Fiction

How to be Good

How to be GoodAs a person raised Catholic, I was drawn to the topic of this novel. Who doesn't want to be a kind, caring person? To do good works? To make the world a bit better each day? OK, maybe not serial killers, some Wall Street tycoons, mafia types, mercenaries, etc. but on the whole most people try (at least part of the time) to be good.

This 2001 Nick Hornby novel zeroes in on Dr. Katie Carr, a London wife and mother, who deals with boils and warts and patients struggling to breathe. She's a physician for Britain's National Health Service. She's married to David, a stay-at-home husband who writes an acerbic column for the local paper about all the myriad things that send him into rages, for instance, the elderly not taking their reserved seats in the front of bus and annoying other passengers by tottering when the bus suddenly stops.
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Dancing Backwards

Dancing BackwardIf you've never taken a cruise and are considering one, this novel paints this form of travel in a good light, especially if you are thinking of a transatlantic one. Recently-widowed Violet Hetherington impulsively decides to visit a dear male friend from her youth in New York City and treats herself to a good berth with a balcony. Not only does she describe the foibles and habits of the upper classes, but she also details everyday encounters with the ship's staff.
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Short End of the Stick

OrientationI have to admit, even as someone who has great appreciation for short stories, I often find it hard to muster the same kind of enthusiasm for reading them as I do when approaching the pleasant immersion of a novel. But I've proven myself wrong so many times, as I take up a book with a sense of duty and find myself thoroughly enthralled instead. Short stories are perfect for those with a hectic schedule (or a short attention span); they offer condensed, pithy prose and plot, and they can often alert you to a new talent before everyone's going crazy for their debut novel. I was inspired to write this post by Daniel Orozco's Orientation, which I just read. "Officer Weeps" in particular is one my my favorite short stories ever. His characters are weird and liminal--a woman on a late-night cookie binge, an ex-dictator, a pair of officers falling in love amidst an odd vandalism streak--and he presents them with hilarious and terrible brevity. Here are a few other collections that I really enjoyed, written with a similarly strange focus and an equal blend of heartbreak and humor.
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End of an Era: Read on Hogwarts Grads, Read on.

Secret History14 years ago, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published in the United States. Kids who started reading that book in elementary school are now onto college, or have even graduated from college. So Harry Potter and his wizardly friends mark the end of an era on Friday, with the opening of the final film.
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The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

Maf the DogOK, OK Andrew O'Hagan's title snookered me in, but this lovely gem of a novel has it all: dog psychology, human philosophy, Stanislavski's Method Acting, Bloomsbury, Hollywood, Vegas, anarchists in Mexico, President Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe. Though the narrator is a tiny ball of fur, he's a true aristocrat, a fancy bichon maltais with the name of Mafia Honey.
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2011 RITA Award Winners

Iron KingThe 2011 RITA Awards were announced last week for excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding published romance novels awarded by the Romance Writers of America.

Some of winning titles that MCPL owns include:

REGENCY HISTORICAL ROMANCE: The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

HISTORICAL ROMANCE: His at Night by Sherry Thomas
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Foreign Fiction

True DeceiverThere was a dustup not too long ago about Tim Parks' suggestion (in the NYRB blog ) that foreign writers are adapting their prose--even if it's still written in their native tongue--to the structure of English. He contests that it has gotten easier to translate novels because "contemporary writers [have] already performed a translation within their own languages". Whether or not this is evidence of the English language's unfortunate dominance and bulldozing of local culture, or a natural adaptation among writers wanting to communicate as widely as possible, is left somewhat up in the air. It's an interesting argument, but I wonder how much relevance it has to most readers.
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Gone With the Wind turns 75

GWTWI ran across an article this morning that mentioned that Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind turns 75 this month. In June of 1936, Mitchell published this now classic saga while recovering from a broken ankle. It was an instant hit, and brought immediate fame to the Atlanta journalist.

What is it about? Well....er...I haven't actually read it. "I'll never go hungry again!", right? But I only know that from the movie. It is high time to put this book on my to-read list.
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What Happened on Fox Street

Well, what did happen on Fox Street? Lots of things, it turns out. 10-year- old Mo Wren is out of school for the year, but she is not exactly having a relaxing summer.  She has to deal with a best friend who visits for the summer, but who may have changed more than Mo realized.  She must constantly babysit her 5-year old sister Dottie, the "wild child," while their dad is working long hours at a job he doesn't like.  She still misses her mom, who died a few years before.  In the meantime, one older neighbor is keeping Mo busy with strange errands, and another may be having too many medical problems to stay in her house.

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Freedom

FreedomIf you listen to politicians and talking heads speak, you'll instantly recognize that "freedom" is a particularly powerful buzz word in American culture. Franzen achieved notoriety for a famous run-in with Oprah about his book The Corrections being included in her book club. He complained that this might scare men away from reading his book, so Oprah withdrew the nomination. In another bizarre twist, last fall a fan stole the author's eyeglasses and offered them for ransom. In this mega-novel of 562 pages, Franzen tackles the theme of what constitutes freedom in our closest relationships. He writes about a family, the Berglunds, who helped transform an old St. Paul neighborhood into a thriving community.
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