Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (and Whether or Not You Should Read Them, Too)

When I started this blog back in August, I had intended to post book reviews of each book I read.

That didn’t happen for a number of reasons, the most influential being that I’m too lazy to write full essays about every book I read. So, I’ve decided to do a little roundup every three months of what I’ve read – using Goodreads to help me remember what I’ve read – and whether or not you should read these books, too.

 

JANUARY

Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford

What’s it about?

This is Jessica Mitford’s autobiography, covering her childhood with her famous aristocratic family in rural England, her socialist rebellion, marriage to her cousin Esmond Romilly and their adventures in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and pre-World War II America.

 

Did I like this book?

Yes. But I had a few problems with it. (You can read a little about that in this post.)

 

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes, I can think of a few reasons why you should read this book. You should read this book if you, like me, are an Anglophile and are therefore intrigued by the Mitford sisters. You should also read this book if you generally like engaging and funny personal essays or 20th century social history.

 

How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

What’s it about?

This is a tough one to describe, but it’s basically about a fictionalized version of the author trying to write a play, have friends, talk about art and figure out how a person should be (duh).

 

Did I like this book?

Yes. I actually wrote a whole post about how much I liked it.

 

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes, I think so. My book club read it and many of the members disliked it. (Like, a lot.) But we had a great discussion about the book and many of its themes and I think you should read it simply because it will make you think. (Like, a lot.)

 

FEBRUARY

The Best American Short Stories 2012 ed. by Tom Perrotta and Heidi Pitlor

What’s it about?

Well, it’s a book of 20 short stories, so it’s about 20 different things.

 

Did I like this book?

On the whole, I liked it a medium amount. But that’s because I liked some stories and disliked others, so.

 

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you like short stories or you want to try reading them for the first time since grade school, sure! I say go for it. There were quite a few stories (ahem, George Saunders) that I found difficult to get through. But there were also many stores that I really, really loved. (I would say Eric Puchner’s “Beautiful Monsters” is reason enough to buy this book because I don’t think you can find the whole story online.)

 

NW by Zadie Smith 

What’s it about?

It’s about a few people who grew up in the council estates of Northwest London and that has affected each of them.

 

Did I like this book?

I know “hate” is a strong word and all, but I feel OK saying that I hated this book. I wrote a whole thing about how much I didn’t like it. But then my book club discussed it and I hated it a lot less.

 

Should you read it? Why or why not?

No. I know, I know. You LOVE Zadie Smith. I do too. But I’m telling you not to read it. This book made no sense. Re-read White Teeth instead.

 

MARCH

Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor

 

What’s it about?

It’s the sequel to A Time of Gifts, so it’s the continuation of Fermor’s account of walking from “the hook of Holland” to Constantinople in the early 1930s.

 

Did I like this book?

Yes. It provides a really interesting picture of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire just before World War II. And like, reading about somebody WALKING across Europe is just really awesome. Especially when they are as beautiful a writer as Fermor.

 

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes, but definitely read A Time of Gifts first. (I thought that A Time of Gifts was maybe the better book, anyway.) If you like 20th century European history or travel writing, this is a must-read. And if you like travel reading and have never read any books by Fermor, pick this up immediately!

 

The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy

What’s it about?

An American girl named Honey Flood goes to London and seduces an older writer in order to get something that she very much wants.

 

Did I like this book?

Yes. I loved loved LOVED Dundy’s first novel, The Dud Avocado, which I read last year. (I can confidently say that it’s one of my favorite books ever.) I liked this book not quite as much, which means I loved it.

 

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. I would read The Dud Avocado first, but that’s just my opinion. The Old Man and Me is a great first-person narrative and is full of plot twists – and plenty of comic relief – that will make you want to keep reading.

 

The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes

What’s it about?

In the early 1920s, a young Welsh aristocrat seeks to escape the attention surrounding him after he’s suspected of murdering a child. He ends up at a cousin’s castle outside of Munich just before the Munich Putsch. This is the first book in an intended trilogy called The Human Predicament. Hughes published the second novel, The Wooden Shepherdess, but never made it through the third.

 

Did I like this book?

Yes. I devoured this one, which surprised me because it looked like it was going to be pretty long and dense.

 

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. It was a very engaging read and had all of my favorite things: characters with interesting names, English aristocrats in the 1920s, Germany in the 1920s and murder. Also, it’s the first novel I’ve ever read in which Hitler is an actual character, so there’s that.

