dirac

Summer reading

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The Guardian runs a list of best books for summer reading. Comments? Suggestions? And what are you reading this summer?

Choosing holiday reading doesn't have to be about stuffing the latest blockbuster into your suitcase. From Renaissance Florence to the shores of Madagascar, we select the timeless novels that will turn the most restful holiday into an exotic adventure.

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Pretty ambitious selections compared to most summer lists. Lots of great stuff. But why only novels? Aren't histories, for example, or biographies suitable for " best summer reads"? :wink:

I re-read an old copy of The Leopard (Simon Schama's choice) last month. I also ordered the reissued dvd of the Visconti movie from Amazon (*) and I'm waiting for a quiet afternoon to get lost in it.

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Pretty ambitious selections compared to most summer lists. Lots of great stuff. But why only novels? Aren't histories, for example, or biographies suitable for " best summer reads"? :wink:

I re-read The Leopard (Simon Schama's choice) last month. I ordered the reissued dvd of the Visconti movie from Amazon (*) and I'm waiting for a quiet afternoon to get lost in it.

The article does say it's listing novels only - my post is misleading when it says 'best books,' sorry about that. I don't think they mean to be discriminatory, although it's probably true that when many people think of summer reading they think of fiction.

(I think the Visconti film of The Leopard is wildly overrated, doesn't catch the essence of the book at all. It looks good, though.)

I wouldn't fancy reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich on a lovely summer's day at the beach, but to each his own. :o

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Wow ... George Eliot's Romola made the list. I didn't think anyone but grad students read that one ... it's the Eliot novel you normally get to (with much eye-rolling) after Middlemarch, Adam Bede, Daniel Deronda, etc etc etc. It's dandy, but I can't imagine dragging it along with me on vacation in Italy. I'd definitely opt for The Talented Mr Ripley instead ... or, for, pot-boiling, way-back historical fiction about Italy, Robert Harris' Pompeii or Imperium (a page turner about Cicero!) neither of which made the Guardian's list, but both of which are immensely fun.

It's an odd list - it appears from the descriptions that the editors were focused more on vacation-related locale and subject matter than on actual lazy summer readability. I've always operated under the assumption that the reason we go to the dentist's is to read guilty pleasures like People and the reason we go on vacation is to read guilty pleasures like Angels and Demons. (Astoundingly silly and much more lurid than The Davinci Code -- fortunately, I listened to the audiobook, so no one I knew actually saw me reading it :wink: Take it with you to Rome.)

I loathed Atonement (which is perfectly readable) but I'm certainly the only person on the planet who did.

Anyway, M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is on my iPod -- highly recommended -- ignore the fact that it's categorized as a "young adult" novel. Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety is on my nightstand -- also recommended, but you have to be into the French Revolution and not mind knowing how it will end.

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I've always operated under the assumption that the reason we go to the dentist's is to read guilty pleasures like People and the reason we go on vacation is to read guilty pleasures like Angels and Demons. (Astoundingly silly and much more lurid than The Davinci Code -- fortunately, I listened to the audiobook, so no one I knew actually saw me reading it.

I’ll give it a try. I did have a go at The Da Vinci Code, hoping for precisely the cheap fun you describe, and although it was simply written and not especially long I couldn’t get through it.

Robert Harris' Pompeii or Imperium (a page turner about Cicero!) neither of which made the Guardian's list, but both of which are immensely fun.

I’ve read Pompeii, it is great fun. I know bart has too, he mentioned Harris’ books on another thread back when. I also like Harris’ Bletchley Park novel, Enigma.

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I've always operated under the assumption that the reason we go to the dentist's is to read guilty pleasures like People and the reason we go on vacation is to read guilty pleasures like Angels and Demons. (Astoundingly silly and much more lurid than The Davinci Code -- fortunately, I listened to the audiobook, so no one I knew actually saw me reading it.

I’ll give it a try. I did have a go at The Da Vinci Code, hoping for precisely the cheap fun you describe, and although it was simply written and not especially long I couldn’t get through it.

Oh, it is really, truly tawdry! Anti-matter! Illuminati! Bernini! As preposterous as The Divinci Code was, Angel and Demons is even more so. Reading it after The Davinci Code is equivalent to eating the worm after you've finished off the whole bottle Mezcal.

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I just read the "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" which is on the list. I picked it up just browsing in the library. I loved it and preordered the second book in the trilogy "The Girl Who Played With Fire."

A novel I recommend to everyone who asks - The Crimson Petal and the White. Anyone read it?

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I just read the "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" which is on the list. I picked it up just browsing in the library. I loved it and preordered the second book in the trilogy "The Girl Who Played With Fire."

This is the third recommendation I've encountered for "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" this week -- I think I'll have to give it a shot!

I'm heading off for Amsterdam soon -- does anyone have an suggestions for appropriately themed books, fiction or otherwise?

