Marriage

Doris Lessing A Proper Marriage 6a00d8341c674653ef012876eeae79970cDoris Lessing is my favorite writer, and I like periodically to reread her work.  I have decided to reread the Children of Violence series.  I am starting with the second volume, A Proper Marriage.

Many of you know these as the Martha Quest books.  Indeed, that’s how I usually refer to them.  But Martha and her generation are indeed children of violence:  Martha’s father fought in World War I and her mother was a nurse who met him in the hospital; Martha and her peers come of age at the beginning of World War II.   The first four novels are set in Africa; the last in London.  Lessing grew up in Southern Rhodesia and then moved to London, and the series is autobiographical.

Martha is a rebel.  In the first novel, Martha Quest, she escapes her parents’ farm and begins to live on her own.

 A Proper Marriage opens after 19-year-old Martha has impulsively married Doug Knowell, a cheerful man who represents everything bourgeois she has stood against, a man who likes to party.  They go to sundowner parties and dances every night.  There is much looking in the mirror: her friend Stella likes what she sees; Martha, who is getting fat, does not.  She is cross, does not know why she married, did not even have a wedding night, because their drunken friends pursued them on their honeymoon.  Annoyed with herself, she goes to her Communist friend’s commune and asks him to let her live there.  She goes home and decides wryly she had done the predictable thing a woman does after her marriage:  tried to escape.  She and her friends, Stella (whom she does not like), and Alice, a nurse, chat about abortions.  Martha assumes she would have an abortion.  But when Martha discovers she is pregnant, and probably was pregnant when she married,  she suddenly goes into baby-clothes-making mode, as does her friend Alice.  It has solved her life (she thinks).  Only for a short time, though.

As Martha’s father says, he supposes in this mad world that it doesn’t matter much if one girl ruins her life.

Her mother, on the other hand, who gave up her nursing profession to live on a poor miserable African farm, is delighted that Martha, whom she has always disliked, is trapped.

Martha thinks about marriage a lot.  “The situation was, as she jauntily and bleakly put it, unsatisfactory.”
And so she turns to literature and psychology.  She kneels in front of her bookshelves.

Words.  There must surely be some pattern of words which would neatly and safely cage what she felt–isolate her emotions so that she could look at them from the outside.  For she was of the generation who, having found nothing in religion, had formed themselves by literature.

How many of us have felt this, even though we are not of Lessing’s generation?

It is an amazing novel, much better than I’d remembered.  Lessing really comes into her own with the fourth and fifth books, Landlocked and The Four-Gated City,  which she wrote after her experimental novel, The Golden Notebook.   She wrote the Children of Violence series over two decades, Martha Quest (1952), A Proper Marriage (1954), A Ripple from the Storm (1958), Landlocked (1965), and The Four-Gated City (1969).

It is a stunning series.  I’ll be blogging periodically about my rereading.

Michael Dirda’s Essay on E. Nesbit

The Enchanted Castle e. nesbit il_570xN.769748903_qjtqWhen I was a child, E. Nesbit was my favorite writer, and The Enchanted Castle was my favorite book. Before birthdays and Christmas, I made a list for my mother of the E. Nesbits I wanted from the local bookstore. (I idiotically sold them in my 20s.)  Nesbit’s children’s books are more entertaining and better-written than most of her adult books, but last  winter I discovered her adult novel, The Lark, a delightful comedy published in 1922.

I was thrilled to find that Michael Dirda has written a brilliant essay, “The Serious Make-Believe of E. Nesbit,” for the Barnes & Noble Review, 

Here is an excerpt:

Not all of E. Nesbit’s children’s books are fantasies, but even the most realistic somehow seem magical. In her holiday world nobody ever goes to school, though all the kids know their English history, Greek myths, and classic tales of derring-do. Again and again, Nesbit’s fiction celebrates the power of reading, coupled with the power of the imagination, as the best way for young people to transform and enchant everyday life.

Between 1899 and the outbreak of World War I, Nesbit scribbled one juvenile masterpiece after another. Everyone has his or her own favorite: Mine is The Story of the Amulet (1906), but other readers would opt for Five Children and It (1902) or The Railway Children (1906) or The Enchanted Castle (1907). In the United States, however, Nesbit isn’t anywhere near as well known as she deserves to be, given her delightful humor, sprightly, conversational style, and all-around irresistibility. Just listen to Oswald Bastable near the opening of The Treasure Seekers:

“There are some things I must tell before I begin to tell about the treasure-seeking, because I have read books myself, and I know how beastly it is when a story begins, “Alas!” said Hildegarde with a deep sigh, “we must look our last on this ancestral home” — and then some one else says something — and you don’t know for pages and pages where the home is, or who Hildegarde is or anything about it. Our ancestral home is in the Lewisham Road. It is semi-detached and has a garden, not a large one. We are the Bastables. There are six of us besides Father. Our mother is dead…”

An excellent essay!  Every adult should know about Nesbit.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover: What You Read on Your E-reader

Downbelow Station Cherryh 18dydguk6gpqsjpg

Would You Read This Book at a Coffeehouse?

