The Seafront Tea Room is the sort of pleasant, easy-going read I have come to expect from Vanessa Greene. It follows the same basic format as The Vintage Teacup Club, also by Vanessa Greene, in which three women come together and discover love, strength, and friendship as they search for a special tea-themed treasure. In this case, the main characters: Charlie, Kat, and Seraphine are on a quest to discover wonderful little tearooms to feature in Charlie’s magazine. Along the way, the ladies face challenges and obstacles, custody issues, fall-out from an adoption, trouble balancing work and romance, and a fear of coming out to family, but make it through with the help of their new friends.
While I thought that the author skimmed through the resolution to many of the problems the ladies faced, The Seafront Tea Room, was as warm and relaxing as a hot cup of tea and a great read for when you want something light and feel-good.
If you ever wondered what the story was behind Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, you might want to pick up a copy of Everyone Behaves Badly. The book tells about Hemingway’s real-life experiences that led to the writing of the book and the people that he (not too subtly) based the characters on. From a disastrous, drama-filled trip to a bull-fighting festival to a literary masterpiece, Lesley Blume shows us the evolution of the novel and the creation of Hemingway’s larger-than-life persona. While I found the book interesting and certainly enjoyed hearing about what happened to the real-life Brett Ashley, Hemingway himself comes across as petty, back-stabbing and willing (if not eager) to bit any and all hands who fed him.
If you like behind-the-scene glimpses into the lives of famous authors and introspective musings on how (and why) certain authors touch us the way they do, you will probably enjoy My Salinger Year. The book is based on the real-life experiences that the author, Joanna Rakoff had while working for a literary agent who represented the famously private and eccentric author, J. D. Salinger.
I think one of the things I really appreciated about My Salinger Year is that Rakoff didn’t come to the job as a Salinger fangirl. I somehow missed going through the obligatory Catcher in the Rye phase as a moody teenager and only discovered Salinger as an adult. Likewise, Rakoff had never read Salinger until she came to work at the Agency. This late arrival to the Salinger party may seem a bit suspect at first. I mean, what could be more (if you will pardon the phrase), phony than a writer trying to cash in on a much more famous and successful author? But Rakoff’s discovery of Salinger and her re-telling of the weekend where she practically devours all of Salinger’s books and stories allows the reader to re-live the experience of discovering a great author. Also, by coming to Salinger as an adult, she is able to form a more nuanced view of him and his writing than if she had to fight through the typical adolescent obsession with Holden Caulfield.
Another thing I enjoyed about the book were the fan letters to Salinger. Since the author didn’t want anything to do with fan mail, the Agency intercepted the letters that fans wrote to Salinger and replied with an impersonal form letter. As an assistant, Rakoff was responsible for these replies. The letters, ranging from Holden Caulfield wannabes to veterans who found peace and healing in Salinger’s writing, added more layers to the reader’s view of Salinger, his place in our literary culture and how his writing affects different kinds of readers. And Rakoff’s reactions (and occasional non-form-letter replies) were interesting and thought-provoking.
Ultimately, even though Salinger himself does make a few appearances in the story, My Salinger Year isn’t really about J.D. Salinger. Instead, it is about finding the things (like a famous author and his books) that speaks to you enough to help you find your path.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Told from the perspective of each of the four “Mrs. Hemingways,” Hadley, Fife, Martha, and Mary, Mrs. Hemingway is a fascinating look at the life of author, Ernest Hemingway, from his early ex-pat days as a struggling writer in Paris to his eventual suicide. The book focuses on the transitions from wife to wife, with each Mrs. Hemingway detailing how they won and lost the famous writer. Together the narratives of the four wives paint a fascinating portrait of one of the giants of the Lost Generation, from his charismatic, larger-than-life personality to the demons that haunted him.
MY THOUGHTS: An excellent summer read for lit lovers, Mrs. Hemingway had it all – fabulous places, gossip about famous writers, love, loss, and bold, vivid characters. And since the Hemingways spent a lot of time on vacation during the book, with lots of descriptions of swimming, diving, and playing in the water, Mrs. Hemingway is the perfect book to enjoy on the beach or by the pool. Highly recommended.
A light and thoroughly enjoyable read. I sat down with the intention of reading a chapter or two of The Red Door Inn and ended up staying up all night to finish it. My only complaint is that I now I want to visit Prince Edward Island even more than I did before, (as a life-long Lucy Maud Montgomery fan, that is saying quite a lot), only now, in addition to a farmhouse with green gables, I’ll also be on the look out for a charming B&B with a red door!
I was very excited to see that there was a new Jane Austen movie coming out. The film, Love and Friendship, was based on the Whit Stillman book, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, which was in turn based upon the Jane Austen novel, Lady Susan. Since I hadn’t read either of the two books, I decided it would be interesting to read them both before seeing the movie so I could see how the different versions compared with each other.
