A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
My dear friend M bought me Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence as a way to enjoy some time in France. She herself is half-French, and she found that she understood her relatives a lot more once she had read some of Peter Mayle’s work set in France. She thought I would enjoy it, as well, and she was right. I am not huge on memoir, but I do very much indulging in travel/location reading, particularly if there is discussion about sun, summer, and delicious food. As it turns out, while Provence is not always a tropical location, there is plenty of eating to discuss.
Mayle and his wife move to Provence as a way of making a life change. They don’t understand what goes into an international move, especially from Britain to France, and the first part of the book chronicles the comedy of errors that go into purchasing and renovating the home. The Mayles endure a bit of culture shock, as the joie de vivre around them prevents prompt house projects from a quick completion (this is something I would definitely have to struggle with if I moved there). They also travel frequently in the region to immerse themselves in the food and wine customs in Provence and there find great solace. Further, their misadventures with houseguests form another source of dismay. As someone who lives near a major Midwest airport, I found myself cackling at descriptions of ferrying guests around various locations and putting up people for the sake of their travel convenience and not your own. The book is set in a year, so you get a sense of the seasons and holidays that transpire in the course of a year in Provence, France.
This is a delightful and charming read. The descriptions of the food are quite incredible, and as a fan of bread, cheese, and soups, this book made me fairly hungry. Mayle spares no detail in his writing and invites you the reader to partake of the delights of the season. If you like location/travel writing, then I absolutely recommend this book to you. I definitely think it’s time to read more of Mayle’s work in the coming year.
Movie Icons: Katherine Hepburn by Alain Silver
The Chancellor often likes to coordinate his gifts in a “theme.” One year for Valentine’s Day, he bought me a copy of the film Bringing Up Baby and paired it with this particular short biography of Katherine Hepburn. He knows I am a huge fan of both her and Audrey Hepburn, so my DVD collection has slowly grown over the years (another year, he bought me The Philadelphia Story, which is absolutely one of my favorites). I was intrigued to learn more about one of my favorite old-time Hollywood actresses.
To be absolutely frank at the forefront: this biography is short on text and long on pictures. So, if you’re hoping for a comprehensive or at least basic biography of Ms. Hepburn, there is not much actual essay. However, there are a ton of movie stills, promo posters, and behind-the-scenes shots which add a new dimension to the filmography. And the captions for all the pictures are fascinating, because they contain commentary by Ms. Hepburn, her directors, or her costars. They augment her actual biography in an intriguing way and make her come alive, not only as an actress, but a person. And I definitely wanted to do a marathon of her movies when I was done reading.
If you are a fellow Hepburn fan, you might want to check this out. It’s got comprehensive photos from her body of work and career, and there are so many enjoyable tidbits to glean from this book. On that note, is there a Katherine Hepburn biography you’d particularly recommend?
The Color of Light: Poems on Van Gogh’s Late Paintings by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Back when The Chancellor and I got married, one of our professors bought us a book of poetry for our coffee table. I’m just now reading it, as is my wont with gift books, but it was a highly enjoyable read. I like seeing connections between art and text, and Marilyn Chandler McEntyre marries the two well in her collection, The Color of Light, which are inspired by late paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. And since I was already a fan of Van Gogh’s work, I was curious to see how McEntyre’s words would bring his paintings to a new dimension.
McEntyre’s deft use of language comes into play as she writes poetry specific to certain of Van Gogh paintings. Starry Night is one such painting that inspires a poem, and many, many others do, as well. Her lines are clean and organized, without being either too messy and sprawling or too confined, as a lot of “rhymey” poems. I found the words inspiring and interesting, just as I enjoyed gazing on the paintings that were included in the book.
This book would not nearly be as enjoyable or effective without the paintings accompanying them, so I am glad that McEntyre and her publishers chose to include them. Like I said, merging of two art forms is of especial interest to me, so I was glad to see that this collection exists in the exact form that it does. I would be curious to see what other work McEntyre has completed, and if it has the same artistic quality as The Color of Light does.
Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland
The fun thing about book talks and demos from publishers is that you get free advanced reader copies and “preview” a book before its actual release. In my case, however, I tend to read books well after I acquire them, so I think this book may already be published. That said, I want to provide a fair disclaimer that this is not the final proofed copy, so my review will not be complaining about any typos (which, for the record, I did not find).
