Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my 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

Monday, June 13, 2016

"The Bog Girl" A Short Story by Karen Russell (June 20, 2016, in The New Yorker)

My Posts on Karen Russell

"The Bog Girl" is the ninth short story by Karen Russell which I have featured on The Reading Life.  All of her stories are delightful, inventive and insightful.  I am doing this post largely to let my readers know that her latest story, "The Bog Girl" can be read for free on the webpage of The New Yorker.

"The Bog Girl" is set on a mythical Northern European island.  A primary source of heating fuel is  peat cut out of the bogs.  The chemical and enviormentental conditions in peat bogs are perfect for preserving bodies for sometimes thousands  of years.  Perfectly sealed off, a person buried in the peat bog would not decay very much.  The lead character is a young man of fifteen.  He is working cutting peat out of the bog when he uncovers the body of a girl around his age.  At first people thing she msybe a murder victim so the police are called but they quickly recognize it as a bog body, maybe two thousand years old.  The boy decides to take her home with him.  He begins to imagine her life, it looks like she might have been part of a ritual sacrifice.  He invests the girl with a personality and is soon in love with her.  She eats with the family and people treat her as if she were alive.

I will leave the rest of the plot untold.  

In the same issue as the story, there is a very interesting interview with Russell.  

Karen Russell, a native of Miami, won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her first novel, Swamplandia! (2011), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, and a 2012 Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. She lives in Philadelphia.  From webpage of Random House

Mel u

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Roald Dahl A Biography by Jeremy Treglown (1994)

Ronald Dahl, most famous for his best selling children's books, was born in Wales in 1916 and died in Oxford in 1990. 

Roald Dahl has a significant personal meaning to me.  The newest Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie was the first movie I saw with my three daughters, then 11, 9, and 7.  We read his novel Matilda aloud together and everybody got really into it.  We bought a DVD of the movie and they watched it over and over, gasping in fear of the evil principal and cheering for Matilda and Miss Honey. 

As Jeremy Treglown in his very well done Roald Dahl A Biography shows us Dahl, at six foot five, was a larger than life figure.  He served with served with great valor as a fighter pilot in W W Two, being awarded the Distinquished Flying Cross.  He began to write short stories based on his experiences.  By good luck, he was assigned to Washington DC and began to meet lots of important people.  Dahl could be very charming and had a strrong mutual attraction to women.  Even when married to a woman of stunning beauty, the American actress Patricia Neal with whom he had four children, he still had multiple affairs.

Dahl's first big break came when he wrote a strory about gremlins.  In the British Airforce gremlins were held responsible for all mechanical problems with planes.  More of his stories were published in high prestige magazines like The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, and Playboy where he published lots of stories. Before he became famous as a writer of books for children, he wrote adult novels and a bit twisted short stories.

Treglown details his career.  Dahl began to work as a screen play writer for Hollywood.  He develops relationships with major publishers.  Dahl could be difficult and expected to be idolized and could be surly if he felt he was neglected.  He was a decent father.  

There was an aspect of the life of Dahl I found hard to understand.  His wife, who earned very big money from her movies, had a stroke.  Dahl pushed her very hard to recover, hiring
full time therapists.  I wondered was this done from love or to bring in the large sums she could earn.

Dahl was anti-Semetic.  Treglown seems to try to brush this off by saying it was as a common attitude in upper class British society of the period but I lost a good bit of respect for Dahl when I read some of the quoted remarks,  He was also very anti-Zionist and anti-Isreal. 

As Dahl switched to children's books, he became a tremendous success.  Treglown details the plots of the books and places them in the context of the times and events in Dahl's life.  We learn a lot about the business side of being a best selling writer.  

Treglown talks about his relationships with his daughters.  Like many a father, he was vocal about his disapproval of their boyfriends.  

Dahl began to make millions.  He was very generous with his money to his extended families and many charities.  He especially supported organizations that encouraged children to read.  

Dahl felt he was a great writer and felt he deserved to be knighted and resented that this never happened.  

Dahl had a unique gift for producing stories that would entrance children.  

