December 10, 2011
A Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell
Despite my fondness for British Golden Age mysteries (Christie, Sayers, Marsh), I have yet to find a more contemporary mystery writer that I really enjoy. To wit, Ruth Rendell is widely regarded as a master of the form, yet this manor mystery about a woman found dead in the woods left me cold (pun not intended). There’s a certain amount of wit that I feel is lacking here, despite erudite nature of the story.
A Guilty Thing Surprised is a novel that features Chief Inspector Wexford and Inspector Burden investigating the murder of Elizabeth Nightingale, the mistress of a manor that only seems genteel on the surface. Suspects immediately crop up as a series of interviews reveal the victim’s manipulative nature. The retiring husband, the worldly au pair, and the professor brother–each one has something to hide. The novel’s title is from a Coleridge poem, alluding to a setting that involves many literary and academic preoccupations.
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January 7, 2011
Day 10 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Melissa Bank’s Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing
NPR’s Monkey See blogger Linda Holmes has done a series of funny and insightful articles about what people call “chick lit” and how the label tends to reduce writing by women into a very narrow, undeserved box. I entirely agree with her assessment. As someone who likes to read romance novels occasionally, I get a little defensive about people who look down on “women’s writing.” And this book is part of the reason why.
The first time I read it, I had the same preconceptions on what the story ought to be: A novel about a literary agent in Manhattan trying and failing to find love, peppered with witticisms and ultra-hip whining, drinking of cosmopolitans, et cetera. I actually became a little annoyed when I found out that Girl’s Guide is actually not a full novel so much as a collection of loosely connected narratives. The stories takes us through the lives of these urbane individuals who weren’t immune to heartbreak, cancer, and professional ennui, despite their perfect haircuts and their perfect vacations. But I ended up reading this book again over the years, and I found that I take away something new from it every time. The very last story is my favorite one, and makes reading the whole book actually worth it. It makes a gentle mockery of people looking at self-help books to get them the love of their lives, while at the same time acknowledging the in these modern times, a girl just really wants someone who can help her with the answers.
November 22, 2010
Day 05 – A book or series you hate
I’m going to give you guys a twofer for this. First is Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Books.
I’m going to come off sounding a little defensive by stating first that I absolutely have nothing against Chick Lit. I was and still am a fan of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and several of Meg Cabot’s books. One of my top favorite books, Melissa Banks’ Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, is considered Chick Lit by some, though with a slightly more literary bent.
This book enrages me so much and I can’t quite articulate why. I think it’s a mixture of serious financial debt being treated lightly in a novel while blithely promoting luxury consumerism at the same time. I think it’s the fact that there are twenty million sequels to this book. I only read (skimmed? I didn’t really read through the end I was pretty disgusted) but I already found the protagonist unlikeable and unrelatable at all. This wouldn’t be much of a big deal if I didn’t believe that it’s exploiting a cynical aspect of modern culture, ie being obsessed with brands for no apparent reason other than sublimating our self-worth to our possessions. I am also of the opinion that this book is the reason why chick lit gets a bad name and why these kinds of themes seems to have bled over to romantic comedy movies. But that is an entirely different rant altogether.
And while we’re on the subject of dismissing large swathes of books in one unthinking sweep, let’s talk about Philip Roth’s entire body of work. I’ve read through two titles of him (Portnoy’s Complaint, Everyman) and I don’t know why I even bothered. He is nowhere near as insightful or interesting as say, John Coetzee or Umberto Eco or Julian Barnes, or any number of male contemporary writers I can think of. His subject matter doesn’t interest me at all, and reading his books makes me think of slogging through the Twitter hashtag #firstworldproblems. There might be one novel in his bibliography that would blow my mind or something, but I’m not really include to discover which. I was going to list John Updike’s novels too but since he is in no danger to foist another one to the public, I’m going to stick with Philip.