In Our Time, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Byline by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time, is a collection of stories and vignettes. I really enjoyed the stories, and the vignettes are thought-provoking, visceral and vivid but I don’t understand how they are supposed to work together. There are a few scenes from a war, a few from bullfights and one about the hanging of a convict. They seem to have little to do with each other, but they are short and never drag. One of the very great things about Hemingway is brevity. He is concise and economical yet vivid and original. It is very difficult to write vividly and originally and yet keep it brief. I’m thinking about the razor-sharp writers I admire–Dorothy Parker, James Baldwin–their observations were keen, quick and so originally phrased.

Continue reading “In Our Time, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Byline by Ernest Hemingway”

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

From Gravity’s Rainbow to elevated chick lit! It’s astounding how enjoyable the ride of a good, straightforward novel can be after a Pynchian or Joycean brain wreck. It’s like going from a groaning board of beautifully prepared pigs feet and sweet breads served with absinthe and laudanum in a darkened hall to a simple morning repast of a scone and coffee in the sunlit corner of a cozy kitchen. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is smart historical fiction about one of the historical figures I’m most fascinated by, Ernest “Papa” Hemingway.

Continue reading “The Paris Wife by Paula McLain”

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

In 1991 I was hanging out occasionally with a wine magazine editor who lived in New York and would visit San Francisco once a month to make forays into wine country for tastings and interviews with winemakers. He had graduated from Princeton and was a real east coast snob, but when I was young many of my self-improvement activities were attempts to win the approval of various snobs and iconoclasts, or at least get them to have sex with me. The editor had written his thesis on Pynchon, so in order to prove to him that I was not the California air head I thought he thought I was, I devoured Pynchon’s V, then slogged through Gravity’s Rainbow.

Continue reading “Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon”

Warlock by Jim Harrison

One of the first Jim Harrison books I ever read was Warlock and I remember loving it. In the fall of 1993 I went to Bordeaux as an ignorant young wine writer for Wine & Spirits magazine and had dinner at a modest chateau in one of the more modest appellations of the region–Cotes de Bourg or Cotes de Castillon or something like that. I learned two things at that dinner that I have never forgotten. One was that butter leaf lettuce drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt makes a delicious, wine friendly (no vinegar) salad. The other was an introduction to the existence of Jim Harrison, an American writer almost more highly regarded in France than in his home country. “You Americans,” the host Denis Dubourdieu fairly sneered, “You don’t even know your best writers!”

Continue reading “Warlock by Jim Harrison”

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 was hyped as Haruki Murakami’s magnum opus before its American release in 2011 and I remember being as intrigued by its description as I had been about Donna Tartt’s equally hyped The Secret History many years earlier. Even though I rushed to buy a copy, my cherished hardback with its amazing translucent dust jacket is a somehow disappointing Third Printing.

Continue reading “1Q84 by Haruki Murakami”

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow

When I first began my career as a personal organizer I worked with a few hoarders. A hoarder is defined as someone who accumulate so much stuff that their life is unmanageable and several rooms in the house are unable to be used for their intended purpose. I stopped working with hoarders when I realized that the disorder is much more of mental illness than disorganization and, even with therapy, is very difficult to “cure.” But people are fasciated by it and it is usually the first thing someone asks me about when they find out what I do. E.L. Doctorow’s novel Homer & Langley is based on the lives of two men who are sort of the original American hoarders, Homer & Langley Collyer.

Continue reading “Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow”

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

For some reason I was hesitant to pick up this book again. I’d read it at least twice before and remembered loving it but didn’t recall too many specifics; it had been a long time. Nothing about the Library of Congress list of themes particularly appealed to me: hermaphroditism, teenagers, Greek Americans, Detroit. One did lightly strike a chord–gender identity–because I’ve recently completed an experimental class on body image and sexualization of females. So I pulled Middlesex off the shelf.

Continue reading “Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides”

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Back in late March 2020 I was on a kick to think of books that would be good to read during the pandemic, specifically under the shelter-in-place conditions. A Gentleman in Moscow immediately came to mind, reviewed earlier, as did Bocaccio’s The Decameron, which I don’t own, so won’t review. Then I remembered Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett, a favorite novel of mine that has only dimmed a bit in favorite-ness because I have liked so few of Patchett’s other novels. Continue reading “Bel Canto by Ann Patchett”

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The first time I read A Gentleman in Moscow was for a real book club. I absolutely adored it on my first read, and I had been very attentive, knowing that I would be discussing it with some very smart women in a few short weeks. I had really enjoyed Amor Towles first novel, Rules of Civility, although it had a somewhat chilly tone, and found A Gentleman in Moscow to be a much warmer and even more satisfying a read. Continue reading “A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles”

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson, I learned from reading the back flap of my cherished First Edition of The Orphan Master’s Son, is a professor and lives in San Francisco. I got chills–genius is always so close and yet so far, right? I feel a stupid sort of pride in the fact that the author of such a great book lives in my neck of the woods.

I originally read this book right after it came out. I had just joined a book club and it was the very first book I read with that club; unfortunately it and maybe a couple of others were the only books I thoroughly enjoyed over three years in the club (a disappointing few which in part led to the formation of the SBC). I reread The Orphan Master’s son last week and it was every bit as good as I remembered with the added oomph being that I now know so much more about North Korea (thanks, Donald Trump) than I did in 2011, and that made it all the more impressive and intriguing. Continue reading “The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson”