Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: THE BURNING GIRL, by Claire Messud

The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud. Published 2017 by WW Norton. Literary Fiction

It's too bad that this book, a consummate literary beach book, is coming out now, as summer is coming to end.

The Burning Girl is a novel by Claire Messud, author of the much-lauded The Emperor's Children and somewhat controversial The Woman Upstairs; when the latter was released, Messud did an interview defending her choice of an angry, unlikable protagonist: "Well, I think women's anger is unacceptable. We live in a culture that wants to put a redemptive face on everything, so anger doesn't sit well with any of us. But I think women's anger sits less well than anything else. Women's anger is very scary to people, and to no one more than to other women, who think my goodness, if I let the lid off, where would we be?"

In The Burning Girl, the angry girl, Cassie, is held at a distance and we see her only through the eyes of her friend Julia. The two girls are both only children, though Cassie's family is fractured and Julia's more traditional; they have known each other since they were little and are inseparable as the book opens.
Cassie and Julia start the summer volunteering at an animal shelter; Cassie is bitten by a dog and the ER doctor who treats her, a taciturn loner, ends up in a relationship with Cassie's needy mother. Things go downhill from here. Anders Shute, the doctor, is a difficult step-parent, and Cassie's image of her long lost father may or may not be a fantasy. And the girls, as different as they are similar, drift apart as growing up does its inevitable work.

The Burning Girl reminds me of Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, another sharp novel about growing up and the delicate friendship of girls. It would also be a good follow-up for readers of Elena Ferrante. I think The Burning Girl will make a wonderful book club selection; largely character-driven, there's a lot to talk about. It's beautifully written and will appeal to readers looking to maybe recapture a piece of their girlhood, or just those looking for a thoughtful and moving exploration of the fragility of youth.

Rating: Backlist

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.

Monday, August 28, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well I decided to DNF The Essex Serpent. So many books, you know?

I started reading Jon Papernick's There is No Other, a collection of short stories, and I'm really loving it. Each story is its own little world, with its own voice and sensibilities. Love it.

Otherwise the books are the same as last week- Roxane Gay's Hunger on audio and Anka Muhlstein's Monsieur Proust's Library on the nightstand. I expect to finish both this week. And then I'll have to choose two new books read!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: THEFT BY FINDING, by David Sedaris

Theft by Finding, by David Sedaris. Published 2017 by Little, Brown. Nonfiction. Memoir. Humor. Audiobook.

Oh how I love David Sedaris's memoirs. Way back when I remember splurging on a hardcover edition of Holidays on Ice, because I just had a feeling it would speak to me. And it did.

Anyway after reading his books steadily for the past 18-odd years I've decided the best way to enjoy him is on audio- he is a great narrator of his own work and really adds a whole new dimension with his expressions and voice. Thus even though I did run out and buy a hardcover of Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 as soon as it came out, I also jumped on a free audio version that offered to booksellers. What a treat.

At the very beginning Sedaris informs, or warns, us that this book is a very selective and incomplete edition of his diaries, which are far more voluminous than even this weighty tome would suggest. But what remains is vastly entertaining, bittersweet at times, at times obscene, crazy, or just plain silly and weird. It's also mundane, tender, jumpy, and intimate, and all these contradictory things at once. The narrative feels disconnected at times, since there is no real narrative, just a selection of events over time that give the reader some insight into Sedaris's priorities when it comes to observation, as well as his creative process and eye for detail. Some characters stand out; his relationship with his siblings always sits front and center, as well as his parents and his partner Hugh, who comes on to the scene about midway through this volume. Sedaris is cagey and economical about what he includes about the relationship; they meet, meet again, and the next we hear they are moving in together. It's not a lot but the particulars he chooses are enough to give a sense. I don't know why I'm particularly fascinated with this aspect of his life, but there you go.

