one.

the Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
 Meet the Lamberts; the parents, Enid and Alfred, and their grown children Denise, Chip and Gary. Alfred has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he’s getting worse. Enid wants all the kids and Gary’s family back home to St. Jude for one last Christmas, but this turns out to be hard to achieve.

Chip is dumped by his girlfriend, Julia, on the day his parents come visit and he leaves them to run after her. Instead he runs into her husband, who offers him a job in Lithuania. Gary is being overrun by his wife in daily battles and their kids usually side with Caroline. And there’s no way Caroline’s going to celebrate Christmas in St. Jude. And then there’s Denise, the little sister, who is a recognised chef and beautiful. But she has a tendency to fall for her bosses and/or their beautiful wives.

Are any of the Lamberts likeable? I found them more dislikeable by every book, and I guess that is one of the reasons why I liked the book so much. And there is so much dark humour in here. My absolute favourite part was when Enid and Alfred were on their cruise and they were seated with a Norwegian and a Swedish couple. That conversation was so spot on, especially with the whole Norwegian-Swedish rivalry. Hilarious!

I can’t believe I waited so long after reading Freedom, before I read this one. I seem to keep the good authors on my shelves for years and I get anxious if I have read all the works by them. Thus, I need to buy more Franzen books!

fifty-seven.

the History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005)
 “Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” 

Alma Singer is named after the woman in a book called the History of Love, which her mother is translating from Spanish to English. Alma is trying to figure out who the Alma in the book is. The other main narrator is Leo Gursky, an old man who went to America to look for his love after they got separated in a small Polish town during World War II. When he finds her, she is married to another man, but Leo is the father of the oldest son. Devastated, he spends the rest of his life alone.

There are plenty of other characters and their stories, and they are all fascinating. But the way all the stories eventually become one is the best thing about the book. And Alma Singer. I definitely loved it, and as always with books I love, I have a hard time coming up with smart things to say about them. Read it and find out for yourself why it’s great.

This was this year’s final book in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge.

fifty-three.

the Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)
“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so…” 

In 1923, Virginia Woolf is working on a new novel, later to be named Mrs Dalloway, while trying to pull herself together. In 1949 in Los Angeles, Mrs Brown is pregnant with her second child and it’s her husband’s birthday, but all she wants to do is lay in bed and read Mrs Dalloway. In present day New York, Clarissa, who is called Mrs Dalloway by her former lover, Richard, is holding a party for him as he’s dying from AIDS.

The book starts with the suicide of Virginia Woolf, and that really sets the mood for the rest of the book. I kept wondering whether both Clarissa and Mrs Brown would kill themselves as well. It is beautifully written, and I really like how Cunningham has included passages from Mrs Dalloway. It was a perfect read for my current mood, and it really hit home. Save it for your blue periods.

Another thing I discovered while reading this, is that I totally didn’t understand Mrs Dalloway at all. I definitely need to read it again, but it needs to mature for a couple of years first. I also need to watch the film again.

This was November’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle.

forty-two.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
“Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 
Jean Louise Finch, also known as Scout is barely 9 years old when she is witnessing her father, Atticus, defending the trial of his life. A black man has been accused of raping a white girl in the small town Maycomb, Alabama. But Scout and her brother, Jem, are also obsessing over their neighbour, Boo Radley, who has never left the house, and they do as much as they dare to get him to come out. And when he finally comes out, it is to save their lives.
Although it’s told through the eyes of the child, this book deals with many important topics; racism, class and gender. It is also based on Harper Lee’s personal life and the people around her, including Truman Capote, and a court case where her father defended two black men. 
I first read the book a couple of years ago, and I found it heavy and remembered very little of the story. I knew I loved it, but couldn’t remember why. I’m glad I reread it and I found it easy to read this time around. I love the way Scout tells the story. It is definitely a book I will read again and I must also get around to see the film. 
It is still an important book and a must-read. This was also the August book in Line’s 1001 books challenge
 “We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men. But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court.”

thirty-eight.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1963)
(first published in 1980)
Ignatius J. Reilly spends his days eating junk food, writing notes and screaming obscenities at the telly and his mother. After a series of unfortunate events which puts his mother in debt, he has to go out in New Orleans to look for a job.

