Oooh, this month, it was a bonanza of good books. As always, leave a comment, so that everyone can see what’s been spoken for.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764): This one I didn’t read. We bought it for book club, but didn’t start it in time. It is considered to be the first gothic novel, written by a dilletante who loved everything Gothic and surrounded himself with the architecture and furniture and art. One day he decided that, there being no Gothic literature, he would write it himself. It opens with Conrad, the sickly son of Manfred, lord of the castle, being crushed to death by a gigantic helmet the day after his wedding because of a curse… You’re hooked, right? It’s a good opening, I admit.
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927): Virginia Woolf is one of the few writers whose work exhilarates me and makes me feel young, like live music coursing through and around you. It’s not so easy to read these knotty, tangled, perfect, precise descriptions of how we feel, I warn you, but why should it be? Trust me, it’s worth it. May I quote? I opened the book at random and found this: “… children never forget. For this reason, it was so important what one said, and what one did, and it was a relief when they went to bed. For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to other.”
Ada, Or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov (1969): I didn’t finish this one. I have, quite frankly, not the slightest clue what was happening at all. I love wordplay, I love Lolita, I was prepared to love this, but four chapters in, I was too frustrated. Read this excellent article before you decide to take it, brave soul.
Land of Desire: Merchants, Power And The Rise Of The New American Culture by William Leach (1994): An excellent history of our transformation into a country of consumers. The narrative follows department store owners, like John Wanamaker, but digresses into religion, politics, aesthetics, literature… through consumerism, it tells the story of the United States that we know and live in today. Fascinating and written so cleanly and so firmly that you never question what you’re reading, which is quite a trick. I must warn you, the previous owner did underline and pencil in comments here and there, which is a little distracting. Still, great book.
Cleopatra’s Nose: 39 Varieties Of Desire by Judith Thurman (2007): This is a collection of Thurman’s pieces from the New Yorker. Approximately a third about literature and the rest about art and haute couture, which does not ordinarily interest me. Thurman (a Brandesian!) is so urbane and intriguing; when was the last time you were fascinated by Bill Blass? And if she can make Bill Blass interesting, then what won’t she do for Yves St. Laurent and Commes des Garcons? You will feel more elegant just reading this book (and if you don’t read this one, pick up her biography of Isak Dinesen, which is a very fortuitous combination of subject and writer).
The Lost: A Search For Six Of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn (2006): This book is incredible, a classicist’s attempt to find out what happened to his grandfather’s brother, his wife and four daughters. It reads like a detective story, interwoven with meditations on the limits of memory and the meaning of loss and what it means to write someone’s life and readings of the stories in the Bible so far as they relate to the Holocaust. I particularly loved, as a sister of brothers, his reading of Cain and Abel to show how we most love and most envy and most hold responsible and most hurt the people who are closest to us, with whom we have shared the most. He spins Cain and Abel’s tragedy out to better understand his relationship with his own brothers, his grandfather’s guilt for surviving and not saving his family in the Ukraine and both the atrocities and heroics committed by the Ukrainians against the people who had lived among them for centuries. I lived this book for days.
Let me know what you want. Good night, my delectable friends!