Friday, August 24, 2012

Shelf Indulgence (What I've Been Reading)

Yes, you should imagine Sean Connery saying the above title with an ironical cock of his thick black eyebrows - the old rogue.

I do love it when other people give me decent reasons to read something. I have to confess, I don't always take the sage advice I'm given (mea culpa, Marillenbaum, I know I didn't read Pride and Prejudice until a boyfriend of mine suggested it months after you did), but when I do I'm very rarely disappointed.

So it was with the first book I'd like to briefly rave about: Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. This time, I took my little sister's advice and when I saw the book on the shelves at my local, the title caught my eye.
     -I'm sure someone told me to read this, I thought. Maybe it was the Midget...or was it Rachel?
(This is where I say that they should both be flattered that I conflated their opinions in my poor memory, because I'd obviously decided that they both had similar good taste and would advise me to read such a book.)

I snagged Rules from the shelf and brought it home and was in no wise disappointed. Towles's heroine, Katie Kontent (like the state of being, not the substance of a book) is a lovely narrator: well-read, witty, with something of a Lynn Truss streak about her every now and then (she spends a paragraph or two reminds us of the proper rules of grammar and punctuation when they provide a germane interlude to her story). There's something of the vibe I've always gotten from The Great Gatsby from everyone I know who's read it, and to make a more concrete comparison of my own, I get stirrings of a feminine, Depression-era Jack Kerouac, On The Road, tone cropping up throughout. Possibly even, dare I say it, a bit of Holden Caulfield in some of the throw-away literary references Miss Kontent makes throughout. Here is someone who's not only at ease with their well-rounded self-education, but takes it decently for granted in a way that allows the reader to do the same.

The story that Towles tells through Katie Kontent is a simple enough one, but as with many stories, the charm is in the telling. The only character for whom I have the contempt of the unbelievable fiction is Anne Grandyn...but I'll leave you to discover that one for yourself.

Second book? Girl Reading, by Katie Ward. This one had its recommendation from no less a personage than Hilary Mantel. (Author of my two latest loves of historical fiction: Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies chronicling the rise of Thomas Cromwell - minister to Henry VIII.) Granted, I will say that Mantel's - and by extension, Ward's - terse and subtle style of narration isn't for everyone. It takes a while to get into the heads of the characters - even the narrators - but once you do, the story is a rewarding one. The only downside? You have to get used to following the dialogue with a lack of quotation marks. But then, that seems to be a theme with these two books.

Girl Reading follows six interconnected vignettes through time as we watch the intersection of art and...well, girls reading. It's quite fun to imagine the story behind the creation of each work and something of the sitter in it. Part of what endeared the book to me is the fact that I do this sometimes when I'm looking at a particularly fun painting - especially one by a painter about whom I don't know much. Of course, the other good thing about this book is that it breaks up quite nicely into manageable sections - so if you're the sort catching snatches of your book in between, say, watching your highly active 10-month-old - it's easy to dive back into whenever you next get the chance.

Happy reading!

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