Quite possibly one of the most useful book memes, ever, from the magnificent Simon T of Stuck in a Book.
1. The book I’m reading
Is Greenbanks by the incomparable Dorothy Whipple. This is the author whose books need to be forcibly shoved into the hands of readers who believe that novels about domesticity can’t ever amount to much. Greenbanks is indeed simple in conception; it’s the story of a family, starting very early in the nineteenth century and recounting events from the next twenty years or so. Holding the story together are Louisa, the family matriarch, and her young granddaughter, Rachel, who enjoy an unusually close relationship. No one constructs a scene with more skill than Whipple, and she knows how to wring tension and drama out of the smallest, most everday occurrence. I’d like to review this properly, so I won’t say more about it for now.
2. The last book I read
Was Palladio by Jonathan Dee. This novel wove two strands together, on the one hand a story of ideas about art, on the other, a love story. Eccentric advertising executive, Mal Osbourne, opens a cutting edge company with the challenging intention of marketing art, not products. A man with a genuine passion for championing modern art, he is distressed by how beleaguered and marginalied art has become. He’s equally horrified by the derivative, ironic pointlessness of much advertising and so a brave new idea is born: since there is nothing much to distinguish one product from another, apart from its branding, he decides to put attention-grabbing works of art in their place with no logo, no slogan, no means of identifying the company behind the image. The uniqueness of this approach creates enormous buzz, as people scramble to find out who is behind the art in question. And thus the most unusual new art is presented to the biggest possible audience with maximum impact. I loved the ideas in this novel and found them fascinating both in conception and the way they play out. The love story, on the other hand, is rather blah, and after a brilliant opening chapter of 290 pages (no kidding), the narrative shifts point of view into one of the characters and loses much of its interest and momentum. But I was so glad to have read it, as the parts about art are just excellent.
3. The book I’ll read next
Is still to be decided. Well, I should qualify that. I will definitely be reading The Life and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre as I’m writing a biographical essay on Beauvoir this month for an online magazine, Cerise Press. It was lovely – the editors asked me if I’d be interested in offering them another essay, I came up with three possible ideas, and they said they’d have them all. So I have this sort of mini-series on French authors and their love lives coming up. As for fiction, though, I am in very fickle mood at the moment. I read the first few pages of Lolly Willowes and it struck me as the sort of book I’d adore in the right frame of mind, but I might not quite inhabit it at the moment. I’m also tempted by Wolf Hall, or Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, or maybe The Go-Between, by J. L. Carr.
4. The last book I bought
Was a long time ago. I’ve gone almost completely cold turkey since I’ve stopped working and all I can say is that for the first time in years and years, I haven’t been consumed by a need for more books. Don’t worry; I’m sure it’s just a phase! So the last book I bought was in fact a pre-order on amazon, which has yet to arrive: Kafka in Love by Jacqueline Raoul-Duval. Kafka had four major love affairs, each of which resulted in an engagement, a cancelled wedding and an important novel. This looks like a creative non-fiction sort of book, drawing heavily on Kafka’s journals to explore his relationships. Kafka is one of the authors in my great pantheon (Kafka, Colette, Rilke, Cather) whose life and work resonates with me particularly deeply. That’s a blog post for another day.
5. The last book I was given
Arrived this morning – a complete surprise. It came from Tom LoCicero and was the second part of his Truth Beauty Trilogy, The Disappearance. You may remember that I read the first part, The Obsession, and enjoyed it very much. My dear blog friend, Stefanie, also sent a book recently, Heidi Julavits’ The Vanishers, which you can see in the side bar. I was delighted to receive that, too. I hadn’t noticed until I typed it how curiously related those titles are. A little bit of spooky Halloween magic happening there, I think!