November reading round-up

(Corrado Ricci 1858-1934)
(Corrado Ricci 1858-1934)

Well we had three weeks of autumn before winter arrived. I quite like winter – Christmas and my birthday! – but I’ve realised in the last few years that at the start of both summer and winter, my lupus flares. In summer it’s the UV, that’s easy to figure out. In winter, well I guess cold isn’t good for arthritis, which is closely related to lupus, plus I have low vitamin D all year round anyway.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I’m not feeling all that healthy but I know it will pass soon. In the meantime I have been watching Gilmore Girls: a Year in the Life, which is both perfect and really not perfect at the same time. I’ve kept a log of books, authors and films mentioned, of course, which I’ll blog about soon.

I have one month left to complete my Books on the Nightstand Book Bingo card, and it’ll be tight but I think I can do it. If you want to help me pick my book for the “500 pages or longer” category, you can vote in my Twitter poll!

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It is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible

by Jane Austen

In my late teens I went through a serious period drama phase, fuelled by TV miniseries based on classic books. A particular favourite was the 1996 ITV production of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale. I loved that show and watched it so many times I can still picture every scene now, a good 15+ years after I last saw it. Plus, of course I’ve seen the Gwyneth Paltrow film (meh), the 2009 BBC series starring Romola Garai (okay) and the greatest (or at least the most fun) Austen adaptation of them all, Clueless.

So you’d think I would have read Emma long ago. However, to date my experience of Jane Austen has not gone so well. I quite liked Northanger Abbey but I gave up multiple times on both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, finding the stuffiness outweighed the wit. I can’t say finally reading Emma has won me over; largely I think I only got through it because I already knew it so well.

Emma Woodhouse is young, rich, devoted to her family and determined to be cheerful. Her elderly father doesn’t like to go out and she doesn’t like to leave him home alone, so ever since her governess Miss Taylor left to marry Mr Weston she has been pretty bored. She makes friends with Harriet Smith, a girl of unknown parentage who was raised by the local schoolmistress. Harriet is dull but straightforward and quick to adore Emma. Emma’s friend and adviser Mr Knightley (her sister’s husband’s brother, who lives nearby) thinks she would do better to befriend Jane Fairfax, who is intelligent and accomplished. But Emma has always found Miss Fairfax cold and distant, not to mention being a little jealous of her musical skill.

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Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband

fates-and-furiesFates and Furies
by Lauren Groff

This is some ways the very epitome of “literary fiction” and yet it defied my expectations many times. I had expected to like it, after thoroughly enjoying Groff’s previous novel The Monsters of Templeton. This is quite different, but once again, really good.

It’s the story of a marriage, that of Lotto and Mathilde. What makes this book different is that the entire marriage is told from Lotto’s perspective, and then from Mathilde’s. The narrative voice, revealed occasionally in square-bracketed asides, is first the Fates (for Lotto) and then the Furies (for Mathilde). As you might guess from that, Lotto’s story is all about his fate: who he is meant to become, what is meant to achieve. Mathilde’s story is largely about her fury, how it drives her.

“The Buddha laughed in silence from the mantelpiece. Around him, a lushness of poinsettias. Below, a fire Lotto had dared to make out of sticks collected from the park. Later, there would be a chimney fire, a sound of wind like a rushing freight train, and the trucks arriving in the night.”

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The lens feels like another person in the room

someday-someday-maybeSomeday, Someday, Maybe
by Lauren Graham

I’ve been meaning to read this novel for a couple of years, and this month it seemed that all signs point to it. Lauren Graham is the star of Gilmore Girls, which I love and which is coming back after nine years in a Netflix miniseries that starts on 25 November. It’s marked in my diary and I am very excited. Someday, Someday, Maybe was Graham’s debut novel, soon to be followed up by Graham’s collection of essays Talking As Fast As I Can (pub date 29 November; apparently it includes some spoilers of the new TV show).

This novel is pretty nakedly inspired by earlier events in Graham’s own life, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it autofiction. It’s about Franny Banks, a wannabe actress struggling to make it in New York City. She has given herself a strict three years to achieve her goal – that is, to earn enough from acting to live on – and that deadline, when the book opens, is six months away. She’s not a hopeless case – she’s done an advert, has an agent and goes to acting classes run by the highly selective and respected John Stavros. But her agency only books commercials, her only income is from working as a waitress at a comedy club and her dream of one day appearing in An Evening with Frances Banks at the 92nd Street Y is receding.

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Sunday Salon: #LoveToRead

The Sunday SalonI love the BBC. It’s not perfect, but it produces a lot of great stuff, especially for lovers of music and books. This weekend has been the BBC’s #LoveToRead weekend, with a deluge of book-related programmes, articles and partnerships with schools and libraries, to promote the importance of reading for pleasure. It’s a campaign I can get behind.

I first knew this was coming thanks to (best radio station in the world) 6 Music‘s new series of Paperback Writers, in which bestselling writers talk about the music that inspires them. Today’s writer was Zadie Smith, who I think is even more awesome now I know that her music of choice includes Lauryn Hill and Bob Dylan.

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There’s nothing wrong with me that I can fix

will-graysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green and David Levithan

This was my “a random book” selection for the Books on the Nightstand Book Bingo. I even closed my eyes. I had intended to read it for Banned Books Week back in September, but that fell while we were on holiday and I read all of half a book all week. I’m glad I came up with another excuse to read it before too long as it’s a really lovely book.

The premise sounds a little odd, so don’t let this put you off. Two teenage boys called Will Grayson meet by chance in a Chicago porn shop. The chapters are alternately narrated by the two Wills, and are written alternately by John Green and David Levithan, two big names in young adult fiction.

The first Will we meet is best friends with Tiny Cooper, who is not just gay but ostentatiously super-camp – so camp that he’s writing a musical about his own life that he wants the high school to help him produce. Will has lost some friends over standing by this friendship and is feeling anxious about that, but he still has Tiny’s friends from the Gay–Straight Alliance – Gary, Nick and Jane – to hang out with, even if he is possibly the only straight one in the alliance (he’s not sure about Jane).

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