Treglown's biography is a first rate work.  It is a social history of an era, not just a biography.  

Jeremy Treglown (b. 1946) is a British literary historian and biographer. He served as editor of the Times Literary Supplement through the 1980s. He is a senior research fellow of the Institute of English Studies at the University of London and emeritus professor of English and comparative literary studies at the University of Warwick. Treglown’s biographies include Franco’s Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936, V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life, Romancing: The Life and Work of Henry Green, and Roald Dahl: A Biography.

Mel u


Friday, June 10, 2016

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (1913, 302 pages)

Born 1867 in New York City, died 1937 in France

Author of The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth among many other works

The Custom of the Country is the third novel by Edith Wharton I have so far read.  My favorite by far is The Age of Innocence followed by The House of Mirth.  

Udine Spragg, along with her family, the central figure in The Custom of the Country has just moved to New York City.  Her father made money in slightly shady Midwestern business deals.  Udine wants to marry into old New York money.  Her life takes many twists and turns.  She marries and remarries more than once.  There is a good plot summery on Wikipedia so I will just talk about my favorite aspects of the novel.

I really liked the descriptions of life among the rich in early 20th century Paris, of the ins and out of Parisian society.   I thought the treatment of Udine's relationship to her father somehow mirrored in her relative indifference to her own son.  I enjoyed the contrast of New York and Paris society.  Udine later in life married into a family of French aristocrats whose money is tied up in land and art.  Udine has a hard time adjusting to their ways and needs a life of constant excitement.  

I am glad I read this book.  I would say to those new to Wharton, her best known novels are first rate.  She has a legitimate claim to being the best female American novelist.

Mel u

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Curzon Imperial Statesman by David Gilmour (1994, 704 pages)

George Curzon, 1st Marquess of Kedleston

1859 to 1925

Vice Roy of India, 1899 to 1905

"To many people George Curzon was the very image of an arrogant and ambitious aristocrat. Heir to one of the great country houses of England, he was educated at Eton, where he won several academic prizes, and at Oxford, where he won several more; at both institutions he was spoken of as a future Prime Minister. In his twenties he established himself as an author, a Member of Parliament and an expert on foreign affairs. Before he was 40 he became Viceroy of India, the ruler of nearly three hundred million people inhabiting territory now divided between India, Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh. But Curzon’s career was a spectacular blend of triumph and disappointment. As Queen Victoria’s last Viceroy, he presided over the Indian empire at its apogee; as Foreign Secretary he was a crucial figure on the international stage after the First World War. Yet his triumphs were invariably succeeded by disillusionment and a fall."  David Gilmour

George Curzon was from 1899 to 1905 the Vice Roy of India, the crown jewel in the British Empire.  He was near absolute ruler over 300,000,000 million residents of the incredibly diverse in all ways of Indian Subcontinent.  

David Gilmour does a magnificent job of letting us see how Curzon, a very complex man, rose to great power, only to fall and rise again. His family was aristocratic but without great wealth.  He married the daughter of a wealthy American industrialist from Chicago.

Curzon entered public service right out of college.  Because of his great intellect, powerful work ethic, devotion to duty and charismatic personality he was quickly advanced at a young age to positions of great responsibility.

I do not wish to detail Curzon's career path, Wikepedia has a decent basic facts article.  I basically acquired this book because I am very into colonial South and South East Asia history and I wanted to learn about Curzon's time in India.  Curzon iwas not just a capable administrator.  He made himself into an expert on Indian and Persian culture.  India was not a monolithic country, there were hundreds of different political divisions, including about 750 Princely states, some bigger than England, others with just a few thousand subjects.  There were many languages and religions to bewilder the average Englishman.  Curzon enjoyed the perks of his position.  He seemed to have really enjoyed going on tiger hunts with local nahibs. He was treated as an Emperor would hope to be.

After his return to England Curzon was a member of the cabinet and the House of Lords.  Gilmour details a lot of the political jockeying for power of the time.  Lots of people felt Curzon should have been prime minister of England but he was not.  He was not always a skilled political infighter and in England lost out to men of lesser ability because he was not superficially likeable. He was preceived as arrogant by many, no doubt correctly.

