I decided to expand my usual #FridayReads post a bit, into a full Friday Books post that dives into my reading plans for the weekend, my library situation, bookish haul, and any other reading organization that I am compelled to share.
Exiled in Paris by James Campbell: This is the last, slightly laggy, book in my James Baldwin author-in-residence project. I started it and was going along pretty well, and then I started feeling sort of slumpish so it’s just been sitting on my nightstand, looking at me accusingly, for over a week. I’m either going to finish it or DNF it this weekend.
Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill: Interestingly, it was Murder by Death’s mediocre review of Hill’s first bookish memoir, Howard’s End is on the Landing, that gave me the impulse to pick this one up. I liked HEiotL much more than she did (although I completely agree with her criticisms). In addition, when I am feeling slumpish, one of my go to solutions is books about books.
The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns: I am recently obsessed with the NYRB imprint. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that they have published and haven’t felt it was worth my while. I previously read Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns and thought it was grimly interesting. The Juniper Tree is a retelling of among the darkest and most shocking of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Juniper Tree, which is famous for the lines:
My mother, she killed me,
My father, he ate me,
My sister Marlene,
Gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken scarf,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I.
This retelling is moving in a very dark direction. I’m strongly hoping that Comyns leaves out the cannibalism.
I just realized that I have 27 books checked out from the library right now. It’s time to cull.
- Red Knife by William Kent Krueger: this is due 3/8 and I’m not going to get to it by then. I am going to renew it once, and if I don’t get to it by the end of the renewal, I’ll return it.
First things First by Stephen Covey: I checked this out because the organizational premise sounded interesting, but I’m not even remotely interested in it at this point. Return.
- The Sentence by Louise Erdrich: I have been really excited to read this, and it is next up, once I finish my current reads.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann: checked out for 1966 in my Century of Women project, but I read a different book already. Return.
- Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger: this is the next book in the series; I’m going to hold onto it and may read it if I want a standard contemporary mystery in the next 3 weeks or so.
Endangered Species by Nevada Barr: This is a catch and release special; I will read it eventually, but not right now. Return.
In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes: One of the 5 NYRB titles I have checked out. I just bought an ebook omnibus with this in it, though, so I’ll likely return it.
- Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban: another NYRB title; keep & read.
- Stoner by John Williams: third NYRB title; this book was everywhere last year. Keep & read.
- Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber: a little magical realism for a palate cleanser; keep & read.
- The Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning: fourth NYRB title; I have read the first book in this trilogy. I’d like to get to the second & third, but I also think that I will probably end up buying this book, so I am fine returning it if I don’t quite get there.
- The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner: fifth NYRB title; keep & read.
- The Juniper Tree by Barbara Comyns: currently reading; will be ready to return soon.
- Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda: this is part of my current obsession with books about books; I may or may not get to it.
- Browsings by Michael Dirda: I have actually started this one, & I’m reading a few essays at a time.
- A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders: this is a bit of a project read, but I definitely want to get to it.
Notes on a Native Son by James Baldwin: finished & ready to return;
The Skull Beneath the Skin by P.D. James: I’m not going to get to this; return.
Pony by R.J. Palacio: I’m also not going to get to this; return
- The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore: I have 9 days left on this borrow; keep & read
- The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede: I have 11 days left on this borrow; keep & read
Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani: I am not going to get this book; return;
- How Reading Changed my Life by Anna Quindlen: I may get to this book; keep;
Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson: I am not going to get to this book; return
- Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren: I am actually reading this book right now; keep & finish
- The Defector by Daniel Silva: this is book 9 in the Gabriel Allon series; keep & read;
- Hell’s Half Acre by Susan Jonusas; the subtitle of this book is “the untold story of the Benders, a serial killer family on the American frontier; hell yes; keep & read.
OK, that’s the library situation. Now: book haul for the week. I bought three books this week.
