Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Paris in July 2016 - Thoughts, Hopes, and Plans

I am very happy to be once again participating in Paris in July, a wonderful event about all things Parisian, hosted by Thyme for Tea.  I have been following this blog for many years.  It is one of the gems of the international book blog world.  Last year we had posts on more than just  the many glories of French literature.  I discovered lots of new to me writers through this event, including a writer whose image will for ever be on the side bar of my blog, Iréne Nemirovsky.  My first post for this year will be on her novel based on her families move from the Ukraine to Paris to escape virulent anti-Semetic pograms.  Tragically she died in the Holocaust, being sent to Aucshwitz where she was as murdered.  I have studied her life and read and posted on fiveteen of her works since last year.  I feel her loss personally.  French authorities and the anti-Semetic feelings of many French people, contributed too her murder.  

     Iréne Nemirovsky and her mother

To me Paris is the capital of the reading life world.  Terrorism is a war on the reading life.  There are no terrorists groups not strongly anti-Semetic.  

I hope this year to learn more about French literature, to linger over descriptions of French food and enjoy arm chair trips to Paris.   

My reading from Paris in July 2015

1. Baum, Gabriel, 1935" by Mavis Gilbert - A wonderful set in Paris short story

2.  "Two Friends" by Guy de Maupassant- Paris in July # 6. Requires reading de Maupassant!

3.  "Mildred Larson" by George Moore- What Paris Meant to the Irish

4.  "The Parisian Stage" by Henry James - an illuminating essay

5.  "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by Marcel Aymé- a new to me writer I will return to

6.   Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose - interesting 

7.  Shocking Paris Soutine, Chagall and the Outlaw Art of Montaparrne by Stanley Meisler-a 
     Well done account of Yiddish emigre artists in Paris

8.  Short Stories about Cats by Three Classic French authors 

9.  Suite Francaise by Iréne Némirovsky- a true masterwork. Paris under the Germans

10.  The End of Evil Ways by Honoré de Balzac

11.  Mademoiselle Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick- brilliant bio.

12.  The Horla by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Sandra Smith

13.  "A Piece of Bread" by Francois Coppee 

14.  The Wine of Solitude by Iréne Némirovsky- White Russians move to Paris 

15.  Pynchon and Paris - 

I hope some of my readers will join Thyme for Tea for Paris in July, 2016.

Mel u

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A House Full of Daughters A Memoir of Seven Generations by Juliet Nicolson (2016)


I was drawn to read A House Full of Daughters A Memoir of Seven Generations by Juliet Nicholson for two reasons.  One I have with three great daughters,,18, 20, and 23 my own "house full of daughters" and two I am interested in multigenerational histories of English aristocratic and literary families.  

I think the big attraction in this book is Vita Sackville-West.  She is the third generation, and is best now known as the inspiration for Virginia Woolf's Orlando. She is the grandmother of Juliet Nicolson. Vita had, as Nicolson tells us, over fifty lesbian relationships, including one with Virginia Woolf.

       Vita Sackville-West
The seven generations starts with a woman who became world famous as a dancer, known by the name of Pepita.  Before she married, without the approval of his family, a young Lord Lionel Sackville-West, her life was a bit of a scandal.  She moved to England, became a grand lady and gave birth to Victoria, mother of Vita.

     1830 to 1871, biography by her Granddaughter 

Vita is by far the most famous of the women.  She was, in her day, a very successful novelist, world famous gardener and mistress of a grand country house.  

Nicolson  in her very open memoir of her own life, sees common threads and difficulties in the lives of all the women, including her own daughters.  Most have at best slightly remote relationships with their own mother, most turned to alcohol as a retreat.  The author's account of her own serious drinking problem was very moving and brave.  

We are taken from southern Spain, to grand English country homes, to Washington, D. C. In the 1940s and 1950s to New York City the 1980s.

A Houseful of Daughters A Memoir of Seven Genetations is a very elegantly done family history.  It is also a social history and deals with family issues, especially between mothers and daughters.

I am glad I read this very interesting book.  There is a lot to be learned from this book.

       Juliet Nicolson with her daughters and granddaughter.  

Juliet Nicolson is the author of two works of history, The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age and The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm, and a novel, Abdication. As the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson and the daughter of Nigel Nicolson, she is part of a renowned and much-scrutinized family, and the latest in the family line of record-keepers of the past. She lives with her husband in East Sussex, not far from Sissinghurst, where she spent her childhood. She has two daughters, Clemmie and Flora, and one granddaughter, Imogen.

