Thomas Hardy on Film

Today is a gray day, perfect for lounging on the couch with my cat and reading. Instead I felt like embarking on a project, which you can read about on my other blog shortly. Couldn’t start it yet, and was feeling in a funk about it, so I thought I would bake a butternut squash pound cake (altering this recipe). I had the flour measured before I realized the cake called for four eggs and I only had two.

So I decided on the other foolproof method for dealing with moodiness: snacking my way out of it.

Brown Rice Tea -- not actually poured at a 90-degree angle.

Brown Rice Tea -- not actually poured at a 90-degree angle.

Goat Cheese, Borage Honey and Walnut Tartine

Goat Cheese, Borage Honey and Walnut Tartine on homemade rosemary bread

That done, I sat down and decided to blog about the Thomas Hardy literary adaptations I’d seen recently. One on a book I’d read, and one I hadn’t. Hardy’s novels are notable for the amount of drama and conflict they manage to squeeze into one book. Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be another twist on the road to the ending…there it comes.

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This Is the Way the World Ends

I mentioned that book club had inspired a couple of posts. This is one of them. We were talking about past picks, and The Road came up. I mentioned that I generally enjoyed post-apocalyptic fiction, but this was the bleakest one I’d read yet. Someone asked what else I’d read in that vein–and the only thing I could come up with was The Stand (Stephen King). Which I believe I read at least three times between the ages of 12 and 16. I even read the unedited version when it was released (if you’re reading it for the first time, go with the edited if it’s still available).  I later thought about Susan Beth Pfeffer’s YA novel Dead and the Gone, which I read after our editor said how much she loved the first novel in that series. And Children of Men, by P.D. James, which is also a film.

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Peter the Great

One month later . . . I finally finished Peter the Great. This one’s for you, Ash:

Assassins did not frighten Peter, but there were creatures before which he trembled: cockroaches. When he traveled, he never entered a house until he had been assured that no cockroaches were present and his own room had been carefully swept by his own servants. This followed an episode in which Peter, as a guest at dinner in a country house, asked if his hst ever had cockroaches. “Not many,” the host replied, “and to chase them away, I have pinned a living one to the wall.” He pointed to the place where the insect was pinned, still squirming, not far from the Tsar. With a roar, Peter leaped from the table, gave his host a tremedous blow and rushed out of the house.

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Book Club: A History of Love

Sunday night we had our book club, and I finished a book for the first time in a while (still reading about Peter!). Funny how the moment I started writing about reading, my reading seems to have slowed considerably! Between work and personal commitments, time has been tight lately.

The History of Love was a re-read for me—I read it originally a few months before it was published in May 2005 to decide about covering it for work. At the editorial meeting, the point was raised that we had just interviewed Jonathan Safran Foer, so interviewing his wife the very next month seemed a bit strange. I remember agreeing that it was, but saying that if we wanted to feature the best book of the month, we should do it anyway. I had brought the galley home with me to finish because I had wanted to keep reading, and had finished the book in one night. It made me cry.

So I picked it up again with a bit of trepidation. Would it be as good the second time around? Would I cry? Yes, and yes. A History of Love is one of those books you think about long after you’ve finished it, because it has one of those endings that makes you re-evaluate everything that came before. It reminds people who like to read of why they read, of the pull of stories, the power of love and imagination.

a beautiful book

a beautiful book

Even if it didn’t do any of those things, it would stay in your head because of the vivid rhythm of its language, and its honest, complete portrayal of two lonely people who can’t help but keep reaching out to the world despite rebuffs and setbacks. It’s one of the best books I’ve read and highly recommended. Our book club discussion was one of the best we’d had in a long time, even though some people hadn’t finished yet. Reading over this, I realize it’s all visceral gushing and very little calm appraisal but if you can’t gush on your blog, where can you?

Book club also gave me the idea for two more posts, so hopefully there’ll be more frequent updates here.In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to read, give this one a try. It’s on Google book search. Read the first chapter and you might find yourself heading to the bookstore.

More Best of 08

I keep remembering other books I loved last year.

The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. March is still my favorite book of hers (it deserved the Pulitzer it got), but this story of how people of different faiths and cultures preserved a remarkable Jewish manuscript for 600 years is marvelously moving.
Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata. The science of losing weight is surprisingly interesting, at least as related by this NYT columnist.
The Black Tower by Louis Bayard. This historical novel about what may have happened the French Dauphin is simply wonderful. I even said so in print.

I finally read something!

Last night I had a Friday night in for the first time in a while. I did all of my favorite lazy things: watched a movie while eating popcorn with parmesan and black pepper, then got in the bath with a glass of Bailey’s and a good book.

Darling Jim

Darling Jim

Which one? Darling Jim. I recommend it. In fact, depending on how interesting the author seems to be, I might recommend it for a feature in our April issue. The novel opens with a horrible murder scene: a woman is found dead in her Dublin home along with two of her twenty-something nieces, whom she had  kept prisoner in her house for three months, slowly poisoning them. But why? And where is the third sister? The crime seems destined to remain unsolved, until an aimless postal clerk, Niall, finds one of the sisters’ diaries in the dead letter box and decides to find the answers himself. It leads him to a small town, and the story of a charming stranger who swept in and changed the course of the sisters’ lives.

Darling Jim is something of a cross between The Lovely Bones and The Thirteenth Tale. Like Sebold’s memorable debut, it makes the reader fall in love with characters who are dead (much of the novel is told in the voices of two of the sisters, Fiona and Róisin, through their diaries). Like Setterfield’s, it has a Gothic tone and “stories” that hold clues to real-life mysteries. And like both novels, it contains just the right balance of literary merit and commercial appeal that could lead to bestseller status.

Books I loved in 2008

I started this blog to slow down my reading, and it seems to have worked.  Work on this blog and my other one, combined with a week from hell at the office (getting home at 7 is not the norm for me), have kept me from reading much of everything. I’m taking in about a chapter of Peter the Great every night and then it’s lights out.

So in the interest of keeping this place lively, here are a few of the books I loved in 2008. Continue reading