Les livres de 2011: round 4

Ahhh book reviews. Remember when they used to happen? Well they're back!

23. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
I read this book because I was so into Mary and Loving Frank. It's a similarly structured plot: the life of a man who was incredibly famous/talented/influential told from the point of view of his wife. In this case, we're talking Hemingway and we're talking sweet Hadley, his first wife.

Even though Hemingway is pretty much a bastard, I finished this book being REALLY into him. I sympathized with Hadley for sure, but as soon as I closed the cover I went on a mission to the used bookstores in my neighborhood to buy up every Hemingway book I could find. This was a great story and would be an awesome companion read to The Sun Also Rises, which he was writing during his marriage to Hadley. Looking for a related movie recommendation once you finish this? Try Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen's most recent film. We loved it! 
Bookstore in Madison, WI.

24. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
This was my third time through this book. I took a really cruddy American lit class in college for my English major and I hated every book we read but this one (i.e. Death Comes to the Archbishop... DEATH COMES TO MY BRAIN was more like it). But The Age of Innocence blew me away, so much that I literally wrote "WHATTTTT?????" on the last page of the book. My 20-year-old self couldn't believe it ended the way it did. I considered the ending as tragic as Romeo and Juliet!

When I read it again a few years later, I didn't feel quite as extreme about it. And then this time, I thought "you know, that's just life. Sometimes people don't always end up together." I consider this a sign of my maturity. 

I read this book for the Project Learn semester. Since I was focused on NYC, I picked up many more local references than I ever had before. I was inspired to take the Greenwich Village walking tour and I saw many of the places that Wharton wrote about - and even where she lived! 

Edith Wharton, you're a classy dame. And this book is definitely worth a read, if not three.

25. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Ok, so I already wrote a mini-review of this book in May but for the sake of consistency, here goes.

If you have ever had an inclination to be a writer or artist, this book will convince you that your life requires at least a year in Paris. It's what pushed me over the edge several years ago to move abroad yet again and Paris in the 20s is high on my list of places to time travel to, should the technology ever catch up with me.

As a memoir of his time in Paris, it's also the most direct way to connect with Hemingway. I find his memories completely endearing and you get the impression that he regretted some of the way things turned out with Hadley.

26. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Continuation of my Hemingway obsession in May/June. I'll admit that I was really surprised I didn't put this book down. It's a war story about the Spanish-American war and it reads... oddly. Like an old book and almost like a translation, but much of that has to do with the Spanish peppered throughout. 

But I puttered along and could not believe the ending. It was AMAZING. I made Chris listen to the final few paragraphs, reading them aloud late at night when I finally finished it. Holy sentences, man. The dude could write.

27. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Every once in a while, I stop by my friend Leigh's apartment and we order takeout pizza and sit around with wine and catch up on life. It's great. The last time we did this, she forced several books on me on my way out the door, She's Come Undone included. 

This book read like a pre-cursor to Junot Diaz's The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. They're both really deep, far-reaching stories... but they're also both incredibly sad. By the second half of the book, I was getting pissed off. Could the author imagine any new horrible things to happen to this character? And oh! He could!

So I'm mixed on this one. Definitely a deep story that spans many years, but not exactly a pick-me-up plot.

28. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I read this book when it first came out and my love of JSF, first ignited by Everything is Illuminated, grew exponentially. That love was vastly reduced when I encountered him in person at a New Yorker Festival event (he just came across really... jackassish). Nonetheless, my semester on NY piqued my curiosity for a reread.

I love the richness of the writing in this book. It's chock-full of personality, of tone and of the style of the main character's voice. It's the story of a young boy whose father was killed in the 9/11 attacks. I'm very picky about my 9/11 reading choices, mostly because it's such a political bomb that's evoked by everyone and their mother to pander to emotional heartstrings (see: politicians). So when an author writes about it, it better be powerful in a way that doesn't draw its strength from emotion.

This story accomplishes that. It is unique, touching and completely refreshing. Highly recommend it.

29. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
First things first: the writing in this book is terrible. Sucks! Horrific! I gagged on a few sentences! And I would have put it down many times if not for my raging interest in Tiffany lamps.

The book is another New York book. Based in the late 19th century, it's the story of Clara Driscoll, a woman who worked for Tiffany & Co. for many years as the manager of the women workforce. The ladies worked on large glass installations, like stained-glass windows. Though it was previously believed to have been Mr. Tiffany himself who came up with the idea for a Tiffany lamp, letters discovered earlier this century identified Clara as their inventor.

So if you can make it through the most awkward writing of all-time, you're going to learn a bunch about the lamps themselves. If you can't, I don't blame you.

30. The Women of the House by Jean Zimmerman
I totally loved this book but I literally can't think of one person I know that I'd lend it to. This book is the story of the Philipse women, originally of Dutch descent, whose guts and determination led to founding Philipse Manor (a town in Westchester). You're sleeping already, aren't you? I knew it!

If you're at all familiar with Westchester County, you might love this book. There are so many fun facts about the history of Manhattan and Westchester - most of them Dutch-related! For example, did you know that Dutch women didn't have to change their names when they married? And that they were entitled to the same education as boys? It wasn't until the English took over New York that we ended up becoming much more prim, proper and... dude-centric. Way to go, Brits.

I picked this book up randomly at a bookstore in Madison and loved it so much. It's a really unique point of view and I love that the author is a woman. Her admiration of these Dutch women shines through. Highly recommend!

31. Inside the Apple by Michelle Nevius
Dude, there ARE a lot of New York books in this set of reviews! I'm going to make a bold statement here. Inside the Apple was, hands-down, the BEST book about New York that I've ever read. Here's why!
  • It was concise. Every other history of NYC is so long that I only get through the Dutch era before I stop reading. This means that I'm basically an expert of Dutch New York (kidding... sort of.), but that I know absolutely nothing about the 19th and 20th centuries. This book sped through 400 years of history in less than 300 pages. Love it.
  • It was relevant! The book is written in short little 1-2 page chapters about random buildings, stories and people who were important in New York. 9 times out of 10, I knew the exact building they referred to. 
  • There were walking tours at the end! You know that I love a good walking tour. My recommendation is to read the whole book and then plant yourself in a part of the city you're interested in, then do the tour. I think it'd be too overwhelming to read the history WHILE you're standing outside the buildings themselves. 
This book was a total winner. Coming to NY? Live in NY? Buy it so you can mark it up and visit your favorite landmarks the next time you're in town. 

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