Book Twenty: Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

Oh dear, another book I most certainly should have read in my youth and yet somehow neglected to do so. And honestly, why in the world did I never read this? It most certainly would have changed my life, I am sure of that.

Though perhaps I was meant to read it now. And maybe it can change my life now. Or--maybe I'm being a little dramatic, caught up in the Harriet spirit--at the very least, make it a little better. I loved the portrayal of Harriet as a realistic 11-year-old encountering problems and complicated emotions and relationships. I cried at the scene with Harriet and Ole Golly reciting "The Walrus and the Carpenter" back and forth. I understood how alone Harriet felt when no one in her class was talking to her. I admired Harriet for her unwavering determination and gusto, and sighed at her occasional failings of character. I don't know about you, but I always appreciate a good, human protagonist. Yay for Harriet!

Book Nineteen: Secret Lives

Secret Lives, E.F. Benson

(Forgive the giant image, but because this book is so out of print, this is pretty much the only cover shot I could find of it.)

Oh goodness, I can't even tell you how wonderful this book is. C got this for me several years ago and has been nicely insisting that I read it, but it just stayed in my stack of to-reads and never really moved. I had a feeling I would love it, but honestly I just never really got around to it. But, oh, I am so glad that I did because I haven't read a book this sweet and funny in a long, long time. It centers around the residents of Durham Square in London in the 30s and their neighborly concerns and gossip. There is a delightful section about a divisive dogs-in-the-garden issue and much about British society and its ridiculousness. But the main plot is about a new tenant of Durham Square who is quite mysterious. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

In fact, I love this book so much and want others to be able to read it, that I just suggested it to NYRB Classics as a book to consider re-issuing. This no doubt qualifies as a lost classic and I hope they recognize that, too!

Book Eighteen: London is the Best City in America

London is the Best City in America, Laura Dave

This book was an experiment for me. The experiment was that I would grab a random book--one that I had never heard of--off the shelf at Third Place Books, buy it, and read it. And while I sped through this, I realized, sadly that:

  1. This is chick lit.
  2. It is not very good.

I'm having a hard time trying to figure out why it wasn't very good. The writing wasn't super terrible, more just awkward and forced at times, with a lot of "And for the first time, in a very long time"s... so yeah, maybe it was a little terrible. And everything said was very loaded with lots of double meanings. You know what I'm talking about, right?

So, as a non-connoisseur of chick-lit, I may not be the best judge. The story was sort of okay and must have been compelling enough for me to want to read the whole thing in a day or two and yet it left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Like I feel a little dirty. Ugh. Or rather, meh.

Book Seventeen: Barney's Version

Barney's Version, Mordecai Richler

Oh man, all I can say is this was a super duper great book. The first 100 pages or so were not so great, perhaps a little difficult to get into, hard to follow, but it was 100% worth it to stick with it and see it through. The confusion comes from the stream of consciousness effect of Barney's ramblings--sometimes he is talking about events from the near past and sometimes they are events from the distant past and even then it jumps around from year to year. Obviously this is deliberate, in fact the whole point of the book, that Barney, even in his own memoir, can't keep events straight, never mind can't remember the word colander or the names of all the seven dwarves. (The funniest part of this exceptionally funny book may be the footnotes, added by Barney's son, to correct all the egregious factual errors.) So should we believe Barney, the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, when he tells us that he did not kill his friend Boogie? It's this question that propels you through the book, through all the ramblings and digressions and sadness and humor.

Also, perhaps you should read this before the movie comes out later this year.

Book Sixteen: Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson

I guess that last book had more of an impact on me than I thought because I immediately went out and got a bunch of my old favorites from my youth, starting with this one, my most favorite book of all time (according to my 9-year-old self). My one recollection about this book is the night I finished it and I lay in my bed crying and crying until my mom found me, and I was so embarrassed that I was crying about a book I lied to her and told her I was sad because I missed my friends from camp. Huh.

Reading it again for the first time in over 25 years I can see how it really had an affect on my life, and now I can see just how much I identified with Sara Louise and maybe not in a good way.

Perhaps one can learn something from YA novels when one is less YA and more OA?