Mel u

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (2015)

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman is the story of life of the mother on the great artist, Camille Pissarro, founder of Impressionism as well as an account of the early years of the artist.

The plot opens in 1807 in the city of Charlotte Amalie on the Danish colonial Caribbean island of St. Thomas.  Rachel, mother of Pissarro, is descended from Jews that fled oppression in France.  The Danish government accepted Jews and was one of the first European powers to outlaw slavery.  To me one of the most interesting aspects of the novel was learning about the life of the small Jewish community on the Island.  Most of the populace was descended from slaves.  Rachel has a life long friendship with the daughter of an exslave.  The beauty and the harshness of the island was exquisitely evoked by Hoffman.  Her Family are involved in trade with Europe, the island is a great producer of rum, most of their income comes from the family store.

Jews could only marry other Jews so the marriage market is small.  Rachel, in a business deal, is married to a widower twice her age, she was twenty, who was a business partner of her father.  She becomes mother to his three children, she will eventually have seven of her own.  Her first husband will die and she finds true love with her second marriage.

There are interesting developments as time goes on, the plot end in 1855.

I found the historical details about life on the island fascinating.  There are several romances but I was not that convinced by them.  I do not issue a blanket buy recommendation on this novel. 

I enjoyed reading this book, my first by Hoffman.  I was kindly given a review copy.   

Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including Practical Magic, The Red Garden, the Oprah’s Book Club Selection Here on Earth, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, and The Dovekeepers. She lives near Boston.

Mel u

Monday, June 20, 2016

"World Party" - A Short Story by Rebecca Lee - From Bobcat and other Stories, 2012)

A while back I read and posted on two short by Rebecca Lee.  I really liked both of these stories, I was able to read them online.  I wanted to read more of her works but I could not find any more of her work online.  I hesitate to buy collection and anthologies of short stories as I am kindly given way more collections than can ever read and I keep getting more.  I suppose I could turn the offers of free books down but I like free books to much to do that and any book could be a masterwork.  I do look at every book I am given and I post on what works for me and The Reading Life. 

Recently I found that Rebecca Lee's collection Bobcat and other Stories was marked down from $10.95 to $1.95.  I have learned these mark downs are often short term so I bought the book.  I will be reading and perhaps posting on the stories in the collection I have not yet read.  

Lee writes about educated urban often academically employed people.  Those stories I have so far read center on women going through relationship turmoils and  dealing with issues arising from a divorce. Her wonderful portrayal of the reading habits of the peop,e in her stories, the role of the works they love in their lives is one of my favorite things about her work. 

I loved the opening segment of "World Party", set in a Canadian university, in which the narrator, a female professor of the classics, talks about teaching Ovid.  It for sure made me wanted to read him.  Much of the story is devoted to university politics.  There is often a certain otherworldliness to academics, caught up in sometimes petty seeming issues.  The big issue on the agenda is a protest group threatening a hunger strike over the investment policies of the university. Combined with this is a plot involving World Day at her seven year old son's school. 

I enjoyed this story a lot just like I did her other works. 

Mel u

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (1993)

Winner of both the Pultizer Prize and The National Book Award

Prior to today I have posted on three short stories by Annie Proulx, including her most famous story, "Brokeback Mountain" as well as her just published novel centering on the development of the lumbering industry, Barkskin.  Barkskin is being proclaimed all over the literary world as a master work and I expect it to win numerous awards.  I loved it and when I got an e mail notice saying her 1993 novel, Shipping News was marked down, in the Kindle edition, from $11.95 to $1.95 I acquired it. 

My bottom line here is first read Barkskin, especially if you love grand sized  historical novels.  Then if Shipping News is still priced at $1.95 and you loved Barkskin, then consider reading it.  I would not issue a general buy recommendation at $11.95 for Shipping News.

Shipping News centers on Quoyle and his young daughter.  Quolye's wife, a throughly dispicable woman who cheated on him numerous times, left him, took their daughter and sold her to a black market adoption agency.  He rescues her and they move from New York State to his ancestral home in Newfoundland, Canada.  

Newfoundland comes across as a terrible place, freezing cold with few opportunities outside of working in the dwindling cod fishing industry.  Quoyle has an aunt living there who helps him settle into a house.  He lucks into a job writing articles for a local news paper, he ends up specializing in news about the shipping industry. He also writes about auto wrecks and people arrested for sexual perversions. His aunt has a business doing marine upholstery.  At first the people in the town all seem like grotesques in a horror setting but slowly they come to life.  Quoyle, who never really gets over his wife, meets a decent woman.

