Lynn Reads a Book
This blog reflects Lynn Rosen’s comments on books she’s read and on happenings in the world of book publishing. You can purchase Lynn’s recommendations on her page on Bookshop.org.
This past Sunday I attended the kickoff event for this year’s Philadelphia area One Book One Jewish Community program. I am a volunteer member of the implementation committee for this group, and I help review selections and choose a book. This year we selected a memoir called A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin. It tells tells the story of Lev and his family. Soviet Jews, leaving the USSR and settling in America. The kickoff event took place at Gratz College and about 400 people attended. I had the honor of interviewing Lev on stage after his talk, which was fun. Open Book Bookstore, our store, was also the official bookseller for the event. After the event, a woman came up to the book table and asked me where I got the books, i.e. from whom I purchased them. I replied to her: “I am a bookstore.” It turned out she too worked at a bookstore, and she was hoping no doubt that her store might provide the books. A good thought on her part, but I’ve got it covered. But what really struck me the next day as I was recalling this interaction was the way I replied to her, how, without really stopping to think, I simply said: “I am a bookstore.” It’s what, in high school English, we learn to call personification. Actually, now that I think of it, it’s the opposite of that. In personification, human qualities are given to inanimate objects. Here I made myself into an inanimate object. Except our bookstore is not inanimate. It’s a very vital, living place, full of activity and conversation, and filled with a stream of thoughtful, interesting people. I spend a lot of time there, and it has begun to feel like part of me. Most of my conversations these days, anywhere and with anyone, are in some way about books, and I spend huge chunks, if not most, of my time reading books or ordering books, managing inventory, and selling books. Indeed, I have become, and I am, a bookstore. Come visit me and my bookstore at 7900 High School Road in Elkins Park, PA. And if you’d like to read Lev’s memoir, which I recommend, we have it in stock or you can get it...read more
I’m a big fan of Ruth Reichl; I really enjoyed her memoir, Tender at the Bone. I was pleased when I heard she was turning her hand to fiction, and I was very interested to read her new novel, especially once I started hearing the good reviews. Can you tell that opening was a set up for disappointment? Indeed, the novel was a let-down for this reader. It is the sort of book that, when I started it, I knew right away that it wasn’t really going to engage me, and I kept telling myself to put it down when there were so many other books beckoning for my time. Yet I persisted. I think I did so in large part on the strength of her name, her reputation, and my previous pleasant experience with her memoirs, and to a lesser degree because I did find her main character, Billie Breslin, to be charming, and I was interested to see how she made her way to finding herself in this coming-of-age novel. Not only do we have a charming Billie, but Reichl has created a quirky and appealing set of secondary characters to keep Billie company, particularly Sal, the owner of the cheese shop where Billie works. Reichl also, unsurprisingly, writes really well about food. Much is made in the beginning of the book of Billie’s special talent. She has a perfect palate, and can taste anything and discern what the ingredients are, even if it’s something rare and obscure like, apparently, curry leaf. However, later in the book this is only glancingly referred to, and I was sorry to see this amusing parlor game drop. When a character takes a bite of food, Reichl’s prose lights up with colorful adjectives. Unfortunately, when she’s merely writing about plot, her prose is duller. As for plot twists and turns and the big reveal… well, I figured out the secrets about Billie’s sister long before they were revealed (if you’ve read Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, you will, too), and the love interest has a flashing red arrow pointing at him, so that one is a given. As for the main plot point of the book, Billie’s discovery of a secret stash of letters between famous chef James Beard and an unknown young girl written during WWII, it is (here comes that word again) a charming conceit, but not, for me, enough to hang a novel on. My verdict? A good beach read, but your brain won’t get too tangled up in...read more