I’m fairly picky about young adult novels that feature romance, so I was already going to be a tough crowd. But when I saw Goodreads call Krystal Sutherland’s Our Chemical Hearts “John Green meets Rainbow Rowell,” I grew worried. I’m not particularly a huge fan of either writer, and I felt Sutherland borrowed heavily from both without developing her own distinctive style.
The novel features Henry, a young awkward man about to enter his senior year in high school. He meets a new senior on the first day, when they are both summoned to become the editors of the school newspaper. She is odd, wearing oversized men’s clothing, a choppy haircut, and walking with a cane. But he is smitten. The novel follows their “disastrous” love story and the secrets that follow.
To put it mildly, this was not my taste. If you like Rainbow Rowell, you might like this book more than I did. But it just didn’t stand out in a way that made it distinctive from a lot of young adult fiction that’s already out there.
Fade by Robert Cormier
I was first introduced to Robert Cormier in a Young Adult Literature class back in 2006. We read The Chocolate War, which, while dated, was a compelling and interesting read. I based my personal blog title off of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which the protagonist quoted in the novel. Cormier understood the issues of young male sexuality and power struggles well, and The Chocolate War highlighted these proficiently. Therefore, I was eager to read more Cormier. I picked up Fade at a book sale and finally dived in.
One cannot capture lightning in a bottle every time, and for me, the magic of The Chocolate War did not translate to Fade. The story itself is rather intriguing: a teenaged boy finds out he can “fade” or disappear and thus stumbles upon many disturbing secrets in his local town, all while his family’s power struggle in the local factory unfolds. His family is Quebecois in New England, so there is a cultural dynamic at play, as well.
But, my friends, there were just so many elements that made me shudder. First, let’s talk about twincest. I AM SO TIRED OF IT. It’s in this book, and it just didn’t do anything for the plot. And this boy is obsessed with his aunt. In a sexual way. It’s all the worst things about white man literary fiction in a book for teenagers. And I can’t even.
In short: read The Chocolate War. Or I am The Cheese. But not this one. Cormier tries to tackle sexuality, and in my opinion, falls short with weird sexual hangups that left me, a female reader, cold.
La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
I am a fan of Alexander McCall Smith. I am woefully behind in the Mma Ramotswe books, but my aunt gives me a copy of the new book when it appears. One year, she gifted me with one of his rare standalone books, and I just got around to tackling it as one of the last in my read-the-books-on-my-shelf project, which will end in early 2018, when I finally read the rest of the Mma books in my stack. I had heard mixed reviews of La’s Orchestra Saves the World, but I was eager to try it out for myself.
La (short for Lavender) Stone is at loose ends. At the end of a disastrous marriage, she finds herself with a bit of money and a house in the country. She determines to settle in and find a new place for herself. Just as she gets comfortable, World War II starts up, and she determines to make a difference in the world. But can you make a difference growing vegetables and starting a village orchestra with the military officers based there? (If you’ve read George Eliot’s Middlemarch, you know what the answer is)
Smith excels in celebrations of the ordinary and meek, and this book is no different. I find his style comforting to return to in times of need, and 2017 has absolutely been a time of need. La is an engaging heroine, and her adventures were just what I needed to read during finals week and many anxieties over the tax vote.
The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen, edited by Dominique Enright
As you all know by now, I am a Jane Austen fangirl, and the people in my life support that fandom. I own several Austen mugs, film and TV adaptations, and paraphernalia of all sorts. My in-laws found a compilation of Austen writings, called The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen. I’m normally not a huge person for compilations, as I’d often just rather read the books themselves, but I did find this one unique. I’m glad my in-laws gave this to me to add to my collection.
Dominque Enright compiles this short anthology, and she does so by theme. Even more remarkably, she draws heavily on Austen’s lesser-known body of work: letters and the juvenilia, which often go overlooked. Austen’s letters to her sister, brothers and sisters-in-law, and nieces, are fully of juicy gossip and the same wry humor we’ve admired her for. And the juvenile writings, while a bit rough in spots, have the same kind of observations that we see emerging in the novels. We see all sorts of commentary on society, marriage, parenting, church, and many other aspects of ordinary life. And while Austen did not live past the age of 41, we get a glimpse of the rich and interesting life she lived in the guise of a fairly ordinary background.
If you are an Austen fangirl, do give this a read. It’s fun and interesting, and it treads new ground that you may not know. I certainly found a few gems that made me chuckle in delight.