Reading List by Jennie for July and August 2012
What Remains by Carole Radziwill
I have a fondness for the Real Housewives franchise which I would never admit to in public (uh oh, I just did, didn’t I?). Radziwill joined the cast of The Real Housewives of New York this season, and though she can be tiresomely above-it-all on occasion, she’s impressed me with her non-craziness and refreshing lack of raging narcissism (those traits being kind of de rigueur for the housewives across all iterations of the show). What Remains is a memoir that focuses on her marriage to Anthony Radziwill and his battle with cancer, and her close friendship with Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, her cousin by marriage (Anthony Radziwill was extremely close to his cousin John F. Kennedy Jr). Carole Radziwill lost all three within weeks of each other; Anthony succumbed to his cancer barely three weeks after JFK, Jr.’s plane went down. Obviously, it’s an affecting story, and Radziwill tells it well, bringing these famous people to life and humanizing them. Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, particularly, comes off as a lovely and generous person who sometimes chafed under the weight of unwanted fame. Well worth reading, particularly for those who like memoirs.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
I finally finished this! I bought the second book in the series but am in no hurry to start reading it. I’ll wait until I’m climbing the walls in anticipation of the return of the HBO series. I wish I loved the books as much as I do the tv show, but at least they give me a bit of depth and background on some characters only glanced upon in the series. I’m sure I”ll have forgotten about a hundred characters, though, by the time I pick up the second book.
Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James
I read this for a bookclub thing (which I then didn’t even end up participating in, making the whole thing kind of pointless). I don’t know how I might’ve evaluated the book absent all the hype (good and bad) that surrounds it. On the plus side, it was relatively readable. On the minus side, Anastasia was an incredibly annoying first-person narrator. A friend who also read it and thought it was pretty dreadful did find herself moved by Christian’s bad-boy troubled persona. My friend doesn’t read romance, though, and I think for me such heroes are a dime a dozen, and though I often find them appealing, at this point one needs to stand out a bit (through good writing and characterization) to make me care. I didn’t like or dislike Christian. He was just sort of there. And I wanted to smack Ana (and her “inner goddess”) like, all the time. My grade for this was a C.
A Freewheelin’ Time by Suze Rotolo
This memoir by one of Bob Dylan’s early girlfriends was published in 2010; Rotolo, sadly, passed away in early 2011. She writes in an impressionistic manner about life in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. It’s a subject that interests me: my parents met in New York around the time that the book is set, and many of the places mentioned (The Kettle of Fish, Cafe Figaro) were part of their personal histories. I wouldn’t read this looking for deep insights on Dylan – Rotolo was always pretty careful not to trade on her association with him, and in the book she’s generous – perhaps too generous, reading between the lines – about his shortcomings as a romantic mate. A lot of other famous and semi-famous people move through the couple’s orbit during their time together, but again, Rotolo’s focus is not on scandal or gossip. She eventually became an artist, and that comes through in her writing in an interesting way – she seems interested in capturing the feeling of the era with a specificity that is almost painterly. A very good book, and worth reading if one is at all interested in the subject matter.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
I read Smith’s earlier novel White Teeth a few years ago and really liked it; she’s a smart and compelling writer, with a certain warmth and generosity towards her characters that blunts the sharp edges of her prose. On Beauty employs the same satirical style as White Teeth did in telling a tale modeled somewhat on E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End. Set in a fictional New England Ivy League college, the story focuses on the Belsey family: Brit transplant Howard, a Rembrandt scholar (who hates Rembrandt) going through a mid-life crisis, his African-American wife Kiki, long suffering (but maybe reaching the end of her rope, finally) and generous, and their three almost-grown children. My favorite was the middle child (and only daughter) Zora, whose devotion to academia is both touching and a little heartbreaking (she’s the kind of student who would remind the teacher that there was supposed to be a quiz, but she means well). Contrasted with the chaotic Belseys are the Kipps family: visiting scholar Monty (that’s Sir Monty Kipps), a black British conservative whom Howard despises (he seems to consider him a rival, though the rivalry may exist chiefly in Howard’s mind), and his ostensibly perfect family. In the end, the perfect Kippses end up not being all that perfect (rather predictably), and the Belseys sort of kind of get their acts together (though not without trampling on a few semi-innocent victims). Anyone with a background in academia would probably appreciate the way Smith skewers absurdities of the Ivory Tower.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
I finally finished this one as well. I can’t be the only one who finds Fanny Price to be a self-righteous, overly pious drip, can I? Ugh, she bugged me. I may be an Austen apostate. The book was still readable enough, though slow. I think I still like Sense and Sensibility best.
Books already reviewed:
- Riveted by Meljean Brook. Jane’s review here. My grade for this was lower – maybe a B- or a C+? The characters were likable but not compelling to me, and the setting and story didn’t really grab me. I can usually articulate why I dislike a book (though I didn’t really dislike this one), but about all I can summon up for Riveted is a “meh.” Perhaps there just wasn’t enough h/h conflict for me. I did find the villain compelling, not in a anti-hero way but more in a horror-story way. Since I liked The Iron Duke, I’ll definitely try other books in the series.
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Dabney’s review here. OMG, I loved this book. It’s a pretty dark but ultimately thrilling ride.
- Hidden Paradise by Janet Mullany. My review is here.
- The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James. Review here – I really liked this one.