Winter reads

by anneMoore on March 3, 2015

The sky is grey, the ground is white, there’s a warming fire in the living room fireplace. Sure, I like a brisk winter walk, to ice skate, to ski. In Chicago, there are many days too cold to go outside for long. So we turn to books.

9781476731902_custom-6412e9960d203894c2e5676dee4dda0dffdbe58f-s200-c85The S
hort and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man who Left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs. Robert Peace is a whip-smart young black man with an imprisoned father and a mother who works long hours to ensure her son’s education. She sends him to a Catholic prep school for boys, where he thrives, winning the school’s top prize, learning to swim, becoming a collegiate water polo player. He has multiple offers from Ivies — but not the money to go, even after scholarships — when a wealthy benefactor steps up and pays his entire Yale tuition. (That act made we weep, on an airplane.)

Always there is the lure of drugs: using and selling. Peace smokes pot to quiet his mind; he sells pot to make a buck. He makes a lot of bucks, and it is that attraction — easyish money — that leads to Peace’s youthful death, at 30.

His is a stunning fall from a lofty place. Peace earned degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry; he researched cancer cells working in Yale labs. After graduation, he taught science and coached water polo at his Newark prep school. Most everyone — including this reader — assumed he’d apply to graduate school, or join a company that would pay for his schooling. Instead, he hustles: he tries to flip houses in Newark and other cities, he creates a potent strain of marijuana, he travels. His travel bug is so bad he takes a job with the airlines — on the tarmac, loading luggage — so he can get free “buddy” tickets.

Handsome, charming, a dutiful son and grandson, a solid friend: Peace is likable; it’s hard to let him go.

Bravo to author Jeff Hobbs — a novelist, white, from the suburbs — who installed himself in Newark’s poorest, drug-riddled area to tell the life story of his Yale roommate Robert Peace. This is a magnificent work of nonfiction: a rich, smart, layered read.

imagesThe Transcriptionist, by Amy Rowland. I like to read novels set in New York and this one had the added of allure of its setting, at a large newspaper. Lena Respass is the last transcriptionist at the paper, working alone, away from the newsroom. Reporters call in their stories, she listens and transcribes. Understandably, their words invade her.

Lena is an odd duck. She lives by herself in a boarding house for women on Gramercy Park. (Does such a place still exist?) She has no friends. A reporter woos her, awkwardly. A blind woman she meets briefly on the bus later climbs into the lion’s cage at the Bronx Zoo, to her death. Clumsily, Lena pursues the story of that woman.

I was haunted by this novel even though it didn’t really hang together. The reporters — especially Katheryn Keel — aren’t fully drawn, while Lena is overwrought and precious. This read like a fable, until its unlikely Hollywood ending.

images-2Euphoria, by Lily King. Hooked, page one: It’s the 1930‘s and two anthropologists, Nell and Fen, leave a hostile settlement, she with broken eyeglasses, he pointing out dead babies in the bush. From there the two — loosely based on the life of Margaret Mead and her husband Reo Fortune — meet up with Andrew Bankson, the third in this triangle, based on the British anthropologist Gregory Bateson.

This is historical fiction of high order: I gobbled up Nell’s field work about a matriarchal society in New Guinea and savored the welcoming home she creates within their exotic community. It seemed magical.

There’s trouble: Fen risks his life and that of a tribes man to gain possession of an icon, while Nell takes up with Bankson.

All of Nell’s relationships are smart and sexy: with her husband, the native women, her lover. She is remarkable: a scholar, a best-selling author, an adventurer, a feminist. Did she have to die at sea?

A page-turner for the bookish.


Books: New reads

by anneMoore on February 3, 2015

Boris Fishman’s A Replacement Life is that rare thing: a newly told Holocaust story. (Do we need even one more? If it’s this, a resounding “yes.”)

Aspiring magazine writer Slava Gelman is awakened early on an already hot summer day by his ringing landline, a curiosity. It’s his mother, letting him know that his beloved grandmother “isn’t.”

AReplacementLife-PBWith that, Slava is sucked away from his young adult Midtown life, back into Soviet Brooklyn, where his grandfather lives and now grieves. Pretty quickly, though, grandfather involves Slava in the scheme that informs the book: fabricating the life story of his grandmother, so grandfather can receive German moneys due Holocaust victims.