ABOUT THE BOOKS: Lady Susan, in its original form, is a short novel, told mostly through letters, which follows the schemes and manipulations of the titular Lady Susan. Love and Friendship by Stillman is a longer book in which Lady Susan’s nephew attempts to re-frame the story in such a way as to vindicate his aunt from the vile slanders of the DeCourcy family and their lackey, “the Spinster Authoress.”
MY THOUGHTS: I am sure this will come as no surprise but, of the three versions, my favorite was the original Jane Austen novel. The story was witty and irreverent and had more than a touch of Oscar Wilde-esque style and wit to it. As a heroine (or anti-heroine), Lady Susan is delightfully wicked and unrepentantly schemes, connives, and seduces her way through polite society. My only complaint was that Jane Austen ended the novel rather abruptly. Rather than continue telling her story as it happened in letters between the characters, Austen opts to sum up what happens next in a short epilogue. Jane Austen never submitted Lady Susan for publication. It was published by her family after her death without the extra polish and editing that she gave to her better known works, which may account for the less than perfect ending, but, as far as I am concerned, being so enjoyable that you wish it was longer is certainly one of the better faults a book could have have.
The Whit Stillman book, Love and Friendship, on the other hand, was less delightful. First of all, I have a feminist issues with the book. The original is a story about a woman who doesn’t feel the need to be likeable or to conform to society’s expectations of what a woman / widow / mother should be. Lady Susan owns her life choices, her sexuality, and has no shame in doing whatever she needs to do to get her way. She doesn’t care about morality, reputation, duty, or shame, and only cares what people think of her when she needs to manipulate them into doing what she wants. In fact, she gets away with the most blatant misbehavior partially because she is so confident in her cleverness and powers of persuasion and knows that she can spin almost anything to her advantage. Her letters to her American friend, Mrs. Johnson, in which she drops all pretenses and actually shows pride in her powers of manipulation, are downright hilarious and a lot of fun to read. Yet Stillman decided that this woman needed a man (the alleged nephew) to tell her story and restore Lady Susan to respectability and likeability by explaining away everything that makes her interesting. To be fair, Stillman made the nephew such a blockhead that the original wit and wickedness of the story still shines through but the layer of whitewash the narrator applies to “vindicate” Lady Susan is totally unnecessary and comes across as peevish and tedious. The narrator’s constant digs at Jane Austen (aka the Spinster Authoress) was clearly supposed to be humorous and clever but was just plain annoying instead and very little of the filler content and extra scenes he tacked on to make his book longer really added anything to the story other than length.
The only time Love and Friendship comes close to holding its own with Lady Susan is at the end. While Jane Austen’s Regency era morality demanded that the wicked Lady Susan get her comeuppance at the end of the book, Whit Stillman is able to frame things in such a way that Lady Susan gets to have her cake and eat it too. If only Stillman had ended his book there, I might have come away with a more favorable impression of Love and Friendship but while Jane Austen’s book ended too quickly, Stillman’s meanders on for another chapter with his insufferable narrator.
The film version of Love and Friendship seems to split the difference between Stillman’s book and Jane Austen’s novel. The vindicating nephew is nowhere to be seen – thank goodness – but the excess padding Stillman added to the story dragged and the overall tone of the film was much blander than the original novel – with much of Lady Susan’s spice and sharpness smoothed away.
Overall, I am grateful for Whit Stillman and his book, Love and Friendship, for giving me a reason to discover a hidden gem of the Jane Austen canon but, in the future, I will be reserving all my love and friendship for Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, rather than waste any more of my time on either of Stillman’s adaptations.
This year, I have decided to give my summer reading an unofficial theme. I have declared 2016 to be my “Summer of Adventure” and have filled my to-read list with all the classic adventure stories I always meant to read but never got around to. First up, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
ABOUT THE BOOK: When Professor Challenger claims to have discovered a lost world where dinosaurs and other prehistoric life still exist, he is met with scorn and derision until a small group of men are sent to verify the Professor’s story. The group, which includes Challenger’s fellow scientist, Professor Summerlee, hunter and adventurer, Lord John Roxton, and journalist, Ed Malone, (who narrates the tale), succeed in discovering the lost world but become trapped there. Will they be able to survive this strange and dangerous world and how will they ever get home to tell the world about the wonders they have seen?
MY THOUGHTS: In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am not typically someone who reads action and adventure stories. In fact, the only reason I gave myself this “Summer of Adventure” theme was to broaden my literary horizons and force myself out of my comfort zone. So I was (pleasantly) surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book. Arthur Conan Doyle’s storytelling was engrossing and exciting and a lot of fun to read.
The characters were great. Lord John is everything you want in an adventurer, and the constant scientific bickering between Summerlee and Challenger – even when running for their lives from carnivorous dinosaurs – is hilarious. But the best part of the book is the narration, which skillfully sets tone and lets the reader experience all the excitement, suspense and wonder of The Lost World. Although Conan Doyle is rightfully famous for his Sherlock Holmes books and stories, The Lost World really shows off his consummate skill as a storyteller.
