Posts Tagged ‘A.S. Byatt’

Reading list for my imaginary book club

November 18, 2013 @ 7:57 pm | Filed under: Books

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt The Signature of All Things
I’m not in a book club at present, but I’ve been entertaining myself with thoughts of what books I would suggest to my book club if I belonged to one. This is because I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s sweeping, sad, thoughtful The Signature of All Things, and naturally I’m yearning for a nice long discussion of it, preferably involving baked goods. (I’m also wanting to start a moss garden, which in San Diego would be no mean feat.)

Other books I would throw into the ring:

1) The Diamond Age, Or: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. I read it a year or two before the advent of the iPad, and when that magical device appeared, all I could think of was the Primer. I enjoyed the book’s exploration of a ‘best’ education—what that might look like, what its aims might be, and the unpredictability of outcomes. And the mind-stretching nanotechnology permeating and altering society: this is a richly layered and sometimes difficult book, with much that made me uncomfortable (something I appreciate in a book), but also a compelling page-turner of a narrative. It’s one of those books I think about in the context of daily life quite often (and not just in connection to the iPad). It would be fun to dig into with a really lively, argumentative group of readers.

2) The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt. I’ll be drummed out of my own imaginary book club if I keep suggesting these mammoth tomes, but there it is. I’ve read The Children’s Book twice (three times? I’m losing track) in four or five years (also losing track; can’t be bothered to check my log now) and like The Diamond Age (and, I suspect, The Signature of All Things), it’s a book I find myself pondering in many a stray moment. A curling fern frond, a strand of seaweed, a beautifully glazed pot, the Nesbit books on my shelf, a reference to William Morris, a pre-Raphaelite painting, a sinister undercurrent in a fairy tale—any number of things send me straight back into the pulsing green world of this Fabian family and their troubled, talented, struggling circle of artist-friends. Downton Abbey was full of reminders (Lavinia’s clothes, Sybil’s causes, Branson’s political activism, the devastation and radical shifting of relationships and ways of life during and after WWI). No work of fiction in recent years has sent me on more rabbit trails, nor hounded my thoughts so relentlessly.

3) Feed by M. T. Anderson. It’s been several years; I’m due for a reread. Every year this book feels more prescient. We may not have the Feed implanted in our brains quite yet, but we’re closer than we were the first time I read it. Won’t it be fun to fumble for words about how alarming we found the notion of a society so dependent on an advertising-driven stream of information piped directly into their minds that people can barely form a coherent thought anymore, much less an original one? And then we can all post photos of our desserts to Instagram.

4) Hmm, we’ll need something by Muriel Spark. A Far Cry from Kensington, I think, but perhaps I’m leaning too much on my own favorites. Certainly The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie would provide fodder for hours of discussion. Actually, Miss Brodie would make a tremendous follow-up to Feed and The Diamond Age: all of them exploring ways of educating (even shaping) young minds. Oh, what am I talking about—Signature and The Children’s Book fall right into that category as well. Education isn’t by any means the only theme of these books, but it’s a dominant thread in each, one way or another. You’d almost think this was a pet topic of mine, or something.

5) Well then, let me throw something entirely different into the mix: how about American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen. I can brag about how he’s a friend and former classmate of mine, and of course we’ll have to have a tasting party to accompany our discussion of this book, a fascinating exploration of how terrain affects flavor (in many subtle ways), and why certain regions are famous for specific foods. I’ll bring the chocolate, you bring the maple syrup.

6) Now here I go reverting back to favorite books about unconventional upbringings, but when’s the last time you read Midnight Hour Encores? It’s one of my favorite YA novels, right up there with Emily of Deep Valley (though utterly unlike) and…hmm, that’s a different list, my favorite YA. Anyway: Encores features one of my favorite dads in all of literature, and an ending that takes my breath away every time.

