Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Round-Up

Seven Men by Max Beerbohm: I stumbled across a reference to this book in The Moving Toyshop, and intrigued, I got it from the library.  It consists of five short stories about six men (Beerbohm is the seventh, a character in his own work), with satirical, supernatural, and postmodern elements (I seem to have a knack for finding these "postmodern before there was modern" works).  They tell the tales of fin-de-siècle writers, intellectuals, and bon vivants, and several of Beerbohm's observations made me snort out loud.  The first one in particular, "Enoch Soames," is a masterpiece of tragicomic meta-ness, and the best one in the group.

Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: I watched the movie version recently, and it was not good -- while absolutely gorgeous to look at, the script was underwritten and the story perfunctory.  So as a corrective, I re-read the book.  It is also gorgeous, and moving, well-told, and filled with wonderful characters. 
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson: This sweet little romance deals with the racial, social, and class boundaries in a quaint English village.  Major Pettigrew, a widower, first becomes friends with, and then falls in love with, a widowed Pakistani store owner.  Both have to contend not only with local prejudices but the prejudices and baggage their own families bring.  Simonson is originally from England, so presumably her depiction of an English village is fairly accurate (if somewhat exaggerated for satirical and quirk purposes).  And yet, the open and casual racism and classism exhibited by the characters was horrifying to me.  I live in Queens, one of the most diverse places on the planet, so I sometimes forget other parts of the world are still quite insular.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym: Grace, a great secondary character from Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (I kind of wish her story had been told), is one of Pym's excellent women -- fine, capable, unmarried women who busy themselves with their churches, good deeds, and occasionally the personal business of others.  Because of Grace I had to re-read Pym's novel, which is the wonderful, funny, clever, poignant, satirical story of Mildred, an aforementioned Excellent Woman.  I love Mildred -- she's responsible for one of my favorite lines:
Let me hasten to add that I am not at all like Jane Eyre, who must have given hope to so many plain women who tell their stories in the first person, nor have I ever thought of myself as being like her.
 Rex Libris: I, Librarian and Book of Monsters by James Turner: A comic about a 2,000-year-old librarian who fights the forces of evil?  Of course I had to read it.  These two volumes collect all the issues, and as one would expect there are all sorts of literary and publishing jokes and references.  I didn't like the art at all (it has the cold, sterile look of most computer-generated imagery), and the story was a little heavy on the action and a little light on the characterization, but I nonetheless enjoyed it.

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant: A fun young-adult collection of steampunk stories.  The tales run the gamut, tone-wise, from nihilistic to Dickensian to exhilarating to weird.  Standouts are Shawn Cheng's "Seven Days Beset by Demons" (one of two comics, short, spare, and funny), Dylan Horrocks's "Steam Girl" (heartbreaking), and M.T. Anderson's "The Oracle Machine" (slyly witty, and a surprisingly accurate depiction of the Roman Republic).  On the other hand, Holly Black's "Everything Amiable and Obliging" had an intriguing idea, but was way too short to do it justice.


  1. It is downright intimidating how many books you read :-) Major Pettigrew and Excellent Women sound great. Do you find books at work, or word of mouth or like NYT Book Review?

  2. It's my commute that makes it possible -- a sizable chunk of time with no Beadboys around.

    I get book ideas from all over -- the Book Review, random comments and posts on other blogs, the now-defunct Dirda chat on the Washington Post website, the NPR website book section, and so on. I keep it all in a little black book. I'm going to have to live forever at this point to read everything I want to read. And then I'll need another lifetime to make all the crafts I want.