The Bibliophile's Adventurers Club

Exemplars of bookish delight

Category: books (page 2 of 14)

{finds, reviews, etc.}

In retrospect: Diary of a Provincial Lady

E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady is just that—a lady’s (fictionalized) account of the minutiae of provincial life between the first and second world wars.

Originally published in 1933, there’s certainly much with which I cannot relate. The post, for one: I’m lucky to get a flimsy piece of advertising thrown in a box once a day, let alone invitations to dinner, hand addressed on fine paper, delivered twice daily. And not once, in forty years, have I had to deal with unruly servants.

But that’s neither here nor there. What struck me most were the similarities.

As a matter of fact, the book could very well be classified as chick lit; each entry could just as easily be a blog post. Just one lady, describing her day to another; while we may live in different times and places, we can laugh at that which we recognize: lagging bank accounts, nosy neighbors, snobbish sorts—the sad realization that all the effort put into your hair and makeup and dress, did not make it back home with you at the end of the party.

Echkart Tolle once said, ‘To love is to recognize yourself in another.” Perhaps that’s what makes Diary of a Provincial Lady so easy to adore.

Needless to say, it’s a charming book, perfect to throw in your bag for a lazy afternoon in the hammock or a lounge on the beach—equally delightful to read whilst snuggled up to a roaring fire.

When all is said and done, you’ll no doubt find it a quick read (you may finish it in one sitting) and witty (her parenthetical asides, notes to self, and rhetorical questions slay me), but a waste of time? Not in the least. After all, it’s a look back in time, to see what’s changed; but more importantly, it’s a reminder that much remains the same. And we’re not at all alone.

:::

I ordered my book through Persephone Books—a limited time offer, for Valentine’s Day. If I recall, they said it would be officially released the end of April. When, exactly, I cannot say . . . but do keep your eyes peeled!

Tell me a story: Lisey’s Story

Lisey's Story

If anyone knows how to write about writers, it’s Stephen King.  King, who created the terrible and terrifying Jack Torrance in The Shining and Paul Sheldon in Misery . . .  

In Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story, Lisey’s writer-husband, Scott Landon, has been dead and buried for two years.  Lisey, little Lisey, solidly has stood by her famous husband through all the book tours and campus speeches, happy to be relegated to one of his millions of admirers, even though she is the only one who really knows him. Lisey, stoic and calm, has finally taken to clearing his studio of his boxes of papers, drafts, and books.  But the demons, both real and imaginary, that have haunted Scott during his life, have not died with him. Now they’re out for Lisey.

Let me stop there. King is known for his horror, but in my opinion this piece is stunning as King creates a monster you don’t ever really see. You sense its presence and its terror, but it never truly appears in its full form.

King admits Lisey’s Story is his favourite novel he’s written. Having read his other books, I can only guess at why this is. Maybe because it’s written from the other side of the writing desk.  There must be some dose of his wife in this book and her position as the right-hand of one of the most famous authors of our time.  Or maybe it’s because this book lives in the mind instead of in the “real world.”

If you want to read a book about an author’s mind at work–to experience some of the terror that must be deeply rooted in the mind of someone who can create something so wonderful, yet so horrific–study this one. Then ask yourself if those monsters don’t live in the heads of everyone, if they don’t peek out at us through reflections in windows, at dusk or in the deepest hours of the night.  When we do catch a glimpse of them, best cover those mirrors and write; write like the demons are after you themselves.

Tell me a story: Get Jiro

GetJiro

And yet another fun find, recommended to me by my local comic book store (go and find your very own, if you haven’t already done so); trust me on this (and trust them on their recommendations) . . .

If you are familiar with any of Tony Bourdain’s work, this is exactly as you’d expect a graphic novel by Bourdain to be.  If you’re unfamiliar, Anthony Bourdain is a chef/writer/tv personality who was one of the first to expose the real world of the chef’s kitchen and all of the background, behind-the-scenes gritty activity that happens in top commercial restaurants around the world.  He expected to get hacked and sliced by those in the restaurant industry for telling it like it is–the drugs, the hours, the real people who cook and prepare your food–instead, the world fell in love with his honesty and candor and apologetically true stories.

