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Reading like a writer who is Francine Prose and likes books that Francine Prose likes.


Reading Like a Writer

Harper Perennial, 2006, 273 pages




In her entertaining and edifying New York Times bestseller, acclaimed author Francine Prose invites you to sit by her side and take a guided tour of the tools and the tricks of the masters to discover why their work has endured. Written with passion, humor, and wisdom, Reading Like a Writer will inspire readers to return to literature with a fresh eye and an eager heart - to take pleasure in the long and magnificent sentences of Philip Roth and the breathtaking paragraphs of Isaac Babel; she is deeply moved by the brilliant characterization in George Eliot's Middlemarch. She looks to John Le Carré for a lesson in how to advance plot through dialogue and to Flannery O'Connor for the cunning use of the telling detail. And, most important, Prose cautions readers to slow down and pay attention to words, the raw material out of which all literature is crafted.


Genre fiction? What's that? Who reads that shit? )

Verdict: Reading Like a Writer is about how to read like the writer who wrote this book. Read it if you share Francine Prose's tastes (check out her bibliography in the back); skip it if you're expecting any kind of comprehensive survey of literature or useful writers' advice. 4/10.




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A brilliantly funny stand-alone sequel that will appeal to all serious book-lovers.


Amy Falls Down

Thomas Dunne Books, 2013, 336 pages




Amy Gallup is an aging novelist and writing instructor living in Escondido, California, with her dog, Alphonse. Since recent unsettling events, she has made some progress. While she still has writer's block, she doesn't suffer from it. She's still a hermit, but she has allowed some of her class members into her life. She is no longer numb, angry, and sardonic: she is merely numb and bemused, which is as close to happy as she plans to get. Amy is calm.

So, when on New Year's morning she shuffles out to her backyard garden to plant a Norfolk pine, she is wholly unprepared for what happens next. Amy falls down. A simple accident, as a result of which something happens, and then something else, and then a number of different things, all as unpredictable as an eight-ball break. At first the changes are small, but as these small events carom off one another, Amy's life changes in ways that range from ridiculous to frightening to profound. This most reluctant of adventurers is dragged and propelled by train, plane, and automobile through an outlandish series of antic media events on her way to becoming - to her horror - a kind of celebrity. And along the way, as the numbness begins to wear off, she comes up against something she has avoided all her life: her future, that "sleeping monster, not to be poked."

Amy Falls Down explores, through the experience of one character, the role that accident plays in all our lives. "You turn a corner and beasts break into arias, gunfire erupts, waking a hundred families, starting a hundred different conversations. You crack your head open and three thousand miles away a stranger with Asperger's jump-starts your career." We are all like Amy. We are all wholly unprepared for what happens next. Also, there is a basset hound.


If you are a 'Bookish' person, you will love this book. )

Verdict: I am convinced Jincy Willett is a quiet and underappreciated genius, and Amy Falls Down, while no more exciting plot-wise than its title indicates, is a true "literary" novel in the sense of being intelligently, unabashedly well-written — but meant to entertain, not to win awards and get praise from all the right people. 10/10.

Also by Jincy Willett: My review of The Writing Class.




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The Minotaur works as a line cook in a North Carolina steakhouse.


The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

Picador, 2000, 313 pages




Five thousand years out of the Labyrinth, the Minotaur finds himself in the American South, living in a trailer park and working as a line cook at a steakhouse. No longer a devourer of human flesh, the Minotaur is a socially inept, lonely creature with very human needs. But over a two-week period, as his life dissolves into chaos, this broken and alienated immortal awakens to the possibility for happiness and to the capacity for love.


Southern litfic by way of Ovid. )

Verdict: Very literary, and not even as strange as it sounds, once you get past the premise. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is well-written, with deeply human characters (even/especially the monster), but a rather plodding plot if you're hoping for more in the way of story. 8/10.





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An allegorical critique of British nativism that almost got Rushdie killed - Ayatollahs have no sense of humor.


