A Homage to the TBR

Someone else’s reading journal.

I keep a book journal, but do not have a TBR.  I buy books, I put them on shelves, I take them off shelves, I find I am not in the mood, I put them back for a year or ten years, I take them off the shelves again, and eventually I read them. Are people with TBRs more organized?  When I do plan, the dates are flexible.  Last spring I meant to reread Daniel Deronda, but didn’t get around to it till  fall.  Did it matter?  Not at all.  And did I hurry through 800 pages?  I did not.  George Eliot’s prose is buoyant and rich in texture, lush and leisurely.  Festina lente (“Hurry slowly”),as the Roman proverb says.

Not everyone shares my serendipitous style of selection, though. We don’t all have to be the same:  I very much like other people’s TBRs!  And so this post is a homage to pictures of  bloggers’ TBRs, which I always love, and to the “vloggers” at Booktube who show books to the camera and say they plan to read them. (Now that is a bit weird!)  The photo above is of what passes for my TBR (though I am committed to reading other books currently, so this TBR is in flux).  I have started some of these, so I can decide which to finish, and which to reject.

1.  Gail Honeymoon’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.  Everybody has read this except me, yes?  I have read 50 pages, and it is well-written.  Initially I thought it might be like Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn, only Eleanor Oliphant is a 30ish eccentric heroine with a dead-end job in an office, not an elderly woman about to retire. But Honeymoon’s novel is both lighter and more issue-oriented:   The victim of some kind of abuse, Eleanor has scars all over her face but says she “is completely fine” without having any friends. And then, at  a concert, she is smitten by a musician, and buys a computer to stalk him online.  She plans to meet and seduce him and even gets a bikini wax.  But her most likely friend?  The nice, dull guy from the IT department.

I’m of two minds about this:   I do feel I read a very similar American novel in 2015 or 2016.  I actually blogged about it, but don’t remember the title.  It wasn’t very good:   the story of a obese woman who is completely alone until a kind woman befriends her–and naturally she blooms.  Gail Honeymoon’s novel is much more sophisticated.  I am not very intrigued by the story, though.

2.  Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun.  This is a Christmas present from a friend with very good taste.   And I loved Stewart’s nonfiction book about earthworms, The Earth Moved.  This mystery, set in 1914,  is based on the real-life Kopp sisters: Constance Kopp became of the nation’s first female sheriffs, after the sisters survived a shoot-out at their farm.  This is another of those books everyone loves, and  the opening pages are addictive.  AND SO IT WILL BE READ.

3.  Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. I read an article in The Guardian about publishers’ favorite books of the year:  Alexandra Pringle at Bloomsbury recommended Conversations with Friends.  I’ve read 62 pages of this beautifully-written little book, and it slightly reminds me of Barbara Trapido’s comic novels, only it’s aimed at Millennials and written by a Millennial.  The narrator, Frances, a poet who performs poetry at bars with her best friend Bobbi, develops a tangled relationship with a married actor, the husband of a woman who is writing a profile about Frances and Bobbi.   I’m of two minds about this:  I’m not its target audience, and I do not relate to the characters.  But  I will PROBABLY finish it because it’s blessedly short.

4.  Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke It’s a Golden Age Detective Story, and I love Allingham.  It is not her best but very exciting!  I’m a fan of her hero Albert Campion, so I’ll finish it.

5.  Browsings, by Michael Dirda, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for The Washington Post, is a collection of essays which he wrote originally for the homepage at The American Scholar. He is obsessed with collecting books, carries a notebook on walks, and tells us which notebooks he prefers (not Moleskines), lists titles of books about books, and guides browsers at a famous book sale at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart to learn which books are collectible and valuable.   Yes, I will finish this book, and it would make a great Christmas gift.

6.  Susan Richards Shreve’s Queen of Hearts.  I absolutely loved this well-written novel when I read it in the ’80s, and am loving it again.  It’s a moving tale with a hint of magic realism, set in a small town in Massachusetts.  The heroine is beautiful, kind, and has second sight, but on the eve of her wedding, an unforeseen incident occurs: she finds her fiance with another woman, and she kills him. What will she do with this secret?   The very talented Susan Richard Shreves is one of my favorite novelists. She bridges the gap between literary and popular fiction, and this is thoroughly enjoyable.