Curzon was a great reader, mostly biography and history.  He became wealthy through the money his wife left their daughters when she passed.  He made a hobby of restoring old stately homes and castles and giving them to the government.  Gilmour explains his active role during WWI in the home foreign office. 

Curzon was a sometimes difficult man to work for, being very hard on servants and his ADCs in India but he also looked out for them and they as viewed him as a benevolent if remote father figure.

Curzon and his wife Mary had three daughters.  His daughters were at times difficult.  They had their own money, actually more than their father, through trusts from their mother. 

Curzon Imperial Stateman is a very good book I strongly recommend for anyone into English or Indian History.

Check author's webpage for his bio and other works 

Mel u

Monday, June 6, 2016

European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages by Ernst Robert Curtius (736 pages, translated from German by Willard Trask)

My Great Thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card That Allowed me to read this book.

"This is, I think, the finest work of literary scholarship in my time, by the great German philologist Ernst Robert Curtius. It is an extraordinary study of the continuity of European literature, from Homer and the other Greeks, on through Virgil and the great Latin writers, to a culmination in Dante, and moving beyond to a consideration of a long tradition that concludes with Goethe. . . . It is from Curtius that I have learned--and others go on learning--what literature is, and why I myself would call it a way of life and a way of thought."--Harold Bloom, FiveBooks

European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages by Ernst Robert Curtius is the most challenging and the most illuminating work of literary history I have ever read.  It is the product of a lifetime of scholarship, deep and broad  reading in Greek, Latin and Romance Languages literary works.  The theme of the book, which I was completely convinced was correct by the time I finished the work, is that the time honored standard pedagogical division of European literary history into classical, medieval, Renaissance, and modern eras is counterproductive and leads to misunderstandings based on a belief in breaks in tradition.  Curtius lays out the development of European literature from Classical Greek and Roman writers, much space is devoted to Virgil and of course Homer.  When Curtius stepped back from close reading to expand broadly on European society and literature I was very much in awe.

Curtius details how medieval theories of rhetoric drew from Latin and Greek roots and how out of this grew the work of writers like Dante and Boccaccio.  Both men were educated in Aristolean rhetoric theories, Curtius tells us Aristotle's poetics began to be intensely studied about 1250.  The metaphors and story lines of Ovid, whom I am now reading after a very long hiatus, and Virgil greatly influenced writers of Italy and France, as Curtius very well documents.  Curtius work for me destroyed the standard teaching models  of European literature and actually culture as a whole.  

Curtius shows us how Don Quixote arises from late medieval romances drawn from stories developed from ancient roots.  From Don Quixote the  European  novel was born.  Curtius talks a good bit about the historical roots of T. S. Eliot from Dante.  In my mind I imagined James Joyce shaping the modern novel through rhetorical devices and structures borrowed from Homer and Dante.

This is a book that could be read with profit numerous times.  It changed how I see literature.  I think the old fashioned pedagogical classifications with the dark ages thrown in there broken when writers and artists rediscover the Greeks and Latin writers is still taught in almost all universities almost out of laziness.  Curtius did much of his work living in Germany when it was ruled by the Nazis.  His work is on the surface pure scholarship but under that I think there is a magnificent message of multiculturalism and the power of the best of human achievement to endure.

For me,  European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages was a gestalt changing work.  Once again I learned that what I was taught in the academy was wrong.  

I strongly urge all literary autodidacts to read this book.  

Ernst Robert Curtius (1886 to 1956) was a German literary scholar and historian, philogist, and a Romance language literary critic.  His most famous work is European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages.

Mel u

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Book Store on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (forthcoming 2016)

The Book Shop on the Corner by New York Times Bestselling author Jenny Clogan is a lot of fun, a novel about a young woman who leads a reading centered life and also has sex with a Scotish Farmer with six pack abs, in his barn.  She was a librarian in Birmingham, England but government cut backs caused her to be laid off from a job she totally loved.  The thing she liked most about being a librarian was finding books that are right for library patrons.  She is kind of a "book matchmaker".  Nina all her life loved books.  When the library closed down they were throwing out thousands of books.  She knew libraries and book stores all over The U.K. were closing down.  

