Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver

I wanted some light reading after my trip to Burkina Faso, and Leslie had checked this fantasy novel out of the library. I enjoyed the good writing, and the deep character development. But the mixing of realistic shtetl Jews in a fantasy novel just bugged me throughout. Seemed like she needed to invent a comparable imaginary group like the European Jews. Not actually have the exact same culture in a fantasy novel! Still, what do I know? Reviewers from Vox and New York Times really liked the novel.

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Three movies on Air France: Sibel, Yoomeddine, and EXT. Night.

I like flying on Air France because i get to see a lot of the Cannes film entries, and a huge selection of global movies. This recent trip three quite decent movies are worth watching if you have access.

Sibel is from Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, and inevitably can be compared to Mustangs (about daughters growing up in village Turkey). The cinematography is gorgeous, the plot interesting. This review from Variety is spot-on. Not a perfect film, and some glaring issues, but still very interesting to watch.

Variety says about Yomeddine: “A lovingly-made, character-driven road movie that occasionally dips into sentimentality yet has moments that honestly play on the heartstrings.” And if you have ever traveled in Egypt, even better. This is a movie to watch with your intelligent, inquisitive 10 year-old. They will remember it for life if you take the time.

Another Egyptian movie, Egyptian Ahmad Abdalla’s picture, EXT. Night, was fascinating. Again, some plot issues, but really goes on a nice tour of night-time Cairo.

 

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The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark

If you are looking for a short novel to read, The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark is one of the best novels I have read in a decade. Within five pages you start admiring Spark’s writing, and as you get deeper into the novel you increasingly realize how amazing she is. She captures intense settings and actions with a few crafty sentences. Everything is in your mind.

Virgilia Patterson in The New York Times wrote, in 1963 when the book appeared: “Admirers of Miss Spark’s last and brilliant little tale, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” may find “The Girls of Slender Means” more oblique and ambiguous. The abrupt shifts in time are less easy to follow, and the verses she quotes with such poignant effect may not seem relevant to those who do not remember the context of the poems she quotes from (as, for instance, “Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” in which one nun goes to her death unafraid). Furthermore, the book’s end may appear arbitrarily drastic to those who do not have a religious view of fate. But those who seek new dimensions in their reading will find this to be Miss Spark’s most interesting piece of work. “

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O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

220px-OPioneersOur neighborhood book group decided not to read this for next time, but I was intrigued by the “pitch” and so got it from the library. It is a good, solid, novel: not much to talk about in terms of literary style unless you are really into the poetry of the prairie, which is not my thing. But the portrait of small-town Nebraska in the 1800s, with the Swedish and Bohemian and French immigrants, and the struggle to establish a prosperous farm, and the sociology of being a semi-independent woman, is quite interesting. Cather is most interesting with her matter of fact descriptions of daily routines or special events, like the fairs.  The story arc is rather melodramatic.

I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in American history. And by the way, some of them read a lot of books in their spare time. O Readers!

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The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes

shining-girlsThe Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes is a time-travel serial murder novel. So, I love most time-travel novels. I am not a fan of serial murder novels. About halfway through I started skimming: I am almost never interested in how bone-knife-artery-floor interactions work, no matter how literary. The “ordinary life” American history recounted through the time travel device was well-done, but someone like me might often just prefer to read primary sources or work by historians. So, altogether, well-written, but not my genre.

HT: Carmen McCain for recommending

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My Mortal Enemy, by Willa Cather

cat.cs005.025My Mortal Enemy, by Willa Cather, is a short novel first published in 1926. Pretty bitter. An unforgettable protagonist, who cuts through platitudes, is complex and a bit unfathomable even to a perceptive narrator. The writing is excellent. Here is an excellent article by Charles Johanningsmeier about who might have been the inspiration for the novel, which apparently is a bit perplexing for Cather scholars.

What prompted Cather to write about the McClures in early 1925, though, was learning about McClure’s pathetic position during her 1924 meeting with him. Possessing detailed knowledge both of the McClures’ courtship and their current situation, Cather commenced her novel about the lies, contradictions, and disappointments involved in such a seemingly passionate love affair, and the disillusionment of one who wants so very much to believe in it. The numerous parallels between the stories of the Henshawes and the McClures make identification of these persons as Cather’s models unmistakable; furthermore, the evolution of Nellie’s relationship with the Henshawes is closely mirrored by Cather’s relationship with the McClures, and with S. S. McClure in particular.

More is in the article. Fascinating!

 

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Recent reading: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Our neighborhood book group read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and I loved it! Oddly, as I was reading it I had the distinct feeling I had already read it, but I could not remember anything. Thinking a lot about this short book really paid off: as you browse it for nuance, you find it on practically every page. Little details that you passed by in the first reading, you suddenly realize are quite important. It is intense and compact, and a wonderful study in ambiguity. From the perspective of the book group discussion, let me say it is a “Yes” to the following question: “Is there a short novel that good readers can spend more than an hour trying to dissect what actually is happening?” The narrator is unreliable, and tells you that right away. And he is very unlikable, but he is telling such an interesting story. And he is really very perceptive, at least in his self-serving understanding of those around him.

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