The Satanic Verses

Random House, 1988, 576 pages




One of the most controversial and acclaimed novels ever written, The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie's best-known and most galvanizing book. Set in a modern world filled with both mayhem and miracles, the story begins with a bang: the terrorist bombing of a London-bound jet in midflight. Two Indian actors of opposing sensibilities fall to earth, transformed into living symbols of what is angelic and evil. This is just the initial act in a magnificent odyssey that seamlessly merges the actual with the imagined. A book whose importance is eclipsed only by its quality, The Satanic Verses is a key work of our times


In which the reviewer recalls learning that Muslims take themselves very, very seriously. )

Verdict: Salman Rushdie is a talented writer, but the Ayatollah made this book a bestseller. By itself, The Satanic Verses is a multilayered if confusing modern, mystic fable about love, lust, identity, alienation, post-colonialism, faith, jealousy, and redemption. Add in a loose religious allegory and you get death threats and one of the most famous books of the 20th century.

Also by Salman Rushdie: My review of Midnight's Children.




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A Great American Novel about ugly, petty Americans.


Freedom

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, 576 pages




Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.


A lengthy but tightly-connected drama revealing all the cracks in the American dream, and Jonathan Franzen's fixation on poop. )

Verdict: A complex narrative by a gifted writer who clearly doesn't care who he does or doesn't appeal to. I enjoyed Freedom despite or because of the way it made me squirm on several levels. It also a quintessentially American novel, and at times it's not clear whether it's meant to praise or bury the American dream. Recommended as an important and worthy read, though not necessarily to everyone's taste.




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A witty critique of Aestheticism that's been reinterpreted as a horror story.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, 1890, 252 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged---petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral---while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying and enchanting readers for more than 100 years. Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not simply a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde's fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed "Art for Art's Sake." The ever-quotable Wilde, who once delighted London with his scintillating plays, scandalized readers with this, his only novel. Upon publication, Dorian was condemned as dangerous, poisonous, stupid, vulgar, and immoral, and Wilde as a "driveling pedant." The novel, in fact, was used against Wilde at his much-publicized trials for "gross indecency," which led to his imprisonment and exile on the European continent. Even so, The Picture of Dorian Gray firmly established Wilde as one of the great voices of the Aesthetic movement and endures as a classic that is as timeless as its hero.


Oscar Wilde is on my list of Top 10 Dead Authors I wish were still alive and writing today. )

Verdict: Oscar Wilde can be relied upon for quotable lines on every page, and as a story of a man falling headfirst into Faustian temptation, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a very readable literary classic. It is not perfect (it's awfully convenient how often Dorian escapes judgment by someone else's timely death, and the prose is a bit turgidly Victorian), but it's full of great one-liners and witty observations about Wilde's milieu.





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A girl's coming-of-age story in Africa. This isn't what I thought it was going to be.


Martha Quest

Panther Books, 1952, 271 pages




Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood. She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience. For her, this is a time of solitary reading daydreams, dancing -- and the first disturbing encounters with sex. The first of Doris Lessing's timeless Children of Violence novels, Martha Quest is an endearing masterpiece.


Snoozy, exquisitely literary fiction that took all my stubborn stick-to-itiveness to finish. )

Verdict: A finely-crafted novel about a teenage girl discovering her ideals in conflict with the realities of colonial Africa in the early 20th century, this could have been interesting but it was not. Almost was a DNF. It's not a bad book... I just Did Not Care. Sorry, Doris Lessing, it's not you, it's me.

Also by Doris Lessing: My review of The Good Terrorist.




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Jane Austen's most "unlikable" protagonist, a matchmaking busybody, makes this book more likable and funny than any modern romcom.


Emma

Published in 1815, approximately 160,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.


'I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.' - plus bonus feature: 6 Netflix reviews! )

Verdict: Now my second-favorite Austen novel (after Pride and Prejudice), Emma is a fine example of a flawed protagonist who grows on you, with a supporting cast of endearing, annoying, and comic characters. While there are mild surprises and genteel plot twists, it's hard to spoil an Austen novel, since if you've read one, you know how they all will end. I remain a fan of her dialog and her character development.

Also by Jane Austen: My reviews of Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park.




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Flowers in the cement garden: a grimy little anti-YA book.


The Cement Garden

Anchor, 1978, 153 pages




One of the world's most acclaimed novelists, New York Times best-selling author Ian McEwan has earned the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. After their parents die, four children are left alone in the family house. They are free to live however they choose, but they must preserve their terrible secret.