Grandmother, who escaped the Minsk ghetto, didn’t share her story while she was alive. So Slava interviews others, to create a likely life story. (This is difficult reading.) At the same time, Slava falls in love with co-worker Arianna, also the child of refugees. Theirs is a sweet, sexy romance that opens the book to the intimate pleasures of living in Manhattan, like star gazing in Central Park or lounging at Grant’s Tomb.

There are no secrets in Soviet Brooklyn, and soon Slava is translating and writing the life stories of other survivors. Unlikely friendships blossom: with the aged, with a gypsy-cab driver, and with Vera, a girl Slava grew up with, who has morphed into a woman. “..curves, everywhere curves. Vera’s bookshelves curved. Her lampshades curved. Her fridge would have curved if only the maker obliged.”

Slava’s writing attracts notice by the German official administering the program: will Slava confess? (Is his a crime? Can there ever be just compensation?) Will Arianna forgive his actions and lies?

PreparationEL-750x400One of the things I loved most about this read is Fishman’s rendering of New York City, where there is always someone — typically a stranger — commenting, cajoling, seducing, scolding. Even during a quiet visit to his grandmother’s grave, Slava gets an earful.

Another New York story I liked: Preparation for the Next Life, by Atticus Lish. (Unlike every other reviewer, this will not be a rave.) The novel is the immigrant experience of Zou Lei, a young woman from the provinces of China. Her life is harrowing. She works hard — and works out hard — but is always wary of being deported.

Skinner, an unhinged Army veteran, becomes her lover. Theirs is an odd romance that ends violently. What I loved about Fishman’s New York — the city’s inescapable crush of people, and their opinions — is lacking here. It felt like these two, who suffer or have suffered mightily, are in a bubble, a dystopian New York.

So, what kept me going? His clear writing and the lovers’ fates.

9780345805669Finally, I liked parts of Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names, but not the whole. Much of it is set in Africa, focusing on two young men caught up in revolt, during the 1970’s. The rest — the story switches back and forth — is set in a vanilla Midwestern college town.

There an African student named Isaac — one of the activists, but which one? — is housed by an aid group. A social worker falls for Isaac, and begins an affair with him. This should be incendiary, but isn’t: no one works against them, which is odd for the place and time. Their union should be heartbreaking; instead, it’s mostly dull.

Up next: Lily King’s Euphoria (thank you, Cherie.) I’ll let you know.


Year in Review

by anneMoore on December 29, 2014

Let’s begin with books. I read, and loved, so many.*

Most recently, A.M. Homes’ novel May We Be Forgiven, which begins with a series of unforgivable acts: a mindless and deadly car crash, adultery, murder. The only arc could be upwards, yes? Well, no — not in Homes’ New York suburbia. Before we arrive at one of the sweetest, oddest and most fitting endings we experience Internet mwbf014hookups, elder abandonment, job loss, the workings of an insane asylum, Nixon scholarship, survivalist prison, a prep-school predator, an adoption, and a bar mitzvah in Africa. Strange: yes. I loved every page, and suffered acute book grief giving up this family.

Next, Tom Perrotta’s collection of stories, Nine Inches. They blend together — life and longing in the New Jersey suburbs — but each gives us distinctive characters that made me laugh, cringe, or root for. My sister Liza, who travels for business and so reads everything, pressed this collection on me. Thanks, Liza.

Finally, Emily St. John Mandel’s luminous Station Eleven. I am not a reader of dystopian fiction: those books scare me. I can’t remember why I agreed with myself to pick this up — probably its Shakespearean troupe preforming ‘til the end of days — but when I did, I was quickly entranced. This is a fractured story of present, past and future: it concerns a movie star, his wives and offspring, his friends, and the players 9781250054975in his final performance, as Lear. Haunting, and beautifully told.

Movies: Birdman. If you haven’t seen it, run, don’t walk. It’s the movie of the year, a film made in one continuous take that reveals the workings of New York theater, and brings us, intimately, into the life of an aging star making a comeback. Perfect.

TV: Homeland’s best season yet, its fourth. My friend Dino asked if he needed to start with the first season. Hell no! Jump right in; you’ll be hanging on the edge of your seat. Each episode left me stunned.

Restaurants: A childhood friend was in town for a convention, and had been eating hotel room bagged nuts for days. Where could we eat and catch up on each other’s lives, Friday night, Michigan Avenue? Cafe Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan Ave. Their tables for two face the avenue (there’s not much of a view) and feel both separate and part of this casual chic restaurant. We could talk easily as we shared formaggi, butternut squash ravioli, brussel sprouts. Delicious.

patrickmelroseAnother standout: Charlatan, 1329 W. Chicago Ave., in West Town. Anne, a friend and colleague, invited me to a press opening for a holiday circus at Chicago Theater. The show was dreadful: we needed a great meal to make it a night. She led me to her neighborhood, with hopes of getting into Charlatan. It was cold, not late, the place was packed…we got a table, and a memorable meal: black pepper pasta with a rabbit ragu, squash pillows with thick slices of grilled venison. Mmm…Nice wine pairings; attentive service.

Museums: Davie Bowie Is at MCA Chicago, through Jan. 4. See it.

Plays: My favorite, now closed, was the Court Theatre’s Iphigenia at Aulis. Euripedes’ heartbreaker, magnificently staged and performed. I also loved Lookinglass Theatre‘s Lookingglass Alice, which I’ve seen a half dozen times over the years. It never fails to delight, frighten, enchant. Through Feb. 15.

TheChildrenActComedy: New in town since this summer is Mission Theater’s Trap, sketch comedy that’s dark, edgy, guffaw-worthy and not raunchy. As the girl in box office said, “They don’t cheap out.”

What a year! Here’s to a new one filled with equal pleasures.

* In no particular order, Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, Adrian Nicole Le Blanc’s Random Family, Jonathan Miles’ Want Not, Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, Alfred Hayes’ My Face for the World to See, Sari Botton’s Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York.


Life: Weekend in Montreal

by anneMoore on November 21, 2014

Chief among my reasons to visit Montreal was to visit our son Evan, who is finishing up his last semester at McGill University, where he’s studying English literature and history. My friend Janet, whose son is in his second year at McGill, was my co-conspirator. We agreed on an early November visit: cold enough to remind us where we were, but a city not yet buried in snow.

photoa&eWe got some misinformation from a resident that the hotel we’d stayed in before had been torn down. (Le Meridian Versailles is, in fact, still standing.‎) We like the neighborhood — walking distance to McGill campus, museums, shops — so we booked rooms across the street, at the Chateau Versailles, also a Le Meridian property.

What a treat! The Chateau is two old mansions combined. The rooms are large and ornate, with working fireplaces. There’s no elevator; bellboys are helpful. Breakfast is included and served in a comfortably elegant room just off the lobby.

‎ Our first night in town we were treated by friends to a nighttime tour of the quartier des spectacles: outdoor photograph exhibits and projected images on buildings. Through January 4. From there we walked a short distance to the city’s Chinatown, where we had a delicious meal at Orange Rouge. It’s a lively, hip place, and you’ll need a reservation. They serve flavorful non-greasy Asian food, meats and vegetables nicely paired. (Thank you Greita and Stephanie.)

photomontrealIn the morning we got ourselves to the Musee des Beaux-Arts for two shows. One was the poster work of Andy Warhol, small but rich, which runs through March 15. The other is vast: German and French expressionism from 1900 to 1914, with works by Matisse, Kandinsky and others I’d not seen before. Through January 25.

Janet was looking to buy fashionable winter boots and a coat; friends suggested La Maison Ogilvy. To me it was like department stores in Paris: busy but dignified, with professional sales people. We found luxurious cold weather goods: hats and coats, fur-lined loafers, stylish all-weather La Canadienne boots.

For a celebratory dinner (my McGill graduate!) we snagged a table for eight at Hotel Herman. Exquisite food, reasonable prices, excellent service, unfussy decor. (Thanks for the recommendation, Sara.)

Afterwards, we walked a block or two to Fairmount Bagels, open 24 hours, where bagels are hand rolled and baked in a wood-fired oven. They’re divine. Not chewy like New York bagels: thinner.

In the morning, we walked back to the same Mile End neighborhood for breakfast, at Boulangerie Hof Kelsten. Industrial chic, with one long table and stools. French toast, an Israeli egg dish, and my favorite: gravlax on rye bread.

Mmm… A perfect weekend. If you’ve never been to Montreal: allez-y!


Books: Fall Reading

by anneMoore on November 6, 2014

Summer is over, winter is upon us: reading is a constant. One I loved — every single page — is Ian McEwan’s The Children Act.

TheChildrenActLet’s review my feelings for Mr. McEwan’s work. I thoroughly enjoyed his last two efforts, the spy spoof Sweet Tooth and the environmental satire Solar. Both are wise and well crafted. His most famous work, Atonement, left me cold. I ate up its beginning, but really Briony: there’s no atoning.

