My Wednesday Post: 9 May 2018

There are two memes I take part in on Wednesdays:

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I have three books on the go at the moment,  – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, from my TBR shelves.  I’m only up to chapter 3 so far but I’m enjoying his descriptive writing so much as Tom Joad returns to his family home in Oklahoma during a drought as a storm blew up and dust clouds covered everything. Tom, convicted of homicide has just been released from prison after serving four years of a seven year sentence.

I’m also reading Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander, a novel set in Germany during the Second World War, about the life of Magda, one of Hitler’s food tasters. See yesterday’s post for the opening paragraph and synopsis. I’m in chapter 6 at the moment when Magda sees photos taken by an SS officer at Auschwitz, that show that Hitler is lying about how the Reich is dealing with Jews and prisoners of war near the Eastern front.

The Summer Before the War

The third book I’m reading is The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, about the  summer of 1914, set in Rye in East Sussex when spinster Beatrice Nash arrived to teach at the local grammar school. Her appointment was the result of Agatha Kent’s and Lady Emily Wheaton’s wish to have a female teacher as a Latin teacher. I’m in the middle of chapter 5 in which Beatrice is at Lady Emily’s annual garden party with the school governors, the Headmaster and staff and some of the local dignitaries. I’m finding it rather slow-going so far.

The last book I finished is Belinda Bauer’s latest book Snap, one of my NetGalley books. It’s crime fiction about Jack and his sisters and what happens to them after their mother is murdered. Belinda Bauer’s books are so original, full of tension and suspense. I’ll write more about it in a later post.

What do you think you’ll read next: I shall probably read The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott next, or if not next then by the end of the month as it’s the book chosen by my book group for our May meeting.

The Inheritance

Synopsis:

Written in 1849, when Louisa May Alcott was just seventeen years old, this is a captivating tale of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan who innocently wields the charms of virtue, beauty, and loyalty to win her true birthright. Her inheritance, nothing less than the English estate on which she is a paid companion, is a secret locked in a long-lost letter. But Edith is loath to claim it _ for more important to her by far is the respect and affection of her wealthy patrons, and the love of a newfound friend, the kind and noble Lord Percy. This novel is Alcott writing under the influence of the gothic romances and sentimental novels of her day. The introduction considers early literary influences in the light of Alcott’s mature style

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

As soon as I began reading Cannery Row I thought I could be in for a treat – this is the opening sentence:

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.

There are some books that begin well and then tail off so I was hoping this wouldn’t be one of those. There are some books, just a few, that have everything, rich descriptions of locations, wonderful characters and a storyline, even though in this book it’s really a series of stories with a thread running through to connect them to the whole, that grabs my attention and makes me want to know more. Cannery Row is just such a book.

I knew nothing about the book before I began reading (it’s my book group choice) and that made it even more enjoyable. Steinbeck’s style is perfect for me, I could see Cannery Row itself, a strip of Monterey’s Ocean View Avenue, where the Monterey sardines were caught and canned or reduced to oil or fishmeal, along with all the characters – no, it was more than that -I was there in the thick of it, transported in my mind, whilst I was reading and even afterwards as I thought about the novel.

The characters include a group of down and outs, lead by Mack, whose well intentioned actions usually end in disaster for himself and others. Then there is the shop keeper, Lee Chong, who also owns the Palace Flophouse where he lets Mack and the boys live, Dora, a woman with flaming red hair, the madam who runs the Bear Flag Restaurant, Doc who lives and works at the Western Biological Laboratory and Henri the painter who is building and never finishing a boat. There is humour and tragedy, meanness and generosity, life and death all within Cannery Row‘s 148 pages.

I loved this description of Cannery Row:

Early morning is a time of magic in Cannery Row. In the gray time after the light has come and before the sun has risen, the Row seems to hang suspended out of time in a silvery light. The street lights go out and the weeds are a brilliant green. The corrugated iron of the canneries glows with the pearly lucence of platinum or old pewter. No automobiles are running then. The street is silent of progress and business. And the rush and drag of the waves can be heard as they splash in among the piles of the canneries. It is a time of peace, a deserted time, a little era of rest. Cats drip over the fences and slither like syrup over the ground looking for fish heads. (page 64)

This paragraph continues in the same vein for almost a whole page. For me it conjures up such a vivid picture of the place, its light and sound and the sentence comparing the movement of cats dripping and slithering like syrup is just perfect.

It’s not just a visual delight, the book contains many gems, the frog collecting expedition and the party scene that end in chaos and wreckage, and the words of wisdom from Doc. Here is just one example:

‘It has always seemed strange to me,’ said Doc. ‘The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness and honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants  of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire, the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.’ (page 107)

This is the best book I’ve read so far this year and one I shall read again. I loved it and I definitely want to read more of Steinbeck’s books (I may have read, or at least started to read The Grapes of Wrath when I was at school and didn’t appreciate it at the time – the opening seems so familiar!).