Title: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
Author: Rebecca West
Published in 1941
Plot summary (Goodreads): Written on the brink of World War II, Rebecca West’s classic examination of the history, people, and politics of Yugoslavia illuminates a region that is still a focus of international concern. A magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon probes the troubled history of the Balkans, and the uneasy relationships amongst its ethnic groups. The landscape and the people of Yugoslavia are brilliantly observed as West untangles the tensions that rule the country’s history as well as its daily life.
This is a doorstopper of a book, and once it arrives, I’ll take a picture. It is 1181 pages. I am not sure exactly how I am going to approach it – probably with caution. It has great reviews on GR, but it is just a monumental undertaking. I’m not sure if I am going to plan to read 50 pages a week and set a pace of 20 weeks or so, or if there is a more natural way to break it up. I won’t really be able to tell until it arrives.
I bought the Penguin Classics Edition.
Title: Library of America Women Crime Writers of the 1940’s
Editor: Sarah Weinman
This is an anthology that is currently on sale as an ebook (for U.S. readers) for a mere $2.99. I attribute my good fortune in realizing this to my friend Mike Finn, who linked to it in the Appointment with Agatha Goodreads group. Yay, Mike.
Further information from GR:
Women writers have always had a central place in American crime writing, although one wouldn’t know it for all the attention focused on the men of the hardboiled school. This collection, the first of a two-volume omnibus, presents four classics of the 1940s overdue for fresh attention. Anticipating the “domestic suspense” novels of recent years, these four gripping tales explore the terrors of the mind and of family life, of split personality and conflicted sexual identity.
Vera Caspary’s Laura (1943) begins with the investigation into a young woman’s murder and blossoms into a complex study, told from multiple viewpoints, of the pressures confronted by a career woman seeking to lead an independent life. Source of the celebrated film by Otto Preminger, Caspary’s novel has depths and surprises of its own. As much a novel of manners as of mystery, it remains a superb evocation of a vanished Manhattan.
Helen Eustis’s The Horizontal Man (1946) won an Edgar Award for best first novel and continues to fascinate as a singular mixture of detection, satire, and psychological portraiture. A poet on the faculty of an Ivy League school (modeled on Eustis’s alma mater, Smith College) is found murdered, setting off ripple effects of anxiety, suspicion, and panic in the hothouse atmosphere of an English department rife with talk of Freud and Kafka.
With In a Lonely Place (1947), Dorothy B. Hughes created one of the first full-scale literary portraits of a serial murderer. The streets of Los Angeles become a setting for random killings, and Hughes ventures, with unblinking exactness, into the mind of the killer. In the process she conjures up a potent mood of postwar dread and lingering trauma.
Raymond Chandler called Elisabeth Sanxay Holding “the top suspense writer of them all.” In The Blank Wall (1947) she constructs a ferociously taut drama around the plight of a wartime housewife forced beyond the limits of her sheltered domestic world in order to protect her family. The barely perceptible constraints of an ordinary suburban life become a course of obstacles that she must dodge with the determination of a spy or criminal.
Psychologically subtle, socially observant, and breathlessly suspenseful, these four spellbinding novels recapture a crucial strain of American crime writing.
Title: Mutual Admiration Society
Author: Mo Moulton
Published: November 5, 2019
This book has been on my radar for months. I actually checked it out, but it has to go back to the library unread, & I decided to just buy it since I think it’s the sort of book that will hold up to rereads. Not sure when I will start it. I’ll also mention that the Mutual Admiration Society (and Sayers) came up in Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, which made me all that much more interested in this group biography!
GR summary: A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights.
Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking “Are Women Human?” Women’s rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers’s lifetime; she and her friends were some of the first women to receive degrees from Oxford. Yet, as historian Mo Moulton reveals, it was clear from the many professional and personal obstacles they faced that society was not ready to concede that women were indeed fully human.
Dubbing themselves the Mutual Admiration Society, Sayers and her classmates remained lifelong friends and collaborators as they fought for a truly democratic culture that acknowledged their equal humanity.
So, that’s it! What are you reading?