Archives for American authors

#BookReview ‘Bright Center of Heaven’ by William Maxwell #literary

This is the first novel by William Maxwell, author of Pulitzer finalist So Long, See You Tomorrow and fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine. He was there from 1936-1975 and worked with Cheever, Updike, Salinger and Nabokov, among others. Not a novel published singly, I found Bright Center of Heaven in an American anthology of Maxwell’s early work. This is a quiet read though ambitious in its subject matter, and well worth spending time with before reading Maxwell’s later works. He follows the time-honoured structure of placing a group of people in one place over a limited time period and observing what happens. It is a contemplative novel and, although it does work to a climax, it is more an insight into the mind of each character as events unfold. Widow Mrs West and her two teenage sons Thorn and Whitey live at Meadowland, a dilapidated farm that they can no longer afford to run, with her husband’s sister Amelia and her son Bascomb, German cook Johanna and farmer Gust. Thorn feels close to the land to the ten-acre field gifted to him by his father on his sixth birthday. Now Thorn helps Gust to work the fields. Gust is all
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Categories: Book Love.

How Philip Pullman writes #amwriting #writerslife #BookofDust

Philip Pullman ‘When you’re writing, you have to please yourself because there’s no one else there initially. But the book doesn’t fully exist until it’s been read. The reader is a very important part of the transaction – and people have to read things they want to read. I’m writing for me – I write for all the ‘me’s’ that have been. From the first me I can remember, the me who first got interested in stories and loved listening to them; to the me who was here at Oxford fifty years ago; to the me who was a school teacher, telling stories to the class. All of these. I’m writing for me. And I am lucky to have found such a wide audience and an audience which contains both adults and children is the best of all.’ [in an interview with the BBC on October 19, 2017]  Pullman was speaking a day prior to publication of La Belle Sauvage, first volume of the long-awaited The Book of Dust. The interview is a fascinating account of how such a successful author – commercially and critically – goes about his day job. Three things stand out for me. He sits and
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Categories: On Writing.

First Edition: ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ by Thomas Pynchon #oldbooks

I admit here that I read Thomas Pynchon’s post-modern novella The Crying of Lot 49 at university and enjoyed it without really understanding it. First published in 1966, it tells the story of Oedipa Maas and what happens after her ex-partner dies. Pynchon had fun creating wonderful character names, so unusual and clever they reminded me of Charles Dickens – Oedipa’s partner is Pierce Inverarity, her husband is Wendell “Mucho” Maas, Oedipa’s lawyer Metzger works for Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus, and in a bar she meets Mike Fallopian. The plot is labyrinthine, it is a Marmite book, love it or hate it, and I suspects features on many people’s lists of unfinished books. It does, however, have some interesting cover design. The first edition in the USA was published by JB Lippincott & Co [above]. The current Vintage Classics edition [below] was published in 1996. Buy here The story In brief, Oedipa’s ex partner Pierce has died and she is named as co-executor of his will. The catalyst to the story is her discovery of a set of stamps which may, or may not, have been used by a secret underground postal delivery system called the Trystero. As she travels
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Categories: Book design and Book Love.

