Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Length: 324 pgs.
Genre: Fiction, Modern
My Rating: 4 Stars

From Goodreads Description:

This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

I chose this as my next read after finishing The Great Gatsby. And it proved to be perfect! I am a fan of Towles’ writing. I’ve now read all three of his novels and loved every single one of them. Rules of Civility starts out in 1966 then backtracks to New Year’s Eve 1937. We are transported to 1930’s New York for the telling of the story. A story of a life, of several lives in fact, but centered around Katey Kontent. Towles’ beautiful prose makes you feel like you are right there. And bonus, there are so many references to books and reading and authors! Because Katey is a reader. Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, E. M. Forster, Dickens, Agatha Christie…Walden Pond, Great Expectations, Anna Karenina, Les Miserables…..just a mere sampling of the authors and titles mentioned in this book. As an avid reader, I loved that aspect of the book!

Towles is really good at atmospheric writing; and in Rules of Civility, he definitely achieves this with rich descriptions and ambience. The writing is beautiful, sophisticated, and brimming with nostalgia.

Quotes

It is a lovely oddity of human nature that a person is more inclined to interrupt two people in conversation than one person alone with a book, even if it is a foolish romance…” (p. 79)

It’s a bit of a cliché to refer to someone as a chameleon: a person who can change his colors from environment to environment. In fact, not one in a million can do that. But there are tens of thousands of butterflies: men and women like Eve with two dramatically different colorings – one which serves to attract and the other which serves to camouflage – and which can be switched at the instant with a flit of the wings.” (p. 117)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Length: 182 pgs.
Genre: Fiction, Classics
My Rating: 5 Stars

From the Goodreads description:

Jay Gatsby is the man who has everything. But one thing will always be out of his reach. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing, and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby—young, handsome, and fabulously rich—always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life he is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.

The Great Gatsby has been on my classics TBR for quite some time. And when my IRL book club began discussing what we might want to read next, I was excited that this book was picked! One of the members talked about Fitzgerald’s wonderful writing and I couldn’t wait to dive into the book. Well, it did not disappoint! I annotated the heck out of this book! 🙂


See what I mean? LOL I noted illusions to direction, dust, the overseeing “eyes”, things that stood out to me, and more. The last part of this edition I have is actually the short story Winter Dreams that Fitzgerald wrote. I read that it was the inspiration behind The Great Gatsby. And I definitely saw whispers of the novel in the short story.

Fitzgerald’s writing in this classic is beautiful, skillful, deep, smart. Truly phenomenal! There is so much that can be discussed. So many layers. Themes, motifs, connections to other literature. So. Much. There. In. These. Pages. In fact, our book club discussion went really long!

Fitzgerald wrote some very complex main characters. Gatsby, Daisy, and Nick all were so much more than they seemed on the surface. He also managed to really capture the spirit of the Roaring Twenties with all the grit and glamour. And his descriptive writing? Amazing! Here’s just a sneak peak at some of the beautiful descriptive language:

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees – just as things grow in fast movies – I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” (p. 3)

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling – and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.” (p. 6)

This novel is a glittering, stunning achievement in my opinion and one I will be reading again (and maybe again and again….)

What I’ve Been Reading Lately – January/February 2022

I feel like I’m still lagging a bit after getting sick towards the end of January. I am not sick anymore and feel fine. But my energy levels are up and down. So I am behind in posting. I kept looking at my laptop thinking – I need to write a post. I need to get a video made. And it felt too daunting. But here I am now. And here’s to hopefully being back to more regular posting now.

I got quite a bit read in January but not much read this month. Part of the reason for that is because I’ve been working on some projects. But another reason is because I’m in the thick of reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King. And I am taking my time. I am finding that it’s a book that I want to read quickly to find out what happens; but I want to read it slowly to make it last. Ever have a book you felt that way about? I am sticking with the read-it-slowly inclination. Some days only a few pages; other days more than few pages. I also have taken time to do a bit of research along the way as well. That’s what I love about reading historical fiction; you can go down rabbit trails looking up all sorts of events and people and just information in general that make the novel come even more alive.