Is it possible to like a book if you hate the main character? I really disliked Ignatius, and I know I should feel sorry for him because of his obvious mental state, but I just can’t. His obnoxious character annoyed me so much that I was at several occasions tempted to give up. I often skimmed the parts which were all about him, and especially his notes and letters. But luckily the rest of the characters made this book worth the read.

And yes, it is an absurd tale with some very interesting characters. All my sympathies went to Mrs Reilly and I also found her friend, Santa, hilarious. The rest of the characters make the story interesting, but some of them I found as annoying as Ignatius himself. The ending certainly made me think. And it almost made me root for Ignatius.

This was July’s book in Line’s 1001-books reading challenge.

thirty-four.

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (2001)
 Cannie discovers that her ex-boyfriend is writing a column about their love-life in a popular magazine. Most furious is she about the way he is describing her big body. Humiliated, she realises that she is not over Bruce yet and tries to get him to stop writing about her and get him back at the same time.
Cannie, why are you so angry? I definitely didn’t like her personality, and although she is meant to be snarky, I found her whiny and bitter. Yet there were many things I could identify with (and I guess every girl can). Still, she isn’t the kind of heroine I need or want.
Not my favourite genre by far, I read it because I had it up to here with wars and other sad and difficult topics I usually read about.  It is an entertaining story for sure, sort of a modern fairytale and quite predictable. Love the cover and I loved the author’s introduction more than Cannie.

thirty-two.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)

“‘ When one writes on psychiatry, one should have actual clinical contacts. Jung writes, Beuler writes, Freud writes, Forel writes, Adler writes – also they are in constant contact with mental disorder.’ 
‘Dick has me,’ laughed Nicole. ‘I should think that’d be enough mental disorder for one man.'”

Dick Diver is an American psychiatrist working in Switzerland where he meets a charming young rich American patient, Nicole Warner. Baby, Nicole’s sister, suggests that a doctor should marry Nicole so she would always have help. Dick then decides to marry Nicole, and they go to the French riviera to live. They live splendidly, with drunken parties and amazing friends. One of the people they meet, is Rosemary, a young American actress, who falls in love with Dick at the first sight. And Dick is not able to resist her, and he has to choose.

Fitzgerald is a master of writing about the rich and famous and intrigues. And this book has everything from love affairs to duels and the cover-up of a murder. I really enjoy reading about the Jazz Age and the glamourous lifestyle. The plot is also intriguing, and it is interesting to see how the characters change. My favourite scene was the break-up in the midst of Tour de France. Hilarious and sad at the same time. And what was the unspeakable thing Mrs McKisco witnessed in the bathroom?

A perfect book for lazy summer afternoons! 

twenty-nine.

the Sisterhood by Helen Bryan (2012)
Menina Walker was the miracle in a terrible storm in a South-American country when she was found alone in a fishing vessel with a medal around her neck and an ancient book. She was adopted by American parents and had a nice upbringing. Now, at nineteen, she is going to Madrid to research a medieval artist, but bad weather and a stolen purse eventually leads her to a remote convent. Bored out of her mind, she tries to make sense of the convent’s numerous paintings and starts reading the ancient book which has always been with her. And unveils a remarkable story about the convent and its secret gospel.
The same old story, just a new setting. Which means that it is predictable and I was right in all my guesses how it would turn out. Luckily, the setting, with the Spanish Inquisition and the Sisterhood, was to my tastes, otherwise I’d give up pretty soon as the plot and language in the beginning when you get to know Menina are terrible. 
It is definitely the historical context which saves this book. I have made notes to learn more about the Spanish Inquisition, both in Spain and South-America, about the Spanish settlers in South-America and the Incas. And it irks me that there is no Wikipedia page about the book, or author, yet as I’d like to know whether the convent and the Sisterhood are based on historical facts or entirely made up.
If you like the genre, you’ll enjoy it. And I have a feeling that this will be one of the summer’s must reads for many women.    

