Monday, January 19, 2009

Hasty light reading miscellany

Last Monday I read my first Gossip Girl book, You Know You Love Me.

I was standing in the news store at the airport in Tampa and contemplating the utter wretchedness of everything they were fobbing off on the unsuspecting customer in the name of books when I suddenly realized that in fact there was a huge stash of Gossip Girl books as yet unplumbed by me!

I enjoyed it very much - it is paced in a sharp snappy satirical way that makes me think that anyone who reads these books is reading them in a slightly ironic or tongue-in-cheek vein, surely nobody can really be actually wanting the luxury goods whose names are dropped on every page - and I was charmed by the fact that several of the characters were reading Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, which I am teaching this semester!

I always like to know that there will be something I could read and enjoy in random airport bookstores, so I think I will resist the temptation to get and read the others now and instead 'save' them for future situations of this sort...

On the flight before that I'd finished reading a really excellent novel, one that happily crossed the borders between light reading and serious fiction, Heidi Julavits's The Uses of Enchantment. Surely this book is a rewriting of one of Josephine Tey's best novels, The Franchise Affair! Clues: (1) the headmistress is called Miss Pym, the name of the title character in one of Tey's best other novels; (2) Julavits's protagonist's name is Mary Veal, "Veal" being a significant name in eighteenth-century writing and Tey's novel a retelling of an eighteenth-century story.

At any rate, I thought it was very good indeed - I was also reminded of another favorite book of mine from childhood, E. L. Konigsberg's underrated Father's Arcane Daughter.

Two sporting books: the first, John Hanc's highly readable The Coolest Race on Earth: Mud, Madmen, Glaciers, and Grannies at the Antarctica Marathon (about which more here); the second, Graeme Obree's rather wonderful Flying Scotsman: Cycling to Triumph through my Darkest Hours. The book is slightly uneven but quite moving in places, and there is a simply excellent description of a championship race in Bogota where Obree lays out his strategic planning for the different rounds - I really, really loved this.

The book is published by Velo Press, a specialist publisher the quality of whose books has been making an extraordinary impression on me: their list is a very interesting mix of books about cycling that are of genuine literary attraction and import and some of the most indispensable books on triathlon training (NB if you are only going to buy one book about triathlon training, it should certainly be Gale Bernhardt's Training Plans for Multisport Athletes, a book I obtained on Brent's recommendation and have since recommended to several friends - it is second only to Daniels' Running Formula in my affections!).

Good light reading: Michael Connelly's The Brass Verdict, kindly delivered to me by my former student Julia Hoban, whose young-adult novel Willow is about to appear to what I predict will be great acclaim!

And on Saturday, I had a pleasant theatrical interlude and went with my grandfather G. to see what turned out to be an excellent production of Richard Greenberg's The American Plan. Greenberg writes characters amazingly well - the play really is (Henry) Jamesian in a wonderful way. And as a bonus, there are some very lovely bits of conversation about swimming!

(Some interesting reflections from Greenberg here on the difficulties he experienced revising this 1991 play for the new production. It was pure coincidence that we were at this play at all - I had a terrible yen to see Soul of Shaolin and asked G. if there was any chance he could get press tickets - the press agent somehow thought he was asking about this one instead! But it may have been for the best...)


  1. I read the first three Gossip Girls very quickly, very enjoyably, and then got Bored, as quickly as I'd enjoyed, so my advice is to mete them out carefully (or not carefully, but mete-fully). (M, on the other hand, is still not bored...)

  2. I loved Heidi's book. I still remember reading "Father's Arcane Daughter" while on an E.L. Konigsburg binge.

  3. ...surely nobody can really be actually wanting the luxury goods whose names are dropped on every page...

    Are you genuinely that naive???