Sedaris's voice joined me for a couple of weeks of bus rides and walks and he is a great companion. He says in the introduction that he doesn't expect readers to listen all at once, but "dip in and out" and this is just about what I did, listening for a few minutes here and there as I did errands, traveled around the city or relaxed at home or worked on crafts. I listened to quite a bit of it in the car, as my husband and I drove to and from Washington, D.C., two weekends ago. But for the most part I consumed the book in stolen moments.

And this approach worked well for a diary, written as it is in fits and spurts and crystallizing individual moments in time. Readers will travel with Sedaris all over the United States, to England, France and elsewhere, and from his early days of housecleaning and fruit picking through to his success as a writer. You'll get to know his family, especially his sisters and parents, and of course Hugh. You'll listen to experience his first successes and occasional struggles, like learning French or losing his cat Neil. Poor Neil.

Theft by Finding isn't laugh-out-loud funny like his polished memoir writing but it's so very enjoyable in a more low-key way. I could listen to him all day.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary audio copy from

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: THE MAKING OF JANE AUSTEN, by Devoney Looser

The Making of Jane Austen, by Devoney Looser. Published 2017 by Johns Hopkins UP. Nonfiction.

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death, and thus this year will see the publication of several books celebrating her life. Devoney Looser is professor of English at Arizona State and an Austen scholar, and she has produced an interesting and entertaining look at how we the reading public have come to understand and appreciate Austen's wonderful novels.

More academic in tone than Helena Kelly's Jane Austen: Secret Radical, Looser's book focuses on visual representations of Austen through the years, and how those representations have shaped the public's understanding of Austen and her works. She also touches on the ways, sometimes contradictory, that Austen's name and legacy have been appropriated for social or political ends. Kelly's book might actually serve as an example of someone interpreting Austen to serve a political agenda. But that is another discussion for another day.

Looser starts with a survey of early illustrations accompanying the novels, and tells us about the life of each artist who was important in establishing Austen's visual representations, as well as how the artwork itself served to create expectations in the public. She goes on to talk about theatrical productions and how they both defined Austen's works in their (the productions') own time and how those productions influenced the later adaptations that came to the silver screen. I wish she had spent more time on the cinematic adaptations of the modern day and how those continue to shape and direct the understanding of the general public of Austen and how they influence readers' understanding of the novels.

And she talks about how Austen was used by politicians and social activists, particularly during the suffragette movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Overall I thought the book was interesting and offered some worthwhile insights into the way we've read Austen over the years. I learned a lot about the weight the early illustrations carried, and how the theater was so important in both keeping Austen's books in circulation and shaping and evolving the understanding of womens' roles in the books. I will admit to finding it a little dry at times but Looser has written a book for the serious Austen fan rather than the casual one. But for that person, who is interested in digging deeper into the history of the novels and their popularity, The Making of Jane Austen is a great choice, and there is a lot to be learned from this volume.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, August 21, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished The Romanov Sisters and even had time for a quick graphic novel, Good-bye Marianne, by Irene Watts, about Nazi Germany and one Jewish family in which the child of the family, Marianne, manages to make it out and away to England on a transport arranged by her mother. It's beautiful and short and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

I'm still enjoying The Essex Serpent, started last week in holding for a Chinese television show and will continue today in holding for an American one. What would I do without background acting to give me time to read?

I ditched the audiobook of Girl in Snow and started Roxane Gay's Hunger, which I am loving either despite or because of its emotionally wrenching nature. It's a memoir about Gay's body- her struggles with weight, with being a victim of gang rape at age 12, and more. It's agonizing but rewarding.

And on the bedside table now is Anka Mulhstein's Monsieur Proust's Library, about the books that were important to Marcel Proust and his In Search of Lost Time. It's been a lot of years since I read Proust and reading about his book is tempting me back. She leads a Proust read-along at the Center for Fiction I'd love to participate in some day. We'll see!

Finally at the gym I started Elif Batuman's The Possessed, a kind of memoir about studying Russian literature. So fun. What are you reading this week?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Happy 10 Year Blogiversary to Boston Bibliophile!