Literary incest and decay: Ian McEwan brings the Ick. )

Verdict: The Cement Garden is intense, disturbing, and yucky. It's written by an author acknowledged as one of the greatest living authors, and fuck me if I want to read another book by him. Is this a book you must read before you die? There are people who I'm sure like the kind of book that exists to unsettle you, and it's a terse, literary alternative to Flowers in the Attic. But I could have lived happily without reading it.

This was my 20th book read in the 1001 Books challenge.




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Hippie noir in 60s California.


Inherent Vice

The Penguin Press, 2009, 369 pages




Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon.

Private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog.

It's been awhile since Doc has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say.

It's the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that "love" is another of those words going around at the moment, like "trip" or "groovy", except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite that, he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists....


The names are the best part: Shasta Fay Hepworth, Vincent Indelicato, Christian 'Bigfoot' Bjornsen, Petunia Leeway, Sledge Poteet, Leonard Jermaine Loosemeat... )

Verdict: Thomas Pynchon is very good, but despite some nice passages and memorable characters, I found it hard to keep track of all the plot threads in Inherent Vice. It's a funky but confusing novel with a kaleidoscope of characters and a noir plot on LSD.

Also by Thomas Pynchon: My review of The Crying of Lot 49.




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Seven well-written thrillers, no monsters but the human kind.


The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares

The Mysterious Press, 2011, 365 pages




An incomparable master storyteller in all forms, in "The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares" Joyce Carol Oates spins six imaginative tales of suspense. "The Corn Maiden" is the gut-wrenching story of Marissa, a beautiful and sweet eleven-year-old girl with hair the color of corn silk. Taken by an older girl from her school who has told two friends in her thrall of the Indian legend of the Corn Maiden, in which a girl is sacrificed to ensure a good crop, Marissa is kept in a secluded basement and convinced that the world has ended. Marissa's seemingly inevitable fate becomes ever more terrifying as the older girl relishes her power, giving the tale unbearable tension with a shocking conclusion. In "Helping Hands," published here for the first time, a lonely woman meets a man in the unlikely clutter of a dingy charity shop and extends friendship. She has no idea what kinds of doors she may be opening. The powerful stories in this extraordinary collection further enhance Joyce Carol Oates's standing as one of the world's greatest writers of suspense.


Wow, I have discovered Joyce Carol Oates, and she can write! )




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This French novel is the difficult but imaginative grandfather of modern surrealist fantasy.


Locus Solus

1913, 218 pages




Based on uniquely eccentric principles of composition, this book invites the reader to enter a world which, in its innocence and extravagance, is unlike anything in the literature of the twentieth century

Canterel, a scholarly scientist, whose enormous wealth imposes no limits upon his prolific ingenuity, is taking a group of visitors on a tour of "Locus Solus," his secluded estate near Paris. One by one he introduces, demonstrates, and expounds the discoveries and inventions of his fertile, encyclopedic mind. An African mud-sculpture representing a naked child; a road-mender's tool which, when activated by the weather, creates a mosaic of human teeth; a vast aquarium in which humans can breathe and in which a hairless cat is seen stimulating the partially decomposed head of Georges Danton to fresh flights of oratory. By each item in Canterel's exhibition there hangs a tale—a tale only Roussel could tell. As the inventions become more elaborate, the richness and brilliance of the author's stories grow to match them; the flow of his imagination becomes a flood and the reader is swept along in a torrent of wonder and hilarity.


Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] books1001.

Evokes Roald Dahl, Rube Goldberg, Dr. Seuss, and Mark Z. Danielewski. )

Verdict: Does Locus Solus belong on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list? It is certainly memorable and strange. I think it's unique and a work of genius, so any serious reader probably should tackle it at some point. That said, the linguistic density and plotless surrealism were more of an experience than a pleasure, and I can see why Roussel isn't widely read today outside of literature classes. There is one other book by Raymond Roussel on the [livejournal.com profile] books1001 list, and I think I would approach it with a bottle of booze and/or aspirin.




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Like Jane Eyre, if Jane was an undocumented Mexican in 21st century Los Angeles, and there was no Mr. Rochester, and... okay, not much like Jane Eyre at all.


The Barbarian Nurseries

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011, 422 pages




The great panoramic social novel that Los Angeles deserves—a 21st-century, West Coast Bonfire of the Vanities by the only writer qualified to capture the city in all its glory and complexity.