 

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

 

What’s it about?

Grann’s search for the city that British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett sought on his last journey through the Amazon, as well as for evidence of Fawcett’s demise. (Fawcett, his son and a friend disappeared during the 1925 journey and were never heard from again.)

Did I like this book?

Yes. I didn’t really want to pick it up at first but then I did and I couldn’t put it down. (I tweeted about that and David Grann responded to me and I almost cried.)

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. This is a really great example of creative non-fiction. I promise you’ll be hooked once you start reading.

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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a ‘Nice Hack’: The Best of Town & Country, April 2013

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This month’s issue is all about the Ivy League! Cover girl Allison Williams – whose name isn’t even mentioned on the cover, she’s just “Brian Williams’ Daughter” – went to Yale. And 19 other “Brainy Beauties” are apparently “Taking Hollywood By Storm”. I was hoping for some juicier details about America’s most celebrated institutions of higher learning but was sorely disappointed, as the coverage of Ivy League schools is limited to an Editor’s Letter about the summer he spent at Yale while he was in high school, a profile on Allison Williams, and a two-page spread on already established actresses who only needed to attend a couple of years at an Ivy League college in order to be included in their roundup.

The best bits on those things related to the Ivy League:

Editor’s Letter:
Jay Fielden, the EIC of Town & Country, spent the summer of 1987 at Yale, living in Silliman College and taking two classes (in American Studies and the religions of Africa, he tells us). It seems from his letter that what he really got out of this summer, aside from an appreciation of WASP culture, was a lasting love for reggae and “Bud in a can”. Also, hacky sack. Apparently, he spent many an evening “in pursuit of ‘a nice hack’”. (OMGOMGOMG). Also, no mention of where he went to school but The New York Times is telling me it was Boston University.

Allison Williams, “Ivy League Siren”:
– On the night of the Golden Globes, “she giddily snapped photos of her self with the actor who plays Abu Nazir on Homeland”.
– She “cops to occasionally veering into Tracy Flick territory”.
– According to the author of the profile, she had a “Rockwellian childhood”.
– She says she slept for four hours a night in high school and college. (Which I can relate to. I also was busier then than I am now. Which is obvious. Because I’m recapping Town & Country issues.)
– She met her best friend while “vacationing at a Montana dude ranch” as a child.
– “She gave up drinking after college”. SHE GAVE UP DRINKING AFTER COLLEGE.
Style icon: Grace Kelly. There is no other choice.

“Rousseau, Rilke, and the Red Carpet” (Or, Other Ivy League Sirens):
Everyone who you already knew went to an Ivy League school. (Except I guess I didn’t know Amanda Peete went to Columbia, but you learn something new every day.) Also, I would argue that most of them have already taken Hollywood by storm, though not all of them have remained in the spotlight. What I’m saying is, I’d really like a Leelee Sobieski profile next month.

Now, here are the rest of the best parts of the April 2013 issue:

A man from Lexington, KY wrote a letter to the editor to complain that Jack Kennedy Schlossberg, “the only living male heir to Camelot”, was not included in “T&C’s 50 Top Bachelors” back in February. The Editors apologized.

I assume they devote one page each month to C.Z. Guest and this month they’re talking about the celebration of her life in a book called C.Z. Guest: American Style Icon. “Often photographed for this magazine, Guest was never overly concerned with what she wore, preferring to spend her time outdoors, cultivating her topiaries or riding.”

Two-thirds of a page is devoted to the recent trend of rich people literally purchasing entire medieval towns.

In a rundown of rich people moving to foreign tax havens, there is this sentence: “‘Texas is home to liberty and low taxes,’ Governor Rick Perry tweeted to golfer Phil Mickelson.”
From the “Style Spy” section:

“When one visits Marissa Collections in Naples, Florida, it’s hard not to think of the Cheers bar in Boston (or at least in syndication). True, there might not have been Lanvin dresses and Alexander McQueen clutches in Sam Malone’s saloon, but both places serve as gather spots for the like-minded.” I think this is a stretch.

“There are endless choices involved in embarking on a day by the sea: suntan oil or lotion, book or tablet, caftan or cutoffs. And now, Valentino espadrille or Chanel jelly.” Suntan lotion, book, caftan. And like 10 year-old flip flops.

“There’s something about a lamp shade that makes you think of a party (at least, it should).”

And a guide to fancy English umbrellas! Complete with three pictures of Prince Charles!