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A few of my friends are re-reading "Atlas Shrugged" . I ' ve just started and am loving it.

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I'm currently in the middle of Michael Pollen's "In Defense of Food". I'd just finished Paul Tough's book on Geoffrey Canada, "Whatever It Takes", and Sarah Vowell's "Assassination Vacation". (I love my Kindle.)

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Ah, Sarah Vowell -- unfortunately, we're all caught up with her.

Read "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" on a trip last month -- not especially well done, but some very funny moments, and it's a great summer book.

Am in the middle of the anthology of New Yorker food writing, and re-read Anthony Bourdain's first essay on restaurants, which still makes me kind of queasy...

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Am about 10 pages into Casanova's 'History of My Life', probably being read for different or reverse reasons from Ms. Bentley, although her recent review reminded me that previously I had tended to skip thought to 'the good parts' (she focuseed on those too, it seems). But it's all good, his childhood is extraordinary, and Fellini fury about how 'there are no children, no families, etc.' only comes later when the episodic nature of the amorous adventures begins. I don't know how long it will take me to finish it, or whether I'll feel the need to given there are about 1300 pages of text, followed by copious notes up to 200 more pages, but I'll see. It's got a lot of character, more than I remembered perusing it before, when I thought it a more pornographic version of some of Mozart's operas. I really don't know why Fellini made the film, maybe as a deconstruction of Casanova, but it's pretty well-known that he hated Casanova as representative of some kind of national stain. Anyway, the kind of book you can get a lot out of, even if you don't read all of it. He's not really one-dimensional, though.

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I'm in the middle of re-reading The Leopard (thanks to this thread) and have just finished the equivalent portion of the Visconti film. The newly released dvd contains both the original American version and the original and longer Italian version. The Italian version, with restored image and sound, and presented in a wide-screen format, is much superior. I mean, MUCH superior. Both image and sound have been restored, and some wonderful scenes (I'm thinking of the battle scenes in Palermo) have been give the scope and TIME they deserve.

I noticed that the book is described in the Amazon.com review as "an Italian equivalent to Gone With the Wind." :) This is possibly the single most wrong-headed phrase I've ever read in internet criticism. The book is profound and subtle. It helps to care about, and know something about, the period, the individuals bound up in their social classes, the issues.

Consider this, drawn almost randomly from dozens of similar examples:

Don Fabrizio [the Prince] had certainly had his worries those last two months; they had come from all directions, like ants making for a dead lizard. Some had crawled from crevices of the political situation; some had been flung on him by other people's passions; and some (these had the sharpest bite) had sprung up within himself, from his irrational reactions, that is, to politics and the whims of others 9"whims" was his name when irritated for what in calm he called "passions").

Or this, which takes place on an early morning country shoot. (Ants seem to play an important role, metaphorically and literally, in Sicilian country live.)

But though a shot had killed the rabbit, though the bored rifles of General Cialdini were not dismaying the Bourbon troops at Gaeta, though the midday heat was making men doze, nothing could stop the ants. Attracted by a few chewed grapeskins spat out by Don Ciccio, along they rushed in close order, morale high at the chance of annexing that bit of garbage soaked with an organist's saliva. Up they came full of confidence, disordered but resolute; groups of three or four would stop now and gain for a chat, exalting, perhaps, the ancient glories and future prosperity of ant hill Number Two under cork tree Number four on the top of Mount Morco; then once gain they would take up their march with the others toward a buoyant future; the gleaming backs of those imperialists seemed to quiver with enthusiasm, while from their ranks no doubt rose the notes of an anthem.

And that's just material on the periphery of the story.

Margaret Mitchell, despite her many virtues, it is not.

The Leopard is a much richer book, and much richer as a film, than I could possibly have appreciated in my youth, when I had seen (and lived) less of life and knew very little of the great events through which Lampedusa's characters lived.

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I noticed that the book is described in the Amazon.com review as "an Italian equivalent to Gone With the Wind." :) This is possibly the single most wrong-headed phrase I've ever read in internet criticism. The book is profound and subtle. It helps to care about, and know something about, the period, the individuals imbedded in their own way in their social classes, the issues.

I'm sure it is a wrong-headed conparison, but 'Gone With the Wind' is definitely profound, if not subtle. It is about the ruling classes and their point of view and doesn't really intend to be 'sensitive to issues' of the social sort. There's enough of that elsewhere. I still like 'Gone With the Wind' for 'documenting' the Southern ethos in a way that has made it known much more widely than have much greater pieces of literature by Faulkner, McCullers, O'Connor, Welty, or even, to balance out 'Gone With the Wind', W.J. Cash, whose polemic of the South 'The Mind of the South' was searing and often accurate, but also unbalanced and merely hateful in a number of ways, and reaction to it lead to his suicide. These 'socially unfair' books, films, plays are all important to know the 'pure narrowness', whether it is 'Mein Kampf', 'Triumph of the Will', 'Das Kapital', 'The Communist Manifesto'. These are all forms of propagande, but those have to be read to understand what the truth of social and political problems are if the critiques are to really be more than propagande themselves.

