Nine Parts of Desire, Geraldine Brooks
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
I purchased the first three books at the used bookstore with money my parents gave me for Christmas. (They told me to use it for books, of course. :) ) A friend had two copies of Gilead, and she gave me one, a beautiful hardcover. She’s been telling me I should read it, and now I think I’ll have to! From what I’ve heard, I think I’d really like it. Alas, I didn’t read any of the books I bought/received in the month of January.
The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Helene Hanff
(Started 12/31/06, finished 1/5/07.)
In the late 1940s-60s, Ms. Hanff corresponded with a bookshop in London, specifically with one of its sellers, a Mr. Frank Doel. She compiled their correspondence in 84, Charing Cross Road. This book is a sort of sequel to that one; in it, she shares the journal she kept on her long-awaited trip to London after publishing the book. Do read 84, Charing Cross Road first, but then enjoy her sweet, funny descriptions of her London adventure. Ms. Hanff is one in a million.
Celebrations, Maya Angelou
(Started 1/2/07, finished 1/5/07.)
Although it contains some lovely and important poems, this collection was a disappointment to me. I think, because it contains such a small number of poems (12), the publisher decided its layout should be like a gift book. Each poem takes up many pages, with only a few lines per page, to make the book thicker. Turning so many pages makes it hard to stick to the natural rhythm of the poems. Reading them aloud helped, and Ms. Angelou is a classic, despite the presentation. Addendum: I checked out the CD of this book from the library, and really enjoyed hearing Ms. Angelou read the poems. Her short description of the significance of the rock, river, and tree in “On the Pulse of Morning” was quite helpful, too.
Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky
(Started 1/5/07, finished 1/22/07.)
This book is comprised of two novellas Ms. Nemirovsky wrote about the German occupation of France, and uniquely, she wrote them in that country as the occupation was happening. She had planned for this work to be composed of five parts, but only completed drafts of the first two before her death. (She died at Auschwitz in 1942 at age 39.) Her daughters kept her notebooks, but found it too painful to open and read them. Finally, Denise did, and she found this treasure.
Of course, the story surrounding this book makes it all the more compelling, but it is worth reading just of its own merit. The first novella describes several different groups of people, of different classes, backgrounds, and outlooks, all rushing to evacuate Paris as they’ve heard the Germans are about to invade. We follow their stories and get to know them; this way, we get to see human foibles and folly as well as human generosity and the strength of spirit that can emerge during a crisis.
In the second novella, Nemirovsky tells the story of a small, occupied French town. We watch its people figure out how to get through daily life with German soldiers in their midst, and we observe the soldiers trying to find some normalcy in a life where they could be called up to fight again the next day. The author focuses on one young woman whose estranged husband is a prisoner-of-war, and the German officer she has been ordered to welcome into her home.
Nemirovsky’s two stories are in little need of editing, amazingly. These unpolished drafts show her talent and power as a writer. The book includes appendices: Nemirovsky’s notes detailing her plans for the five parts of this book, letters from the time of the piece (hers, her husband's, etc.), and an introduction to the French edition that gives a good, short biography of Nemirovsky.
The Inimitable Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse
(Started 1/23/07, finished 1/30/07.)
Bertie Wooster is a young aristocrat: lazy, good-humored, and with little common sense, he narrates the stories. This device works well, as Bertie is hilarious to listen to. Jeeves, his valet, is a wonder, not only in getting Bertie dressed presentably, but especially in getting him out of scrapes. Helping Bertie out of an unwanted engagement, dealing with Bertie’s friend Bingo who falls in love with every woman he meets, and aiding Bertie with some of his ill-placed bets are just a few of the many ways in which Jeeves demonstrates his inimitable talents. I’d never read Wodehouse before – what a treat!