Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Classics Club Spin: The House of Mirth & Other Book News

The Classics Club Spin turned out to be very lucky for me because I'm so in the mood to read my #19, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.
In the late 1990s I read Wharton's The Age of Innocence and enjoyed that, and learned a great deal from it. At the time I was reading it partly to inform myself about upper-class society and manners in New York, because I was writing a novel set in Boston during the same time period--"The Gilded Age"--the late 1880s. The novel is still deeply buried in a drawer, but I have fond memories of writing it over a period of several years.
So The House of Mirth is now in transit to the wilderness, where I hope to begin reading it later this week. It's 400 pages, so I need to make it a priority.

In the meantime, I've been reading Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym. (This is a Goodreads link. Go directly to the reviews and NOT the horrible brief synopsis of the book--gads.) I must read a Pym novel at least once each year. I am purchasing them all in paperback because I want to go back and read each one again. Pym is so sharp, so witty, so adroit that I'm really a devotee of her work.

I'm also thoroughly deep into reading the memoir Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by the English writer Sarah Moss, about the years she, her husband, and children lived in Iceland just after the financial crash and after the failure of some of Iceland's banks in 2010. The memoir is all about an English family struggling to live in Iceland--physically, culturally, nutritionally. It is immensely fascinating. What an eye-opener-- What an extraordinary (and unusual!) culture.

I first read Sarah Moss in 2011 or so, when I read her novel Cold Earth, which is a mystery of six archaeologists in Greenland, who are excavating what they hope was once a Norse colony. I don't remember the details, but I do recall enjoying it and refusing to send my copy to the library book sale in case I want to read it again.

Moss has a new novel out this year, Ghost Wall. I took it out in late February and had to return it without reading it. So now I have it out again. It's a short novel about a family taking part in an archaeological dig in England, of an Iron Age site. They opt to live as Iron Age dwellers and so, the story. I think this one has some dark overtones.


  1. Names for the Sea sounds very good. It is hard to imagine that the financial crash was that long ago and is turning into history.

    I think that House of Mirth is s great book. It is very sad and depressing. I thought it was much darker then The Age of Innocence.

    1. Hi Brian,
      I'm glad you liked The House of Mirth, despite the sad contents. Women had so little control over the course of their lives no matter sometimes how hard they tried, and one mistake could sink women permanently.
      I hope you get some time to curl up with some good books this spring!

  2. I think you'll enjoy The House of Mirth, so beautifully written. Wharton wrote a number of excellent ghost stories too, which is how I first discovered her in fact.

    Names for the Sea has been on my radar for a while, I must check to see if I've registered it on Goodreads as it would be good to read for the European challenge. I'll be interested to hear what you think of it. I must look into Cold Earth too.

    1. Whoa, Cath, Wharton wrote some ghost stories?? Will have to look into that. I'm so looking forward to The House of Mirth. The book is due to arrive on my doorstep tomorrow via UPS. They're the only carrier that reliably comes to the door. They are saintly. We had to say farewell to our beloved Carson who retired on Christmas Eve. He delivered a package and there were hugs all 'round while we wished him the best. (How we miss him.) UPS has not been able to find a permanent replacement. Just think--it is a very difficult route, especially in winter. And when I think of how bravely Carson dealt with it for so many years! His permanent replacement has been fired, I've been told by some of the temps. He couldn't handle the difficulties. So Sad!
      Names for the Sea is perfect for the European Challenge, Cath. I'm really enjoying it. I think I'd enjoy living in Iceland for one year, and that would be it! So fascinating, though. Personally, I think you will love it, based on what I know about you and your love of armchair travel.
      I think that you would like Cold Earth. It's a bit creepy, but in a satisfying way!!
      I do hope you're recovering from your cold. You need some really warm sunny days to make you right again.

    2. Yes, thank you, recovering quite nicely from my cold, it's been a bit of a nasty though.

      Loved hearing about your UPS chappy, how sad to lose someone like that. I hope they find a replacement soon. We lost our lovely lady postwoman several years after we moved here. She didn't retire, just moved to an easier route, which made me feel quite guilty as we have an exhaustingly steep drive which I'm sure was not helpful to her.

      I now have Names For the Sea on my library pile. My grand-daughter helped me find it today as the library had it squirreled away in a hidden corner, luckily I had its Dewey number. I also picked up another Icelandic book, The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson, it looks excellent but will give me a dilemma when it comes to the European Reading challenge.

      We're off for a few days, taking our grand-daughter back to uni (it's an exam term for her, she's nervous but as she picked three firsts in her January exams, I'm not) and then on to Malmsbury in Wiltshire for 3 days. Back on Friday. Have a good week.

    3. Cath,
      I'm so glad you've got Names for the Sea in your grips now. How nice of your grand-daughter to help you unearth it! I do wonder how old she is. And I think how lovely it must be to have grandchildren.
      Gee--I think The Darkness is the Ragnar Jonassen that I read last year. I liked it. But I want to read his books in the order in which they were published in Iceland. This is proving to be very difficult to find out.
      Congratulations are in order to your grand-daughter for getting three firsts in January.
      And Malmsbury in Wiltshire. I am going to look that village up online. A good week to you as well.

    4. Our grand-daughter, Ruth, is now 18, a very typical science nerd who has always been a keen reader of YA fantasy and horror novels. I'm positive that being a reader has helped her get as far as she has as she excelled in all subjects, particularly English. We all thought she would go that way but no, it turned out she's a physics girl, so there you go. I read an article a while back which said that it was not at all uncommon for kids who're reading addicts, as she was and is, to go into the sciences. Interesting.