#Bookreview ‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides #literary

The title of this, the third novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides, refers to the entanglements of three students and the plotting of Victorian romance novels. The Marriage Plot tells of the romantic, sexual, philosophical, religious and literary coming togethers/going aparts of a literature student Madeleine Hanna, scientist Leonard Bankhead and theology student Mitchell Grammaticus at Brown University in 1982 America. It is a tale of youthful assumptions, experimentations, dreams and disappointments. Perhaps it is a tale which will strike a chord with people of the same age as Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell, rather than those who are older. None of the three main characters are particularly likeable and at times the book gets bogged down in literary theory, philosophy, science and religious theory. Leonard is brilliant but a manic depressive, something which colours the entire book. The portrayal of his illness is convincing and shows the knife edge of pharmaceutical dosage needed to maintain a healthy mental balance. Leonard yo-yo’s back and forth, coping and not coping, at times allowing his manic tendencies to win. Madeleine accuses him of liking being depressed all the time. Mitchell is the idealistic one who goes to India to work for Mother
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is a read like no other. A slow, contemplative journey through the memories of one man’s life, as he waits to die. In 1956, the Reverend John Ames writes a letter to his young son. It tugs the heartstrings. Robinson writes with a clear unadorned style drawing heavily on biblical texts but it is not a religious tract, it is the story of a man’s life, his memories, his regrets and loves. The first few lines grabbed me and didn’t let me go. Do not start reading this book if you are feeling impatient. Some passages are easy and quick to read, others deserve more thought. It unwinds slowly like a length of thread, telling us the story of John Ames, his father and grandfather, the legacy of the Ames family which has been inherited by the Reverend’s seven-year old son. I am not religious and some of the references will have passed me by. In the first half of the novel, I would think ‘oh no not another section about religion’, but as I read deeper into the book I became drawn into the stories of John Ames and his forebears and how their beliefs shaped
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Anything is Possible

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is an extraordinary book about normal people living normal lives. On the outside, people live private, God-fearing lives, they get by, they smile, they work. Inside, they hide secrets, horror, misgivings, sadness and love. With the same vision and delicacy she displayed in My Name is Lucy Barton, Strout tells us about the people of Amgash, Illinois, the small rural town where Lucy Barton grew up. In Anything is Possible, as in real life, threads of small town life are tangled together, generation after generation, each seemingly isolated but all connected by invisible tendrils of family, neighbourhood, school, farming. The shared history of living together through the years in close proximity, a community where everyone knows everyone else, their shame, their success, their failure, their betrayal and loyalty, is a community it is impossible to escape. Where adolescent misdemeanours, which may or may not have happened, are remembered as fact and decades of distrust attached. But as well as secrets and shame, there is redemption and love for those who face change and find a way to the other side. This is more a collection of inter-connecting stories rather than a novel with a
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: We Are Water

We Are Water by American author Wally Lamb is the examination of a family riven by differences, tragedy and horrors, how they first avoid then finally admit the truths and shame, in order to face the future. It is a story about looking forwards, not back. I loved the storyline set-up in the Prologue, elderly artist and curator Gualtiero Agnello recalls the discovery of a self-taught artist, Josephus Jones, a poor black man in the Sixties with a raw untapped gift. But then as the story develops, Jones is not centre stage. The focus is on Annie Oh, another untutored artist discovered by Agnello, who lived in the same house where Jones lived in a shed out back and where he died in a well. Murder or accident, it is never proven. Via the Oh family, Lamb explores the imbalance of family life, its events and consequences. When she is small. Annie loses her mother in a flood which devastates the town of Three Rivers in Connecticut. This flood is based on a real-life event though the town is fictional. Growing up, Annie is subjected to abuse which remains unspecified for a long time. The reader comes to realise she
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Early Warning

