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Sunday Book Review

gqmartinez's picture

Tomorrow is Sunday which means its time for Sunday Book Reviews. What are you reading? What books are your all time favorites? Come tell us all about them. Or shoot us some of your own writings!

Also, please share any stories you may have about budget cuts to libraries. According to the Library Journal, PA has proposed to cut the state's library budget in half.

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nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

I'm currently reading Pat Barker's Life Class, in which she returns to the World War I period. I was compelled by Regeneration, a novelistic account of the doctor (William Rivers) who ran a psychiatric hospital to "cure" soldiers who rejected continued participation in World War I. The poet Siegfried Sassoon was sent there after writing a declaration against the war in 1917. Finding Sassoon perfectly sane, Dr. Rivers comes to question the morality of what he's doing in seeking to convince the soldiers to return to the war and then declaring them sane when they agree. The novel addresses issues of morality, class, loyalty to friends and acquaintances against loyalty to the government-defined responsibilities to society. It's extremely well written and compelling.

The subsequent novels in the trilogy, The Eye in the Door and Ghost Road continue with Rivers' struggles with his job. I remember them (I read them several years ago) focusing on the way in which the war distorts society and individual personality into destructiveness. Regeneration is far and away the best of the three, but the whole trilogy is worth reading.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm rereading old Agatha Christie detective stories, and if you read them as documents in social history, the horrific cost of World War II is clear. Spiritualism, for example. Lots of dead to get in touch with!

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

fan, Lambert. Christie is actually one of my less-favorite authors of the Golden Age. Although I enjoy her books, I think perhaps it's because there's not so much character development in her detectives as by some of the other authors.

For social history and character development purposes, I've always preferred Dorothy Sayers, even though she wrote mostly prior to WWII. She develops her main character's personality largely by interweaving the psychological effects of his participation in WWI (and the effects on other characters) in later books. Wimsey's thoughts on the build-up to WWII:

God! How I loathe haste and violence and all that ghastly, slippery cleverness [by politicians during peace talks preceding WWII]. Unsound, unscholarly, insincere--nothing but propaganda and special pleading and 'what do we get out of this?' No time, no peace, no silence; nothing but conferences and newspapers and public speeches till one can't hear one's self think

A quote for the ages!

At my local library, things are same as ever, except for somewhat more aggressive promotion of the Friends of the Library memberships and books sales. But no hours and seemingly no cutbacks on programs. Maybe there have been cutbacks in acquisitions and I've not noticed. So I am very lucky. Other towns in the state have seen a lot more negative impact, including closing some libraries entirely.

Submitted by lambert on

Sayers, Christie, John MacDonald, Rex Stout, Connelly, etc.

Sayers and Christie are very different writers. The thing about Christie is that there are so many more of her books. And while most of Christie's characters are flat, I think that Miss Marple is real....

kerril's picture
Submitted by kerril on

My life goal as I grow older is to be Miss Marple. I would love to be able to reason as well as she does. Of course, murder follows her wherever she goes so there's the downside. But her perennial garden is of course perfect and she can knit.
I love the Christie books, I'll bet I've read most of them and still do, over and over. There must be something there worth revisiting, nostalgia, neatly wrapped up mysteries and simpler times. Around the same time I read most of the Christie books I went nuts over P.G. Wodehouse. I read him now and wonder what got into me, it's just not the same. I remember laughing at Bertie Wooster and his friends and would read any Wodehouse I could get my hands on.
For mysteries now I love P.D. James, but there's not enough of them. Sayers I couldn't get into, the Peter Wimsey dialog was just too affected for me. Other wise it's James and the Brother Cadfael books. Mystery and history, a perfect combination.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

Much agreement there. I was never able to get into Bro. Cadfael when I tried long ago, but I've been eyeing that shelf in the library. I shall take your recommendation as a sign I should give Ellis Peters another go. I've read all of PD James (I think) and always liked her because her books are well-written.

I started on Sayers in the middle chronologically, after Wimsey had 'grown up' quite a bit. I don't know if I would have become so attached if I'd started when his character was more foppish and callow. But one of her later books, Gaudy Night, is something of a treatise on the importance of the obligation to truth and academic honesty in any scholarly pursuit, and I go back to it regularly as much for that as for the story.