I thoroughly loved getting lost in The Lost World and would recommend it to anyone looking to add some prehistoric adventure to their summer reading list.
About The Book: The titular Mr. Fox in Helen Oyeyemi’s novel is a writer with a Bluebeard-like tendency to murder the women in his books until one of his characters, Mary Foxe, decides to make him change his ways. The writer and the fictional girl engage in a sort of story-telling duel that explores themes of misogyny and violence against women, while the writer’s wife, Daphne, struggles to understand what Mary’s appearance means for her marriage and what she wants to do about it.
My Thoughts: I just finished reading Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. Truth be told, I just finished reading Mr. Fox for the second time. I actually finished my first pass at the book several days ago and I immediately launched into a re-read. I didn’t even put the book down. Just turned back to page 1 and dove in again. Although the book plays with the Bluebeard story, Mr. Fox is not a straight-up fairy tale that follows a linear and easily definable story-line. Instead it is more of a “Bluebeard kaleidoscope” (as Oyeyemi describes it) and the stories, themes and characters shift and blend together as the book progresses. After a while, it becomes difficult to tell who is telling which stories and what roles they have been cast in. As a result, the book was so fluid and amorphous that I didn’t really feel as if I had a grip on it the first time around. With a second reading under my belt, I feel a little more secure in the story but, to be honest, I will never be 100% sure of it. Readers of fairy tales can tell you that foxes are cunning shapeshifters and tricksters who never approach anything head on. And the foxes in this story, (Mr. Fox, Mary Foxe, and Daphne Fox), are no exception. Mr. Fox, as a book, is too circuitous to be an easy or easy-to-define read. You won’t come away with any easy answers but I think the questions themselves are important.
Leaving aside the issue of the more obvious themes of literal violence towards women, including domestic abuse and rape – which are certainly important – the thing that struck me about this novel is how it taps into our culture’s systemic and toxic hostility towards women and the many ways men, who like Mr. Fox, certainly don’t see themselves as villain, justify it. This is especially true online and you don’t have to look far for examples of men abusing, harassing, and outright threatening women on social media platforms, like Twitter. One of the first examples that comes to mind is #GamerGate where men targeted women who worked in or commented on the video game industry. One woman, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, was targeted by the gamergate trolls for producing YouTube videos that discussed how women are portrayed in video games and was subjected to death and rape threats, constant harassment, and has even had speaking engagements canceled due to threats of violence. Meanwhile other women targeted by the men of gamergate had their personal information (including their home address) published and had to leave their homes for their own safety when the online threats turned into credible, real-life danger. More recently, I watched a video in which men read so-called mean tweets about female sportscasters to the women they were directed to. The results were chilling. And even more frighteningly, we have presidential candidates taking to social media to harass and attack a woman journalist for daring to ask him about his history of sexist comments about women. And even when they are called-out for their behavior, these online trolls take a page from Mr. Fox’s playbook and shapeshift into another form or at least another Twitter account so they can continue to their bad behavior or, with a little PR, twist and shift the story into something more excusable.
When Mr. Fox protests Mary’s accusations that he is a serial killer of women, many of his arguments sound very familiar. He claims that Mary has no sense of humor and takes things too seriously and you get the sense that Mr. Fox doesn’t expect there to be any consequences or impact for what he writes because it’s not a “real” person that he is addressing – just some words on the screen but Mary has an unsettling habit of becoming all too real and, like Ania Sakeesian, challenging Mr. Fox’s assertions that what he writes is no big deal.
“What you’re doing is building a horrible kind of logic. People read what you write and they say, ‘Yes, he is talking about things that really happen,’ and they keep reading, and it makes sense to them. You’re explaining things that can’t be defended, and the explanations themselves are mad, just bizarre—but you offer them with such confidence. It was because she kept the chain on the door; it was because he needed to let off steam after a hard day’s scraping and bowing at work; it was because she was irritating and stupid; it was because she lied to him, made a fool of him; it was because she had to die, she just had to, it makes dramatic sense; it was because ‘nothing is more poetic than the death of a beautiful woman’; it was because of this, it was because of that. It’s obscene to make such things reasonable.”
I am not sure where to leave this review, especially since – as I mentioned before – Oyeyemi’s novel really doesn’t lend itself to a clear-cut ending or interpretation. I am tempted to rant a little about the way Mr. Fox treats his wife – even without the excuse of her being fictional – and the complete lack of consequences that behavior has. I could debate whether Mary’s attempts to rehabilitate Mr. Fox had an lasting impact on him. But I am not sure there would be any point to that. I think the real point of Mr. Fox is that we are talking about Mr. Fox and by extension the real-life Mr. Foxes we encounter in everyday life. Or at least, that’s my thoughts on the matter.