Friday, January 09, 2009

More books

Last night, someone asked me how I'm spending my days while on break and I said, "Well, I read," and then I couldn't think of anything else so I finished, lamely, with "and I clean." That's not all I do. I play with my new phone and I check my facebook and I run the sort of dreary errands that one must do--buying printer paper, going to the bank, buying textbooks for next semester, getting my teeth cleaned, taking Drama Queen to the hairdresser's for a fix of her do-it-yourself bangs.

But I am so enjoying the luxury of being able to read and read and read and know there's nothing particularly pressing that I have to get to. Here are reviews of two more books I've read lately.

All is Vanity by Christina Schwarz. When I got this from the library, I noticed the author is in Oprah's Book Club--for The Book of Ruth--but I decided not to hold it against her. Snobbery is vulgar. And I was rewarded because All is Vanity is really, really good, albeit somewhat uncomfortable for people, such as myself, who think they'll finally make their mark on the world with a brilliant piece of literature. It's a book about the image we try to present to the public, and the subtlties that tell others what we're like, or what we want them to think we're like. The Amazon customer reviewers hate this book because it isn't like The Book of Ruth. Not having read it, I can't make a comparison, but I think All is Vanity is funny, insightful, and well-written. Quick plot overview: Margaret foolishly quits her teaching job and makes a public announcement that she will use the time off to write a novel. She has never been published before. Meanwhile, her best friend, already struggling in LA's consumerist, image-conscious society, suddenly faces even more pressure to keep up with the Joneses after her husband lands a lucrative museum job. What ensues are the part hilarious, part sobering consequences of worrying about what others think of you.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. This book, the title of which is a reference to the Victorian Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog, by Jerome K. Jerome, is science fiction, but don't let that scare you. I'm not much of a science fiction fan, but To Say Nothing of the Dog is like what we'd have if Barbara Pym had written science fiction. In other words, awsome. Technically set in Oxford in the year 2057, the characters spend much of their time in 1888, because they are time travelers. Quick plot overview: In 2057, the overbearing Lady Schrapnell is building a recreation of Coventry Cathedral, which was bombed in WWII. She is rebuilding right down to the last detail, including the Bishops' Bird Stump, a hideous Victorian object that is some sort of flower receptacle. In exchange for a generous donation to Oxford's Time Travel Project, Lady Schrapnell has use of a stable of historians who she sends back through time to research what the original cathedral was like and to find out what happened to the Bishop's Bird Stump, last seen in the cathedral shortly before the bombing, but unaccounted for in the rubble or the items rescued from it. Bringing objects from the past into the present is thought to be impossible, until one historian impulsively brings something back from 1888, causing a mad scramble to fix her error before the course of history is changed.

Besides an amusing plot and witty writing, this book contains fascinating tidbits of information about how tiny details changed history, and how even the most insignificant thing can be of monstrous importance. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. I might have to check out "All Is Vanity". The fact that it is nothing like "The Book of Ruth" only works to its advantage, I would say. I've read "Ruth" and it is extremely depressing. You have to be in a certain kind of mood for depressing, but I'll take "funny, insightful and well written" any time.

    Love the reviews. Thanks.

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