Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Friday, September 4, 2020
😀 😀 😀 _ _
Every once in a while, when walking through a bookstore, you find a book that reminds you of a particular time and place in your life. Such was the case for me when, browsing in a used bookstore, I found The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler (Gallery Books, 2013)
Esme Garland, a twenty-something graduate of Oxford, is now preparing her doctoral thesis at Columbia University, in New York City. She lives in a small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. When she finds out that she is pregnant, and almost simultaneously, she is dumped by her very rich, very snooty boyfriend, she is at a loss for a way to earn some extra money to prepare for the new baby. She finds an off-the-books job at “The Owl”, a small neighborhood bookshop. The friends she makes there, along with her best friend, help her navigate the ins and outs of her relationship with the baby’s father, and life in general.
I am not going to say this is a great novel, it is not. In fact, I have a lot of issues with the main character, Esme. I feel that she is very weak, reading more like a woman of the 1960’s rather than the 2010’s. What Ms. Meyler has caught, wonderfully, is the life of an Upper West Side independent bookstore. I used to work at Papyrus Books, on 114th street and Broadway. There is a rhythm to such a place, to the interplay between the staff, and with customers, especially regulars. There is a particular group of people who are drawn to work at these places. People who know books. The Upper West Side bookstore (not Barnes and Noble) are places where you could browse for hours. You can walk in and ask “What do I feel like reading next?” And, after two or three questions, the staff would find the perfect book for you. Ms. Meyler spent several years working at such a place while she lived in NYC, and it shows in the accuracy and love she writes with. She has caught that feeling of camaraderie completely. I found The Bookstore both nostalgic and enchanting.
So, if you are a bibliophile, and you have spent time in a really good independent bookstore, this novel is worth the time.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
There is a long history of fiction that is written as a thinly veiled representation of famous people in a segment of society. Collette and Simone de Beauvoir wrote about Paris society. The Man Who Cried I Am (1967), by John A. Williams, gives the same treatment to African-American intellectuals of the 1950’s and 60’s.
Published in 1967, The Man Who Cried I Am follows the life of Max Reddick, am African-American writer who is deeply involved with the literary and political world of that era. It includes characters based on Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcom X. Williams’ story explores the racism of of that era on many levels, and offers a realistic and nuanced look at it from the inside. Whether it is the problem of getting books published, finding steady employment as a writer, or just interacting with white society, The Man does not shy away from racism. It follows Max through is his life in the United States, World War II, and living as an ex-pat in both Europe and Africa.
I can’t say that this book really engaged me. I had trouble holding interest in it, mostly, I feel because I did not find great insight into the historical characters presented. I feel that they are all presented as the visible surface of the people that they represent, without (except for one character) any real depth. I also have to say that the “surprise ending” that takes up the last 10% of the book, did not serve the author’s intent. It was an idea that deserved its own book, but here seemed to me a dive into conspiracy, when the reality is mean enough on its own.
The Man Who Cried I Am is worth a read if you have an interest in Black intellectuals of that era, the history of the United States, or of racism in this country. The protagonist is thoughtful portrayed, I just wish the others would have been also.
Monday, July 27, 2020
This novel follows the lives of an upper-class family in Chile, from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. The patriarch of the family is Esteban Trueba. Trueba builds a fortune through mining and owning a country plantation. The novel follows three generations of Trueba women - Esteban’s wife, Clara, their daughter Blanca, and granddaughter Alba.
Historical novels can sometimes feel overwhelming. They tend to cover large events and sweeping changes. In House of the Spirits, Allende has brought those large vistas down to a smaller window. Through their stories, the author focuses our view through a more manageable lens of the family, and the social and political upheaval of their time.
Allende does a masterful job of weaving their storied together illustrating the ways in which seemingly small actions can grow to affect major historical events. She presents family relationships against the backdrop to Chile’s history. And she does this without beating the reader over the head with politics.
The House of the Spirits is not an “easy read.” The writing can be dense, but it is lyrical, beautiful and descriptive. Allende fully explores the lives of her characters, and does an excellent job of using them to present Chile’s toughest hours.
Thursday, May 31, 2018
Friday, April 20, 2018
|Photo from www.princeton.edu|
|Rahel Varnegan via Wikimedia Commons|
|James Simon via Wikimedia Commons|
Finally, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was a philosopher and a literary and social critic. He wrote extensively on the philosophy of history, art criticism and role of the physical city in social connections, that is how the design of an urban area can influence the interactions of its residents.
|Walter Benjamin - By Photo d'identité sans auteur, 1928 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|