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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Some summer books

It’s been a busy time for me this month. I am working hard on my book while I am free from other job and school-related distractions. One thing I have learned about writing a book: you can fiddle and rewrite endlessly. I have the sense that if I play around with my words enough, I can always make them better.

But I have been reading. Here are some thoughts:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – This one sits atop the Chronicle’s best-seller list and was highly praised on its release. It’s an atmospheric book about a young man who joins a train circus in 1931. Gruen does an excellent job showing the bizarre and cruel world of the circus, where violence hides under the grin of the circus master. It’s a quick and enjoyable read. Nothing too deep or profound but fun.

The Dissident by Nell Freudenberger

Freudenberger is the author of the short-story collection Lucky Girls. She made one of those debuts people dream about – lots of praise in the New York Times and other august publications, long features with attractive photos. The Dissident is her debut novel and it is set in Los Angeles and Beijing. It’s really a novel about artiface and why we aren’t who we present ourselves as being. I think this theme – which actually took some guessing because of the cryptic nature of the plot – is stronger than the book. What? You ask. It means I didn’t love the plot or writing but when I thought about the book after I finished it I decided I enjoyed it.

Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda MacKenzie Stuart.

This was a wonderful dual biography of the female Vanderbilts, but it goes way beyond descriptions of the decadent world of Newport society. Alva Vanderbilt was the woman who married her daughter Consuelo off to the Duke of Marlborough just to catapult her family into the social stratosphere. The book details that unhappy marriage and how Conseulo eventually overcame the stultifying British society to work for the downtrodden. Alva was a surprise, too, because she became an ardent suffragist and was critical in the fight for women to get the vote. There’s lots of great history and context, as well as glimpses into the world of the Gilded Age rich.

Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age by Donna M. Lucey

This is another dual biography of a Gilded Age couple, only these are Astors. Archie Chanler is the great great grandson of John Jacob Astor, but his life is anything but easy as his parents die at an early age. Archie meets and marries Amelie Rives of Virginia, who has written a racy bestseller about a taboo topic – the sexual yearnings of women. The marriage is a disaster from the beginning. Archie is eventually committed to an insane asylum by his siblings and the book does a good job exploring whether he really was crazy or his brothers and sisters were just spiteful. This is a good read but it has absolutely no historical context at all.

1 comment:

ele12 said...

Well, you sure a list of great books to entertain us during the summer. I am the type of person who likes to relax all the time so those books can really help.