Well, I guess that's that.

It's honestly hard to believe I've run this little website for ten years now. Every year I say that I'm amazed I'm still doing it, and every day (or week) I keep at it. I've had this blog longer than any job I've had and longer than I've had any individual cat. (I've been married longer than I've had the blog though!)

It's had its ups and downs but it's never been boring. I've made a lot of friends, read a lot of great books and had some fun experiences that never would have happened without this blog.

I'm not doing anything special to celebrate although I might spend the afternoon at a bookstore or library doing what I do. A macaron might be nice, too.

Thank you for reading and I hope you continue to do so.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Running Red and Blue

Someone I follow on Twitter said today, in a comment that was quickly deleted, that they thought the streets of our country could run red with blood and some people would still just tweet about how much they love books.

I am assuming, because I did not have the opportunity to discuss it, that this person was upset that more people were not using social media to comment about the recent Charlottesville violence.

As readers of my blog will no doubt have noticed, I do not use this forum to talk politics. Now if you want to follow me on Facebook you would see something very different. But I have made a conscious choice to stay away- far away- from social activism here. Not all bloggers do this; some are very engaged and use their blogs differently than I do. I made this decision for several reasons, but the main reason is basically that I don't want to attract negative attention, I don't want to be harassed (and I know people who have been); I just want to do my thing in my own little corner of the web, talk about books with you all, and share my love of reading and literature.

Is this the right approach?

Have you been disappointed with me for this reason? I can imagine some bloggers who are more issues-oriented might be.

During the election I just wanted to keep my blog free of the vitriol that I was up to my elbows in on Facebook and Twitter every day. Now I can't bring myself to introduce topics like our current president, white supremacy and Nazis-of-the-present-day into this forum.  I also dislike the pressure to mourn publicly, to try to gain some form of currency or credibility by using social media to display my private emotions. I dislike that there is pressure to prove oneself as on the right side through social media displays. I resent the peer-pressure tactics as if my private feelings are even anyone else's business. I have always tried to do what was right, treat people with respect, be on the right side of issues or at least listen, learn and grow.

And part of me thinks in the midst of all the insanity we're living through there should be places online where people can go for normality, for routine, for self-care and yes, a break from it all.

That's what I hope this blog has been, and what it will continue to be.

Review: LESS, by Andrew Sean Greer

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. Published 2017 by Little, Brown. Literary Fiction.

Arthur Less is a mess. About to turn fifty, struggling with growing older and just found out that his younger ex Freddy is about to get married, Less decides to travel his feelings away. A successful B-list writer of literary novels, Less has been invited to teach here, attend a conference there, go to a party in another place and take a writer's retreat in yet another locale. So he packs his suitcase with clothes appropriate for Mexico, Morocco, India and Italy, and off he goes.

Along the way we learn about Less's history- his first love, a Pulitzer-Prize-winner who mentored him the ways of love and life, his friend Carlos, who's seen him through a lot, and Freddy, the aforementioned younger ex, whose relationship with Less is a little like a reversal of Less's first relationship. Less is insecure, he's anxious and he's careful. But he can't hide from himself, from the onset of the years or from his destiny.

This is the first novel of Andrew Sean Greer's I've read, though now I want to read more. Less is charming and sweet, and yet all is not quite as it seems. Greer's narrator is playing some gentle tricks on us; he's not unreliable, exactly, but he is a personage of note in the book and he has an agenda, peeled back and revealed slowly until the tears of happiness come at the end of this light yet moving and emotional book. Bring a pack of tissues when you take this book to the garden or the hammock or the beach this summer. You will need them.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.

Monday, August 14, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished two books last week- Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, and Theft by Finding, and I read The Disappearing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell, a shortish book about a woman who'd been institutionalized since her teens and is let out in her 80s as the institution closes. What comes next really surprised me. I will try to get around to a full review so I can talk about it more. It's the kind of book you need a glass of wine to finish.

