Book 339: Emma – Jane Austen

Austen, Jane - EmmaFor book two of our Jane Austen Book Club, my friends and I decided to conquer Emma (Amazon link). It has always been my least favorite of the six and reading Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education both confirmed that and helped me get around this problem. His talking about Emma and it’s belief in the importance of every day trivialities, as well as Margaret Drabble’s excellent introduction led me to think about the book differently.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still boring as anything in most points, but Austen wrote it this way. According tot Drabble, Austen wrote this novel in such excruciating detail in direct response to the detractors of her previously published novel Mansfield Park, which I love. Drabble says, “This is domestic realism almost with a vengeance.” (xix) AND it is! The hyper focus on every detail, the incredibly limited scope of setting, characters and even conversation topics is overwhelmingly mundane. It is an assault on the senses, and as a fellow JABC member said “i’m diagnosing myself with ’emma-induced narcolepsy.'” (Thanks Dalton!)

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Book 337: Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley

Huxley, Aldous - Crome YellowMy friend Nick gave this to me to read ages ago and I’ve finally gotten around to it. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but the further I read the more I enjoyed the story (Amazon link). Coming in at under 200 pages, I was pleasantly surprised at how much Huxley fit into the novel without overwhelming the sense of lackadaisical whimsy of the people.

I am incredibly glad I read the foreword though, because I don’t think I would’ve understood this was a satirical novel of the British upper-class. I probably would’ve happily read it and thought, “wow these people are petty and ridiculous,” and then thought nothing more of it. It reminded me a lot of the various upper-class dioramas I’ve read from Jane Austen to Cécil David-Weill’s The Suitors, which is what Huxley was going for in his social criticism.

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Book 261: Significant Others (Tales of the City #5) – Armistead Maupin

Maupin, Armistead - Significant Others (Tales of the City #4)Coming back to Maupin’s San Francisco is like going home after a really long vacation. There’s something comforting and something genuinely nice about being back on Barbary Lane. (See the first quote under Additional Quotes).

I can’t believe it’s been almost three years since I binge read Tales of the CityMore Tales of the CityFurther Tales of the City and Babycakes. And like everyone else who has ever read a single one of The Tales of the city books, I’m finally taking the time to catch up on the series, which has spanned five decades so that I can read the final (I’m assuming) novel in the series The Days of Anna Madrigal released at the beginning of 2014. I won’t binge read them, but they’re such quick reads I plan to read them all this year.

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Book 259: Zazen – Vanessa Veselka

Veselka, Vanessa - ZazenAfter seeing this on Heather’s blog Between the Covers (direct link to her review) and seeing her recommend it to many other people over the intervening years and knowing we have similar book tastes I knew I needed to read this novel.

This was a fascinating take on (post) identity politics in a (potentially) war-torn country. It was incredibly difficult to decide how much was seriousness, criticism, sarcasm or some other commentary. I had a brief conversation with Heather about the book because I was so confused as I started reading it that I thought it might be a translation. In the end I felt Veselka did a great job but I’m still not quite sure what form of commentary she was using. The combination of the identity politics versus the environmental (both natural and manmade) issues made for a really interesting read. Veselka’s writing and story telling reminded me of a less controlled and less refined Margaret Atwood, so of course I was going to enjoy it.

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Book 251: Seeing (Blindness #2) – José Saramago

Saramago, José - SeeingMy first, of what I hope to be numerous, library book of 2014! I trekked through the sub-freezing weather last week after finishing Blindness to grab this from the library. And although not as stark or disturbing as the first book, Seeing left me in just as much confusion and distress. Saramago is clearly a master at speculative fiction and created a second work in what I could only hope would have been a trilogy, but unfortunately Saramago died in 2010.

This novel takes place four years after the events in Blindness and this is fascinating because the first mention of the “white plague” by the omniscient narrator is on page 77 and the first mention by a character isn’t until page 157 (almost exactly half way through the novel). I actually had to stop around page 30 to read the premise of this novel again to make sure I hadn’t imagined this was a sequel.

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