So, do you have a TBR?  Do you plan your readign?  Or do you read as you go? What’s on your TBR?   Let me know!

How to Relax on Saturday Night: Margery Allingham’s The White Cottage Mystery

allingham TheWhiteCottageMystery

There are “do’s” and “don’t’s” for Saturday night.

Do: Listen to the Grateful Dead.  What can be mellower than “Box of Rain?”

Don’t:  Watch the original Star Trek.  Popular with SF geeks, Trekkies who dress up like Klingons, and recovering addicts in rehab, it is almost too exciting “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Do:  Read a Golden Age Detective mystery of the 1920s, ’30s, or ’40s.  There is something soothing about a murder investigation,  especially with a discerning English detective at the helm.  The brilliant detective interviews people and finds clues, but all violence is off the page.  There are cottages, manors, London flats, fens, helpful butlers…and other elements that make it relaxing.

I recently spent a Saturday night immersed in Margery Allingham’s first detective novel, The White Cottage Mystery, published in 1927. Allingham, one of the Golden Age Detective Fiction writers of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, is best known for her wonderful Albert Campion detective series.  (Now I must reread them.)  The White Cottage Mystery was recently reissued as an e -book by Bloomsbury Reader.

NPG x2396; Margery Louise Allingham by Howard Coster

Margery Allingham

Allingham has a gift for writing natural dialogue and inventing unsolvable plots (at least I never solve them).  This entertaining, fast-paced book opens with a young man, Jerry, offering a lift to a beautiful young woman who has alighted from a bus.

“God bless you!  It’s about a half mile down this road, and I’ve such a blister on my heel!”

He drops her off at a house called White Cottage.  He stops a little way down the road to put the hood up on his convertible and smoke a cigarette. He borrows a match from a constable and they chat.  Minutes later, a screaming parlourmaid runs down the road.  There has been a murder at White Cottage.  A neighbor, Mr. Eric Crowther, has been shot and killed in the dining room.

Jerry’s father happens to be Inspector W. T. Challoner of the Yard, and it is he who investigates the murder.  It is baffling, because everyone is a suspect, and everyone denies having seen the crime.  In spite of  Jerry’s protests, W. T. insists on questioning everybody, including the girl Jerry gave a lift to, Norah.  She is the sister of Mrs. Grace Christensen, whose husband, Roger, a war veteran in a wheelchair, owns White Cottage.

Everybody has a motive.   That’s the problem.  Mr. Crowther has tortured everybody with his  knowledge of their pasts, and threatened to tell their secrets.  Everybody says he was a devil who deserved to be dead.  He visited Joan almost every day, despite her wishes to the contrary, and the sense is that he harassed her. She found the body but says she was in the garden with her daughter before the shot, but the little girl says she was at the other end of the garden.   Estah, the child’s nurse, says she wishes she had killed Crowther herself, because he was the devil.  As you can imagine, his servants didn’t like him, either:  Crowther’s valet, Clarry Gale, is an ex-convict with a special hatred of him; and Mr. Cellini, Crowther’s Italian companion, has disappeared.

Penguin-4616 Allingham White Cottage MysteryAllingham  explores the ethics of a murder investigation.  They track one of the suspects to France, and when they meet up with Joan and Norah there, W. T. says there is no choice bu tto investigate them further.  Jerry is upset:  he wants his father to leave Norah alone and asks, “What does it matter who killed him?”

‘Jerry,’ he said, ‘in our business one must never be afraid to know the truth. You want me to throw up this case –a thing I could never do for my own self-respect’s sake –because you’re afraid to face what you believe to be true. You believe Mrs Christensen fired that shot –don’t interrupt me –I repeat you believe she murdered Eric Crowther, and you’re afraid to prove it. That’s no good, my boy –a doubt is always dangerous. For her sake as well as for everyone else’s we’ve got to find out all we can….’

Jerry sighed. ‘Then you won’t give up.’

A fascinating philosophical discussion.  Who is right?  W. D. or Jerry?  There is a very weird ending, utterly unexpected.

What a stunning little book!  I absolutely loved it.