Monday, March 12, 2018

BACK TO THE CLASSICS 2018: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

For the Back to Classics Challenge 2018 hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate  category  20th Century Classic” I chose Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.   My reason for this title over many others was due to the fact that it is short and it is included on the Modern Library’s list of the  best 100 novels of the 20th century that I have been working my way through since 1998.

Winesburg, Ohio  is a collection of  vignettes (they are not short stories in my opinion) about certain residents of a small Ohio town in the late 1800’s, just before economy and society  moves from farming to factories.    As indicated in the first section of the book, “The Book of the Grotesque” the characters portrayed are shown in a very exaggerated, distorted way which often focuses on the unpleasant; those aspects of a person that one usually keeps hidden.

I am certainly glad to be able to tick this book off my list, but I didn’t really like it.  As short as it was, I found it difficult to read about such unhappy people over and over.  Almost everyone is yearning to escape and connect. But even those who do escape ultimately end up back in Winesburg. There are few happy exceptions.   People determined to finally express themselves lack the courage when finally faced with the opportunity.

Anderson’s writing has many admirers, Hemingway and Faulkner among them as I discovered n the introduction by Irving Howe in the Dover Thrift edition that I read.   But I found the description of the characters’ unhappiness and their expression of despair to be pretty unvaried as the book wore on.

Friday, February 23, 2018

BACK TO THE CLASSICS 2018: The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

My second completed book for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate is The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey.  It fills the category of “Classic Crime Story”. The book was published in 1929 and was Tey’s first book as well as the first Inspector Grant Mystery.

The mystery/crime is established in the first chapter when a man who had been waiting in a crowded line of people, all pressing and pushing to get their SRO tickets for London’s hottest musical is found stabbed to death.  The other theatergoers of course saw nothing as they were paying more attention to  getting to the front of the line than they were about the people around them. The case is then handed over to Scotland Yard’s rising talent, Inspector Alan Grant.  The man had no identification on him so Inspector Grant has not only to find out who killed him but also who the victim was. 

I quite enjoyed the procedural aspects detection in this book: tracking down tie manufacturers, tracing bank notes and so on.  I equally liked the undercover aspects of the story as Grant sends his sergeants disguised as peddlers or down-on-their-luck soldiers to gather information from gossipy maids and he himself travels to the Scottish highlands posing as a casual angler, but of course he is casting for more than just fish!  I also think that Tey really does excel in her characterization. The supporting cast in this book is really well drawn, in particular Miss Diamont and Mrs. Everett in my opinion. I think either of them could have walked off the pages and on to their own novels!  I think it is a pity that Tey didn’t write many non-genre novels, though she died fairly young (in her early 50s), so who knows what she would have accomplished had she had more time?   

Where the book is weakest, is in its plotting.  And while, as I stated above, there is a lot of interesting detective work in following up clues,  Tey breaks one of the “rules” of detective fiction in allowing her main detective to be ruled by intuition over facts sometimes.  That said, I enjoyed some of the red herrings in the story anyway!

Just as a caveat, as is often with books of this era, there is a fair amount of casual sexism and racism contained within the pages.  Also,  The Man in the Queue  isn’t going to knock The Daughter of Time off its top spot as my favorite of Tey’s books, but I did find it a satisfying read. 

Friday, February 16, 2018


March Mystery Madness is actually a booktube initiative started three years ago by the book tubers LizziefayeLovesBooks  and Troi Towel.   There is also a goodreads group dedicated to the madness: Mystery Madness Group .

To get the ball rolling, the hosts have listed 6 prompts which I have listed below with my possible choices.  I thought it would be nice to read along, even though I don't vlog.  My hope is that reading mysteries in March will be a fun antidote to some of the "heavy lifting" I have done by reading the Tournament of Books Shortlist in January and February. Plus, I really need any inspiration to read what I own before I go and acquire or borrow more.

I think my main challenge (beside from reading only from my shelves - with one exception) will be to make sure the books within the genre are all different enough so I don't get confused. So here goes:

Read a mystery from your shelf/tbr
In a Strange City by Laura Lipmann – this would appear to have a Poe connection, which might make it doubly interesting?

Read a book borrowed from a friend or the library
This will be the only book I read that I don’t own.  I am waffeling between The Dry by Jane Harper or The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor.

