In the High Peaks

Monday, February 4, 2019

February Book News--On the Way Up

On the side of good news, Ken and I watched the movie Jersey Boys on Netflix on Saturday night. What a wonderful, fun movie. The 2014 film is based on the Broadway musical and is about the careers of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I heartily recommend it. Ken and I each gave it 5 stars. We couldn't help it--we were hopping and bopping and singing our way across the living room. The music brought us way, way back, and the story was fascinating.

Current Reading: I'm loving the challenge of John Le John Le Carré's A Small Town in Germany. I'm nearing the end now--less than 90 pages to go, but it is a bracing, refreshing change of pace. A review will be coming soon. But until then, what a brilliant writer Le John Le Carré is! The novel is a bit challenging, especially when the investigator Alan Turner goes on a stream of consciousness rampage for a chapter here and there, juggling all the facts and impressions he's gathered in his head. I work hard to keep up, but it is definitely worth the trouble.

I'm wading through Notes from the Dead House by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, having finally settled on a translation. (Pevear and Volokhonsky) I am still promising information about the Russian translation issue and considerable controversy, but am stuck in the midst of sorting out all the articles that have been written about it. In the meantime, I'm faithfully reading, but it is taking me some time, although I'm making progress nevertheless. I chose this novel because I am extremely curious about Dostoyevsky's years in prison, and this book is certainly describing exactly what it was like for him. From a historical viewpoint it's fascinating because prisoners were allowed so many liberties in Siberian prisons in the mid-19th century that inmates of the Siberian gulags of the 20th century would have been aghast at.

Domestic Thrillers--Whither?
I read two domestic thrillers in January, reading them very quickly, and in retrospect, it is terrible to realize that they wasted my time. But you see, I have a very hard time admitting that a book I spent time on was a waste.
Neither book was a stellar example of the genre, but as soon as I was beyond 25 pages, I kept hoping each one would improve, and with thrillers there's always the traditional expectation that some twists and turns will pull your hair out by the roots. But that didn't happen, not in either book, at least not for me..
With You, Always by Rena Olsen (2018) and The Liar's Room by Simon Lelic (Jan. 2019) were each around 300 pages. A loss. Sigh. I'm providing links, but will not say another word about them. Bah!

But right now, my side-read is Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand, and I will say that I am delighted with it. I did read a third to nearly half of it in November, but had to halt, due to other more pressing reading matters. But now, I'm seeing why I like it so much. For one thing, a female protagonist who is age 50+.  An exquisite island, St. John's, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in all its beauty in an age before the three massive hurricanes of 2017 nearly destroyed it. I just love the comfort of reading this book.


  1. I really liked Jersey Boys, too. I was a big fan of The Four Seasons. I am a big quitter of books if I am not enjoying them. You've probably read Nancy Pearl's idea:

    1. Hi Nan,
      I would have loved to have seen it on Broadway--
      I "retire" books as well, but with thrillers I tend to hang on too long for what I hope will be gasps.(!)
      And I have been influenced by Nancy Pearl over the years. She liberated me from the fixation of "I must finish this book!" quite a bit.

  2. My husband loved Jersey Boys, I never watched it as I'm not really intro that music. I'm impressed with you tackling a Dostoyevsky novel Judy.

    I thought Winter in Paradise was fun but not my favorite Hilderbrand novel.

    1. Hi Diane,
      I was never into The Four Seasons, not even one little bit. Because the radio played them so, so much, I quickly "gagged" on the songs. But, lo and behold, having not heard the songs for so many decades, I got a thrill out of that pre-rock stuff. And the story in Jersey Boys was very good as well.
      And as an older teen, I adored Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. He's an intense writer and I was an intense kid at that time. So this book is the first Dostoyevsky I've read in 47 years?? Something like that. I haven't really counted it up.

  3. Glad you're enjoying Winter in Paradise. It took me a while to warm up to it, but I'll most likely look for the second installment next winter. My current read is The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai - excellent so far!

    Pretty sure I gave up on Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead (as my copy was titled), but have wondered if I'd have done better with the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. They seem to be the best, in my opinion.

    1. Hi JoAnn,
      Was the copy of The House of the Dead a Penguin edition, by any chance? If so, then David McDuff was the translator. Although he's English, Penguin hired him to translate for an American audience. I have both books.
      But The House of the Dead is not really in novel form. It's written more as if it were a memoir. It's strictly episodic and consists of lots of character sketches and remembrances. I'll admit its a different kind of book from him, although I'm finding it interesting.

    2. It's been a while, Judith, but I'm pretty sure it was an old Penguin edition. Will be interested in your final thoughts.

