May 31, 2009

May reads

May was a particularly good reading month for me. I was quite happily employed with a few great new books and even a much-loved oldie but goodie from my childhood. And I have to say that the book covers looked extra cool this month. There is something about a gorgeously designed book cover that just grabs me. Thankfully, the stories themselves were so transporting that I was able to be pulled into the book completely. That's what I love most about books, the fact that I can get utterly lost in them.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. This fictionalized account of a very real-life love affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the wife of one of his clients, Mameh Cheney, was absolutely mesmerizing. Frank and Mameh shirk the conventions of the day by falling in love and fleeing to Europe, abandoning their respective families, and some would argue, their good sense. It's in Europe where they endeavor to live a more truthful existence together, basking in their love and shared sense of beauty and passion for life. Horan portrays what is essentially a tragic story in a way that is very beautiful and sensitively handled. I found Mameh to be a fascinatingly complex woman who was not only fiercely independent and educated at a time when most women couldn't boast of such accomplishments, but who was also very human and empathetic. I don't recall ever feeling so astonished by an ending before; I'm still reeling from it, actually.

The Perfect Plot by Carolyn Keene. One of the great pleasures of being an adult is re-discovering books from childhood. When I was growing up, I was obsessed with Nancy Drew and her myriad mysterious exploits with her two best gal pals George and Bess. For some unknown reason, I ended up giving away all my Nancy Drew books save one, The Perfect Plot. In the novel, Nancy and George drive out to the country estate and museum of a late mystery writer for a mystery-themed weekend. But when a fellow guest dies unexpectedly and curiously and a case of jewel-encrusted figurines go missing, the weekend turns out to be more mysterious than Nancy and George signed up for. The house itself is one big puzzle comprised of all sorts of secret passageways (which is really just the sort of thing I like in a book. Note to self: I really need to dig into more mystery books this summer) and the book is peopled with characters from the publishing world (i.e. authors, editors, literary agents), which also happens to be the industry I work in. Interesting that my predilections haven't changed much over the years! I so enjoyed re-visiting this Nancy Drew mystery that I've actually checked out a couple more from my local library to satiate my hunger for more Nancy Drew.

Northanger Abbbey by Jane Austen. Another re-visited book. A novel about books by a young writer whose writing career was in its infancy, Northanger Abbey was Jane Austen's first completed novel but wasn't published until after her death. The book was the author's satiric response to the popular Gothic novels of the day, most notably Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is heavily referenced in Austen's book. Ms. Austen has inspired me to seek out the aforementioned Udolpho. With its brooding villains, castles, and exotic Europeans landscapes, I cannot wait to dive into this one. I'm already noticing a theme for my summer reading...

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I read countless reviews praising the brilliance of this book. And while I don't deny that it was well-written, there were parts that didn't exactly move me and felt disconnected in certain places. I kept having to re-read certain pages again because I felt I missed something, and as a result the story dragged a little. Having said that, I will applaud Krauss for creating one of the most heartbreakingly lovable characters I've ever had the pleasure to meet in the pages of a book, Leopold Gursky. A man who is so lonely and in need of love that he takes to making scenes in public places, like spilling his milk at Starbucks, in an effort to arouse attentive stares from strangers. Leo shares the spotlight with a few other characters, but I sorta wish the book was solely Leo's journey, as his was far more interesting than any other character's in the novel. But then again, the ending would have been very different. As it is, the ending is particularly gut-wrenching, in a completely good way.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I don't think I came across one review of this book that didn't claim it to be utterly charming and delightful. And really that is just what this book is. An epistolary novel set on the isle of Guernsey shortly after WWII, the book is comprised of letters between Juliet, a spirited and successful London author, and the kooky but completely lovable island inhabitants who relate their individual accounts of life under the German Occupation on this little British island. At once funny (there were several moments when I downright giggled at the islanders' shenanigans) and incredibly fascinating and moving (many facts about what life was like at that time are woven into the characters' letters), this is a book not to be missed.

Next up, a pulitzer-prize winning novel and some long overdue books of the mystery kind....


Lindsay said...

you're alive! haven't read a blog from you in awhile. Miss you :)

Mary-Laure said...

I agree with you that History of Love is waaaaayyyyyyy over-rated. I found it ok, but really no masterpiece.

As for Northanger Abbey, I adore it. Catherine is so naive and funny, a real treat of a novel.

Joanna said...

Mary-Laure: Glad we're on the same page with regard to History of Love. As with Northanger Abbey, I know some people look down on it as one of Austen's lesser novels, but I think it's utterly delightful. The recent BBC version with Felicty Jones is especially entertaining (the entire movie is on youtube!).