I'm sort of promiscuous within the mystery genre but I do love books that get you to learn about some other subject, like Iain Pears' art crimes mysteries, Caleb Carr (historical), or Elizabeth Peters (Egyptology & history). I also really like genre-busters, like Carol O'Connell's Mallory series, where the main character is definitely not like any other.

Lambert, is Ngaio Marsh on your list? She has quite a number of books in her Inspector Alleyn series.

Submitted by lambert on

and also PJ James, though I don't like the slatternly surface she gives to English life; it's like living in a kitchen that's too nasty even for me. Ditto Ruth Rendell.

PG Wodehouse, I feel, just gets better and better. There's something wonderful about work that is all surface. Wodehouse will endure, I feel, long after more "serious" work has faded. I mean, really, Steinbeck (say) or Wodehouse? No contest. It's only when you get up to the level of Austen or Joyce that you'd want to sacrifice Wodehouse, and that's saying something. No doubt that the 20th Century is on the whole so horrific that there's no way to react to it except with light comedy. Edwin Brock:

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways to kill a man.
Simpler, direct, and much more neat is to see
that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

I'm with you on Wodehouse vs. Steinbeck. There are others I would include as "Wodehouse over X" such as Cheever, Plath, Mailer, the list goes on until it bumps into Twain, and Wodehouse must come second. I'm just not that into the earnest, literal or "challenging" fiction, not unless it's got some serious mojo. Like figure skating, even with perfect style points, you still need to pull off the big jumps to win.

But back to mystery writers (AND serious mojo), Hammett, and his image of the rotten underbelly of the America of the early half of the twentieth century, only improves with age (mine as well as his work's).

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

books, then? They're Jonathan Gash's series of mysteries 'round the English antiques trade.
Anyway, Lovejoy is this not-quite-ne'er-do-well, sort of the anti-Wimsey or maybe even the anti-Poiroit, (definitely the antithesis of Bond, James Bond, but still every bit as randy as that spiffy spy -- from '86 to '94, the series was Ian McShane's vehicle and introduced me to the joys of British telly via A&E repeats.)

kerril's picture
Submitted by kerril on

You've convinced me to give Sayers another try, and I will check out Wodehouse again to see if I've grown back into him. I hope so, he gave me much pleasure.
Lovejoy! I just loved the series. Thanks for the reminder, I will definitely be looking for the books now. Now I'm excited!

kerril's picture
Submitted by kerril on

Bertie Wooster over "Travels With Charley"? I can't quite follow you all the way there. Austen I'll give you though. But then, I'd pick Austen over just about anyone.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

Bertie Wooster on Brit TV?
(I confess, I like him so much better as Stuart Little's adoptive Dad than as Dr. House, it's not funny. But I like House, so ... whatcha gonna do?)
There's a twist on mysteries. Robin Cook wrote some pips of mystery novels centered around medicine. Anything else like them out there now?

kerril's picture
Submitted by kerril on

in part because I saw the movie first with Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas and she was just wonderful.
There were literally years there where I refused to watch House because I knew Hugh Laurie from the Jeeves shows (I have them on DVD, too) and, of course, Blackadder. There was no way I felt I could take him seriously. Now I watch it all the time. I was dumb enough before to assume that House would also be serious.

Submitted by jawbone on

for, what I like about the libary, what facilities I use, etc.

I'd asked earlier if they were being warned of budget cuts -- now I've assuming this is to rebut moves to cut libary services, hours, who knows what.

What's so bad about this downturn is that the Repub idea of low taxes, high fees, service cuts is now almost second nature for even Dem elected officials. Seeing how NY's Paterson is reacting is very worrisome. Yes, there's the need to have balanced budgets, but he took tax increases for the wealthiest off the table from the gitgo, BUT added and increased fees that lower income people pay. Some Dems are acting like Hoover.

Paterson was worried that raising income taxes on the wealthiest would drive them out of the state to lower tax rate states....

Submitted by jawbone on

stamps! But will give $45M to retrain unemployed Wall Streeters, set up office space for them, and provide seed money "so that they can 'promote innovation' and 'capture growth.' " Okaaay. There's an argument for that, and Bloomberg makes it, pointing out that after being let go he started his own business and is now very, very, very wealthy.