    3. JoAnn,
      The post will be later in February. I've got Ken's cousins coming for President's Day Weekend, (weekend after this one--ouch--cleaning) and hope to explain what's going on in the world of Russian translation.

  4. I enjoyed A Small Town in Germany fairly recently, and also An Honourable Schoolboy. I intend to read my way through all of Le Carre's books - eventually.

    1. Katrina,
      I hope to read all of Le Carre's books as well. I do recommend his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel. It explains so very much and is so well done.

  5. I was quite a fan of The Four Seasons in my teenage years, adored their harmonies and still listen to them occasionally now, when I'm in the mood.

    Ah yes, reading to the bitter end and then wondering why you bothered. I do a bit less of that these days but it still happens. I'm not very good at abandoning books but am getting better.

    Never read any Le Carré but know I really should at some stage. Will you be reading more after this one?

    1. Hi Cath,
      Yeah, great harmonizing among them. You would definitely enjoy this film. I still have the tunes running through my head. "Sherry" accompanied me on my snowshoe today, and "Big Girls Don't Cry" was in my head all through my household chores yesterday.
      It is so hard to abandon a book once I'm truly in to it. I don't have the problem as much with regular fiction or literary fiction. I am able to retire those if they don't measure up. But thrillers...the waiting for the fireworks, and then a fizzle. I'm glad you're feeling you're able to abandon books better than you used to. It's an excellent skill to acquire (if only).
      Cath, I find Le Carre's novels to be so rewarding. I don't find him an easy read, by any means. But when I take the time to really focus (No, never a before bedtime read), I am abundantly rewarded by his keen insight into his characters' motivations, his characterizations, his sense of history, his intricate depiction of scenes, his intense dialogue, and his braininess.
      I read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold first. Then I listened to chapters from his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel (oh, so very good!). And now A Small Town in Germany. And yes, indeed, I will be reading more, in the near future for sure. By near future, I'm thinking the next one I read might be 2020, but one never knows.
      You know, the interesting thing about people our age and Le Carre is that we were alive during the Cold War, so that time is "under our skin," so to speak. I think a 20-something reader would have a hard time reading him.

    2. Thanks for your throughful reply about Le Carre and his books, Judith. I will give him a go as I particularly like keen insight into character and motivation in books. (People think Agatha Christie's a bit lightweight but my goodness she was good at that too. ) And you said the magic word, 'memoirs'! Was The Pigeon Tunnel good? I have Frederick Forsyth's memoirs, The Outsider, to read which might be along the same vein.

      Yes indeed, we were alive during that time, so hard to describe the atmosphere back then to people who were not. I'll be honest, there were times when I wondered if I'd done the right thing bringing two children into the world. They're now 45 and 42 so I think it was OK. :-)

    3. Hi Cath,
      I have "listened to" half of Le Carre's memoir The Pigeon Tunnel. That was a library borrow of an audiobook. It was a "it-blows-my-mind" fascinating memoir. And he narrated it himself, and oh, is he ever so good at doing that! I am so in awe of his reflections, insights, just everything that what I'll do now that I have the memoir in print is that I'll get the audio on Audible, and then at some point listen and read at the same time.
      This is because there was more than I could absorb by just listening. Amazing.
      It is so hard to explain what the times were like to younger people. I realize they are not as interested as I am, of course, but the funny thing is I was incredibly interested in the experiences of my parents in the Great Depression and in WWII and after they married in 1946. But I am known for being a history nut.

  6. I had no idea Jersey Boys was about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I have to see that. I love their music still.

    I hope I get to A Small Town in Germany this year. I did want to read le Carre's most recent book too but haven't done that yet either.

    I have a hard time quitting fiction books. The only one I quit in the last year or so was a chick lit mystery (400 pages and I tried to like it for 200 pages). I have given up on non-fiction because it will just sit around if I don't get involved or it isn't an important subject to me.

    1. Hi Tracy,
      You will love Jersey Boys. I hope you get Netflix, so you can see it without paying extra.
      I'm wondering which books of Le Carre's you've read?
      Hmmm... A chick lit mystery. I haven't come across one, which is probably a good thing.
      I agree with you about nonfiction, but because I like history and some biographies and memoir, I seem to find more than I can read.

    2. I do have Netflix, so I just have to find time to watch it.

      I read all the George Smiley books up to The Secret Pilgrim and A Legacy of Spies. I read A Perfect Spy and I loved it. That leaves a lot more to read and I have a good number of them.

      I am sure there are some good chick lit mysteries but this was not one of them. It was not coherent and it had another 200 pages to go.

    3. Tracy,
      You've read so many, it seems. I have a lot to catch up on. I'm so interested, though. I am NOT an espionage reader, but John le Carré totally transcends genre. His works are classics of literature, in my view.