Simon’s Book Meme

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!

28 thoughts on “Simon’s Book Meme

  1. What a fun meme–I will have to save it for a meme-ish sort of day (I have those all the time but never have a good meme to fill them with). I really want that Kafka book (I’ve been very bad lately about buying things–not just books, but clothes and other stuff….very bad right before the holidays since what I’ve been buying is all for me!). I loved Greenbanks when I read it–would love to have the lovely Persephone edition since I read an old library copy. I’ve got Tom L.’s book to read as well (the first) which I am looking forward to after reading your post. Have fun choosing a new ‘next book’–one of my favorite things to do! 🙂 Have a great weekend!

    • Danielle – there is something so lovely about choosing a new book, isn’t there? And my book buying definitely goes in fits and starts. I’m working on my Christmas wish list too! The Kafka book was just irresistible and I get a little feeling that I first heard about it on your blog – you get the best leads on new releases! And oh Greenbanks, just adorable. I only wish Whipple had written more!

  2. This is good. I’m finding it really hard to write reviews at the moment so I’m tempted to do this meme to get things moving again. Thanks.

    • It is a great way to catch up a bit and find your reviewing feet! I’m glad it’s not just me who struggles with the reviews sometimes. There are days when it’s simply hard to find the right words!

  3. Ah, you’ve reminded me that I have been parceling out Dorothy Whipple novels to myself at a rate of one per year; there are so few of them that I’m already upset about getting to the end of them.

    • I know! I’m saving up two at the moment, and I sort of eke them out, one a year too. If only she’d written more, or indeed if only more of her books were easily available. But I figure that when I get to the end, I’ll turn around and read them all again. I don’t reread many authors, but Dorothy Whipple I certainly would!

  4. I don’t want to be a pedantic old git but… I am. I think L.P. Hartley wrote The Go-Between. J.L. Carr wrote A Month in the Country, and others, and J.R. Hartley would have written Fly Fishing were he a real person and not a character in a Yellow Pages advert. I always get confused between the three.

    This is a lovely meme and I’m looking forward to reading all of these reviews! I must say especially those on Kafka in Love and Greenbanks, since the only Whipple I ever read left me cold (I know! I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t love her books! Stone me now!) and while I can’t quite be bothered to read another one, I also feel that I have missed the point somewhat.

    Hope this post means you’re feeling better, even a bit!

    • Oh bless you, Helen, for being pedantic! These are things I need to know. 🙂 I’ll nip and change that in a moment, and you made me laugh about the Yellow Pages advert, too. And I still love you, even if Whipple doesn’t hit the spot. The book that pleases everyone is yet to exist! Thank you, I AM feeling a lot better lately. 🙂

  5. I really enjoyed Wolf Hall–at the end of last winter, I was driving around listening to it on audio, and then I had to go get a copy so I could “see” some parts of it. My daughter just read it and liked it, so we bought the second one, Bring Up the Bodies, for her to read over winter break this year.

    • I’m delighted to have your endorsement for Wolf Hall. I’ve owned it in hardback ever since it came out (to be fair, it was part of a cheap set of Booker novels) and I can’t quite believe I haven’t read it yet. Definitely the moment approaches.

    • I’m so glad you’re a Cerise Press fan. They do produce a lovely ezine, don’t they? I’m researching the Beauvoir at the moment and enjoying it very much – what a woman she was!

  6. Pingback: a reading meme | Nooks & Crannies – 'cus they're perfect for a book lover

    • I am delighted that you did the meme too! And I loved your answers. I don’t know what I’d do without a good bookish meme for the days when answering questions is so much easier than writing a post. 😉

  7. I’ll have to do this meme at some point — what a great way to feel like I’m catching up on my bookish news a bit. Kafka in Love sounds like an excellent book — exactly the sort I’d like!

    • Rebecca, I had you in mind when I ordered this! I know we both have a very soft place in our hearts for creative biography. I’ll let you know what it’s like, eventually!

    • I did indeed love Someone At A Distance. But quite honestly I have enjoyed all the Whipple novels I’ve read. The way she engages the reader in her story is masterful. I would love to know what you make of her.

  8. Great meme. Am going to borrow it right away. 🙂 Very interested by the sound of Kafka in Love. And now I have Dorothy Whipple to add to the list of interesting authors.

    • Isn’t it useful? I’d love to see what you do with it. And Kafka in Love sounds divine – I hope so much that it lives up to my expectations! As for Whipple, I think you’d like her, probably. I’d say go for They Were Sisters as you have an interesting portrait of a borderline personality disorder in one of the husbands. We both appreciate a little clinical interest! 🙂

  9. What fun! You are a very bad influence on me though. I just came ever so close to requesting a Whipple book from the library since she is one I want to read but haven’t yet. I managed to stop myself just in time though. Too many other books I am trying to get through at the moment! The Kafka in Love book looks most excellent. I too an thinking of reading Wolf Hall, maybe the end of this month. If you decide to go with it, let me know and I will most definitely take the plunge with it too 🙂

    • Heh, just call me Satan! 🙂 I am so happy we are going to read Wolf Hall together – I know we both have Rose Macaulay ahead of us, but about early December I may well be raring to go. I will be in touch!

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