His newly published The Children Act is 221 pages of tightly-wound perfection. It tells the story of Fiona Maye, a middle-aged High Court judge whose husband, an academic, leaves her for his young statistician. Understandably, Fiona is furious. She carries on at work, handling the case of a critically ill 17-year-old boy whose parents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, will not agree to have his blood transfused.

Later, the boy presents Fiona with a personal choice, which she dismisses. Would she have considered differently if she were a mother? If she had children at home? If her marriage were whole?

This is a great choice for a book club. Lots to discuss.

The Paying GuestsFrom there I picked up Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests, which received rave reviews all over. Hmm. Not sure I agree. I will say it kept me engaged.

The story is set after World War One, in a once grand home outside of London, peopled by a widow and her adult daughter Frances, a lesbian. They’re broke and grieving the war deaths of sons and brothers. It’s a dreary place. Enter a glamorous couple, who board with them.

Frances falls for the wife, who slowly responds. Theirs is a very sexy affair. The husband is charming but flighty: he is beat up in the alley and is often out late drinking with friends. He’s found dead. The women’s affair unravels because of the police investigation and trial. Was theirs a true love, or a perfect set up?

imagesOn to Us, by David Nicholls, author of One Day. I loved One Day, though not its movie: a sweet, endearing, swiftly told, shockingly sad read. Of course I expected the same from his latest.

Nope. Us is a back and forth “how we met” story of a now middle-aged British couple, about to split up, going off on a European vacation with their unpleasant teenage son. The telling is tiresome and no one is likable. I left them on page 147, in Amsterdam.

Finally, John Kenney’s Truth in Advertising, which won this year’s Thurber Prize for American Humor. Deserved. It’s witty, well drawn, dark, silly: today’s Mad Men.

shoppingFin, our hero, is a self-loathing ad man heading towards 40, once nearly married (ouch!) and disconnected from his family. His plans for Christmas: Mexico, alone.

I loved this read: a smart rom com that skewers advertising. Yes, he is reunited with family and yes he gets the girl…but none of it is easy, or treacly. Nicely told, and very funny.


Books: Reading bestsellers

by anneMoore on September 24, 2014

Walking the dog the other night I ran into a neighbor who shares my taste in books: we both like big long deep smart reads. She mentioned that she was hanging on every word in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken audio version, had I read it and if I hadn’t she had the hard cover to lend. I grabbed it, started the next day, and didn’t stop reading until I reached its wholly satisfying ending. I even read the author’s notes.

shoppingWhen I mentioned my admiration for Unbroken, more than one friend said, “That’s not your kind of read.”


Well, okay, the last best seller I loved was Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, which was published when I was a teenager. And I may be the only reader on earth who had to take a shower after reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Blek! I threw Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County across the room (Jane Smiley’s 1,000 Acres, too) and have been known to hurriedly drive lent books back to their owners, or to the library, or to the used-book drop off. They’re so not for me I have to be rid of them.

My book throwing tantrums — so satisfying — have been copied by certain teens frustrated by school-assigned reads.

Back to Unbroken: A World War 11 Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, which is an astonishing read, published in 2010. We are expertly pulled into the life of Louis Zamperini, who is a troublemaker, Olympic runner, beloved son and brother, Army flier. He survives a plane crash and weeks adrift on a raft in the Pacific, only to end up in a series of (beyond brutal) Japanese Prisoner of War camps. Survival, indeed. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to experience his rage and redemption back home, in L.A., in the 1950s. What a life.

Bravo, Laura Hillenband. A masterpiece. Angelina Jolie directs the film, opening this Christmas. I look forward to it.

imagesAnother big long read I liked a lot is Matthew Thomas’s We are Not Ourselves, newly published, an epic of every day life. That sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s what this book is: the life of Eileen Leary, from childhood to late adulthood in New York City’s boroughs and suburbs, from 1941 to 2011.

Life happens: a mother’s alcoholism, a husband’s early Alzheimer’s, a son’s misadventures away from all that. I wondered why I kept reading: it was all so ordinary. Eileen is a striver. She wants more for her family, and gets it: a house in Bronxville, a boy at the prestigious Regis High School. The love for her failing husband, I suppose, is what endeared her to me.

This is a vast but quiet read, an American life laid bare. It’s not antic like a Jonathan Franzen novel, or achingly lyrical like Chad Harbaugh’s The Art of Fielding. It’s its own thing, finely wrought.


