Classic Novels · Contemporary Novels · Non-fiction · Reading · Uncategorized

What I Read In March

little purple flowers

March was a hugely productive reading month for me. I finished nine books (one of them an audiobook) and mostly enjoyed the things I read, though there really wasn’t that ‘killer’ book that knocked my reading socks off. A bunch of decent reads is much better than a run of stinkers, though, so I’m not complaining. Here is a quick roundup of my reading life in March:

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue is her first novel since the highly popular Room. In 1876 San Francisco we follow a French prostitute, her dandified boyfriend and the woman who comes between them. This historical mystery features great female characters and a richly drawn setting.

The Receptionist by Janet Groth. You can read more about my thoughts here.

The Shelf by Phyllis Rose. This nonfiction title is an account of Rose’s year of reading almost exclusively from one shelf in her local library and is a perfect book for readers of all stripes. Her humor, curiosity and thoughtfulness make her a lovely and feisty companion through the books of Gaston Leroux, Rhoda Lerman and John Lescroart, among others.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell is another funny romance from this author filled with pop culture references that I adore. This is an adult title about a failing marriage and what happens when an old telephone gives the wife, Georgie, access to her husband of the past. Intelligent chick-lit at its best.

The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia LaingI started out really loving this book about five writers and how drinking affected their lives and work. I was fascinated by the story of Tennessee Williams, who I didn’t know anything about before reading this, and how addiction both focused and destroyed him. The ending was a bit of a letdown as the author speedily related the stories of John Berryman and Raymond Carver. I would have liked to learn more about them and less about Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub. This book is a gem of a family tale. The Post family (dad, mom, brother and sister) rent a house in Mallorca for two weeks with a couple who are good friends of the mom and the brother’s girlfriend. Being cooped up in close quarters forces conflicts to be resolved, choices to be made and truths revealed. All of this takes place in a beautiful setting by the beach with Spanish food and culture surrounding them. Her writing reminds me a little of Cathleen Schine.

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset MaughamA silly wife in 1920’s Hong Kong cheats on her stoic husband so he forces her to accompany him to a cholera ridden area in China. I thought every single character was incredibly frustrating and they all made me want to throttle them, but I did love the portrayal of Kitty’s growth and maturing as she overcomes her many challenges.

After I’m Gone by Laura LippmanI listened to this over the month in my car and it was quite good. When a small-time but good-hearted criminal intentionally disappears to avoid prison time, his wife, three daughters and mistress all pay a price. When a cold case detective starts dredging up the past we learn just how high that price was. This has truly believable characters and a surprising twist that made me gasp out loud. I loved the narrator, Linda Emond, and want to listen to more books she’s worked on.

Picture Perfect by Shanna Hogan. A true crime novel about Jodi Arias that broke me out of a reading slump.

Now on to April – I can’t wait to see what I end up reading this month.

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Non-fiction · Uncategorized

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth

receptionist

The Receptionist is a book that I’ve wanted to read since it was released a few years ago. Anything set in Manhattan in the sixties always appeals to me and to have it set in the literary world is especially enticing. I was gathering books for a Mad Men display at work and this title kept popping up on various book lists online – instead of putting it on the display I decided to read it last weekend.

Unfortunately, it was somewhat of a disappointment, I think because of my expectations. It isn’t so much a chronicle of the author’s 21 years working at The New Yorker as an exploration of one young woman’s midcentury identity crisis, which, though interesting, isn’t quite what I thought the book was going to be about.

Janet Groth was raised in the Midwest with an alcoholic father and an aloof and beautiful mother. As soon as she finished college in Minnesota in 1957 she hightailed it to New York and, through a connection with E.B. White, secured a position as receptionist on the 18th floor of The New Yorker. There she stayed for the next two decades, assisting the magazine’s staff writers and becoming a part of their lives by babysitting and housesitting for them and socializing with them after work.

The book is not laid out chronologically, instead it contains a series of chapters that move back and forth between detailing the author’s personal struggles and romantic entanglements to profiles of people she met at the magazine. The chapters that focus on her own story slowly overtake the book. I do like reading coming-of-age tales, but as the book progressed I missed the chapters that featured the magazine or people she met through it, such as her chapter on Muriel Spark (which is wonderful and worth reading the book for).

Overall, this is a fast read that has very descriptive writing, with some lovely chapters on the writers and editors of The New Yorker. However, it also has too many angsty chapters that were not quite unique enough to capture my interest.