With The Barbarian Nurseries, Héctor Tobar gives our most misunderstood metropolis its great contemporary novel, taking us beyond the glimmer of Hollywood and deeper than camera-ready crime stories to reveal Southern California life as it really is, across its vast, sunshiny sprawl of classes, languages, dreams, and ambitions.

Araceli is the live-in maid in the Torres-Thompson household—one of three Mexican employees in a Spanish-style house with lovely views of the Pacific. She has been responsible strictly for the cooking and cleaning, but the recession has hit, and suddenly Araceli is the last Mexican standing—unless you count Scott Torres, though you’d never suspect he was half Mexican but for his last name and an old family photo with central LA in the background. The financial pressure is causing the kind of fights that even Araceli knows the children shouldn’t hear, and then one morning, after a particularly dramatic fight, Araceli wakes to an empty house—except for the two Torres-Thompson boys, little aliens she’s never had to interact with before. Their parents are unreachable, and the only family member she knows of is Señor Torres, the subject of that old family photo. So she does the only thing she can think of and heads to the bus stop to seek out their grandfather. It will be an adventure, she tells the boys. If she only knew.

With a precise eye for the telling detail and an unerring way with character, soaring brilliantly and seamlessly among a panorama of viewpoints, Tobar calls on all of his experience—as a novelist, a father, a journalist, a son of Guatemalan immigrants, and a native Angeleno—to deliver a novel as broad, as essential, as alive as the city itself.


The class and racial divisions of Los Angeles, a comedy of misunderstandings, a social, political, and family drama. )

Verdict: The Barbarian Nurseries is a novel of modern culture and racial friction in Los Angeles. Almost but not quite satirical, not quite humorous enough for me to truly love it, it's still quite a magnificent work, a novel that deserves to be a modern classic, and definitely a recommended read.




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Victor Hugo's epic saga of plot puppets acting out philosophical and moral arguments. (No, it's not about the French Revolution!)


Les Misérables

Originally published in 1862, approximately 565,500 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.


Look down, look down. You'll always be a slave. Look down, look down. You're standing in your grave. )

Verdict: Big, bloated, epic, brilliant, did I mention big and bloated? The characters are memorable, the story is grand, it's definitely a book that belongs on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. But it is not enthralling or a page-turner, and call me a heathen, but I'm glad that modern editors don't let authors, even best-selling ones, ramble on at novella length before getting back to the story. Les Miserables is a book you won't regret reading, and it's worth some serious bragging rights to get through it, but I can't honestly say it's my favorite classic work.

Also by Victor Hugo: My review of Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).




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Mighty Whitey goes to Africa, discovers the meaning of life by frolicking with the colorful and exotic natives... What?


Henderson the Rain King

Penguin Books, 1959, 352 pages




Bellow evokes all the rich colour and exotic customs of a highly imaginary Africa in this comic novel about a middle-aged American millionaire who, seeking a new, more rewarding life, descends upon an African tribe. Henderson's awesome feats of strength and his unbridled passion for life earns him the admiration of the tribe - but it is his gift for making rain that turns him from mere hero into messiah. A hilarious, often ribald story, Henderson the Rain King is also a profound look at the forces that drive a man through life.


Crossposted to [livejournal.com profile] books1001.

Henderson is waiting for the sun )

Verdict: I did not love it, but I liked it, enough that I would try Saul Bellow again. Henderson the Rain King is a thoughtful but comic adventure as a man who's already seen the world and been there, done that tries to figure out what he's missing and goes dancing with lions in Africa. Largely on the strength of Bellow's prose, I thought this was a book worth reading. So, does it belong on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die? Well, I'm convinced you should read at least one of Bellow's books. Not having read any others, I don't know if this is his best work, but he's included on the list seven times. (And has now been reviewed four times!)




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Six genres, six centuries, six stories, lives repeated.


Cloud Atlas

Random House, 2004, 509 pages




A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization — the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity's dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.


A grand tapestry made of shiny threads, a Buddhist sci-fi novel, a matryoshka doll manuscript, a writing stunt. )

Verdict: A great book by a great writer, and while some have dismissed it as a show-offy writing stunt, I thought it worked very well. Some literary authors go slumming in genre fiction, but David Mitchell is more like a genre author who has snuck into the ranks of litfic.

Also by David Mitchell: My review of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.




