What I Read This Week: 6/14-6/20

20 Jun

You know how sometimes you read a book, and you have to stop a few times to marvel at how real it is? How right it gets everything? This was one of those books for me.

The Best of Everything follows the lives of five young women working for a publisher in NYC in the early to mid 1950’s. It’s basically 1950’s chick lit, so romance, drama, career climbing, etc ensue. The way this differs from any of the more recent chick lit I’ve read is that the characters actually seem real. Sometimes, they seem horribly too real.

This description of the life path of  Caroline, an ambitious, very smart but fairly unlucky in love woman, rings too true for me:

“Do you know how I see you?” he asked. “I see a little girl sitting on a rock in a glade near a forest. The Pied Piper comes along playing his music, and all the other little girls leave the security of their homes and dance along after him, far, far away to another land. That’s the land of marriage and respectability and who knows? Maybe disappointment for some. All of them, or nearly all, follow the Pied Piper; but you don’t. Then along comes Pan, grizzled and hairy, with a leer on his human face and the sweet music of the pipes of Pan in his mouth. He goes off into the forest, and a few girls like your friend Gregg follow him. They’re the ones who have the courage to break with tradition, to live as freely as they like. You watch them disappear into the forest, but you don’t follow Pan either.You want to think the way you like and live freely, but on the other hand you want to be married and conventional and have a family. So you just sit there on your rock, and you say, What will become of me?”

Yep. Yes yes yes.

And would you like to hear a transcript from what could’ve been one of my failed first dates? Here you go:

She looked at him and smiled brightly. “I should have brought you some of our latest books,’ she said. ‘Are you reading anything good lately?”

“I don’t like books,” he said. “It takes me about seven months to get through a novel. I like financial magazines.”

She tried again. “It’s a shame you haven’t found any books you liked. What was the last one you read?”

“I don’t remember.”

What interesting ice cubes those were in her glass. They had tiny bubbles in them. She had never seen ice cubes that drew her attention so.

Yeah. Rona Jaffe gets it. And I’m not sure if it’s comforting or depressing that the dating world has changed so little since the 1950’s. Hey, at least I’m not considered an old maid by the age of 23!

So, I highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for a bit of slightly fizzy, chick litty entertainment, but actually wants to read some halfway decent writing.

Oh. I wanted to like this book more. I really, really did. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is a collection of short essays by Anne Fadiman about her reading life. She waxes poetic about her favorite pen, the mingling of her husband and her book collections, marginalia, etc. These are all things I love! Really!

But her voice is just too…well, stuck up, to be honest. I found myself rolling my eyes too often when reading her childhood memories of copy-editing with her family or completing the literary quote her dad started. I should be forgiving, as everyone is allowed their childhood, whether it’s sad and disturbing, warm and sunny, or full of insufferable professorial types. But even so, it doesn’t mean I really can stand to read about it for too long.

Sorry, Anne. Your essays are interesting and fun, but I just couldn’t love them. I blame myself, not you.



8 Responses to “What I Read This Week: 6/14-6/20”

  1. JessB June 21, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    I don’t believe it. I have both these books! The top one in exactly the same edition, the second in a beautiful red cover.

    I loved The Best of Everything, and remember feeling so sad in parts of it. The girls seemed so nice, but most of the boys were kind of jerks. I haven’t read it in a long time, but I’ll have to grab it off the shelf and re-read it soon.

    • ohdizzle June 21, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

      Yeah, it definitely got depressing at times, especially since I wanted to reach through the pages and shake a few of the girls. “You deserve better! He’s just not that into you!!”

      What did you think about Ex Libris?

      • JessB June 21, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

        I actually remember quite liking it. I particularly liked the story about she and her husband shelving their books together when they moved in with each other. Deciding which copy of double-ups to keep, and where to put things (the ‘friends’ shelf! What a great idea!) really fascinated me. The librarian in me, I guess!

  2. Laura June 21, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    The Best of Everything sounds really good! Like, Valley of the Dolls minus the mountains of pills and personality disorders (so… nothing like Valley of the Dolls then! But still, good!) Also, I get your problem with Ex Libris- it sounds like ‘look at my idyllic literary childhood la la la la la’ when you KNOW she spent most of her time watching tv and playing with barbies, just like the rest of us. Hey look- you managed to make me hate a book just by describing it! Odd!

    • ohdizzle June 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

      I’ve been meaning to read Valley of the Dolls! Pills and personality disorders? Yes, please. 😉

  3. katherine June 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    I was so excited to see Ex Libris here, but sorry to hear you didn’t like it. I actually took a senior seminar from Anne Fadiman in college so I had a bit of context about her personality before reading it. (she is incredibly nice in person, and very chill.) If you are willing to give her writing another shot try her nonfiction work – The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. It is very different from Ex Libris and a great, albeit serious read.

    • ohdizzle June 21, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

      Hi Katherine! I’m actually really interested in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, as I’m interested in both the California Central Valley (I have a lot of family there) and the Hmong culture in California. I think Ex Libris put me off her memoir writing, but not her writing in general. She definitely has a great talent! And that’s awesome that you got to take class from her!

      • katherine June 21, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

        Hi! Her writing is beautiful and, given your CA connection, I highly recommend The Spirit Catches You. It has been some time since I’ve read it but it was both moving and very informative – I’d known nothing about Hmong culture until picking up her book. Her class was amazing, and my first real delve into creative non-fiction. It opened my eyes to an entirely kind of literature (and as an english lit major that was a pretty big deal). It is one of the reasons I picked up Devil in the White City – don’t think I would have ever ventured down the creative non-fiction path if it hadn’t been for her. Looking forward to seeing some of your other book recs!

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