7) But it isn’t quite fair of me to stack the deck with books I’ve already read, most of them more than twice. How about something new? I’ve got Donna Tartt’s latest, The Goldfinch, on hold at the library. I’m #70 in the queue, but since this is an imaginary book club, I’ll just imagine myself next in line.

How about you? What’s up next in your book club—real or imagined?

July Reading List

August 1, 2011 @ 5:47 pm | Filed under: Books

It was a month for quality, if not quantity:

Letter from New York, the Helene Hanff book I sighed happily over in this post. First time rereading it since, I’m guessing, 1994. It was rather goosebumpy to revisit: so much of my first year in New York was tied to that book. The neighborhoods I explored, the way I looked at the city, the way Miss Hanff taught me to seek out the small interesting details and big colorful people that give a place character. As I savored her letters, I kept thinking how much these spoken essays she wrote for BBC radio read like blog posts—and I could see her influence in my own blog style, over fifteen years later.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. When I first read it last year, I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to be immersed that intense, disturbing world again: but I did. I found myself thinking about the novel quite often and wanting to return to the rich, tapestried world Byatt creates, suffused with art and lore. The puppets: I am really in awe at how vividly she is able to describe the marionette plays so that you see them, really see them. And the pottery, the Dungeness seaweeds, the strands of Olive’s various stories, the huge cast of distinct, painfully real characters, the currents of culture and history. It’s a hard book, a dark one, but ultimately hopeful, I think, and worth the effort.

Besides those two, there were the usual piles of picture books, and small increments of progress on Calpurnia Tate with Beanie and Rose. July, for us, is really only three weeks long, because a full week of it gets swallowed up by SDCC.

Nonetheless I did think I’d read more, myself, than simply the Hanff and the Byatt. I began a few things, review copies I’ve received, but since the Byatt I haven’t been able to settle into anything else. Just now, looking up the link for my 2010 post about The Children’s Book, I noticed on that year’s booklog that right after it, I reread a large chunk of To Serve Them All My Days—R.F. Delderfield’s sweeping tale about a shellshocked WWI soldier who becomes a teacher in an English boys’ school. That makes me smile because that is exactly the kind of book I’m craving right now, post-Byatt: big, sweeping, warm, moving, funny, and, if sad in places, not dark. Herriott might work. Or: I’ve never read Brideshead Revisited. Would that work? Or is it grim?

Actually, there’s Blackout, I’ve just remembered. I had to set it aside for one reason or another. Connie Willis sweeps me away in just the right way, I always think. Maybe that’s the ticket.

Listing

June 29, 2010 @ 9:07 am | Filed under: Books


Byatt’s The Children’s Book. There is much to say. I can’t, yet. I finished it on Saturday and I couldn’t even look at another book on Sunday. Yesterday I picked up something I’ve already read: Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days. It begins at the end of World War I (which is where the Byatt ends) with a shell-shocked Welsh soldier taking a teaching post at a remote school for boys in North Devon. I think I felt a little shell-shocked myself after Byatt’s dark epic and, like David Powlett-Jones, needed a dose of bracing upland air and boyish pranks to pull me out of my head.

There’s a lesson for me here, and it’s that making reading lists, while a deeply satisfying activity, has, for me, practically nothing to do with the actual reading of books. Much of the time, perhaps most of the time, the book I have just finished reading selects its successor.

Between The Children’s Book (which begins in 1895, in the last creaky years of Victoria’s reign) and The Diamond Age, which I flipped through the other day, looking for (and not finding) a particularly iPad-ish quote for Friday’s little post (because is it just me, or is the iPad a device within spitting distance of the Young Lady’s Primer?), I have found myself hankering after a biography of Queen Victoria. Serendipitously, today Colleen teases a novel (not bio) called, deliciously, Prisoners in the Palace: A Novel of Intrigue and Romance about How Princess Victoria Became Queen with the Help of a Maid,  a Newspaperman, and a Scoundrel. According to the blurb at Powell’s, it was “meticulously based on newly discovered information” by historian Michaela Maccoll. Sounds promising, no?