Anyhoo….Here’s what I’ve finished reading in January and in February so far.

I’m sure you know by now that I am a fan of Fredrik Backman’s books. I had not tried to read Beartown until this year when it became an option to choose for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club Pick-Your-Own month in January. It did not disappoint! Solid 5 stars. Many reviews I’ve read talk about how this series felt like a departure from what most are used to in Backman’s books. Maybe it is. But to me, the qualities of human connection, of how he writes realistic characters, that is very present. I feel Backman is a very skilled writer who has the ability to evoke the readers emotions with his brilliant writing. Click HERE to read my review of Beartown.

Hiroshima by John Hersey tells the story of six people who survived what has been called the greatest single man-made disaster in history. The edition I have is an updated edition that includes a section where the author went back 40 years later to see what had happened to those same six people. This book not only chronicles their lives, but gives you a look at what exactly happened and the impact it had. This is one book I think everyone should read. Click HERE to read my full review.

All of the Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels I’ve read so far I would describe as quietly written, but very reflective and meditative. An Artist of the Floating World is largely focused on the narrator, Mr. Ono, and his looking back and reflecting on his life and the choices he made. But, in my opinion, it is also a great deal about the dynamics of family and friendships. I think that Ishiguro executed the skill of writing in this novel well. Click HERE to read my full review.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde was my pick for the February Classics Club Challenge. For what Wilde intended this play to be, a satire and farcical comedy, it is successful. For me, though, I didn’t particularly love it. It was just simply okay. Click HERE to read my brief review.

This was the February selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. The Unseen World is both a coming-of-age story and a family saga. Ada and her father, David, have had a peaceful life. But then things start popping up that cause Ada concern. She eventually is made aware of David’s hidden diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and little by little, she unearths things about David and his past that turn her world upside down. This was such a good read! Click HERE to read the rest of my review.

This was February’s flight pick for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. It had been on my TBR for a long while so I was excited to finally read it! Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore has mystery, intrigue, and an odd bookstore that stays open 24 Hours. It’s definitely a plot-driven novel. It’s fast-paced, fun, and easy to read. If you love books about books and bookstores and are looking for a lighter read, this might be a good pick for you.

This was the February pick for my IRL book club (that has been virtual since the pandemic started). Brideshead Revisited was my first Waugh novel and it had been sitting on my classics TBR for quite some time. In my opinion, this novel is largely a sweeping family saga. Click HERE to read my thoughts on it.

I have been slowly working my way through the A Series of Unfortunate Events books. I haven’t read one in quite awhile. And now that my daughter has picked up the books to read for the first time, I need to get a move on it and get the rest of the series read before she snags the rest of them off my shelf. LOL The Vile Village is #7 in the series and the village is just that, a weird, “vile” village that the Baudelaire children end up at. I have to tell ya, I’ve really enjoyed this series so far. What I particularly like is the clever, witty writing. And I just have to say, having Patrick Warburton play the narrator/Lemony Snicket in the Netflix series is absolute perfection! We are watching the series as my daughter reads. So when she finishes a book, we watch the episodes that take us up to the next book.

And that wraps up what I’ve read so far this year. What have you been reading lately?

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Length: 400 pgs.
Genre: Fiction, Classics

From the Publisher’s Description:

The wellsprings of desire and the impediments to love come brilliantly into focus in Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece – a novel that immerses us in the glittering and seductive world of English aristocracy in the waning days of the empire.

Through the story of Charles Ryder’s entanglement with the Flytes, a great Catholic family, Waugh charts the passing of the privileged world he knew in his own youth and vividly recalls the pleasures denied him by wartime austerities. At once romantic, sensuous, comic, and somber, Brideshead Revisited transcends Waugh’s early satiric explorations and reveals him to be an elegiac, lyrical novelist of the utmost feeling and lucidity.