Books: Reading Pytonga, Part 2

by anneMoore on August 21, 2014

I’m always reading but I read most in or near a cabin in the woods, in Quebec, Canada, beside Lac Pytonga. Days are long and lazy there (well, I did take some IMG_2818epic runs) and nights are free of the usual distractions, since there’s no t.v. and no Internet and no cell service and someone other than me and mine has made, served and cleaned up dinner. Sure, we play Scrabble and hearts and this year unearthed Time, a trivia game that spans the Twenties to the Eighties.

During the day I swim and run and hike and kayak and pick wild raspberries and blackberries, the dogs along with me for the walk. At night, we have a popcorn tasting “war” with neighbors.

Mostly I read. I read on the boat, while others fish. I read on the beach, while kids gunnel-bob or paddleboard or jump from docks. I read when the weather turns cold and rainy and sends us indoors, beside a fire.

This year I read four big books, all of which I can recommend.

IMG_2850First was Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, a multigenerational Irish and American saga. Easily he weaves seven interlocked stories, beginning with the hoopla of the first trans-Atlantic flight in 1919 and ending in 2011, with a mother grieving her then-19 year old son, slain by Irish terrorists. Poverty, immigration, daring, untimely death, race, peace negotiations and an un-opened letter. A slow, good read.

Next I read Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family, nonfiction published in 2003. (Thank you, Cherie.) Poverty in the Bronx is a seemingly endless cycle of teen pregnancy, absent or incarcerated fathers, drug dealing, children raising children. It’s not just men who disappear. A main character, the beautiful Jessica, spends years in Federal Prison for her role in a heroin drug ring. This is a long, brutal, magnificent story, which ends on a hopeful note. Of all these summer reads, this was the one that gave me book grief.

IMG_2835A friend in camp was hooked by Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This and lent it to me once he’d finished. It’s a compelling read, beautifully written, about a family whose missing son returns home after four years, now age 16. The boy’s captor is freed on bail. It’s hot and humid in Corpus Christi: add child abduction and rape for a potboiler. An engaging, thoughtful read. (Thank you, Larry.)

Finally, I curled up for days with Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a beguiling tale set before and during World War Two, as residents flee Paris and later, with the German occupation and siege of St. Malo, a walled city in Breton. In alternating chapters we meet a blind girl in France who becomes a resistor and a German orphan adept at radio construction and use. How these two come together, in St. Malo, is the story of the book. I was completely taken in by this tale, even though it began to smell like a Disney movie. Skip the present-day ending; it’s treacly, and unnecessary.

That’s it for summer reading. On to fall.

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Books: Summer Reads, part 2

by anneMoore on August 1, 2014

photoAfter a grumpy slog through an overly long immigrant saga, I wanted a fun, smart full-bodied read. I picked up Sadie Jones Fallout from my stacks, for its cheerful colors and in-love couple on the cover. I was not disappointed.

This is a layered love story, completely engaging, of young adults making their way in early 1970’s London theater.

Jones’ characters are likable from the start. We meet Luke as a boy, breaking his mother free from the insane asylum where she lives. They go for a day trip to London, to the National Gallery. It doesn’t go well, of course, but the sentiment — the planning and execution, by a boy — is sweet and memorable.

UnknownAlso at the museum is Nina, touring the galleries with her self-absorbed mother. When Nina is fobbed off on her aunt, a sensible caretaker, we understand her shriek: no child wants to parted from their mother, even one who’s monstrous.

How Luke and Nina come together as adults is complicated and intriguing. Luke is a promising playwright, Nina is bright young actress — but she’s married to Tony Moore, a prominent theater producer. Luke’s colleagues and roommates, Paul and Leigh, also figure in the story.

Cruelty, betrayal, disappointment: it’s a rollicking, sexy read — until its end, which seemed not believable and forced. I liked Fallout so much I ordered some of Jones’ earlier novels. I’ll let you know.

Another good read: Georges Simenon’s The Strangers in the House (Inconnus dans la Maison) from 1940, re-released by New York Review of Books Classics.

Unknown-2Simenon is best known for the Maigret detective novels. This is different, a psychological novel, a romans durs.

Set in Moulins, an ancient city in central France, Simenon gives us reclusive attorney Hector Loursat, who removed himself from society when his wife abandoned him and their small daughter Nicole. Loursat drinks and eats to excess and though he dines with the now adult Nicole, they don’t converse, they have no relationship.

One night, Loursat hears a commotion in a wing of his vast home. There he finds a man in bed, shot, newly dead. Also a young man fleeing, and his deshabille daughter.

Who is the dead man, and why is his daughter unperturbed?