There are lots of exciting events in Shipping News, Newfoundland can be a brutal place.  Most young residents want to leave.  


Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection Close Range. Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film.  from publisher's  web page

Mel u

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Bolshoi Confidential Secrets of the Russian Ballet From the Rule of the Czars to Today by Simon Morrison (forthcoming October, 2016, 512 pages)


Bolshoi Confidential Secrets of the Russian Ballet From the Rule of the Czars to Today by Simon Morrison will become the book to read on the Bolshoi Ballet.  The book opens with a coverage of the current cultural importance of the Bolshoi to Russia.  Morrison tells us that the Bolshoi did not emerge to be called The Bolshoi Ballet until the theater where performances were held was rebuilt after being burned in 1812 during Napoleon's invasion of Moscow.  

Morrison begins his history with an account of an Englishman who was the first true manager of the theater to run it both as a business and as a ballet company.  We learn a good bit about the business side of running the Bolshoi in the 1830s.  In the opening years, dancers, male and female, were often orphans or had been basically purchased for the theater from owners of serf theaters.  Most lived under very poor conditions.  The ballet needed not just dancers but musicians and story lines to preform.  The ballet was subject to censorship and many very patriotic works resulted from this.  Only the most affluent members of Russian society took an interest in the ballet and attended performances.  Of course a near starving peasant did not often ask "I wonder what is on at the Bolshoi j tonight".  Ballet performances were often very high end social events, especially when the Czar and his ministers were in attendance.  Ballet dancers often became celebrities and Morrison very interestingly profiles a number stairs.  Some became the mistresses of wealthy men, some got state pensions upon the end of their dancing years.  Most dancers barely made a living, some took in laundry, kept cows, or entered the demimonde world.

The theaters were wooden structures and their were several terrible fires  but always the Bolshoi survived.  Morrison very interestingly explains how the Russian revolution transformed the Bolshoi, an institution steeped in Czarist tradition, seemingly completely elitist. The book explains the great cultural importance of Bolshoi to Russia.  Morrison closes with an account of the grand reopening of a fabulous new theater for the Bolshoi under Vladimir Putin.  

In any book such as this a lot of space must be devoted to social and political history and Morrison does a good job with this.  

Bolshoi Confidential Secrets of the Russian Ballet From the Rule of the Czars to Today by Simon Morrison is a book those very into Russian culture, the history of dance and music history  will greatly enjoy.  

I would recommend this book to well endowed libraries.  As to individuals, the $35.00 initial price seems daunting to me.  This aside, if you want to read what will surely be the definitive English language work on the Bolshoi, then this is the book for you.  

I was kindly given a review copy of this book. 

Simon Morrison is a professor of Music at Princeton 

Mel u

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum (1929)

Grand Hotel is one of my favorite movies.  Starring Greta Garbo, made in 1932 and now frequently shown on The Turner Classic Movie Channel, I have seen it enough times so I can pull up large segments of it in my mind.  I was very happy to be given a review copy of the book of the same name by Vicki Baum, written in 1929 in the heights of the Weimier era in Germany. 

The movie very much follows the plot of the novel.  The main characters are there and they match up those in the movie very closely.  There is more depth of characterization in the novel, more treatment of minor characters like hotel staff.  I was fascinated by the book.  It depicts the growing corruption and decay of Weimier Germany brilliantly.  We learn more about the life of the aging ballerina played by Greta Garbo than we do in the movie.  

Grand Hotel  is a book I think anyone into Weimier Germany will enjoy.  My guess is most potential  bookreaders  will have already the movie and will be delighted to see how closely the movie follows the book.

Vicki Baum (1888–1960) was born into an affluent Jewish family in Vienna. Her childhood was dominated by a depressed mother and an authoritarian, hypochondriac father, who discouraged her early forays into literature. She studied harp at the Vienna Academy for Music and the Performing Arts and left home at eighteen to marry Max Prels, a journalist under whose name her first short stories were published. In 1916, after the dissolution of her first marriage, she married the conductor Richard Lert and launched her literary career, eventually writing nearly a book a year while working as an editor at the German publishing house Ullstein. Her first major success came in 1920 with the publication of her second novel, Once in Vienna. She spent several months in New York and Hollywood during the making of the film adaptation of Grand Hotel—which starred Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford and went on to win the 1933 Oscar for Best Film—and, before Hitler’s rise to power, resettled in Los Angeles, where she continued to publish novels while also working as a screenwriter for Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Her memoir, It Was All Quite Different, was published posthumously. 

Mel u