Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Books Read in September

47. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

Finally finished the Wicked Years. Out of Oz finishes the story in some ways, and just leaves it open again. Oh well. I don't know how much closure I expected. Still best read for the dark and amusing riffs on the land of Oz.

48. The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory (audiobook)

One of my favorite of Gregory's, and I've read nearly everything by her. Katherine Parr is, in my opinion, the most interesting of Henry VIII's wives, both because she survived and because she was one of the first women to publish in English. Also, I wasn't aware of the relationship between her and Anne Askew, a contemporary female preacher, a relationship which is central to Gregory's novel. As usual, Gregory takes an inventive approach to history, creating the highest possible stakes drama (as if the Tudors weren't dramatic enough!). I've also felt that Gregory's later books, like this one, and The White Princess, feel more fiercely feminist in nature than some of her earlier works. Henry VIII, despite being central to the plot, is a somewhat enigmatic character in, for example, The Other Boleyn Girl--even when he does terrible things, the crux of her interpretation of his character has remained elusive. Here, she finally comes out and makes it clear what kind of a monster he has become.

49. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

I read this twice in less than a month, so it's obvious that I highly recommend it. It's pitched as a modern-day Greek tragedy, a woman at the top who had it coming, and hilariously chronicles her fall. However, although Jennifer makes a joke of her two years of unemployment, it's no laughing matter for those of us who came of age during the recession. Though I don't have her penchant for high-end retail or cosmetics (there's a hilarious yet poignant scene where she tallies, for example, how much insurance her bottles of half-empty nail polish could have covered), it's definitely a story that hit that "there but for the grace of G-d go I" note. Also, this was her first memoir, but she apparently has others that I must read post-haste.

50. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Extremely funny, dry, and droll--read my thoughts here.

51. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

I finally finished the Inheritance quartet! I'm glad I did. I had many frustrations with the series, mostly that it was overwritten and did too much "telling" instead of showing. However, Eragon, his dragon Saphira (some of the best writing is from Saphira's POV, imo), his cousin Roran, and his friend Arya, to name a few, are memorable characters that represent interesting variations on familiar fantasy tropes. The plot, while predictable, also had some interesting twists and turns. I think Paolini's greatest strength was his ability to play on those tropes to create a believable fantasy world with strong female leaders, new and more nuanced interpretations of "enemy" races, and a strong core of ancient history and magic. The story meets a full heroic arc in the end, and Paolini makes some strong atypical choices there as well. On the whole, it's a valuable addition to high fantasy, and I would recommend it especially to young fans of the genre.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. Two of the bloggers I follow went to Jonathan Safran Foer readings recently, as did I. It's interesting to hear the different takes on him and his work. When I saw him, he was introduced by his mother and his whole family was there! I didn't realize he'd grown up in D.C., so that was quite a surprise. It also made more sense why his new book is set here. He read the passage about the urinal that he's apparently read elsewhere. Although I loved his first two novels, I'm not sure how I feel about this one...I did start reading Here I Am, but I haven't gotten to the urinal scene yet.

2. I missed the National Book Festival and the Baltimore Book Festival and all the other bookish events the weekend before last because I was sick. I hate that I missed Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Ann Goldstein and so many other interesting writers. At least I saw JSF the week before.

3. I just celebrated Rosh Hashanah, and spending that time concentrating on how I can be a better person in the new year made me feel really zen and refreshed. I hope I can keep that up now that I've got a busy couple of weeks ahead (and fasting, of course).

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Favorite Passages from Cold Comfort Farm

I've wanted to read Cold Comfort Farm ever since I learned it is one of Boston Bibliophile's favorite books. Her allusions to it piqued my interest, and while browsing in the library the other day, it caught my eye.

Gibbons' wit suffuses this offbeat, Austen-inspired novel. First published in 1932, it's set in early twentieth century England, when the recently orphaned and consummate cosmopolitan young Flora Poste resolves to rely on the generosity of her country cousins, and furthermore, adjust their lives to her convenience.

Flora remarks to a friend:

I am only nineteen, but I have already observed that whereas there still lingers some absurd prejudice against living on one's friends, no limits are set, either by society or by one's own conscience, to the amount one may impose upon one's relatives (15).

Zingers like these abound, and this gem and the one below were two of my personal favorites. In her equally amusing foreword, Gibbons notes that she has taken the liberty of starring her best passages according to a four-star rating system. Neither of the passages I picked were starred, so you can just imagine! Her quirks extend also to an inventive vocabulary--she refers frequently to "sukebind," a kind of crop whose flower leads to all manner of lascivious behavior. When I researched this mysterious plant, I discovered that it originated with Cold Comfort Farm, along with a number of other terms I'd thought were suspicious!

My other favorite passage, like the one above, has that wonderful ring to it of a truth you've never been quite able to express:
Mrs. Hawk-Monitor had combined two of the essentials for a successful ball (too many guests in a smallish room)...and the fact that most of the people who were present knew each other slightly, all the ingredients for success were present (159).
Gibbons prefaces the novel with a quote from Mansfield Park: "Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery." And, indeed, she does.

Page numbers are from the Penguin 20th century classic TV tie-in edition, published in 1994, which I found in the library. Excuse me while I search for that made-for-TV movie.