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'Gone With the Wind' is definitely profound, if not subtle

I totally agree, but then given my moniker, I would agree, wouldn't I? :)

I'm currently reading 'The Children's Book' by A.S. Byatt. Although different in every which way from Gone With The Wind, other than its length, it can also be characterised as being profound yet not subtle. It is a very sprawling book - almost a social history of the English upper-ish middle class from the end of the Victorian Age and through the First World War. It is written very densely and all of Byatt's literary devices are on display - she has included stories and plays 'written' by a couple of the characters; there are very extensive descriptions of scenery and art; the narrative perspective changes every so often, etc. And yet it works - the book moves at a good pace and the characters, all flawed and none the definite 'hero' of the book, are real and draw one in.

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I'm sure it is a wrong-headed comparison, but 'Gone With the Wind' is definitely profound, if not subtle.
I think this is one we just have to agree to disagree about.

Mitchell's book definitely depicts, and has thoughts about, profound topics. I'm just saying that what she does with this as a writer -- and what Lampedusa does with his own social or political concerns -- are quite dissimilar.

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I'm sure it is a wrong-headed comparison, but 'Gone With the Wind' is definitely profound, if not subtle.
I think this is one we just have to agree to disagree about.

Mitchell's book definitely depicts, and has thoughts about, profound topics. I'm just saying that what she does with this as a writer -- and what Lampedusa does with his own social or political concerns -- are quite dissimilar.

Didn't you misunderstand me? I meant I agreed that the Amazon.com review was 'wrong-headed' precisely because they are dissimilar. I just wanted to add something about what I felt about 'Gone With the Wind'. Just added this in case you had thought I meant your assessment of the amazon.com review was wrongheaded. I couldn't think that anyway, since I haven't read the Lampedusa, but what you had said about that review did make it sound very superficial. Anyway, no offense meant.

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I noticed that the book is described in the Amazon.com review as "an Italian equivalent to Gone With the Wind."

I expect that the reviewer meant only to say that both books are epic sized period stories set in turbulent times. Some readers could certainly be led astray, though. :wink:

Certainly, Mitchell isn't Lampedusa. Gone with the Wind is a better book than it's usually given credit for being, however. But, like GWTW, I'm a hardcore fan.

(It's off topic, but the film of Gone with the Wind is better than Visconti's picture -- and I don't think it's even that close.)

It is about the ruling classes and their point of view and doesn't really intend to be 'sensitive to issues' of the social sort.

And Mitchell is actually pretty good about making distinctions among those in the ruling classes - it 's one of the things people miss about her. The book isn't really about moonlight and magnolias.

Was 'The Mind of the South' really hateful, Patrick? I didn't detect hatefulness. (Love-hate, yes.)

Thank you for chiming in, GWTW. The only book of Byatt's I tried was Possession, and I was unable to get through it, I fear.

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Was 'The Mind of the South' really hateful, Patrick? I didn't detect hatefulness. (Love-hate, yes.)

Yes, in some ways it was, dirac. And precisely for some of the things we love just now in this thread. His attempt to destroy literally everything about the Southern ethos is borne of his own self-hatred. He not only trashed Margaret Mitchell, but even said Faulkner was guilty of 'subscribing to the Southern Myth'. And also that, in the certainly vainglorious claims of some Southerners that there culture was the greatest in history, he then concluded things like that, if Southerners were not buying recordings of classical music in some stores he surveyed, that they had 'really almost no culture at all'. Much of the Southern Myth is hyped-up nonsense, but New Orleans is proof that it reall exists in a unique form, even after Katrina. I went there again for the first time since childhood, just 4 months before Katrina, and I said yes, THIS is what proves that there really is a such thing as a Unique Southern Culture. And, although there are visually and decoratively other lovely Southern old cities, like Charleston and Savannah, it is New Orleans that is an utter original. He was simply unwilling to give any credit for a very difficult region, and certainly blood-drenched and with hideous problems of poverty and racism in much daily life, but he simply reduced it too far, while along the way he did do many polemics against Southern tradition and bigotry that were very astute and well-placed. But every single tradition needs that, whether French or English or Chinese. I might also note that, stupid as it was for Southerners to think their culture was 'the greatest', since it was a very young and undeveloped one as it was, that was not unlike some of Gingrich's statements about American culture when he and the Toefflers were big. I was pretty young when I read it, but even though I now respect 'Gone With the Wind', and do also think it is a truly great film, I could have listened to that part MAYBE about the 'false Southern myth', but, oh brother, when he started in on Faulkner, I said 'wait a minute, kid. There's whippersnappers, and then there's whippersnappers.'