Gosh. I really don’t know what to say. This really isn’t going to be much of a review unfortunately. I started out reading this book in print then went to audiobook. I think it was a mistake to switch to audiobook. I keep trying to increase my listening ability of fiction on audio. The Unseen World by Liz Moore really worked well for me on audio; but I thought maybe it was because I literally did nothing else while I listened to it. I listened to it at night before going to bed. I literally got in bed, turned on the audiobook, and just laid there and listened for awhile. So I thought maybe I found the key to listening to fiction on audio for me. I did the exact same thing with Brideshead Revisited and sadly enough, it just didn’t work for me. I really enjoyed the book starting out but after I switched to the audiobook, it seemed that I started to get bored with it. But not just that, it seemed harder to follow. I felt like I was missing things here and there so I would rewind and listen again. So the conclusion I’ve come to is that it might be one I need to read again at some point…and only read it in print. No audiobook. I’m thinking part of this could be a timing thing. So I’m going to put the book back on the shelf and leave a re-read of it for another time.

Having said all that, let me say just a wee bit about the book. This novel felt very somber and melancholy; although there was a bit of humor here and there. The blurbs I read about this book seem to all describe it as a look at the world of English aristocracy. And yes, I guess it does that. But what I got the most was that it was a family saga which is also character-driven. There were characters I definitely felt sorry for. There were things that frustrated me. But all in all, the writing style was good.

I am not rating this book because I really think I can’t do so until I’ve read it again. Has anyone read this book? What are your thoughts?

The Unseen World by Liz Moore

The Unseen World by Liz Moore
Length: 451 pgs.
Genre: Fiction, Modern
My Rating: 4 Stars

The Unseen World is both a coming-of-age story and a family saga. Ada and her father, David, have had a peaceful life. But then things start popping up that cause Ada concern. She eventually is made aware of David’s hidden diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and little by little, she unearths things about David and his past that turns her world upside down. This book is beautifully written. When you start reading this novel, you think the story is going to be centered on one thing. Then things shift and it becomes even more layered and nuanced. It is poignant. It is thought-provoking. It is heart-breaking.

I listened to the audiobook and had the Kindle e-book to follow along with as well. Both I checked out from my local library. Well crafted and compassionately written, this is one book that I plan to buy in print to have on my shelf as it is one I know I want to read again.

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Length: 76 pgs.
Genre: Fiction, Classics, Play
My Rating: 3 Stars

From the Goodreads description:

Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gwendolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack’s ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack’s country home on the same weekend the “rivals” to fight for Ernest’s undivided attention and the “Ernests” to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!

I was looking forward to a good comedy when I decided on this play by Oscar Wilde for my Classics Club February challenge. Being a play, I decided to go with an unabridged dramatized audiobook. Honestly, I was disappointed. I love a good comedy; and I did laugh out loud a couple of times at Wilde’s witty banter written into the dialogue. But mostly, I found the humor to be a bit too silly. I think this was what Wilde intended. After all, it has been described as a farce. So to that I think Wilde succeeded brilliantly. I will say that the dramatized audiobook I listened to was excellent! The actors did an outstanding job and made listening to the play more enjoyable in that respect. For what Wilde intended this play to be, a satire and farcical comedy, it is successful. For me, though, I didn’t particularly love it. It was just simply okay. However, I am looking forward to reading another one of Oscar Wilde’s works – The Picture of Dorian Gray!

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
Length: 200 pgs.
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

From the Publisher’s Description:

In the face of the misery in his homeland, the artist Masuji Ono was unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II.

Now, as the mature Ono struggles through the aftermath of that war, his memories of his youth and of the “floating world”—the nocturnal world of pleasure, entertainment, and drink—offer him both escape and redemption, even as they punish him for betraying his early promise. Indicted by society for its defeat and reviled for his past aesthetics, he relives the passage through his personal history that makes him both a hero and a coward but, above all, a human being.

