A – Z of TBRs: X, Y and Z

And so I come to the last letters in the alphabet,  X, Y and Z in my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I’ve been taking a look at some of my TBRs  to decide whether I really do want to read them all. Some of them were impulse buys, or books I bought as part of those 3 for 2 offers, but most of them are books I bought full of enthusiasm to read each one – and mainly because I wanted to finish books I was already reading, they have sat on the shelves ever since. And then other books claimed my attention.

X  – is for Xingu and other stories by Edith Wharton Xingu is the first story in this IMG_20180517_155637127_HDR.jpgcollection of seven short stories. It’s about a group of ladies who form a book group called The Lunch Club – but it’s more

‘And what do you think of “The Wings of Death”? Mrs Roby abruptly asked her.  It was the kind of question that might be termed out of order, and the ladies glanced at each other as though disclaiming any share in such a breach of discipline. They all knew there was nothing Mrs Plinth so much disliked as being asked her opinion of a book. Books were written to read; if one read them what more could be expected? To be questioned in detail regarding the contents of a volume seemed to her as great an outrage as being searched for smuggled laces at the Custom House. (location 77)

Why, I wonder, would anyone want to smuggle laces – and why would it be necessary?

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Y – is for The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. I’ve had this book for 8 years. According to Wikipedia this book focuses on a religious sect called the God’s Gardeners, a small community of survivors of the same biological catastrophe depicted in Atwood’s earlier novel Oryx and Crake, which I read soon after it was first published in 2003. The earlier novel contained several brief references to the group.

Figuring out the Gardener hierarchy took her some time. Adam One insisted that  all Gardeners were equal on the spiritual level, but the same did not hold true for the material one: the Adams and the Eves ranked higher, though their numbers indicated their areas of expertise rather than their importance. In many ways it was like a monastery, she thought. The inner chapter, then the lay brothers. And the lay sisters, of course. Except that chastity was not expected.

Since she was accepting Gardener hospitality, and under false pretences at that – she wasn’t really a convert – she felt she should pay by working very hard. (pages 55 -56)

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Z– is for Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson, a book I’ve had for eighteen months. It’s described on the book jacket as ‘By turns angry, elegiac and rude’,’ a novel about love – love of women, love of literature, love of laughter. It shows our funniest writer at his brilliant best.’

I haven’t read any of his books, although I have a copy of The Finckler Question, the 2010 Man Booker Prize winner still to read. Looking at Zoo Time today I’m wondering of I really do want to read it – I’m not very good with ‘funny’ books, often wondering what’s so funny about them. It’s about a writer, whose readership is going downhill, with lots of problems.

Things had not being going well in my neck of the woods: not for me, on account of being a writer whose characters readers didn’t identify with, not for my wife who didn’t identify with my characters or with me, not for Poppy Eisenhower, my wife’s mother, where the problem, to be candid, was that we had been identifying with each other too well, not for my local library which closed only a week after I’d published a florid article in the London Evening Standard praising its principled refusal to offer Internet access, and not for my publisher Merton Flak who, following a drunken lunch in my company – I had been the one doing the drinking – went back to his office and shot himself in the mouth. (page 23)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? Would you ditch any of them?

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan FromeWhat a fantastic book. Ethan Frome is a beautifully told tale – a tragedy, signalled right from the beginning of the book, when the unnamed narrator first saw Ethan Frome and was told he had been disfigured and crippled in a ‘smash up’, twenty four years earlier. Life had not been good to him:

Sickness and trouble: that’s what Ethan’s had his plate full up with ever since the very first helping.

I was a bit wary as I began reading Ethan Frome because I’d not long finished reading Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing and didn’t want to sink into another bleak and dismal book. I needn’t have worried, even though Ethan Frome is a tragedy there is light to contrast the darkness, and there is love and hope set against repression and misery. It’s another book (like The Grass is Singing) where I hoped the ending would be a happy one, although I knew it couldn’t be. 

It’s a short book (just over 120 pages) and deceptively simple to read, but there is so much packed into it. I enjoyed it very much.  As well as striking and memorable characters the setting is  beautifully described – a ‘mute and melancholy landscape, an incarceration of frozen woe‘, in the isolated village of Starkfield (a fictional New England village). Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Ethan’s life had changed when his father died and he had had to give up his studies to work on the farm. His wife Zeena had always been ill and needing help in the house, which was why her cousin Mattie came to live with them. At first it worked out quite well, but Ethan can’t shrug off a sense of dread, even though he could

… imagine that peace reigned in his house.

There was really even now, no tangible evidence to the contrary; but since the previous night a vague dread had hung on the sky-line. It was formed of Zeena’s obstinate silence, of Mattie’s sudden look of warning, of the memory of just such fleeting imperceptible signs as those which told him, on certain stainless mornings, that before night there would be rain.

His dread was so strong that, man-like, he sought to postpone certainty.

Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937) was an American author. Ethan Frome was first published in 1911 and is in contrast to some of her other books about the New York society of the 1870s to 1920s. It’s a rural tragedy of inevitable suffering and sadness that reminded me of Thomas Hardy’s books.

This book was the Classics Club Spin book for February/March and qualifies in the What’s in a Name 2014 in the Forename/Name category. It’s also a book I’ve owned before 1 January 2014 so is another book for the Mount TBR challenge.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The Classics ClubLast week I decided to take part in the Classics Club Spin. The rules were €“ list twenty books from your Classics Club list, number them 1 to 20, and the number announced on Monday represents the book you have to read during February and March. The number that has been selected is 20, which means the book I’ll be reading is:

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. This is a short novel. I gave up on reading Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth a few years ago, mainly because I thought it was too long winded, so I’m hoping that this much shorter novel will be more to my liking. However, it’s a tragedy and as I’ve just finished reading Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing, which is also a tragedy I think I’ll wait a couple of weeks before I start Ethan Frome – too much tragedy is – well, too much all at once.

Sunday Selection: Sisters

One of my aims this year is to reduce my massive backlog of unread books, hence the reason for joining the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.  I’m not doing too badly as so far I’ve read 19, but it’s still only a drop in the ocean. In June I wrote about some of the books I’ve owned for more than a year and today I’m looking at some more the books on the list – in some cases I’ve had these books for several years! It’s about time I read at least one of these sometime soon. I don’t like to plan too far ahead what I’m going to read but I like to have some titles in mind.

When I looked through my books I realised that I was picking out books about SISTERS:

First up for consideration are two non fiction books (the blurbs are extracts from Amazon/Goodreads):

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey by Leanda de Lisle – this is the story of the tumultuous lives of Lady Jane Grey, known as the ‘Nine-Day Queen’ and her sisters. I’ve had this book for 3 years. I was full of enthusiasm when I first bought it because I’d been reading novels about the Tudor period and thought I’d balance them with non fiction.

Lady Jane Grey is an iconic figure in English history. Misremembered as the ‘Nine Days Queen’, she has been mythologized as a child-woman destroyed on the altar of political expediency. Exploding the many myths of Lady Jane’s life and casting fresh light onto Elizabeth’s reign, acclaimed historian Leanda de Lisle brings the tumultuous world of the Grey sisters to life, at a time when a royal marriage could gain you a kingdom or cost you everything.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters by Charlotte Mosley – a selection of unpublished letters between the Mitford sisters – Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah. I’ve had this book for 5 years! I think two of the reasons I’ve not read it before now is that it is so long – over 800 pages and it’s in a very small font.

Carefree, revelatory and intimate, this selection of unpublished letters between the six legendary Mitford sisters, compiled by Diana Mitford’s daughter-in-law, is alive with wit, passion and heartbreak. The letters chronicle the social quirks and political upheavals of the twentieth century but also chart the stormy, enduring relationships between the uniquely gifted ‘and collectively notorious Mitford sisters’. 

And then some novels featuring sisters:

Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton. I’ve not had this one for that long – just since last November. I down loaded it on my Kindle because it’s a free book and I thought maybe I should try another book by Edith Wharton, having failed to finish The House of Mirth. At the time I was not in the mood for it.

In the days when New York’s traffic moved at the pace of the drooping horse-car, when society applauded Christine Nilsson at the Academy of Music and basked in the sunsets of the Hudson River School on the walls of the National Academy of Design, an inconspicuous shop with a single show-window was intimately and favourably known to the feminine population of the quarter bordering on Stuyvesant Square. It was a very small shop, in a shabby basement, in a side-street already doomed to decline; its fame was so purely local that the customers on whom its existence depended were almost congenitally aware of the exact range of “goods” to be found at Bunner Sisters’.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger – I’m not sure how long I’ve had this book, but it’s about three years. I’m not sure I’ll like it as I wasn’t keen on The Time Traveler’s Wife, but it was the time travelling aspect that irritated me with that book – the constant switching backwards and forwards in time. This one looks a bit different.

Set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers with an abnormally intense attachment to one another. The girls move to their aunt’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London and as the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen, a book I’ve had for six years! I bought it because I’d enjoyed Blessings a satisfying but sad novel about an abandoned baby. 

A novel about two sisters, the true meaning of success, and the qualities in life that matter most. It’s an otherwise ordinary Monday when Meghan Fitzmaurice’s perfect life hits a wall. A household name as the host of Rise and Shine, the country’s highest-rated morning talk show, Meghan cuts to a commercial break but not before she mutters two forbidden words into her open mike. 

In an instant, it’s the end of an era, not only for Meghan, who is unaccustomed to dealing with adversity, but also for her younger sister, Bridget, a social worker in the Bronx who has always lived in Meghan’s long shadow.

I’ve nearly finished reading Third Girl by Agatha Christie, also one of my to-be-read books, so now all I have to do is decide which book to read next. At the moment I’m leaning towards Her Fearful Symmetry, despite my misgivings about The Time Traveler’s Wife.