Nina finds an ad for a vehicle that used to be a food van.  The van is up in Scotland.  Nina has a few months severance pay so after a bit of country Scotish pub drama and humor, Nina owns a van.  She, with the help of her roommate and some new friends, fixes up her van, stocks it with books and begins driving it all over Scotland, selling books.  She is very good at finding the right books for her customers.  She meets some men, befriends a troubled teenage girl, and has her share of romantic drama.

This is a fast easy to read book.  The characters are well developed.  I liked it mostly for the descriptions of the books.  Nina as a reader and a book matchmaker was very convincing.  

I was given a review copy of this book. 

Jenny Colgan is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including Christmas at the Cupcake Café, Little Beach Street Bakery, and Meet Me at the Cupcake Café, all international bestsellers. Jenny is married with three children and lives in London and Scotland. (From Goodreads)

Mel u

Friday, June 3, 2016

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson (first published June 26, 1948 in The New Yorker)

Shirley Jackson's Most Famous Work

Shirley Jackson's Best Know Works are the novels The House on Haunted HillWe Have Always Lived in the Castle, and her famous short story, "The Lottery".

She was born in San Francisco in 1916 and died in North Bennington, Vermont in 1965

She was married to Stanley Edgar Hyman, a well know literary critic and cultural historian, from 1940 to 1965.  They had four children.

"The Lottery" is the most famous work of Shirley Jsckson.  After initial publication in The New Yorker June 26, 1948 more letters were received about it by any other story in the history of the magazine.   Everyone  wanted to know what the story meant and nearly seventy years later that was my reaction after reading this amazing, seemingly simple story.  It is one of the most anthlozied American short stories.  

The story has a Hawthorne like feel.  I don't want to at all spoil the story for first time readers.  The story can be seen in a multitude of fashions as a commentary on religious beliefs, plotical structures and societies.

This a great story, deeply intriguing.   

I am glad I have at last read "The Lottery".

I learned in Ruth Franklin's very good biography of Jackson that she got to almost hate the story from so many people demanding she explain the meaning behind the work.

Please share with us your reaction to "The Lottery".

Mel u

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford (1931)

Nancy Mitford's First Novel

The Novels of Nancy Mitford 
(1904 to 1973, born London, died Paris)

With the reading of Highland Fling, Nancy Mitford's debut novel I have now read all of her fiction, I wish there was much more. 

 Her biographies of Frederick the Great, Madame Pompadour, and Voltaire still out there as possible reads.

In the world of Nancy Mitford's novels, no one really has a job, unless you considered unpublished poetic genius a job.  People have "livings", ranging from a meager £500 a year which allows you only two servants up to millions.  Everyone seems to have a Rolls Royce, beige is the preferred color, and eccentric relatives from whom they expect large inheritances.  Paris is paradise for them.  Of course having  a suitable spouse is of paramount importance.  Nancy's social range is narrow but she understands it perfectly.  She is wise,  witty, at times laugh out loud funny and under the surface there can be great sadness.

Highland Fling takes place at a country estate in Scotland.  There is a delightful assembly of eccentrics, great conversations and social satire.  It was a lot of fun to read.

I hope to shortly do a Post on my thoughts and feelings on finishing the fiction of Nancy Mitford and my reading of three books about her and her sisters.

Please share your thoughts on Nancy Mitford's novels. If you have read her biographies what was your reaction?

Mel u

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (672 pages, forthcoming September, 2016 from W. H. Norton)

Shirley Jackson's Best Know Works are the novels The House on Haunted Hill, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and her famous short story, "The Lottery".

She was born in San Francisco in 1916 and died in North Bennington, Vermont in 1965

She was married to Stanley Edgar Hyman, a well know literary critic and cultural historian, from 1940 to 1965.  They had four children.

The first two decades of the 21th century have been great years for lovers of literary biographies.  With the internet making vast sources of information available much more can readily be learned about writers. Shirley Jsckson A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin is a very good addition to the genre.

Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life is a very well researched and beautifully developed life of an iconic American writer.  Most, including me before I read this book, think of Jackson mostly as the author of the classic short story, "The Lottery" and some well known and still in print ghost/horror style novels.  In fact as Franklin perfectly explains, she wrote a number of "family fun" type stories and novels centering on her life with her husband and four children.  Shirley for many years lived from her writings and had to acquise to the wants of publisher and editors.

         Shirley Jackson and her  Children. Jsckson and her husband had
         Over 25,000 books in their home library.

Franklin's book is far more than just an accounting of the facts of Jsckson's life.  She grew up during a very bad period in the United States, the Great Depression.  Her family lived in a very affluent community unimpacted, her grandfather was an architect and became wealthy through the great building booms in California.  One of the biggest influences on the life of Jsckson was her hyper-critical mother, Gertrude.  Gertrude rarely let up on her criticism of her daughter, when she first appeared on The New York Times Best Seller List, her mom finally had a kind word to say about her writing career.  Franklin goes into rich detail on the dynamics of the Jackson family.  It is easy to see the genesis of Jsckson's life long weight problems, her fondness for bourbon and her acceptance of a life time of infidelity from her spouse Stanley Hyman even though for the last years of their marriage she out earned him by at least ten to one.  

The family relocated to Vermont just as Shirley began college.  Unlike most women of her time, as strongly pushed by the culture, she was not just in college to find a husband but to really learn.  She had a brough range of interests and starting writing in college.  Through her writing she met Stanley Hyman who was to become by far the biggest influence in her life.  I really admired Franklin for devoting an entire chapter to the powerful and brilliant Hyman.  I thought it was really a brilliant idea to introduce us to Hymsn right after Jsckson met him.  Jsckson and Hyman both attended The University of Syracuse.  Hyman was the editor of the school literary journal and they met through her submissions to the journal.  Hyman at once saw her as potentially a great writer, they quickly fell in love.

     Stanley Edgar Hyman, his most famous book was The Armed Vision.
     He wrote and taught about critical methods.  He was also a long time
      New Yorker contributor and for many years a professor at the very 
     Progressive elite all women college in Vermont, Bennington.

Franklin's book is very much the history of a marriage.  I felt sad for Jsckson when I read of her husband's many affairs, several with his female students.  We learn a lot about Benington College. 

Franklin takes us along as Jsckson struggled to get published.  Just like now the greatest place to publish a short story was in The New Yorker.  We learn about Jsckson's relationship with agents, differing publishers and magszines.  We see her as a mother and faculty wife.  Through it all Hyman encouraged her to write.  Through some periods her income was sparse but in time she began to do very well especially once she sold the rights to The House on the Haunted Hill to Hollywood.

Her most famous work is her story "The Lottery", published June 24, 1948 in The New Yorker.  Everybody wanted to know what the story meant.  

Her children were occasionally difficult but whose are not?  Hyman and Jsckson both grew heavy.  Jsckson loved to cook and have parties serving all the best deli fare from New York City.  The dynamics of the marriage are very well depicted by Franklin.  She spends a lot of time talking about the plots of different works of fiction, relating them to events in Jsckson's life and to her vast reading. We learn a lot about the money aspects of her writing career.  

Jackson was very interested in witchcraft.  She was very widely read. She liked bourbon, cats, books, food.  She loved her husband and seemed a decent mother.  

Franklin tells us lots of fascinating things about the writer and her mileau.  It is very much a period social history of an America.  Once on a passport application Jackson entered her occupation as "writer", the customs official looked puzzled then said we should just change it to "housewife". 

Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin is a first rate literary biography, as a bonus we get the life and career of s famous literary critic, Stsnley Hyman, thrown in!  Shirley's story is a very American one and this book may resonate most with Americans. 

I received an advance review copy of this book. 

 It is a very good literary biography.  Franklin is deeply immersed in the writings of Jackson and deeply in empathy with her.

I look forward to seeing how this book is received upon publication in September.

Mel u