|The urge to make a chart was upon me.|
1. Emily of Deep Valley - Maud Hart Lovelace. Emily's friends are all going off to college, but she feels she must stay behind and look after her grandfather. After feeling rootless for a while, she finds new friends and interests. The eagerness to Americanize the Armenians was a little cringe-y, but Emily did dream of being the Deep Valley version of Jane Addams, and it is the 1910s. Betsy Ray makes a cameo in this novel.
2. The Walls of Jericho - Paul I. Wellman. I found this 1947 novel in my university's library. The setting is the early 1900s in a small Kansas town which seemed very real with a lot of historical detail, but the plot, about two friends, a lawyer and a newspaper publisher, who drift apart because of politics and their unpleasant wives was hackneyed and a little rushed at the end. Enjoyable retro trash reading, in that Taylor Caldwell sort of way. The Walls of Jericho was made into a movie in 1948 starring Cornell Wilde as the lawyer and Kirk Douglas as the newspaper publisher. Yes, of course I'd like to see it.
3. The Dinner - Herman Koch. Paul and his wife meet his brother Serge, who is running for Prime Minister of The Netherlands and Serge's wife at an overpriced restaurant with pretentious food. As the courses keep coming, so do the revelations about this family. Furthermore, Paul is a highly unreliable narrator. Darkly amusing.
4. The Female of the Species - Joyce Carol Oates. A book of nine short stories featuring female protaganists of all ages and mental states who prove to be either dangerous or deadly. My favorite was "The Hunger" with its open ending. I was reminded of Patricia Highsmith's short stories. If you're looking for a creepy October read, try this one.
5. Flash for Freedom! - George MacDonald Fraser. A game of blackjack goes badly at a party, and before Flashman knows it, he's been kidnapped and taken aboard a ship with a crazy-strong Latin-spouting captain. This episode in Flashy's memoirs takes him to Africa then on to America, and he's in one scrape after another, not to mention plenty of beds. How does he find time to hang out with a young lawyer from Springfield named Lincoln? This is my favorite of the Flashman books I've read so far.
6. Bobbie, General Manager - Olive Higgins Prouty. I've been curious about Prouty ever since I read The Bell Jar in which Sylvia Plath based a character on her, unkindly calling her "Philomena Guinea" and poking fun at her writing style. I've come to believe that some of that spleen was motivated by jealousy. Plath wanted to be a serious poet, but she also wanted to break into the women's magazines market where the big bucks were. Bobbie, General Manager (1913) is Prouty's first novel, and although it's a little rough, there's no denying that she had a flair for this sort of thing. Her writing kept me engrossed, which serves as evidence of her talent because the ebook copy I read was so full of errors:
Most of the book was like that, but I could manage because we live in the age of auto-correct and I'm always having to decipher my friends' text messages. My patience was sorely tried, though, when Bobbie finally had a dust-up with her snobby sister-in-law Edith, and I could barely get the gist of it:
I'd never style myself a typist (and neither would Mrs. Peggy Bowman, my long-suffering typing teacher from high school) but I'd gladly take a crack at typing this cute little novel over again. With the state it's in now, it's not going to be discovered by many new fans.
7. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell. I read this for Banned Books week, then I was angry for days that it is a banned book. Eleanor & Park is a wonderful YA novel. The fact that it is YA seems almost incidental. The title characters fall in love, and I fell in love with them, as well as Rainbow Rowell. Let me count the ways: I love it that Park is half-Korean. I love his family. I love that Park is into comics and 1980s groups like The Smiths and Joy Division, and this is how he bonds with Eleanor. I love that the book is set in the 1980s. I love how it feels like a graphic novel; I could actually see the characters interacting frame-by-frame. How did Rainbow Rowell get me to see that? Is she magic? OK, yeah, I'm besotted. Last night in the English Conversation class, instead of serving up this week's grammar point, I spent nearly half the time telling the English majors about E&P and showing them the book trailers. Oh, and I had to tell them what "banned" means, and I managed to discuss the Parent Action League without swearing, which is much harder than you'd think. I've got Rowell's newest novel Fangirl, and I'm saving it for the Readathon. Can't wait!
8. The Ladies' Paradise - Emile Zola. After a long summer, I'm back with the Rougon-Macquart series. The Ladies' Paradise is a new department store in Paris that is owned and operated by Octave Mouret, who is from one of the battier branches of the Rougon-Macquart clan. Octave's particular brand of madness is genius. He has devised innumerable methods of enticing female shoppers, and he's always thinking of more. Dude does not miss a trick. An impoverished young girl named Denise wanders in from the countryside and in time proves herself to be a superior saleswoman, catching Octave's interest. Meanwhile, Octave's department store is putting all the other stores (including Denise's uncle's fabric store) in that area of Paris out of business, so the novel focuses a bit on their miseries as they try to hold out against The Ladies' Paradise. As always, Emile Zola did his homework, immersing himself in all aspects of retail by visiting three department stores. Parts of this book should be required reading for merchandising classes. Good stuff. Great translation by Brian Nelson.