It opens with a funeral, Frank Langdon, the patriarch. A funeral is a great introduction to the characters, a reminder of Some Luck, the first part of this trilogy. This, the second instalment by Jane Smiley of the life of Frank and Rosanna Langdon’s family, focuses on their children and grandchildren. And it is a sprawling family. Not just who they are but WHO they are, their relationships, their quirks, their oddities. Jane Smiley is an excellent observer of human behaviour, she reminds me of Jane Austen’s interpretation of family connections, secrets, tensions and disguised emotions. And it is all written in such an unassuming, subtle way. The death of a parent is a landmark in anyone’s life, a reminder of mortality, and in this book we see the maturing of the five Langdon children – ambitious, tricksy Frank; farmer Joe; home-maker Lilian; academic Henry; and youngest Claire. Smiley has a way of writing these characters from birth to maturity, through changing times, the social and political upheavals of Sixties and Seventies America, without losing the essence of personality. And what a cast it is to handle. Not once did I lose the thread of who was who, except with
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 88… ‘To Have and Have Not’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars? Well, we came across the square from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco Café to get coffee and there was only one beggar awake in the square and he was getting a drink out of the fountain. But when we got inside the café and sat down, there were three of them waiting for us.” ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell  ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding  ‘Possession’ by AS Byatt  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Does this make you want more? Hemingway’s TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT #books http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vm via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 87… ‘Time Will Darken It’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In order to pay off an old debt that someone else had contracted, Austin King had said yes when he knew that he ought to have said no, and now at five o’clock of a July afternoon he saw the grinning face of trouble everywhere he turned. The house was full of strangers from Mississippi; within an hour, friends and neighbours invited to an evening party would begin ringing the doorbell; and his wife (whom he loved) was not speaking to him.” ‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell Amazon Click here to read my review of Time Will Darken It Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Such a Long Journey’ by Rohinton Mistry  ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon  ‘Death in Summer’ by William Trevor  And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes you want more: TIME WILL DARKEN IT by William Maxwell http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Vh Chosen by @SandraDanby #novels
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: My Name is Lucy Barton

This is a gem of a little novel by Elizabeth Strout. I read it in one sitting on a winter’s afternoon, drawn into the life of Lucy Barton. Lucy looks back, ostensibly telling the story of her nine-week stay in hospital and an unexpected visit by her mother, when in fact she tells the story of her life. Mothers and daughters, no two relationships are alike and no woman can make assumptions about another’s experience as either mother or daughter. Stranded in her hospital bed, Lucy remembers her childhood and tries to make sense of it. Economically [208 pages] and beautifully written, this is the first of Elizabeth Strout’s novels I have read. I have of course heard of Olive Kitteridge but did not realize it is a Pulitzer winner, and so have the treat awaiting me. Strout writes about the everday, the ordinary, the normal [and not-so-normal] and sees the truth behind what is and isn’t said. Lucy is a kind of everywoman. Through her Strout examines the mother-daughter relationship with an acute eye which will make you examine your own relationships. Lucy tells the story of her hospital visit and her mother’s appearance with the benefit of hindsight,
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Categories: Book Love.

Great Opening Paragraph 43… ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“One summer afternoon Mrs Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed, executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. Oedipa stood in the living-room, stared at by the greenish dead eye of the TV tube, spoke the name of God, tried to feel as drunk as possible. But this did not work. She thought of a hotel room in Mazatlán whose door had just been slammed, it seemed forever, waking up two hundred birds down in the lobby, a sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west; a dry, disconsolate tune from the fourth movement of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra; a whitewashed bust of Jay Gould that Pierce kept over the bed on a shelf so narrow for it she’d always had the hovering fear it would
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 41… ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work. The two friends were very different. The one who always steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek. In the summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it was colder he wore over this a shapeless grey sweater. His face was round and oily, with half-closed eyelids and lips that curved in a gently, stupid smile. The other mute was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was always immaculate and very soberly dressed.” ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ by Carson McCullers  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant’ by Anne Tyler ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall ‘Sacred Hearts’ by Sarah Dunant And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes me want to read more: THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 37… ‘I’ll Take You There’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“In those days in the early Sixties we were not women yet but girls. This was, without irony, perceived as our advantage.” ‘I’ll Take You There’ by Joyce Carol Oates  Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway ‘Tipping the Velvet’ by Sarah Waters ‘The Collector’ by John Fowles And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A 1st para which makes me want to read more: I’LL TAKE YOU THERE by Joyce Carol Oates #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-mM via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Great Opening Paragraph 34… ‘Lolita’ #amwriting #FirstPara

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov Amazon Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:- ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ by Kiran Desai ‘Notes on a Scandal’ by Zoe Heller ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: An iconic 1st para which makes me want to read more: LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-kO via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.