This week I'm starting on The Essex Serpent, one of the last of my designated summer reading books (I still have Brave Deeds to go). I'll be in holding this morning so I may have a good amount of time to get started.

I have four or five chapters to go of The Romanov Sisters and may finish this week. It's getting worse for them, and it won't get better.

On audio, I decided to try a novel, and picked Girl in Snow, by Danya Kukafka, which was pitched to me by the publisher and offered as an audio freebie for booksellers. It's been a while since I did fiction on audio and so far I'm enjoying it. I used to say that it was hard for me to do fiction on audio because fiction requires more of my attention than nonfiction and if I drift off I miss important things. So far so good but I'll keep you posted. The book itself seems to be bog-standard boy-fetishizes-dead-girl but I hope it moves on from that.

Still nothing new in the gym bag. I worked out last week but started on my backlog of magazines instead of a new book.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


The Literary Conference, by César Aira. Published 2010 by New Directions. Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver.

Argentine author César Aira's 2010 gem of science fiction hilarity is about a wealthy scientist who wants to take over the world by cloning the late Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes. More than this I cannot tell you, because the book is very short and consists mainly of the ruminations of this scientist about his pet project, and the consequences thereof.

What I will say is that if you enjoy your science fiction with a hefty dose of surreal comedy, this is the book for you. Or if you enjoy your surreal comedy with a coating of science fiction. Or if you just like books that make you scratch your head and laugh. Or if you can read.

I am a huge fan of Aira's and his books are my favorite literary treats. Short and perfect and unforgettable, please read The Literary Conference.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, August 7, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well I didn't finish any new books last week but I'm almost done with Andrew Sean Greer's delightful Less, about a man about to turn fifty and what happens when you decide to travel around the world to avoid your feelings. It's a fun and emotional read.

Still enjoying The Romanov Sisters, by Helen Rappaport, about the doomed Romanov family and their daily life. Rappaport focuses on the intimate life of the last tsar and his family and creates a melancholy picture of ordinary people born to extraordinary circumstances.

Finally I'm nearing the end of Theft by Finding, David
Sedaris's latest book, composed of diary entries. We drove down and back from Washington, D.C. this weekend and made a lot of progress in the car. I think I only have one or two hours left.

What are you reading this week? I'd love to know.

Friday, August 4, 2017

My All-Time Top Nine Blog Posts- Blogiversary Edition

My top nine most-viewed posts aren't what I would have predicted but it's really neat to see what you all are interested in reading. I don't have sponsor links on my reviews, so it's impossible to say which reviews have generated the most sales (if any) but here we go with my top nine.

Why nine? Because that's what Blogger will give me in terms of statistics.

The most-viewed review on my blog is The Master and Margarita: the Graphic Novel, by Mikhail Bulgakov and art by Andrzej Kimowski and Danusia Scheibal. I used to do a graphic novel review every week! This is a fun one but not one I would have thought would be so popular.

#2: Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. This is one of my all-time favorites and one I doubt I would have read without this blog. I got to meet Verghese at a book signing in Cambridge and he was super nice. Like way nicer than average. And the book is just, wow.

#3: Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan. Haha, my number one negative review is #3 overall. The comments on this post are the best. I love you guys.

#4: Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay. This book was super-popular and remains so. The movie was excellent and the book is not without its merits.

#5: FTC FAQ for Book Bloggers. This is a guest post that my husband wrote, when this stuff was a hot topic in the book blogging community. It remains a popular and often-viewed post, testament that it's still important to this community.

#6: Read-a-Thon 9am Post: For some reason, lots of you were really interested in the read-a-thon I did one time, to make a dent in my graphic novel backlog. Okay!

#7: We return to reviews with The Dinner, by Herman Koch. This book blew me away. So riveting and emotionally devastating, it's also very divisive and was a big book-club book when it came out in paperback. I still hand sell it all the time.

