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Catching-Up Roundup

January 6, 2013

Contrary to the evidence of my blogging (or absence therefrom) since midyear in 2012, I continued to read several books before the year was out. And because reading has always been so much more rewarding to me than writing, I of course found time to read but not to write.

Now that the freezer and cupboards are stuffed and the wintry weather precludes other pressing activities, I’m back here to attend to this poor neglected blog. It seems I’ve read quite a few books since I last wrote, but I’d never do them justice after so many weeks since reading them. Therefore a catching-up, single post to tell you about them in short spurts.

Giotto’s Hand

A number of years ago I read a fun detective story by Iain Pears, called The Instance of the Fingerpost, and determined to read more by him. Last year I read a somewhat complex story of his called The Dream of Scipio, and this year I thoroughly enjoyed Giotto’s Hand. The latter is much less intense than the other two, being a great mystery for beach and other summer reading. It seems it’s one in a series, by which I suppose the characters recur in other novels. This one is a delightful mystery about art theft, with interesting characters and charming dialogue. [Like]

Case Histories

Really, it’s quite astonishing how serendipitous life can be! I enjoy mysteries occasionally, but don’t really read them very often. Yet right after finishing the Pears book, I picked up Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, thinking it was a “woman’s novel.” Turns out it was another mystery, this time a Jackson Brodie mystery (that’s the main character’s name). Although this one includes darker deeds to unravel than art theft, it was nevertheless just as enjoyable (and quick!) a read as the previous. This one concerns a group of sisters who have been haunted by the long-ago disappearance of their youngest sibling. There’s much sadness over loss of a loved one, yet most of the characters we care about find happy endings in the last chapter. Another good read for the beach or summer. [Like]

When We Were Orphans

images-2If you haven’t read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro, you must correct this oversight post haste! This guy is an amazingly good writer—his prose, his characters, his stories, his imagination are all mesmerizing. I read Never Let Me Go a few years ago and determined that I would read more of his stuff. So my next book was When We Were Orphans, a great story about a young British boy who grew up in Shanghai in the early 20th century. The story veers back and forth between his childhood (as he tells it) and his attempts (as an adult) to solve the mystery of his parents’ disappearance in Shanghai. The story is a page-turner, and the first-person perspective in this case is essential to the characterization of Banks (the boy’s name). This novel was one of my favorites of the year. [Love]

Forever 50 and Other Negotiations

My sister gave me a charming volume of poems, Forever 50 and Other Negotiations by Judith Viorst, for my birthday this year. I read it in about half an hour, but I did so enjoy it. The humor you may recognize (Viorst is the author of that classic children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), but the sentiments are perfect for those of us whose age is closer to the cost of a tank of gas than a cup of coffee. [Like]

Brunelleschi’s Dome

imagesAfter reading a slew of novels, I’m usually in the mood for a good history or unexpected nonfiction of some kind. So I turned to Ross King’s Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture in the fall. What a treat this book was! My knowledge of architecture of any kind is pretty much nil, yet I found fascinating King’s account of how Florence’s wool guild (it’s complicated) commissioned Brunelleschi to complete the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral by designing and building the dome that covers it. It seems he invented several new devises and apparatuses to hurdle the immense problems of weight and transportation of the materials available in 15-century Italy. And, this being a story of Renaissance Italy, there’s all kinds of intrigue and nastiness among Brunelleschi’s peers to keep your interest. [Love]

The Hobbit

If you’re reading my blog, it’s highly likely that you know about J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Suffice to say I was determined to reread it before the movie came out. And being a Tolkien geek of a rather high level, I had to see the movie on the day of its release, December 14. So I put down The Pickwick Papers (see below) about a third of the way in, and lost myself in this beloved story for what I think was the ninth time. By the way, the book is better, but go see the movie anyway. [Love]

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

-2About a year ago my dad recommended Stieg Larsson’s books to me, which may seem somewhat odd for a retired English professor to do. But this is the guy who taught me (yeah, I took his classes in college) about the value of genre literature (whatever that means), particularly via Ray Bradbury and Raymond Chandler. So knowing I was just a few pages away from finishing my book and facing a four-hour flight, I picked up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the plane. Thank goodness Stieg Larsson isn’t Dan Brown! The last time I succumbed to friends’ exhortations to read a crime thriller kind of book receiving major hype and popularity, I found myself laughing out loud at the inane and pathetically lame writing of Angels and Demons (I refuse to link you to a site for buying the book because it’s that awful). This one is dark and nasty, yet the writing is up to the task of the novel, which is, after all, plenty enough to keep the pages turning and the characters doing. Speaking of the characters, I found them much more intriguing than I thought I would, especially Lisbeth Salander. And, speaking again of movie adaptations, I found the one with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara quite good. Mara totally deserved an Academy Award nomination for that role. [Like]

The Pickwick Papers

-1 About four years ago I decided I should read more Dickens than I had at that point; after all, I enjoyed every one I’d read (David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities). I set myself a goal to read one new Dickens novel each year, and with the possible exception of the rather maudlin Old Curiosity Shop, every new one has been great fun. This morning I finished The Pickwick Papers, and can categorically say that it is the most delightful and light-hearted of all of them. Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller are two of the most wonderful characters and great fun in all ways. And of course there’s Mr. Winkle, Mr. Weller senior, Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Wardle, Mr. Tupman, and many other memorable personages whose exploits take up this long novel. The story starts rather slow (glad the intro by Richard Russo warned me!), but keep with it to share the fun of Sam’s commentary, Pickwick’s absurd situations, and Dickens’s delight in all kinds of humanity. [Love]

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5 Comments
  1. I have been searching online for Pickwick Papers-enthusiasts, and so I was delighted to discover your post here! Yes, Pickwick doesn’t have the best of starts, but it gets better and better, and by the time you get to the end you even forgive the flawed beginning. Well, I do, anyway.

    I thought you might be interested in a piece of Pickwick-news: I have actually written a novel about the creation of the Pickwick Papers. It’s called Death and Mr Pickwick and it will be published in May by Random House (in the UK) and in June by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (in the USA). There’s loads I could say about my novel, and about The Pickwick Papers, and if you get in touch (and I hope you will) perhaps we could chat some more. But for now, let me give you three links which will introduce my novel to you, and which I hope you will visit:

    http://www.deathandmrpickwick.com – the novel’s website, with the links to the publishers’ sites
    http://www.publishersweekly.com/9780374139667 – the first pre-publication review, from Publishers’ Weekly
    https://www.facebook.com/deathandmrpickwick – the novel’s facebook page, where I regularly post bits and pieces of Pickwickiana.

    Best wishes

    Stephen Jarvis

  2. Stephen,
    Thanks so much for your note and information about your book. Oh, and congratulations on the impending publication! I’ll definitely check it out when published, as browsing through all your material reminded me how much I loved Pickwick.

    Your novel sounds like great fun, as I’m a nut about literary takes on historical fiction, that is, novelizations of literary characters. (I need to write here soon about The Poe Shadow, a book I read last summer about Edgar Allen Poe’s death.)

    Thanks again for writing and good luck with your book. May it encourage much purchasing and reading and discussing of The Pickwick Papers. I look forward to hearing much more about it!

    • Thank you very much indeed! I also hope that I will make many new friends by writing the novel, brought together initially by a love of Pickwick, so if you ever feel like dropping me a line, please do so. I can be contacted via the novel’s website. Best wishes Stephen

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