Necessarily involved in the case, Loursat comes back to life: he dresses well and drinks less. He walks the streets, he visits bars and restaurants, he creates a kind of relationship with Nicole, who gathers evidence for the trial.

Simenon’s great talent is to bring a reader into a room, onto a street, into the courthouse. You are there. Simenon wrote 200 novels and in this we see a master at work: beautiful prose, compelling plot, an unexpectedly happy ending.

Make no mistake: Loursat has changed, but he’s still an odd duck living a peculiar life.

A satisfying read.

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Books: Summer Reads

by anneMoore on July 17, 2014

What’s a summer read? Turns out it’s — a book. Screened gadgets give off an impossible glare and the ones that don’t can fall in water or get buried in sand. They’re just not made for the beach, the pool, the deck of a boat.

IMG_2730Books are.

Using a buoy for a cushion I read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, an enjoyable tour of Singapore’s ultra-wealthy set. Yes, they are a frivolous bunch, and the story is forgettable, but I learned some things about that city’s rich history and matriarchal culture. A breezy read for foodies and fashionistas. (Thank you, Jennifer.)

Earlier, on dry land, I read Jonathan Miles’ Want Not. I admit to putting it down after the first (repellant) chapter, about New York City squatters who subsist on garbage. I’d loved Miles’ first book, Dear American Airlines — it seemed impossible he could write a bad book. So, I gave Want Not another try, and I’m glad I did. The story opens out to include a lonely linguistics professor and his dying father; also a wealthy debt collector and the suburban family he stitched together after 9/11.

wantnotI fell in love with every one of these characters, even the freegans. Yes, the book is overly long, but I didn’t mind — the three stories come together in surprising ways. Best of all, the ending is memorable, and deeply satisfying.

I am always hopeful. Stacey D’Erasmo’s Wonderland hooked me — about an aging rocker returned to the road — but petered out. Or as this reviewer put it, “fails to climax.”

Several friends recommended Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, telling me that I would understand race in a new and different way. Maybe. This is an episodic read, often a rant, lacking in plot, 588 pages long. There are some

americanahmoving scenes, particularly when main character Ifemelu is first in the United States, a desperately poor college student. But over the course of the book Ifemelu is tiresome and full of herself; the young man she leaves behind in Nigeria is more sympathetic, and has a more interesting life arc.

Why read Americanah? Well, everyone else is…and the magnificent Lupita Nyong’o is a producer and star of the film.

Ah, summer. More to come.

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Books: New and old reads

by anneMoore on June 5, 2014

A long holiday weekend gave me time to lounge outside in the sun — take that eternal winter! — with Edward St. Aubyn’s latest, Lost for Words.

summerskylineIt’s delicious: a satire of a famous book contest. Witty, withering, sexy. Yes, he gives us too many characters, none of whom we get to know deeply. Still, a fun read.

I’m starting this post with St. Aubyn because I read his Patrick Melrose novels over spring break in Florida and have had trouble finding a way to write about that all-consuming experience. (Thank you, Georgia Dent, for leading me to them.) Each is a great read, and I highly recommend, even though their subjects include humiliation, child rape, extreme drug and alcohol use, marital abandonment, infidelity, disinheritance, and the slow awful decline of a stroke-impaired parent.

Five linked novellas follow Patrick patrickmelroseand the adults in his life, from his childhood to fatherhood within the upper-est crust of English society. (Princess Margaret figures in one, memorably.) Like Evelyn Waugh, St. Aubyn’s work is expertly constructed, deeply moving and very very funny. First published in 1992, the fifth “At Last,” came out in 2012. Find more about St. Aubyn in Ian Parker’s excellent New Yorker profile.

Other reads I’ve liked lately include Hilary Mantel’s An Experiment in Love, published in 2007.

It follows provincial girls from childhood to a London college for women. It’s set in the 1960’s, a time when women of all ages were trying out their independence. mantelOne girl is studying to be a doctor, another becomes pregnant to see if she can get pregnant, another becomes anorexic after her parents cut her off, emotionally and financially, for spending the holidays (read: sex) with her boyfriend’s family.

Set this one on the Mean Girl shelf. How mean? This ends with a locked door and a fiery death.

Finally, a shout out to Melville House Publishing, for resurrecting Irmgard Keun’s Gilgi (1931), which was so popular and shocking for its time the Gestapo blocked the author’s royalties. Melville’s Neversink Library “champions books from around the world that have been overlooked, underappreciated, looked askance at, or foolishly ignored.”

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