Thursday, September 8, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: A Look Back at August

Here we are in September, but I'm still thinking about August reads. I highlighted The Reef by Edith Wharton, American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, Spectacles by Sue Perkins, and the Mary Stewart novels. I also wanted to share some other books that I had the pleasure to read in August. 

I love reading about the literary scene in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, and I enjoyed learning more about Sylvia Beach and her famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris in the Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh (2010). This volume of letters includes Beach's letters from her early life. She was fearless and adventurous, and I particularly enjoyed the accounts of her time during World War I as a volunteer farm laborer in France and then as a volunteer for the Balkan Commission of the Red Cross in Serbia. Many of the letters after World War I deal with the day to day running of Shakespeare and Company. Beach was a dynamo with her bookshop and lending library as well as maintaining all her connections in the literary world and the daunting task of publishing James Joyce's Ulysees (1922). These letters also show how temperamental Joyce could be and how he much he relied on Beach, often treating her as a secretary. With the changes in the world after World War II, it was sad how much Beach's life also changed, and Shakespeare and Company lost its luster. These were fascinating letters, and I look forward to reading more about Sylvia Beach and her contemporaries.

Undue Influence by Anita Brookner (2001) is the first novel I've read by Brookner. Undue Influence tells the story of Claire Pitt, a young woman living in London in a flat with her mother who has recently died. Claire's lonely and begins a part time job at a bookstore. Here, she meets Martin Gibson. When Martin's wife dies, Claire wants to become more than just a friend. I liked Brookner's writing style but not the structure of the book. Claire gets caught up in so much introspection about what's happening and what might happen that it brings the plot to a standstill. If you've read any of Anita Brookner's novels, I'd be interested to know ones you recommend.

A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith (1965) is a fabulous page turner. Sydney Bartleby, an American screenwriter, lives with his British wife, Alicia, in a farmhouse in Suffolk. Their marriage has its problems, and with his temper, Sydney's not very likable. When Alicia leaves to take a break from the marriage, Sydney starts to fantasize in great detail about how he'd kill Alicia. When she doesn't come back, their friends and family start to wonder what's happened to Alicia, and that's when fact and fiction start to mingle. A great read that I highly recommend.  

A Mind to Murder by P.D. James (1963) is an early Adam Dagliesh murder mystery that takes place in a psychiatric clinic for the rich in London. The clinic offers such treatment as psychoanalysis, electroshock therapy, and LSD therapy. The clinic's administrator, Enid Bolam, has been found in the records room dead with a stake through her heart. In life, Miss Bolam was no nonsense and managed to anger most everyone on the clinic's staff. It's up to Dagliesh to figure out the relationships among staff and determine the motive. This is a quick read at around 200 pages that I recommend. 

The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (1945) is good fun. It's comedy from beginning to end about MacDonald's life with her first husband. Once they're married, MacDonald thinks that they're headed for an idyllic life only to discover that her husband's idea of heaven is a broken down chicken farm in an isolated part of Oregon. The story takes place in the 1920s and has an impressive array of characters and funny situations. While her chapters on running the house had their fair share of amusing moments, MacDonald's story made me feel grateful for modern conveniences of running water and electricity. I've seen the film adapted from the novel with Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and I found it to be true to the book.

I hope that your August reading went well. What are you reading?


  1. If you liked The Egg and I, you might be interested in Looking for Betty MacDonald, a new biography - my review is posting this Friday!

  2. I need to read more Patricia Highsmith; she writes such odd, twisty tales. And The Egg and I is one of my parents' favorite movies, so I'm familiar with the story even though I've never read the book. :)