Get Jiro takes place in an alternate Los Angeles where chefs rule the world.  Among other things, they dictate the politics, laws, and borders of the city.  Jiro is a Japanese sushi chef, newly arrived from Japan and skilled with the blade.  Dip your sashimi in soy sauce or ask for a California roll?  WHACK, off with your head.  Jiro’s antics are quickly noticed by the top two competing chefs in the city, heads of their own mafias, and each competes to win him over to their side.  Chef Bob delights in the luxury of eating and of saluting the classics.  Chef Rose is vegetarian, vegan, locally sourced, granola.  With these two characters, Bourdain mercilessly pokes fun at the two extremes of cooking, as he often does in his TV shows, and paints each chef as ultimately hypocritical.

Yes, we the reader can delight in the triumph of one who wants things done with integrity and honor and refuses to bow down to what others pressure him to do.  We root for Jiro, not only because he is the hero of the graphic novel, but because he stands for the individual making a choice, eating being the most basic of the functions we can call our own.

If there’s any disappointment in this book, it’s the abruptness of it all.  What is Jiro’s backstory and how did chefs come to claim power?  We don’t get nearly enough time with him to figure out his motivations, to learn the story behind his tattoos, and find out  how an esteemed chef from Japan came to be in LA.  Bourdain, please give us more and more!

In retrospect: The Human Factor

TheHumanFactor

I do enjoy a good mystery. And spy novels—what’s not to love?  So when Graham Greene’s The Human Factor popped up as the book of choice for my book club, I sensed a winner right from the start. I was right; thought not, necessarily, for the reasons originally imagined . . .

When we first meet Maurice Castle, he’s little more than an average Joe. He puts in his hours at the office, and goes home to his wife and (step-) son each night. He loves his dog. He watches the clock and counts the days ‘til retirement.

Obviously, he’s one of us, right?

Well, not exactly—unless one of us happens to be a spy. You see, Castle is a former British diplomat working the African section of the foreign office. It’s something of a humdrum existence really, until there’s a suspected mole in his department. That’s when things begin to heat up.

Even then, the intrigue is not about flashy cars and cool gadgets; it’s about personal threats and vulnerability, loyalties and a moralities; it’s about the human factor of the spy game.

And Greene should know. During World War II, he was recruited to M15 (Britain’s secret service); he served in Sierra Leone. And Berkhamsted, where Castle makes his home? It was Greene’s home, too.  

Makes you wonder if it hit a little too close to home; if maybe he thought it one story he couldn’t do justice. After all, Greene considered the novel something of curse–‘a dead albatross’ he called it–and considered not publishing it at all. I, for one, am glad he didn’t give in to that line of thinking. Apparently, I’m not alone. Upon publication (1976) it stayed 6 months on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Sure, the setting is outdated (it takes place during the Cold War); but the storyline is classic. So if you’re looking for something of a psychological thriller . . . for a well-written spy novel . . . for a book hard to put down, even when you want to look away . . . you might want to give Graham Greene’s The Human Factor a try. 

Tell me a story: Agent to the Stars

Agent to the Stars

Did you ever watch Monsters vs. Aliens, the animated film starring Reese Witherspoon as gigantic Susan?  The adorable Seth Rogen provided the voice to B.O.B.–an indeterminate, indestructible, blue blob who digested any substance he chose to ingest.  

In my head, that is what John Scalzi’s alien character, the aptly named Joshua, looks and sounds like.

In Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars, Thomas Stein is a rising Hollywood agent who has been given the Herculean task of introducing Joshua, the representative of the alien race Yherajk, to the human race. Because, you see, Scalzi’s aliens are smart (not to mention peaceful) and media savvy.  They don’t want a hostile takeover, they want a positive public persona, and who else but Hollywood to spin that story?  This novel is only sci-fi in the sense that there are aliens. But quite frankly, the aliens have learned and absorbed so much about being human that, besides an offensive odor, Joshua is very human.  Oh, and I suppose there are several alien abductions, although you can hardly call them abductions if the passengers are willing travelers to the mothership.  So can Stein successfully introduce blobby, smelly aliens to the human race AND make us adore them–or is it a full-on nuclear attack at the first blip of the spaceship?  I’ll leave it up to you to find out.

Agent to the Stars also has the distinction of being John Scalzi’s first novel, even though it was published after his very famous Old Man’s War, and he had originally posted it in 1999 on his personal website as shareware for people to download as they please.  All told, Scalzi estimates he earned ~$4,000 from this book that way.  In 2005, it was picked up by a small publisher, who printed several thousand copies (which are now selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay), and finally in 2008, Agent to the Stars was released in mass market paperback format.  Now if that’s not every aspiring writer’s dream, I don’t know what is.

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