A new release or an author’s debut or an author new to you
I’m going for the “new to me” part.  I have two novels by the Australian author Peter Temple that I got years ago and haven’t cracked yet!  

A mystery set at least 50 years in the past
This is easy, I would love to get to the next Flavia de Luce Mystery on my shelf, which is Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed by Alan Bradley. A book I bought *ahem* two years ago?

Read a translated mystery
I have a copy of The Laughing Policeman, a classic Scandi-noir novel by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö on tap.

Read a mystery thriller you would normally shy away from
I am going to have to bend the rules a tad and pick Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George not because I would normally shy away from her but because I am considering stopping reading her books all together.    After the last couple of books, I think we might need to break up but I do want to give her one last chance!

Have any of you read any of these titles?  Love 'em? Hate 'em? Do you have any recommendations for optional mystery novels? 

Monday, February 5, 2018

BACK TO THE CLASSICS 2018: Orient Express by Graham Greene

The first book I have completed for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge is Orient Express by Graham Green which was published in 1933. This title fits the category “A Classic Travel or Journey Narrative, Fiction or Non-Fiction”. 

Despite its title, this book is not a mystery a la Agatha Christie. Nor is it not a sexy spy thriller a la Ian Fleming, which the above cover of the Batam paperback that I read seems to suggest.  

Instead, the novel is really quintessential Greene, or maybe prototypical Greene based on the other novels of his that I have read. In my experience, Greene used his novels to ponder deeper moral questions about right and wrong, all the while with the understanding that humans are flawed. 

In Orient Express, the story begins in Ostend, Belgium and the reader is introduced to a few of the characters as they board the train which will travel through Cologne, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade on the way to its ultimate destination of Istanbul, Turkey.  

Principal among the passengers are Carol Musker, a chorus girl and Carleton Myatt, a young, Jewish business man, both of whom are going to Turkey for work purposes and Richard John, a schoolteacher who is traveling under a British passport but who is clearly not English.  Richard John's true identity is recognized at the platform in Cologne by Mabel Warren, a journalist, who is seeing off her lover Janet Pardoe. Mabel then jumps on the train for what she thinks will be the scoop that will make her career.  Finally, in Vienna, a criminal boards the train to escape arrest.  Mix and stir, the characters will intersect and miss each other as the train rumbles further eastward. 

I found the dialogue a bit dated and stilted at times, which is to be expected I guess. Also there is some quite virulent anti-Semitism expressed by some characters that I believe the reader is supposed to understand as wrong, but also the author utilized quite a few stereotypical prejudices about Jews which I doubt he considered harmful. However, for this modern reader, it was pretty jarring to read. I enjoyed Orient Express for what it was, but if you are only going to read one of Greene’s novels, I would recommend The Quiet American or The Heart of the Matter over this one. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Back to the Classics 2018

It's back!  Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge for2018.  Like most if not all of the participants, I think making up the list is half the fun of the challenge. So here are some I might choose to satisfy this year’s categories:

 1.  A 19TH CENTURY CLASSIC - any book published between 1800 and 1899.  This is the easiest category for me to fill.  I will for sure read both a Trollop (The Eustace Diamonds and/or The Way We Live Now)  and a Dickens title (next on my list is The Old Curiosity Shop) in 2018.

2.  A 20TH CENTURY CLASSIC - any book published between 1900 and 1968. As in previous years, I will try to pick a book here that fits with the Modern Library 100 Best of List; probably it will be Winesberg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson which was published in 1919.

3.  A CLASSIC BY A WOMAN AUTHOR – I have a lot of unread Barbara Pym on my shelves. A few other options among the books I already own are Passing by Nella Larson,  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston or Evelina by Frances Burney.

4.  A CLASSIC IN TRANSLATION.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language.  My native language is English. Now I could of course choose Les Miserables for this category and maybe I will, but I would also like to read a translation from the French of Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami.   

5. A CHILDREN'S CLASSIC.  I may try The Jungle Books again by Rudyard Kipling.  They didn’t grab me the last time I tried them for this challenge but maybe the second time will be the charm?

6.  A CLASSIC CRIME STORY, FICTION OR NON-FICTION.  Another very easy read for me to fulfil; I can binge read Agatha Christie titles like nobody’s business and I love a good classic whodunit.   I also have a handful of Josephine Tey titles on my shelf to read and may try The Man in the Queue since Jane also has this one lined up for 2018.