Per piece in The Nation by Richard Kim, the NYC mayor, once a Dem, then a Repub, and now an independent, is joining the ranks of Sanford, Jingal, and Palin, Repub govs who say they will refuse some stimulus funds available to the the people of their states (state legislators can overrule govs on this, btw).

But, sheesh, as Kim says, freakin' FOOD!

(Uh, think those Repub govs are thinking about running for president? They maty need another job....)

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

I didn't see this (while ill, my reading has been sketchy) - But why turn down free money that will definitely go into the local economy?

I think Bloomberg had a hand in getting the "food stamps" card processing enabled at the Greenmarkets. Dang. I thought he would be on our side this time.

It is not clear how many people would have benefited from the extension. According to the Human Resources Administration, there were 1.3 million food stamp recipients in New York City in December, a 19.4 percent increase over the year before. About 47,000 of them are able-bodied adults without dependents. In 2006, when there were about 43,000 able-bodied adults receiving food stamps, city officials estimated that if the three-month limit were waived, at least 13,900 more people would become eligible.

At the time, Mr. Bloomberg said he had quashed the city’s waiver application because he was “a believer that people should have to work for a living.”

“You have to have a penalty if there’s a requirement to work, and this penalty is one that’s appropriate,” he said. “The city has a whole host of programs to make sure that nobody goes without food.”

No workee, no eatee.

And that last line, that's just pathetic. A whole host. riiiiiiiiight.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I don't normally read short stories, but the only Vonnegut at the library that I hadn't read more than once was Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of short stories from the pre-novelist days. It's a very quick read and full of typical Vonnegut.

Like a Kurt Vonnegut book, I can read a Jasper Fforde Thursday Next book cover to cover in one sitting no matter how late at night I start reading the book. For those who aren't familiar with Fforde or the Thursday Next series, the books are about a woman who can literally enter into books. This means that the main character has to deal with problems from the real world as well as the "book world". The books are a little bit science fiction, a lot of sarcasm and political satire. I recommend the Thursday Next series to everyone and while not everyone enjoys them, a fair number have read the entire series.

I recently read the latest installment of the Thursday Next series--Thursday Next, First Among Sequels. While I enjoyed the book, I would definitely recommend reading the previous four books in the series prior to this one. The latest book is full of so many references to the previous books. You don't really need to read the other books to understand or enjoy the latest, but it definitely makes it more entertaining to catch the references.

I wouldn't say this is Fforde's best book in the series, but I liked it. If you haven't read a Jasper Fforde yet, I'd recommend starting with his first one, The Eyre Affair. If you like that, you'll most likely find the rest of the series better than the first installment.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

The plots are entertaining and fun, and I love the feeling of immersing myself in a world where the integrity of literature is a huge societal priority.

eta: correct spelling

whaleshaman's picture
Submitted by whaleshaman on

but this is the best of anything I've read in a long time--I call it: Naming names.

An excerpt, from the first of many paragraphs to have stopped me in my tracks and, my eyes squeezed tight, give me pause:

The Preliminary Memorandum calls the Bush administration's illegal acts "an attempted constitutional revolution that succeeded for years." It began six days after 9/11, when Bush secretly gave the CIA permission to "murder . . . people all over the world." It continued in a series of secret, wholly specious legal memos authorizing torture, electronic eavesdropping, wholesale violations of law, and Presidential usurpation of the role of Congress.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

By Richard Gott.

Really interesting. I'm at the end of Spanish colonial rule (the Spanish-American war) and the start of American dominance of Cuba from the start of the 1900's until the revolution.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

Cuba was the second to last country in the Western Hemisphere (two years ahead of Brazil) to end slavery. Following a decade-long insurgency (called, predictably, the Ten-Year War) a deal was brokered in 1880 which included freeing slaves after 8 more years of 'obliged patronage' (basically endentured servitude) to their "masters". This was shortened to six and in 1886, the last slaves were finally freed.

"Fear of a Black Cuba" drove Cuban politics from the beginning of the slave trade until the Castro Revolution, and arguably beyond.

