The Great Man by Kate Christensen
(Doubleday, 2007, 301 pages)
Oscar Feldman was an artist known for his arresting female nudes. After his death there are two biographers setting out to write biographies that portray the life of this “great man.” The primary subjects they interview are: Teddy (Oscar’s long-time mistress), Abigail (Oscar’s wife), and Maxine (Oscar’s sister who also happens to be an artist). The book is broken up into sections to portray the perspective each woman offers on Oscar’s life. We also get an interesting understanding of the man from the biographers themselves who have set out to write their books for their own unique reasons.
In spite of the fact that the story revolves around Oscar, the power of the women in his life is undeniable. Especially when you consider they’re all 70+ years old. Christensen did a great job with this book and I really enjoyed it. At first I thought I’d have a hard time relating to the characters based on their age and the things they were talking about, but I think they were all well-captured and Christensen’s way of discussing old age and the reality of death while reflecting back on youth was well done.
The Book in the Renaissance by Andrew Pettegree
(Yale University Press, 2010, 440 pages)
In the age of the Renaissance, the book, or codex, was in the process of changing from a painstakingly hand-produced artifact to one of mass production. In The Book in the Renaissance, Andrew Pettegree charts the complexities of this gradual change. It is an extremely readable and interesting history of books – and those who manufactured, sold, and collected them – in an age where both ideas and technology were in rapid flux.
Pettegree offers helpful perspective on the hurried pace of technological change. Continual advances in technology are disorienting to virtually everyone in our culture, and those changes can result in a real sense of instability. What Pettegree does, among other things, is help to show that “normal” print media went through a similar process of upheaval. Even though the process of change was much slower in generations past, it took a lot of development for the codex to become the “normal” mode of distributing written material. Even more upheaval was required to make the printed codex the norm.
This will be a welcome read to those interested in books as physical products, as well as to those with a broader interest in the history of technological development. In fact, for those who simply enjoy the period of the Renaissance, reading an accessible treatment of a narrower topic like this one can give a greater appreciation for what daily life and culture looked like in that period.
Arthurian Poets: Charles Williams by Charles Williams; edited by David Llewellyn Dodds
(Boydell Press, 1991, 302 pages)
This volume collects Charles Williams’ two published volumes of Arthurian poems, Taliessin Through Logres and Region of the Summer Stars, in addition to a large selection of other Arthurian poems, both published and unpublished. The introduction by David Llewelyn Dodds provides excellent background to this rather obscure writer. Dodds highlights Williams’ significance as a poet and charts the textual history of the unpublished poems that he has included in the collection.
Williams’ poetry is dense and carries a reputation of being difficult to decipher. It is often obscure, and some significant familiarity with Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur is very helpful. However, there is much in the quality and imagery of Williams’ verse to be enjoyed. His reimagining the Arthurian legends is unique and places the quest for the Grail at the center of the myth. The kingdom of Logres, with its capital in Camelot, is conceived of as the western most outpost of the Byzantium Empire. Byzantium functions as a metaphor for Christendom, with the Emperor as a divine figure and the achievement of the Grail functioning as the means through which the Empire is to be brought into full unity.
Williams deserves a place alongside Malory and Tennyson as a major Arthurian writer. Unfortunately, his obscurity, along with the fact that an early death prevented him from completing the entire cycle, has kept him from being recognized as such. This edition from Dodds does much to promote Williams’ cause and to aide those who would take the time to appreciate him.
Born Reading by Jason Boog
(Simon & Schuster, 2014, 305 pages)
I picked up Born Reading earlier this month because I started amassing a children’s library a *while* ago and want to make sure I raise a reader who will enjoy books as much as I do. Boog’s book is based on his own experiences with his daughter, Olive, and he enlisted a lot of help from various experts (ranging from librarians to app developers) to make sure the advice he’s offering is sound and well-supported. The book is broken down into chapters by time frame from “Before Your Baby is Born” to “Kindergarten and Beyond” so it walks you through each stage in a child’s life and differentiates how you can continue to make reading part of their daily routine while also enhancing reading and critical thinking skills.
An important issue Boog touches on is the notion of “screen time” and having an idea of how much time you’re comfortable with exposing your child to. I hadn’t really thought too much about it until reading this book and Boog makes some interesting points. Each chapter includes a list of suggested titles and apps, which is nice. I also really appreciated that Boog makes a point of saying that the titles he highlights worked well for him and his daughter but that you should pick books that speak to your child’s interests – he consistently references going to the library and working with your local children’s librarian to get help finding new titles.
The book has a “Born Reading Playbook” that consists of 15 “skills” for incorporating interactive reading in each stage of your child’s life. I got a lot of great recommendations and suggestions from this title and I’m glad I picked it up. Some of the things referenced seemed like common sense to me, but by making me actively think about them I hope it will help me to enhance the reading experience for my child. Good read – I’d recommend it to parents-to-be and/or parents of young children who are working to encourage better reading habits 🙂
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling)
(Mulholland Books, 2014, 455 pages)
Robert Gailbraith’s second installment in the Cormoran Strike series tells the story of Matthew, a London accountant who is struggling with a high stress job, the death of his mother, and difficulties in his relationship with his fiancé, Robin. Robin, despite other opportunities, insists on maintaining her dangerous and low-paying job working for the shady detective, Cormoran Strike. Not only has Robin been placed in peril while working for Strike, but the detective also seems a little too fond of his new assistant. Naturally, Matthew is concerned for Robin’s well-being, but she seems to interpret that concern as an attempt to stifle her career aspirations.