7. A CLASSIC TRAVEL OR JOURNEY NARRATIVE, FICTION OR NON-FICTION. I will try Orient Express by Graham Greene, first published in 1933.

8. A CLASSIC WITH A SINGLE-WORD TITLE. Both Passing by Nella Larson or Evelina by Frances Burney would work here as well.

9. A CLASSIC WITH A COLOR IN THE TITLE. I think I might read The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorn or maybe The Red Badge of Courage by Stephan Crane.

10. A CLASSIC BY AN AUTHOR THAT'S NEW TO YOU.  Any of my women authors noted above with the exception of Barbara Pym would fit this category.

11. A CLASSIC THAT SCARES YOULight in August by William Faulkner. Apparently this is one of his more accessible titles.

12. RE-READ A FAVORITE CLASSIC.  Too many to list.  I will say that if possible I will listen on audio rather than read with my eyes.  I am a bit weird about audio books but for re-reads they work really well for me. 

So that is my preliminary list.  All of the specific titles listed above are BOOKS THAT I ALREADY OWN! It has been a goal of mine in recent years to acquire less and read more of what I already have at home. I am comfortable with unread books on my shelves, but at the moment I have "too be read" piles obscuring the spines of other books which does bug me. I want those piles to be wrangled into something more manageable over the next few years.   

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


What, I am posting twice in one week? UNHEARD OF. But the Tournament of Books 2018 Shortlist was announced today! If you are curious about the Tournament and how it functions, here is the TOB link, As you can see in the list I have made below of the 18 shortlisted titles, I have already read 11, which is a personal best.   I think have a good chance at managing to read the remaining 7 titles in time for the judging on March 7, 2018, which I have never achieved before. We'll see 😀.

   No.          Title                                        Author                                    Available?
The Animators
Kayla Rae Whitaker
The Book of Joan
Lidia Yuknavitch
Dear Cyborgs
Eugene Lim

The End of Eddy
Édouard Louis
Exit West
Mohsin Hamid
Fever Dream
Samanta Schweblin
Goodbye, Vitamin
Rachel Khong
Emily Ruskovich
The Idiot
Elif Batuman
Lincoln in the Bardo
George Saunders
Lucky Boy
Shanthi Sekaran
Manhattan Beach
Jennifer Egan
Min Jin Lee
Savage Theories
Pola Oloixarac

Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward
So Much Blue
Percival Everett

Stephen Florida
Gabe Habash
White Tears
Hari Kunzru

While the Back to the Classics Challenge helps me read those older books I have always been meaning to get to, the Tournament of Books helps me keep abreast of current releases and as well as some way off the radar books. 

Of those yet unread, I am most looking forward to getting to Pachinko, a multi-generational saga about Koreans in Japan and The Book of Joan, an apocalyptic re-telling of the Joan of Arc story.  

Of those I have already read, my favorite is hands down, The Idiot. But I would say this book is one of those books where you either get its humor or you don't; like A Confederacy of Dunces (which I hated, BTW). 

What about you dear readers?  Have you read any of these or do you want to read any of them?

Monday, January 1, 2018

Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along

Happy New Year all!

I thought I would throw my hat in to the ring and participate in the 2018 Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along hosted by Deacon Nick at One Catholic Life.  I have never read this chunkster and this seems like an interesting way to tackle it since there are exactly 356 chapters in the unabridged version of the novel. I found out about this challenge on Lory's blog Emerald City Book Review. I know I will not be posting about each chapter per day, but maybe I will chart my progress on the blog as I complete each of the five major sections.
I just downloaded the Norman Denny translation from the library to my e-reader (just an aside...I am also currently reading Lonesome Dove, a book I do own in hardback and boy howdy, e-readers really are a fantastic way to access such huge books.  I was skeptical at first but have become a convert!). I am crossing my fingers that I will not have to actually purchase the book since my library has multiple copies, although I will have to probably switch between the e-book and the print edition along the way. 
I am vaguely familiar with the story but have never seen a film or the musical adaptation of the book. 

I am 99.9% sure I will be able to read this book in 2018. My only qualm is if I will be able to limit myself to the chapter a day or will I feel compelled to read ahead?