So I struggled a bit — I'm sorry, Shelley! — with Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book.
It's an altogether worthy story, and lots of people clearly hang on GB's every word. But I found it an irritating read. It all seemed just a bit smart-arsed and show-offy to me. And Annie Proulx, among others, had done this sort of thing — the history of an object and the stories of the all the people through whose hands it has passed — in Accordion Crimes.
I started GB's Year of Wonders several years ago and simply couldn't be bothered to finish it. It gave me a similar sort of feeling. I prefer evidence of an authors' intellectual prowess to glow through the writing, rather than have the writer try to beat me about the head with it. Subtlety.
Seeing GB is Australian, I was so keen to give this one a go. But while I enjoyed some of the early passages describing the book itself and the labours and processes involved in conserving such a rare piece of work, my interest was not long sustained. I could not feel myself becoming absorbed, or caught up in the stories, or characters, including Hanna, the surprisingly esteemed, trusted and experienced conservator with a network of colleagues in leading universities the world over, travelling from one freelance task to the next as she takes on delicate assignments involving some of the world's rarest and priceless treasures: and she's 30!
And I do get extremely cross when writers use silly italicised nouns in obscure languages when English words would do: 'Stela beckoned her into the apartment and went to the mangala, where the embers were still hot. She flung the coffee grounds into the dzeva and let it boil up once, twice.' ... 'Stela turned and handed Lola a delicate porcelain fildzan, also with a crescent and star glazed into the bottom of the cup.' Why do this? (To show off!)
:: On to more frivolous matters and some much lighter reading, in keeping with the holiday atmosphere here at Schloss Zed now school is O-V-E-R, and even Lily has finished her second year at Evergreen! Lily will be home here next weekend, and the week after that the four of us are off over the mountains like the Von Trapp Family Singers, but instead of fleeing Nazis we're off to see Tom Waits in Phoenix Arizona. Yay! So — more holiday-type reading.
Those wonderful people at Authors on the Web have sent me yet another book. Mercy Street, by Mariah Stewart (Ballantine Books) is about disappearing teenagers, a shooting, and the detective with a past who ends up on the case after the local small-town cops have assumed the obvious. I love a good crime story, so I'll be packing this one (if I don't read it next).
:: I'm a big fan of Maggie O'Farrell, whose first novel, After You'd Gone, remains one of my all-time favourite reads of the past few years. If you haven't read it, please give it a go. I heard about this one, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, from Suse at Pea Soup (I think), and I started it last night. I chose these last two last night at the local B&N, and picked them on a whim really — they both looked light and fun.
:: How to Be Cool is an American novel about a once-large young woman who loses weight and reinvents herself as a style maven — terrified all the while that someone will discover she used to be chubby. Hmmm.
:: Notting Hell is by an English writer, journalist Rachel Johnson (who lives in Notting Hill and Somerset, natch), and is set in the designer kitchens and bedrooms of the well-heeled of West London. I think it was this bit of the back-cover blurb was that sold me: "Meet Mimi. Mimi may "have it all" — the house, the children, the part-time vanity job, the skinny jeans, the feng shui guru — but life chez Fleming is not as cushy as she'd like ... ' Sounds so like Cottesloe, dahlings!
Oh well, I did say light was the theme of these book choices, and I do need a breather from Stela's pouring coffee into the fildzan from the dzeva on the mangala ...