I was amused by a recent article in Business Insider, “No One Ever Wants to Admit the Real Reason to Buy a Kindle.”

The writer, Madison Malone Kircher, claims that reading on an e-reader “lets you peruse guilty-pleasure stories without anybody around you having to know.” She interviewed co-workers who admitted to reading dicey titles like Fifty Shades of Grey on their Kindles because they didn’t want fellow subway riders to see what they were reading.

cherry downbelow station dicey cover 15905We’ve all been there. I am enthralled by C. J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, a fascinating, angst-ridden science fiction novel, which won the Hugo Award in 1982.  (But doesn’t the cover scream science fiction?)  Cherryh, who is a classicist, tells the story of Pell, a space station established by a merchant corporation on Earth.  It is suddenly overcrowded by refugees of war, many of whom are violent and stole identities to get on the ships. They are locked up in Q, the huge quarantine wing of Pell, and gangs run wild and everyone lives in terror.   The ruling dynasty of Pell, the Constantines, are humane, but in addition to the overcrowding problem and displacement of citizens they are targeted by the rebellious colonies at war, because Pell is a crucial station.  The Constantines must also manage the planet “downbelow,” which is populated by a workforce of simple, kind native aliens and human beings.  They must assimilate some of the refugees.

This is a stunning novel.  And yet did I whip out my paperback at the coffeehouse?  No, because of the cover.  And the cover is not that embarrassing.

Prospero's Cell Lawrence Durrell 71LxYZeF78L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Now, mind you, I also had my Kindle, so I was happy to read an e-book.  I’m not exactly secretive about what I read (I was reading Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell, a travel book), but it is true that there is no title at the top of the screen.

But e-books are not private or secret, because ALL e-book companies track what we read.  My real reasons for having a Kindle (and my previous e-readers, the Sony Reader and the Nook) are convenience and low prices.  I  carry my Kindle in my purse so I can snap it open and read on the go.  And e-books are usually cheaper, though I read more books than e-books.  There is something magical about finding a book you’re looking for and instantly downloading it on to your device.

Of course you all know that. But I should have had the paperback of Prospero’s Cell with the non-embarrassing cover, and the e-book of Downbelow Station!  But that’s not the way it goes.

The Fascination of Goodreads

goodreads s-GOODREADS-large2I left Goodreads last November because I could not find a “suitable” book group.  The discussion of Agnes Grey at a 19th-century lit group was just too lightweight.

I also left because of the lack of privacy.  I was surprised to be notified of everything my “friends” did, from rating a book to signing up for a giveaway to voting for the Goodreads Best of the year.

Heavens, you can tell I’m not on Facebook.

But I joined up again in April.  Why?  Because Salman Rushdie was there.

Last April, Salman Rushdie caused a mini-outcry at Goodreads when he gave low ratings to various classics.  He gave three stars To Kill a Mockingbird and one star to Lucky Jim.

According to the Huffington Post, he told astonished Goodreads users,

I thought these rankings were a private thing designed to tell the site what sort of book to recommend to me, or not recommend.

We never know what’s private and what’s not, do we? I give almost everything five stars, but that’s because I only finish books I like.

Anyway, I took another look at Goodreads.  I still can’t find a “suitable” group, but many of the reviews are intelligent, well-written, and a lot of fun.

If fact, it would be a good place to blog, even though it is not called that.

I was very impressed with the Goodreads reviews of Shirley Ann Grau’s The House on Coliseum Street (which I wrote about here).

Here is an excerpt from Carolyn Stevens Shanks’ review:

Shirley Ann Grau was is an important voice in the 20th literature of the American South, and more specifically to the category known as “Southern Gothic”. “The House on Coliseum Street” is a somber psychological study about suppressed volition and identity

And I like Betsy’s short review:

Cringe-inducing characters, but so believable. The women of 1960s in New Orleans are right there in the living room with you, and they are bored, limited in their lives, and not very nice because of that.

My recent recommendations from Goodreads include Dennis Mackail’s Greenery Street, Robin Cadwallader’s The Anchoress, and Robert Darnton’s The Forbidden Best-sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France.

I will probably never get around to them, but it’s fun.