#8 The Wedding of Zein, by Tayib Salih. Oh how I loved this short, wonderful book. Go read it. Please.  It really makes me happy to see so much attention given to my review of this delightful novel. I hope lots of you went out and read it, too.

#9: My 2012 Holiday Gift Guide. It's a little dated, but the recommendations are still solid! Glad you all find it useful.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Women in Translation Month

August is Women in Translation Month; all around the bookish world you will see displays, blog posts, Instagram stuff and lots of articles and conversation about books by women translated into English, or women translators- or both.

In 2015 I posted about some of my favorite translated women; here is that list. In the last two years I've added a couple of names to that favorites list:

Therese Bohman is a Swedish writer who turns out reliably good thrillers. The latest to be translated into English is The Other Woman, about a young woman who gets involved in an affair with a married man. It's suspenseful but also very psychologically realistic.

Francesca Melandri's novel Eva Sleeps is moving and absorbing historical fiction about the Tyrol region of Italy post-World War 2. It's about a young unwed mother and her daughter.

And there are a bunch of new releases coming up this summer and fall to keep an eye on:

Suzanne, by Anais Barbeau-Lavollette comes to us from Quebec, is a woman's recreation of her grandmother's life- her grandmother who abandoned her family and became an artist. Translated by Rhonda Mullins. It came out in April and is available now from Coach House Books.

Go, Went, Gone, by Jenny Erpenbeck, is a German novel about the European refugee crisis. It comes out in September from New Directions. Translated by Susan Bernofsky.

Clara Beaudoux's Madeleine Project is the book form of a series of tweets documenting a treasure trove Beaudoux found in the basement of her Paris apartment building- the belongings of a 20th century woman named Madeleine. It was originally published in French and was translated by Alison Anderson. It comes out in September from New Vessel Press.

Belladonna, by Daša Drndic is "A timely parable on the perils of of growing old and infirm an unforgiving modern world." It was translated from Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth and comes out in September from New Directions.

And there are more! But more on that later.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE, by Sarah Schmidt

See What I Have Done, by Sarah Schmidt. Published 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press. Literary Fiction. Crime Fiction.

In 1892 Andrew Borden and his wife, Abby Durfee Gray Borden, were murdered in their Fall River home. Andrew's daughter Lizzie was tried and acquitted, but there was never really another serious suspect, and Lizzie was ostracized from her community following the trial. The Borden family was wealthy and both Lizzie and her sister Emma were able to live comfortably for the rest of their life.

Sarah Schmidt has written an absorbing and truly creepy book about the murders, oscillating in time and in point of view; we see the day of the murder, the build-up, the aftermath and the Borden family life from the point of view of Lizzie, Emma, their maid Bridget and an additional, fictional character, a professional killer named Benjamin with an agenda all his own. What emerges doesn't really shed any new light on the murders or offer any alternative theory of the crime, but it will make you want to keep the lights on just a little longer at night.

Schmidt brings the three women to life; Emma, the older sister, is devoted to the high-maintenance Lizzie but this devotion has come at a high cost to Emma and as the years wear on, she finds herself resentful and yearning for freedom. Bridget hates the Borden family more and more and also longs to escape. She has saved some money and hopes to leave as soon as she can arrange it. Then Abby Borden discovers her secret and her plans may come to naught. But the real star is Lizzie- of course- and Schmidt's Lizzie is a dazzling, hypnotic monster, a needy succubus who drains the life out of those around her, while herself locked in half lucidity, half madness. It is cliche to say Schmidt takes us inside the mind of a killer but this she does; Lizzie's chapters are manic chaos. She is a menace and a destroyer.

See What I Have Done is haunting and scary, a book to keep you up at night. You don't have to know a lot about the case to enjoy it but I would recommend perusing the timeline at the end of the book, or having a Wikipedia-level knowledge of it anyway. A great book for the beach bag, I have a feeling I'll be revisiting it at Halloween too.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.