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A biography of a remarkable (and fictitious) man and a chronicle of Brazil's racial struggle.


Tent of Miracles

University of Wisconsin Press, 1969, 396 pages




A very rich and exotic novel . . . tells the story of Pedro Archanjo, mestizo, self-taught ethnologist, apostle of miscegenation, laborer, cult priest, and bon vivant. . . . Amado's joyous, exuberant, almost magical descriptions of festivals, puppet shows, African rituals, local legends, fascinating customs, strange and wonderful characters . . . result in a richness and warmth that are impossible to resist.


Crossposted to [livejournal.com profile] books1001.

Dickensian, Marquezian, Brazilian. )

Verdict: While Tent of Miracles was not my favorite [livejournal.com profile] books1001 selection, it was a good read and I'm glad I read it and got a chance to sample Brazil's most famous author. Brazilian readers are probably much more familiar with Jorge Amado and his works, but including him on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is certainly merited, as he was more prolific than many authors who have several works on the list.




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The stream-of-consciousness natterings of discontented rich people.


Mrs. Dalloway

1925, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 216 pages




It is a June day in London in 1923, and the lovely Clarissa Dalloway is having a party. Whom will she see? Her friend Peter, back from India, who has never really stopped loving her? What about Sally, with whom Clarissa had her life’s happiest moment?

Meanwhile, the shell-shocked Septimus Smith is struggling with his life on the same London day.

Luminously beautiful, Mrs. Dalloway uses the internal monologues of the characters to tell a story of inter-war England. With this, Virginia Woolf changed the novel forever.


Who's impressed by Virginia Woolf? )

Verdict: Virginia Woolf writes pretty. She's deft and elegant and nuanced. And this book was boring and the prose was annoying. It may have been a landmark of 20th century literature, but I don't care about Mrs. Dalloway's dinner party, her old flame, or the fact that she once kissed a girl and liked it. Sorry, Virginia Woolf fans, but she struck out with me.




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A Nobel prize-winning novel* about a go game.


The Master of Go

Vintage, 1954, 189 pages




Go is a game of strategy in which two players attempt to surround each other's black or white stones. Simple in its fundamentals, infinitely complex in its execution, Go is an essential expression of the Japanese spirit. And in his fictional chronicle of a match played between a revered and heretofore invincible Master and a younger and more modern challenger, Yasunari Kawabata captured the moment in which the immutable traditions of imperial Japan met the onslaught of the twentieth century.


Knowing the game will deepen your appreciation of the book, but you can read it knowing nothing about go. )

Verdict: An exquisite read with surprising depth, you have to read The Master of Go to understand how an account of a go game could help its author win a Nobel prize. It's about two men representing different aspects of a changing Japan, and what Yasunari Kawabata thought Japan had lost, on the go board which represented the world. If you like Japanese literature, or you'd like to sample Japanese literature, don't pass this book up because you're not a go player; you don't have to be. Plus, it's short. But good! On the other hand, if you are looking for action, drama, and something more Western in the way of a "plot," The Master of Go will probably just bore you.

*Pedantic ETA: Yes, I know that the Nobel prize for Literature isn't given for a single novel, it's given to the author for a body of work. So my one-line blurb was sloppy. The Master of Go is generally considered Kawabata's finest novel, though.




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Northern manufacturers and southern agrarians in industrialized England.


North and South

Originally published in 1855. Approximately 183,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




When Margaret Hale moves with her father from the comfort of the south of England to the industrial north, she is at first repulsed by what she sees; and then when she discovers the conditions under which the workers are forced to live, she is outraged. But this throws her into direct conflict with the powerful young mill-owner, John Thornton. Using personal passions to explore deep social divisions, North and South is a great romance and one of Elizabeth Gaskell's finest works.


Mix Pride and Prejudice, Hard Times, Jane Eyre, and a wee bit of George Eliot. )

Verdict: Elizabeth Gaskell's writing did not knock me over, but her characters were more three-dimensional than most of her contemporaries and the plot wove together a multitude of themes. I find myself thinking of North and South mostly in terms of how it compares to other novels: not quite as grand as Middlemarch or Bleak House, but more human, while also being more down-to-earth than the romances of Austen or Bronte. A fine book and worth reading if you like British social novels, but if that sort of book isn't your cup of tea, this one won't change your mind.




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