In The Silkworm, Matthew’s patience and good humor are once again put to the test as Robin gets drawn into the investigation of the gruesome murder of a second rate novelist. As the case develops, Robin becomes more and more distant from Matthew, while at the same time, spending more and more time with Strike off the clock. Though Matthew tries to be understanding, he reaches his limit when Robin nearly misses his mother’s funeral in order to drive the arrogant and aloof detective to an interview. Despite this lack of consideration, Matthew is eventually able to put aside his ill-feelings toward Strike and support Robin in her sincere but misguided desire to pursue a career as a private investigator.
I really enjoyed this book, particularly for the complex and carefully drawn character of Matthew. As the series continues, I am anxious to see if his relationship with Robin can survive or if they are forced apart by her reckless pursuit of an impractical and dangerous career.
You can also check out Jean’s review of this title.
The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
(Harper Trophy, 2000, 256 pages)
This is Adelaide’s take on the next book in the Narnia series, The Silver Chair. Fair warning, some familiarity with the story is required if this is going to make any sense. Actually, parts of it may just be plain wrong, but who am I to censor her perspective? I guess everyone will just have to read the book to make sure they’re getting a full and accurate picture:
“They go to an underground place and there’s this witch that made Prince Caspian’s son a slave. The son broke the chair that he sits in when he is having his fit, because when he’s in an enchantment he turns all wild and would turn into a snake. He thought he was the witch’s knight, but he was really Prince Caspian’s son.
I liked that the witch strummed the guitar and that Puddleglum stomped on the fire and got a burnt foot. I also like when he (Prince Caspian’s son) broke the chair. I like that Jill, like, got into a hole and then everyone else did and then they were in Narnia and then Puddleglum had to stay in bed because of his burnt foot. I like the witch because of her magic guitar thing. I also like Prince Caspian’s son, Rillian. I like that Aslan blew them (Jill and Scrubb) to Narnia and back to their home. I also like Jill because she pushed Scrubb off of the cliff, and I like Scrubb because I like that he got snappy (well that everyone got snappy).”
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Bevery Cleary
(Avon Books, 1990, 158 pages)
I loved The Mouse and the Motorcycle when I first read it… decades ago. I picked it up again to encourage my husband to get some practice reading to our first child (coming in December!). It was no Beezus and Ramona the second time around, but it was still fun to revisit the book. We’re introduced to Ralph the mouse in a small California motel after Keith and his parents decide to stay there on their road trip. Keith gets his own room and while he’s out Ralph notices his collection of toy cars, but it’s a toy motorcycle that catches his eye. Once Ralph discovers the freedom that comes with riding a motorcycle he begins to question the confines of his life, which up to this point has been limited to the second floor of the motel.
Ralph and Keith both wish they could grow up faster, but a surprising friendship forms between the two as they bond over their love for a toy motorcycle. Ralph gets himself in lots of trouble along the way, but he learns about responsibility and maturity in the process.
The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; Or, Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog
by Jen Lancaster
(NAL Hardcover, 2013, 335 pages)
Jen Lancaster is known for her humorous memoirs and I enjoy her writing style. The Tao of Martha went a slightly different route from her other books in that she set a mission for herself to live like Martha Stewart for a year – this book is a record of how that went. I listened to this as an audiobook and it was narrated by the author which was appropriate. I didn’t think this was as funny as some of her other titles but I still enjoyed it. Lancaster’s attempts to live a Martha-approved lifestyle offered up more than a few mishaps, but she also motivates the reader to want to try and get their own life together. Martha didn’t become who she is because her advice isn’t sound 😉
If you’re looking for a new humorous memoirist to try I’d recommend Lancaster, but I’d start with her earlier work.
In the Drink by Kate Christensen
(Anchor, 2000, 288 pages)
Claudia Steiner had big plans for what she was going to accomplish in her life. She moved to New York City after college and has worked a number of jobs since arriving, all of which were supposed to build toward her dream career of being a writer. Unfortunately her most recent job working for Jackie, a wealthy widow with a penchant for never taking the blame for anything, as a secretary/ghostwriter is pushing her towards the edge. Jackie is never at fault, and that means Claudia always is. She can’t wait for the end of each day when she can head home and soothe her nerves with a drink.
In addition to her issues with Jackie, Claudia is also struggling with her feelings toward William, a longtime friend. Despite all the time they spend together they’ve never hooked up and she spends a considerable amount of time pining for him. There’s always her married ex-lover, but she’s trying to keep that from re-entering her life. It’s hard to stay focused on the positive when it seems like nothing is going your way, but Claudia’s doing what she can to keep her sights on the happy future she hopes to one day have.
I’m definitely a fan of Christensen’s and enjoyed this book. I’ve already moved on to a more recent title of hers, The Great Man, and will have a review on that shortly 🙂
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
(Penguin, 1991, 361 pages)
I read another Ozeki novel earlier this year, All Over Creation, and really enjoyed it so I was eager to check out My Year of Meats – her debut novel. While parts of it were hard to read (due to content) it was really well-written and kept me engaged.
Jane Takagi-Little is a documentarian living in New York City. She receives a call from one of her connections asking if she’d be interested in producing a show for Japanese TV that revolves around Americans and their meat consumption. Sponsored by Beef-Ex, the show would be a series of glorified advertisements showing American housewives and their families enjoying this staple in their diets – the goal is to get the Japanese population to eat more meat. As filming is underway we can see there’s a disconnect between the true “American” experience Jane wants to show and the “America” that the Japanese executives are looking for. We also delve a little deeper into Jane’s personal life and the those of a few other women whose lives she enters in some way or another.
As filming continues Jane starts picking up on some things about the meat industry that are on the “unsavory” side. She starts struggling with the idea that she’s responsible for promoting a product that can result in serious side effects.
I’m ready for my next Ozeki title, I’m definitely a fan of her work and the way she can work in relevant social issues without disrupting the rhythm of the story.