You could still call it 'love/hate', I suppose, but I could remember very few things he said except that the stereotype of 'the true Southern lady and her kindness' is true, of course, and also he did say that 'the South by now had a flourishing literature'. I don't know, I don't mean I don't think it's a great book in some ways, but as a Southerner myself, you have to go through some of that battle within yourself, and I came out knowing that I belonged in a big city that the South doesn't have anything like, but I changed my mind about a lot of the things that he condemned and that I agreed with him about at the time.

Like what you said about the distinctions among the ruling classes. Indeed it is about much more than moonlight and magnolias.

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Thank you for chiming in, GWTW. The only book of Byatt's I tried was Possession, and I was unable to get through it, I fear.

If you couldn't get through Possession, I wouldn't even bother with The Children's Book... If you do want to read any Byatt, I would start with either 'Angels and Insects' (Victoriana) or 'The Virgin in the Garden' (1950s England).

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I realized recently that I have spent much of my summer reading what I call "quiet novels." These are the kinds of books I avoided through most of my life, but happily discovered about a decade ago. Mostly contemporary novels, although Willa Cather and Rumen Godden's books often fit the category. Often, these books are loaded with visual imagery, but don't have much dialogue, hence my term "quiet."

I'm halfway through Olive Kitteridge, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize novel by Elizabeth Strout. It's billed as a novel in short stories where we learn more about Olive Kitteridge within each short story, even though she's often peripheral to them. Strout's prose is poetic and, my terminology again, quiet.

This summer, I've also been immersed in Alice McDermott's novels. I started off rereading Charming Billy, a portrait of an Irish Catholic alcoholic. I then went on to Child of My Heart, a devastatingly sad book. I'm now almost finished with "At Weddings and Wakes", a novel that's told through the eyes of the Irish Catholic children. Spare, possessing even less dialogue than most of her other novels, but riveting. Her books are often character portraits, and they're peopled by personalities I grew up with.

And then for just plain fun, I'm reading Tana French's The Likeness. I'd read her first novel, In the Woods, and liked it even though it's a mystery and I wouldn't call myself a mystery book reader. Everyone tells me that this second book of hers is much better. So far so good although I have the same quibble with this book as I did with her first novel. She's set both books in Ireland, but the words and phrases her characters use are by and large American, not Irish. Luckily, her stories are interesting enough to make me forget. :)

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Thanks, vagansmom. I really don't read enough fiction these days, so it's good to hear from those who do.

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So far,

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (Bacevich)

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free (Pierce)

Assassination Vacation (Vowell)

Bad Mother: (Waldman)

Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America (Tough)

Red and Me (Russell and Steinberg)

In Defense of Food (Pollan)

My bi-annual re-read of Middlemarch (Eliot), stretching it out until it was gossamer

I haven't been able to get into Sidney Poitier's memoir, The Measure of a Man, and I've skipped to Mark Twain, although I may try to read Julie and Julia before I see the movie next Saturday.

This Kindle will be the financial ruin of me :lol:

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Bart and I had an exchange on another reading thread about Christopher Hibbert and his history books. I am now reading his latest, "The Borgias and their Enemies"; it's Hibbert at his best.

Have also read a couple of tomes on Renaissance paintings in London's National Gallery. The theme is a current passion of mine and the reading is delicious.

Giannina

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Giannina: you convinced me to keep my Italian theme going. I've just ordered the Hibbert from Amazon. Love those Borgia's! I hope he doesn't go overboard in de-mythologizing Lucrezia and turning her into a dull victim of the men in her life.

Having just spent time in 19th century Sicily with The Leopard, I'm heading off to the library in a few days to get as many as I can of Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano novels, which take place in a contemporary Sicilian city. I learned about this series only last week when I came across a review of the 10th Montalbano book -- August Heat -- but I'll start with the first and try to proceed in order.

Sicily may not be all that different from south Florida, where I now live. They seem to share hot and sultry summers, seering sunlight, baroque extremes of wealth and poverty, political corruption, a propensity for violence, and an unending parade of loony and sometimes dangerous characters.

In the meantime, I have just begun Umberto Eco's picaresque novel Baudolino. The main character is a polymath and teller of tall tales who seems to have met -- and given advice to -- just about major historical figure in late 12th century Europe and the Middle East (3rd and 4th Crusades), and to have participated first-hand in every political, artistic, and intellectual development.

"... everyone hung on my lips. If I felt like saying I had seen a sea siren -- after the emperor had brought me there as one who saw saints -- they all believed me and said good boy, good boy."

"This must have taught you to weigh your words."

"On the contrary, it taught me not to weigh them. After all, I thought, whatever I say is true because I said it."

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