Book notes

I haven’t done one of these “book notes” type posts in quite a while, so I figure on this slow Saturday I can get away with it. I have lots of stuff I want to write about — my thoughts on Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, more Boswell/Johnson quotations, and some other things — but tonight feels like a good time for a listy, pooterish post. So here goes.

  • I’m listening to the audiobook version of Jennifer Egan’s novel The Keep and I’m not quite sure what I think of it yet. It’s bizarre in a way I didn’t expect; the main character is a tough New Yorker guy and he ends up in some castle somewhere on the border between Germany and some other country, where he meets a very old Baroness. This character is obsessed with staying connected to the world on his cell phone and the internet. It’s strange, but so far I’m enjoying it. I’m a little worried, though — I just read on Amazon that parts of the novel deal with claustrophia, and I can get claustrophic at times, so I’m imagining myself driving along to work, listening to this novel, and completely freaking out because I’m listening to some all-too-vivid scene set in a cave. I can feel my heart beat faster just thinking about it. The Amazon page I linked to has a brief interview with Egan where she discusses her influences, and they are great ones — lots of 18C novels, including, as you would guess based on a description of the book, lots of gothic novels.
  • Last night I began W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. I haven’t gotten that far into it, but I can tell I will like it; it’s thoughtful and rambling and rich, and it makes me want to read some Sir Thomas Browne. I read him in a couple classes years back, and responded excitedly to my professors’ enthusiasm for him, but I’m not sure I really got what makes Browne interesting. I think that means I need to re-read him now that I’m older and probably not wiser, but at least better-read. He’s a writer I wanted to love and hadn’t yet found the right time to.
  • The Hobgoblin and I stopped by one of our local used bookstores today; I went to find a copy of Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out which their website said they had in stock. I didn’t buy the book because it was in pretty bad shape, but I did spend some time looking around and came home with a Virago Modern Classic, Radclyffe Hall’s Adam’s Breed, which doesn’t appear to be in print anymore. I didn’t know anything about Radclyffe Hall, but I picked up the book because I like Virago books and this book looked interesting. It turns out she was born Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall and is most famous for her 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, which, because of its lesbian themes, was the subject of an obscenity trial in England and was published in the US only after a court battle. I found out Adam’s Breed was popular among critics and sold well, and it won two prizes, the Priz Femina and the James Tait Black prize. How quickly we forget so many of the authors that were popular in their day (well, I should speak for myself — perhaps other readers know who she is?).
  • Back to Virginia Woolf: yesterday I came across Julia Briggs’s Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life on Book Mooch, and it will soon be on its way to me. I have no idea when I will read this, but I’ll be happy to have a Woolf biography on my bookshelves.

11 Comments

Filed under Books, Lists

11 responses to “Book notes

  1. The Keep ended up being a much different book than I was expecting. I will be interested to hear your final thoughts!

  2. It was not at all what I expected either.

  3. I am curious about The Keep, too. It is one I will wait until it comes out in paper, though. I want to read Sebald, too–I recently mooched one of his books–he seems like an important author to read. Lucky you to find a Virago–I have heard of Radclyffe Hall somewhere in my bookish wanderings, but I have never read her and am not familiar with that novel. I think you are right that there are so many really good, but forgotten authors out there! It makes you wonder how many good books you’re missing!

  4. I’m currently reading the original “Pooter” writings–The Diary of a Nobody–and I don’t think you sound pooterish at all. I never heard that word until recently, but I suppose that’s because I am American. I run into Brits every so often and I must remember to ask about it.

  5. Huw

    I enjoyed Austerlitz much more
    than The Rings of Saturn, but it’s worth reading.  There’s an interesting
    article
    in yesterday’s Guardian about Sebald and an exhibition in
    Norwich based on The Rings of Saturn. I’m hopefully going to see it in
    April.

  6. Last summer I visited Highgate Cemetery here in London. The old cemetery is not open to the public, but they host guided tours on weekends. Radclyffe Hall is interred in the Circle of Lebanon, which is an amazing circular vault, with her lover Mabel Batten (whom she called Ladye). Up until that point I knew her name but not anything about her past — she sounds like she was a fascinating character and I plan to read some of her stuff at some point in the future!

  7. I will certainly let you know what I think of The Keep when I’m done, Marg and Jenclair — I’m liking it so far, in spite of its surprises.

    I wonder if somebody locally collected Viragos for a while, Danielle, and then decided to sell them, because I’ve come across quite a few in my town’s various used bookstores.

    Karen, I’m kind of curious about The Diary of a Nobody. I suspect the way I’m using the term doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the character, but I like how bloggers have redefined it to mean something like “self-absorbed, but in a way that’s interesting (at least to some people).”

    Huw, I’d like to read a lot of Sebald, so Austerlitz is definitely on the list — and I’ve got The Emigrants at home too. Thanks for the article link. That exhibition sounds very interesting!

    Kimbofo, she does sound like she was a fascinating character — I look forward to hearing what you think about her writing.

  8. I can get claustrophobic too. I read a Nevada Barr book once in which most of the story took place in a cave. I was fine in the big caverns but when they had to crawl through an area in which it was so tight you couldn’t turn aroun, that freaked me out a bit. Glad you are enjoying Sebald so far. It gets even better :)

  9. I’m glad to hear that about Sebald! And your description of the cave — yikes, I’d better not think about it …

  10. Having stumbled across you via another blog link, I was sure you had to be living in the Netherlands somewhere. The bike think, you see. But, you don’t which is a pity but that doesn’t make you any less of a person. :-)

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