From the “Looking Glass” section:

-“‘Who is woman?’ Town & Country wondered in March 1971 – a question for the ages but also unmistakably of the age.”
– “According to the feature, ‘the ‘seventies chic’ involved cropping the top and sides of one’s hair while the back had ‘long wisps in strands to soften the total effect.’ In short, a mullet.”

From the “Social Network” section:

Several photos of Charlotte Casiraghi (above) competing in an equestrian competition dressed as a Native American.

Two people called Halsey and Griffin got married. And here is the part where I admit that I read their wedding announcement in The New York Times this summer.

And elsewhere in the issue:

This months “Manners & Misdemeanors” was written by a mom who sexts. Here are some things she says:
– “At age 12, my daughter has started to attract the opposite sex, and now that my divorce scars have finally healed, I’m happy to say that I have too.”
– “Post-divorce I’ve been introduced to ‘sexting,’ the saucy written cell phone chats that I, being a writer, have realized I’m actually rather good at.”
– “I’m so petite (five-foot-one if I stand up extra-straight) that I can buy my datewear at Gap Kids or Crewcuts, where I’m typically the only person in the dressing room pulling on brocade dresses while returning business emails and wearing $85 French lace panties.”

There’s a piece on Aristotle Onassis’s Olympic Tower that the cover referred to as “Jackie O’s Tower of Power”, of course. It includes a photo subtitled: “‘70s Primitivism: Helene Rochas reclines in the shade of her luxuriant and well-tended kentia palms, 1979.” And that is all you need to know about THAT.

Mary McCartney wrote a thing on her mother’s cooking and how the entire McCartney clan is vegetarian. The McCartneys seem nice/very down to Earth.

T&C urges us to travel to the following places abroad: Antarctica (six different proposed “adventures”, depending on your personality), Walt Disney World (but you should only stay at the Waldorf Astoria or Four Seasons), the Republic of Congo, Mani (the region of Greece where my actual hero Patrick Leigh Fermor* lived for much of his life), and Portillo (“the other Aspen”, in Chile). Also, Qatar (to dive for pearls) and Tasmania.

There’s also an American travel guide, divided up by the following pursuits (and from there, by skill level): golf, camping, and sailing.

That said, it’s time for us to sail away from T&C until next month. If you need to reach me before then, I’ll be tending to my topiaries.

*I’ve talked about his books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, here and here. Read them! They are beautiful, beautiful portraits of Europe just before WWII that are full of incredible and mostly obscure history and plain old fun facts. And the writing isn’t bad either.

Friday Roundup

Hi. This is what I woke up to last Saturday morning:

 

photo (43)
I’m not too sad that the snow’s mostly gone now because I like wearing non-snow boots, but I did like having it piled up on my window sill like that.

Things I read that I liked this week:

I can’t get enough of the new My Bloody Valentine record. (I still go through a Loveless phase like, once a month so…duh.) Here are two of my favorite music writers talking about why it’s so great:

Matthew Perpetua (Buzzfeed), “My Bloody Valentine’s Second Masterpiece”
Rob Sheffield (Rolling Stone), “My Hundredth Listen to the New My Bloody Valentine Album: Even Better Than the First”

(Sidenote: Did everyone know that Rolling Stone has a WINE CLUB?)

The pope quit and I think John Patrick Shanley’s “Farewell to an Uninspiring Pope” in the New York Times was my favorite opinion piece.

I read this thang – “Connie Britton Is a Late Bloomer” – on Mrs. Coach in the New York Times Magazine and it’s great.

Also, randomly came across this short Michael Chabon piece from the NY Review of Books on why he hates dreams, which I enjoyed very much.

I finished Best American Short Stories 2012. It was good, overall. (I mean, these stories were the best, right?) Honestly, I’d recommend buying it just to read “Beautiful Monsters” by Eric Puchner, which was one of the most surprising stories I’ve read in a long time.

I just started Between the Woods and the Water, a chronicle of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s journey on foot from “the hook of Holland to Constantinople”, which I’m psyched about. (It’s the sequel to A Time of Gifts, which I read this fall.) I’m only 50 pages in but already I have learned so much about pre-WWII Eastern European society! For example, Hungarian dudes rolled up to social events with scimitars and were still dueling pretty much in the mid-1930s.

Anyway, I can’t stop listening to this song:

I’m gonna go listen to it right now. Please be safe while you’re out celebrating your favorite presidents this weekend!