twenty-eight.

the Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)
 Most women did with themselves nothing at all; they waited, in attitudes more or less gracefully passive, for a man to come that way and furnish them with a destiny. Isabel’s originality was that she gave one an impression of having intentions of her own. “Whenever she executes them,” said Ralph, “may I be there to see!”
Isabel Archer is a young American who has been lucky to be picked by her wealthy English aunt to be her new project. Her aunt’s plan is to bring her into society and find her an English man. When her uncle dies, he leaves her most of his fortune, so Isabel suddenly becomes a rich lady who is in charge of her own destiny. She quickly turns down two marriage proposals, but the third one, to an American artist living in Italy, she says yes to. The marriage surprises both her family, friends and her former suitors because they do not like her husband, Mr Osmond.

The characters surrounding Isabel is the strength of this book. You have Ralph, Isabel’s cousin, who has a very ill health, but is enormously fond of Isabel. Henrietta Stackpole is Isabel’s American friend, who comes over to Europe to be a journalist and is very modern. Madam Merle is a woman of the world who doesn’t live anywhere, but spends her time visiting friends in all countries. Her two suitors, Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton are very decent men.

Although the book is good, it is way too long and it seemed to never end. In the first part, you get to know the characters who observe Isabel, but you never get to know Isabel herself. In the second, Isabel is finally letting us now some of her feelings and thoughts. And here you start to understand that when Isabel sets her mind to something, she follows it through, even if it’s bad for her and all her friends advise her to escape.

One thing which hit me is that all women, except Isabel, are living in very open marriages or are single. Her aunt spends only a couple of months in England with her husband, the rest is spent in Italy or travelling around. Henrietta is never going to get married, but have male companions. Countess Gemini is married, but dislikes her husband so much that she spends most of the time away from him.

Should you read it or not? Yes, if you like the good old classics and have no problems with a very slow plot and love characters. If not, I would steer clear. Unless you plan to cross of all the 1001 books you should read before you die. Then it’s not a choice.

twenty.

the Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (2013)
 “Fellow historians will be shocked, dismayed, and perhaps incredulous–I am daring to suggest that the Curse did not first manifest itself on June 4, 1905, which was the disastrous morning of Annabel Slade’s wedding, and generally acknowledged to be the initial public manifestation of the Curse, but rather earlier, in the late winter of the year, on the eve of Ash Wednesday in early March”.

 In the winter of 1905, Princeton was hit by strange events, deaths and people swore they saw ghosts and vampires walking around in the streets. For the prominent Slade family, the curse seems to evolve around them, and when the beautiful Annabel runs from the altar on her wedding day with another man, the scandal is complete.

The book description tricked me into buying this and reading it for Easter. Sadly, it didn’t scare me at all, yet I enjoyed reading about the happenings in Princeton. I really enjoyed all the famous persons in this book, from Woodrow Wilson to Upton Sinclair and Jack London. Although if Jack is portrayed correctly, I certainly lost a lot of respect for him. It was also interesting to read about the feminist and socialist movements and the way upper class families reacted to these trends. My favourite character was Wilhelmina Burr(?), and I was disappointed when she sort of disappeared off to art school and thus out of the story.

But I found the historian’s narrative really annoying, and confusing. And as I already said, I wish it had been more thrilling, although I really enjoyed those supernatural parts as well. Sadly I just wished I would reach the end, so I skimmed the last chapters which is probably the reason why I feel that I missed out on the whole explanation of the curse.

Joyce Carol Oates has done a great job with the setting of this book, and I simply forgot at times that this just came out and wasn’t a classic. This is the fifth book in the Gothic series, and I will definitely read the others, as well as explore more of Joyce Carol Oates’ books.