What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

April 2014

 - Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Judy: Sculptor’s Daughter: A Childhood Memoir by Tove Jansson—I have just finished reading this delightful memoir. Tove Jansson is so steeped in her own childhood sensibility that she can bring it to us in all its freshness, strangeness and fecundity in the most pared-back prose. Her approach to the child, Tove, is respectful and compassionate. She takes her seriously. It is enormously refreshing.

Jack: Snatched from a pile to read during breakfast—and suddenly, effortlessly at page thirty, I'm anxiously considering the ethics of throwing a sick day. The Splendid Things We Planned by Blake Bailey observes a family attempting to hold the scenery together; parents drift apart in slow-motion; a gifted older-brother replaces home for NYU for an off-kilter existence on the streets of NY. And, as the author looks for presence in their absence, an unlikely writer emerges ('she put me in mind of a good-natured housemaid who tells your kids about Jesus while scrubbing the toilets'.) Blake Bailey, acclaimed biographer of John Cheever and Richard Yates, has produced a wonderful surprise. Incidentally, I'm on page 98 (of 254) and won't be at work tomorrow—I'm on a sickie until I reach the back cover!

Andrew: I'm at the end of the caustic delight that is Lorrie Moore’s Bark;  eight short stories set in (as one reviewer described it) the ‘tundra of middle age’, and her first new collection since 1998’s incomparable Birds of America. Lorrie Moore’s writing shines and shines, to paraphrase Shakespeare, like a good deed in a naughty world. She is disarmingly wry;  funny but shockingly trenchant in her observations of human character; caustic one moment and tender the next. Seductively jovial, as a writer she is akin to a party clown handing out booby-trapped gifts;  as a reader one tends to keep lining up for more, even though the fear is ever-present that one’s face is about to be blown off. 

Louise: I've just read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and greatly enjoyed it. It definitely sags in the middle, with WAY to many words, but the wonderful descriptions of painting, objets and furniture greatly compensated. Set mainly in New York, the city comes alive from the author's vivid descriptive prose, as we follow the journey.

John: The subtitle of David Vann’s A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea is no understatement. Vann tells of his misadventures in business, boat yards, and exotic locations in remarkably rich and exciting prose. The portrait of his struggle to make a successful life for himself as a captain & in business are almost as engaging as the stories of surviving freak storms and the limitless power of the ocean. I find it difficult to understand those in thrall to the sea, and David Vann most obviously is, but his story makes thrilling. Also, I was fortunate to be given a publishers proof of Jonas Jonasson's new novel The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden; dry Scandinavian with a touch of magical realism, due in May. Its a gem.