Each time I’ve read an Ishiguro novel, I have struggled to find words to describe the books. And it is the same this time. I read An Artist of the Floating World as one of my picks for the Japanese Literature Challenge. With both The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, I rated them each 3.5 stars. They were good; but at the time I didn’t feel like they were quite to the level of a 4 star read. But here’s the thing, I began to notice that those books seemed to stay with me; and I found that I kept thinking about them for awhile, especially Never Let Me Go. The more I ponder them, the more I think they are 4 star reads.

So why did I once again go with a 3.5 star rating with An Artist of the Floating World? Because simply, even though it is well-written, it is probably not my favorite of the three Ishiguro titles I’ve read. Still, I have begun to really appreciate Ishiguro’s style of writing. And I am looking forward to reading another one of his books, The Buried Giant.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels are quietly written, but very reflective and meditative – as if you are a distant looker-on to the world created on the page, reflecting. And I certainly found myself reflecting on statements made in this novel. I found myself contemplating the narrator’s life; which I think is what we, as readers, are probably meant to do with this novel. Because this novel really is an introspection of Mr. Ono’s life over a span of years culminating in his later life, told in the present as he thinks back over his life. Yet this novel not only evokes contemplation of the narrator’s life, but also seeing a picture of the country of Japan as it was recovering after the war.

This novel is largely focused on Mr. Ono’s looking back and reflecting on his life and the choices he made. But, in my opinion, it is also a great deal about the dynamics of family and friendships. I think that Ishiguro executed the skill of writing in this novel well. Read the passages below and I think you will be able to get a feel for the writing style of this book.

Quotes

“And certainly, the house is one worth having suffered a few inconveniences for; despite its impressive and imposing exterior, it is inside a place of soft, natural woods selected for the beauty of their grains, and all of us who lived in it came to find it most conducive to relaxation and calm.” (p. 10)

“Retirement places more time on your hands. Indeed, it is one of the enjoyments of retirement that you are able to drift through the day at your own pace, easy in the knowledge that you have put hard work and achievement behind you.” (p. 40-41)

“My mother fell silent for some moments. Then she said: ‘When you are young, there are many things which appear dull and lifeless. But as you get older, you will find these are the very things that are most important to you.’” (p. 48)

“If one has failed only where others have not had the courage or will to try, there is a consolation – indeed, a deep satisfaction – to be gained from this observation when looking back over one’s life.” (p. 134)

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Hiroshima by John Hersey
Length: 194 pgs.
Genre: Non-fiction

Hiroshima by John Hersey tells the story of six people who survived what has been called the greatest single man-made disaster in history. The edition I have is an updated edition that includes a section where the author went back 40 years later to see what had happened to those same six people. This book not only chronicles their lives, but gives you a look at what exactly happened and the impact it had.

This book had originally been written as an essay that was published in The New Yorker. According to the publisher’s description for the book:

The New Yorker of August 31, 1946, devoted all its space to this story. The immediate repercussions were vast: newspapers here and abroad reprinted it; during evening half-hours it was read over the network of the American Broadcasting Company; leading editorials were devoted to it in uncounted newspapers.

Hersey’s book has been called a journalistic masterpiece. In this work, he effectively brings to light the horrific impact and effects of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. This book is gut-wrenching to read. It is haunting. It is raw. It is harrowing. And I think it is such an important book for people to read.