      Well Jonasson has two series out now. The first series, Dark Iceland, has 5 books in it and the order is so confusing that I haven't read beyond the first book (Snowblind). The second series, Hulda Hermannsdottir, is only 2 books in, The Darkness (which I'm reading now) being the first book, so I feel this is much simpler to follow on with. I'll get back to the other series at some stage but do find it very off-putting when there's so much confusion about order.

      Well I must go and pack. Will answer your comment on my blog post later in the week.

    5. Cath,
      So glad to have the additional bit of information about your grand-daughter.
      Yes, I read Snowblind last year, prompted by your suggestion. If I end up with any time at some point, I'll try to figure the whole mess of the order out.
      Have a great trip!

  3. You're in for a treat with The House of Mirth. Jane and Prudence was wonderful, too. There is a Pym novel waiting for me in NY... maybe I'll get to it this summer.

    I decided to sit out this round of the CC Spin. Classics just aren't calling to me this year. Doesn't bode well for the Back to the Classics challenge, but I have been enjoying a lot of nonfiction.

    Names for the Sea is one I've not heard of, but after recently finishing Burial Rites, it sounds very appealing! Off to check the library catalog now...

    1. Oh, JoAnn, I can't wait for the book to arrive. It's due tomorrow (Thursday) on my doorstep. So eager to dig in.
      And gosh, now you have me guessing. Do you recall which Pym novel is waiting for you up North?
      I haven't read a bad one. I just get such a kick out of them. Such droll humor--it really gets me laughing, which I love. In Jane and Prudence, as in other Pym novels, so many good foods are still hard to get. I wish you all more than a boiled egg for lunch! Do you remember in Jane and Prudence when Jane and her husband are so delighted during their first night in the vicarage to have liver! And poor Prudence, coming to stay for the weekend in November and the house is so cold. Her hot water bottle chills instantly after going to bed. Pym is a wonder, in so many ways, and is, although she wouldn't have known about it or admitted it, such a feminist. So enjoyable.

      Classics certainly weren't calling out to me in 2018 or in 2017, so I totally understand. You must read and you need to read what you most feel like reading. That's all there is to it, JoAnn.

    2. Judith - A Few Green Leaves is the Pym novel waiting for me. I've read most of her novels now and even tried to make a cauliflower cheese once... not a big hit with the family, but I appreciated its literary roots ;-)

    3. I'm wondering if you made the cauliflower cheese from the recipe in the Barbara Pym Cookbook.
      And yes, I, too, will eventually read A Few Green Leaves.

  4. I heard Moss on the radio talking about 'Ghost Wall' and am eager to read it. We share the same fascination for bogs. I have to say, though, your abandoned manuscript made me sad. I hope you are still a writer?

    1. I, too, find bogs fascinating. Where I live, I have a beaver pond/freshwater marsh nearby that is transitioning to a bog. Each year more and more peatmoss grows in clumps, gradually overtaking the other clumps of vegetation. And when I lived in Massachusetts, I lived very close to an unusual Atlantic white cedar swamp and bog.
      Oh, yes, I still write and consider myself a writer more than anything else. I wrote books of nonfiction history for quite a number of years, but I don't think I have what it takes to be a novelist. Thank you so much for asking!

  5. Names for the Sea sounds very interesting. I have read a mystery that mentions the financial crash in Iceland, but it would be good to read about in a non-fiction book.

    I finished The Woman in White a few days ago and liked it very much. So glad you encouraged to read it, because otherwise I would never have read it, partially because of the length.

    1. Hi Tracy,
      I'm so glad The Woman in White worked out for you, despite the length. I think you read it very quickly!

  6. The House of Mirth is one of my absolute favourites but RATS! I was going to have a read-along of it sometime in September. Oh well! Perhaps you can jump in with some of your comments then. But until then, I hope you love this amazing novel as much as I did. Wharton crafts a masterpiece!

    1. Hi Cleo,
      I think The House of Mirth is a classic that I would definitely read more than once. There's so much in it--full of depths.
      I'd jump in if you have a read-along in September. Sounds like a great idea.

  7. Sarah Moss is rather a booktube darling so I've heard all about her but never read any of her books. I don't think she is so well know in the U.S. (yet).

    The House of Mirth is amazing. I'm glad your urge to read it coincides with the challenge spin...that doesn't always happen I bet.

    I am savoring Barbara Pym as a first time reader. One or two books a year. I have a copy of Jane and Prudence but haven't gotten to it yet.:D

    1. Hi Ruthiella,
      Gosh--I guess I'm clueless about booktube. I first became aware of Sarah Moss with her first published novel in 2010, Cold Earth. But you're right, I'm sure she is much less well known here.
      Which Barbara Pym novels have you read? So far I've loved Excellent Women, very much liked the quirky Quartet in Autumn, and I did like Jane and Prudence. It was very interesting to read the last half of Jane and Prudence alongside the first 75 pages of The House of Mirth. Those marriage issues for women!

    2. Hi Judith,

      Booktube is one of my favorite ways to waste time NOT reading but listening to others talk about reading.

      I've read from Pym: Some Tame Gazelle, Excellent Women, Less Than Angels, Quartet in Autumn, No Fond Return of Love and A Glass of Blessings.

      Excellent Women is the finest of them so far but I have enjoyed them all. Once you get her sense of humor, her books are so funny!

    3. Ruthiella,
      I've looked up Booktube--I somehow or other have missed it. Will have to check it out.
      Pym is so very funny. When I read my first Pym novel, Quartet in Autumn, I didn't know what to think at first! And then the drollness of it all really hit me. And I was a devoted fan of Pym forever after.