Dear Caryl, You mentioned when I saw you Friday night that someone had recommended you read The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt. That was such a funny coincidence because I was in the middle of reading it myself! I finished the book this weekend, and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. I like David Leavitt. I read his last book, The Indian Clerk, and thought it was interesting and pretty good, and I also read The Lost Language of Cranes, which is his most highly-regarded book, although I must confess I don’t remember much of it. He always seemed to me like a writer who deserved more attention. This new novel has been getting a lot of positive attention, and I was looking forward to reading it. The book tells the story of two couples, Pete & Julia and Edward & Iris, who meet in Lisbon in 1940. American expatriates, they have had harrowing escapes from the encroaching Nazis, and have made their way to Lisbon to await passage back to the US on the ship Manhattan. The new acquaintances strike up a friendship, which evolves quickly into flirtation and then, unsurprisingly, into an affair. What is surprising is the partners who embark on the affair: Pete and Edward. It was this unexpected twist that made the novel sound interesting to me in the first place. After their passion is teased and then consumed, the relationship develops into something more predictable and less pleasant, more tedious, a kind of “you don’t love me like you used to” sort of thing. Iris then comes to see Pete for a “talk,” and explains the workings of her extremely unconventional relationship with Edward. Something about the tone, the setting, the story of the seemingly breezy and worldly couple who mask deep troubles, made me feel like the author was trying to do Fitzgerald and/or Hemingway in a way that felt derivative, not inspired or laudatory. It’s one of those books where the narrator (Pete) tells you at the beginning what’s going to happen at the end and, instead of following his story with interest in the process of how the characters got from A to B, I instead found myself skimming pages in a rush to just get it over with already. Unfortunately, I wanted to like this book much more than I did. In the end, Caryl, I wouldn’t really recommend it for you, but I’ll be happy to recommend some other good summer reading! Start with The Transcriptionist, a debut novel by Amy Rowland. See here for more info: https://lynnrosen.com/a-great-new-book-for-your-summer-reading-list/ Best,...read more
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro This is a popular book; I’ve seen it around a lot and heard it mentioned in a positive context. The topic interested me. I think what really grabbed me is the cover art. Always meant to read it. Finally did. What I liked about the book: A glimpse into a new (for me) milieu: the Boston art world and the world of art in general. Lots of interesting details about painting techniques. What I didn’t like: Lots of detail about painting technique. I get that to really understand the plot the reader needed a more than superficial understanding of the artist’s technique, but at times it read like a lesson, not a novel. Liked: The main character, blacklisted but extremely talented (and sexy of course) artist Claire Roth. Didn’t like: Claire’s character could have used more emotional depth and complexity. Didn’t like: A narrative style that sometimes seemed confused about whether it was telling the story in past or present tense, and a voice that was often dry, dispassionate and distant. Didn’t like: A story that, near the end, suddenly veered from something more artsy and somewhat literary into a fast-paced police thriller complete with a deceptively friendly FBI guy. Liked: The premise (a stolen Degas; a forged Degas; other things about Degas I won’t give away), the misunderstood, maligned, and yet talented and tenacious protagonist, the inclusion of some Impressionist history, and the back story (real and imagined) of museum creator Isabella Stewart Gardner. This is the point at which I should be assigning a number of stars and thumbs up or down, but I’ll leave it at this and let you decide if this a book you wish to read. Let me...read more
I’m reading a YA (young adult) book called The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone. I found out about it when the author was interviewed on NPR. It’s based on the Thorne Rooms, which are a series of miniature rooms created in the 1930s and now housed at the Art Institute of Chicago. The premise is that the kids in the book become miniature and can go in the rooms and have adventures.I bring it up today because I just read a quote I really liked and want to share with you. One of the main characters, a girl named Ruthie, is talking with her father about her friend Jack’s mother, Lydia. Lydia is an artist and Lydia and Jack live in a really cool loft. Lydia is described as being quirky and outgoing. She relates to people easily and in a friendly way, and she’s a great cook. Here’s Ruthie, speaking about her father: “He had often commented that artists like her [Lydia] create their lives rather than letting other people set the rules. Ruthie was beginning to understand what he meant by that: if you want something badly enough, you have to make it happen.” Inspiring...read more