Mandos's picture
Submitted by Mandos on

I recently finished Regenesis, the very, very long-awaited sequel to C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen, which she wrote 20 years ago or more to thunderous applause. It was a brilliant novel like the first, although, being a sequel, it does not get so many novelty points. But what a genius SF author.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

The Vorkosigan adventures, by Lois McMaster Bujold, and the 1632 / Ring of Fire series, by Eric Flint (and collaborators).

If your libraries have them you MUST try to see the DVDs from the PBS series, "MYSTERY!" circa 1987 in which Edward Petherbridge is cast as Lord Peter Wimsey. There are three hour-long episodes -- "Strong Poison," "Have His Carcase," and "Gaudy Night." If you are a Sayers fan you'll have a tough time determining whether to be delighted with the cast (yes) and staging (yes) or appalled at the wholesale slash-and-burn used to cut the books down to fit (yes, yes, yes ... and yet. 'Twas done with love and done quite well, all things considered.)

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

they're fun and crazy and jam-packed with all sorts of personal, political, sociological and military drama.

I own the Petherbridge dvds, actually. It's sort of weird watching them, bc they were all shot on, I think, videotape rather than 16mm (or whatever most US series were shot on back then), so they have a sort of stagey quality that took some getting used to, for me.

I'm off to check out Flint.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

actual films rather than tv episodes!!

I think they actually are a collaboration between WGBH and the Beeb. I understand Edward Petherbridge also starred in a London stage engagement of Busman's Honeymoon as Lord Peter (I'm given to understand that Harriett and Bunter were recast for that) following on, and it was quite a success.

I'd no idea he was a contemporary (and apparently quite good friend) of the actor who played Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter films.

I discovered Sayers quite by accident, having come across a Lord Peter mystery in a box of secondhand books when I was laid up in '88 -- The Nine Tailors, actually. It quite created a monster, and I haunted libraries in three counties until I had located all the Lord Peter books and read them. At the time I had no idea of the Internet or Amazon, so I lived (and suffered!) by Inter-Library Loan, second-hand paper-back stores, and garage sales.

I think the first Barnes and Noble purchase I ever made was a Lord Peter. I swapped loans of an omnibus of the short stories with a friend who turned me on to Miles Vorkosigan. I hope she enjoyed the exchange as much as I did!!

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

It was kind of weird, actually. The locl sf bookstore had her in, at 3 in the afternoon. I had to cut out of work early to go. There were only about 8 people who showed up. You'd think that would have been a fabulous opportunity, but I expected many more peeps, and didn't have any brilliant questions lined up to ask her. (I was too embarrassed to ask her any of my stupid ones). She was kind of shy, actually, and tended not to look at people in the face when talking to them. Of course, she may also have had problems with the one guy (in every crowd, proverbially) who was v. loud and dominated the discussion. He had no problems asking stupid questions. Later, though, she gave a lecture at MIT and just came alive in front of the very large audience.

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

I just finished Denis Lehane's latest (AFAIK), The Given Day. It's another historical novel set in the early 20th century - I seem to keep finding these lately - mixing historical characters with fictional ones.

There are many very current-seeming themes in this story of Boston (and Tulsa) in 1919. Most notably, the build-up to the Policemen's strike, with the police having an excellent case (they had agreed to forgo any raises during WWI based on the guarantee of raises afterward, which never came, and ended up below the poverty line in terms of salary while the postwar cost-of-living skyrocketed). The Police Commissioner andother Governments officials spinning the story for all it's worth. (Those greedy cops! And how dare they leave us unprotected!) And simmering in the background, Babe Ruth transitioning into the power hitter he's famous for being, changing the game of baseball - and having some things to say about the relationship between bosses and employees as he's traded to the Yankees.

I'm now reading a novel by Laurie King set only a few years later, and labor problems and unrest also form its backdrop.

It's inspiring, I say. (Though depressing.) To the streets!

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

an off-series one? I have not really been able to get into her Mary Russell ones, although I love her Kate Martinellis and (usually) her standalones. She is another author whose books always contain some whole interesting subject to school oneself in (art, Fools, community centers...).

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

although, given the year (1926), I keep wondering if Mary Russell will show up in it. (Lord Peter made an appearance in one of the Mary Russell books.)