Sunday, January 22, 2017

Books I read on the beach

Counting right before and right after my 6 days in Jamaica:

1) Theodore Dreiser, The Titan - I had initially thought that, in my literature book, I would only write about the predecessor volume, The Financier. But this one is in some ways even more interesting sociologically. It foreshadows Ayn Rand (and is much closer to that than to Horatio Alger), except that the author stands somewhat apart from the lead character's regard for his own "greatness." Someone, perhaps David Frum, called this book an Ayn Rand novel written by a socialist, and that's a good way of putting it.

2) Lindsay Cameron, Biglaw - I read this for my first-year reading group, covering 4 novels about law school or  legal practice (with the other three being by Lisa McElroy, David Lat, and me). The idea is that we read the books, then meet and talk with the authors, including Ms. Cameron this coming Wednesday. Biglaw does a great job of satirically yet horrifyingly conveying the NYC Biglaw corporate setting. I certainly hope that it's exaggerated for literary effect, rather than meant to be accurate! But I fear that it actually is all too accurate. Something to ask the author about.

3) Edith Wharton, House of Mirth - also for my literature book. Great and very sad; I was half or more of the way through before I saw my line of approach for writing about it. An odd point about the book's structure: it's all about Lily Bart having one chance after another after another after another to succeed in achieving complete financial security. But she throws all of these chances away, sometimes whimsically or self-indulgently, but often based on her actually accepting the Old Money social ideals that everyone else realizes by now are wholly fraudulent.  And she's the only one who still actually believes in those ideals (which are aesthetic, not by any means ethical).  Okay, Selden believes in them too, but they cost him nothing rather than everything.

4) Booth Tarkington, Alice Adams - interesting Midwestern early 20th century social portrait of a whimsical and ill-starred character, by the author of The Magnificent Ambersons (which I may also, though only briefly, write about in the literature book). I kept picturing a flightier Katherine Hepburn (who played the title part in the movie of Alice Adams), but the book mercifully lacked the movie's saccharine ending.

5) Margaret Millar, A Stranger in My Grave - interesting mid-century noir fiction, although the resolution was a bit pat.

6) Georges Simenon, The Mahe Circle - very dark and perverse, concerning a mad and suicidal obsession. One of his "dur" rather than Maigret novels.

7) Elmore Leonard, 52 Pickup - fun reading for the plane, though it got a bit tense near the end.

8) Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Vertigo - The novel that was the basis for the immortal Hitchcock film. They apparently wrote it in the hope that he would option it. Set in 1940s France, and with a couple of key plot differences including a different (but also dark) ending. Obviously, I knew what the key plot twist would be before it happened. Quite good in its own way, especially if you come to it from the movie and find the transmutations interesting.

I seem to have used the word "dark" quite a lot in this blog entry. Sorry about that from a writerly standpoint, but it certainly is the word of the day for me these days.

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