The Back Cover of the Dust Jacket of the Hardback Edition Pictured Above

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Length: 415 pgs.
Genre: Fiction, Modern
My Rating: 5 Stars

When I first started hearing about the novel Beartown several years back, I heard it was very good but had a number of trigger warnings. And I thought, this just might not be the book for me. So I didn’t think more about it. I just figured this would be one Backman book I probably wouldn’t read. Fast forward to about a month ago when Anne Bogel announced to all of us in the MMD Book Club that we were going to have a pick-your-own-read book club selection for January 2022. The MMD team picked six different previous book club selections for us to choose from and Beartown was on that list. By that time, I had read four Backman titles and Backman had become a favorite author for me. So I decided to choose this book for my January selection and just dive into it. Being a highly sensitive person, I wasn’t for sure how it was going to go given the warnings for some hard content. Y’all, yes…this book was hard to read. I had to take it slower for a good half to three quarters of the book. But oh my – it was also absolutely phenomenal! I am so glad I read it!

The story centers around a cast of characters that live in a town called Beartown. In Beartown, hockey is everything. The town needs hockey for it to keep going. But this need puts a lot of pressure on the hockey team – both its players and all the management – as well as the families. The very opening lines of the book are devastating and also completely ambiguous, leaving you trying to figure out what happened from the very start. Because the book starts with something that happens at the end then backtracks. All the various characters in this town, their stories begin to weave together in such an effortless way. Through Backman’s skillful writing, you see all kinds of possibilities and are left to wonder exactly what happened in the opening. It is a roller coaster of a ride but so worth it. This is a book you will want to read with at least one other person so you can talk about it. Trust me. I am thankful I had a friend to buddy read this with.

Because Backman starts by introducing quite a few characters from the very beginning, I was concerned I would get characters confused. So I tabbed introductions of new characters as well as character descriptions with yellow book darts. That way I could be able to look back and reference them if I found I was getting confused on who was who. But I ended up not needing to do that because Backman’s writing in this novel is seamless and masterful. The way he structured it and wrote it, I knew who the characters were, didn’t get characters confused, and continued to learn more and more about them as I progressed through the book.

I finished reading Beartown over a week ago and I still can’t seem to find the words to adequately describe Backman’s brilliant writing in this book. The novel is emotive, heart-wrenching, engrossing, and powerful. And I loved how Backman weaved insightful statements throughout the book. Statements like:

“All adults have days when we feel completely drained. When we no longer know quite what we spend so much time fighting for, when reality and everyday worries overwhelm us and we wonder how much longer we’re going to be able to carry on. The wonderful thing is that we can all live through far more days like that without breaking than we think. The terrible thing is that we never know exactly how many.” (p. 59)

“There are plenty of things that hurt people without people ever really knowing why. Anxiety can act as internal gravity, shrinking the soul.” (p. 111)

“Loneliness is an invisible ailment.” (p. 138)

“One of the first things you learn as a leader, whether you choose the position or have it forced upon you, is that leadership is as much about what you don’t say as what you do say.” (p. 244)

I will say it again. Beartown is not an easy read. But it is a phenomenal read and a powerful read. I will definitely be reading the sequel. Just not yet. I need some space and time to sit with Beartown before moving on to the sequel. Because I am still thinking about it.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Length: 1237 pgs.
Genre: Classics
My Rating: 5 Stars

Edmond Dantés is a kind-hearted, loving person who one day finds himself imprisoned. He has no idea why and is completely innocent. What unfolds is a complex, nuanced, intricate plot that is certainly a tale of revenge; but it is so much more than that. Dumas masterfully developed a story that raises questions and makes the reader think.

Dumas’ writing and all the details that composed the intricate plot of revenge utterly astounded me! As with Les Misérables, the little details aren’t simply filler. They matter. They all work together and connect. By the end, you see how it all ties together.

Dumas managed to create a narrative that the reader can get lost in. It is very atmospheric with descriptions that pull you into its world – from the dismal, grim Chateau d’If to the Island of Monte Cristo to the Count’s Paris. It is an epic journey that is both character-driven and plot-driven. And the ending! It was sheer perfection! It left me wanting to cry because it was such a beautiful ending.

The Count of Monte Cristo joined the ranks of Les Misérables in my list of favorite books of all-time. It is a solid 5 star read!