Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May I interest you in a good book?

Read many good books the last few months (and a few not-so-good books, many of which I could not finish).

Following are my favorites, divided into Fiction and Non-Fiction.

As per usual, I've linked each book title to its Amazon page, where you can read a more in-depth description and see other readers' reviews -- and buy the book, if you so choose.

I also welcome your suggestions. So if you've read a good book recently, please leave a comment with the name and title and a brief description.  

Fabulous Fiction 

The Swinger by Michael Bamberger and Alan Shipnuck. Written by two senior writers for Sports Illustrated, who clearly know golf (and Tiger Woods), the book is basically a fictionalized -- and highly entertaining -- account of golfer Tiger Woods' fall from grace. Though the Tiger Woods character in the book, Herbert "Tree" X. Tremont, is far more sympathetic. And while I enjoy watching golf, and was a big Tiger fan back in the day, you don't need to be a golfer or a Tiger hater (or lover) or a guy to enjoy this book, though it helps.

The Time in Between by Maria Dueñas. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live through the Spanish Civil War or the Second World War in Spain, or Morocco, but thanks to Maria Dueñas' beautiful prose, I almost can -- in a good way. Told from the point of view of a young dressmaker, whose world is turned upside down several times by misfortune and war, The Time in Between is a story of fortitude, friendship, and fashion. It is also one of my new favorite books. Couldn't put it down.

Juliet by Anne Fortier. Reading this book made me want to book a flight to Siena, Italy, pronto. A tale of two sisters, the search for the real Romeo and Juliet, intrigue, hidden treasure, romance, and Italy! What more do you people ("people" as in women) want from a book? The perfect beach or hammock or vacation read.

The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss. Although set in Regency England, and populated with romantic characters (such as Lord Byron), The Twelfth Enchantment is not a romance novel (and not just because there is not a bare-chested duke nor a buxom lass on the cover). Rather, it is a work of historical fiction -- with an occult/fantasy twist -- concerning the Industrial Revolution and the Luddites... and witches (or cunning folk) and fairies and spirits. If you enjoy historical fiction, as well as fantasy books, I highly recommend The Twelfth Enchantment.

The Very Picture of You by Isabel Wolff. As a fan of Wolff's previous novel, A Vintage Affair, I looked forward to reading The Very Picture of You -- and it did not disappoint. This time the main character is a portraitist in her mid-30s, who, as she learns about her subjects' lives learns things about herself and her family. Anglophiles, lovers of chick lit, and those with an artistic soul should enjoy this book (whose target audience is women in the their 30s and 40s), which is an easy read.

Noteworthy Non-Fiction

Gilded: How Newport Became America’s Richest Resort by Deborah Davis. I love a good,descriptive subtitle,don't you? After reading Davis's book, Strapless (a fabulous biography of John Singer Sargent and Madame X), I was eager to see what else she had written, and picked up Gilded. Told in vignettes, Gilded neatly captures the Gilded Age history and characters of Newport, Rhode Island, though it also includes Newport tales from more recent times (including that of Sunny and Claus von Bulow). Filled with wonderful anecdotes and pictures, Gilded inspired me and a friend (who also read book) to drive to Newport and visit some of the "cottages" mentioned.

The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. Part art history, part memoir, The Hare with the Amber Eyes is one man's poignant search for the family history behind a set of Japanese netsuke (wood and ivory carvings) he inherited, which takes him to Paris and Vienna and Odessa. As a Jew, I was heartsick reading about the treatment of the Jews, even prominent ones, such as the author's great-grandparents and their extended family, in the early through mid-1900s in Europe, particularly in France and Austria, where much of the book takes place. A must read for lovers of art history, memoirs, and/or Europe before and during the Second World War.

(An interesting aside: Not long ago I read The Luncheon of the Boating Party, about Renoir's famous picture of the same name, which I loved. And one of the featured characters was an art connoisseur by the name of Charles Ephrussi, who happens to be Edmund de Waal's relative and is featured prominently, in a much different way, in The Hare with the Amber Eyes.)

Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Michael Gross. Hooray for subtitles! They make my job so much easier. Love the Met? Like a fun, gossipy read? Check out Rogues' Gallery. While I felt like I was slogging through the first half (or third) of the book, things definitely pick up when Gross gets to the mid-20th Century goings on at the venerable museum. Filled with interesting personalities and behind-the-scenes intrigue at one of the world's great museums, Rogues' Gallery is a must read for art history majors, New Yorkers, people who worked or volunteered at the Met (like me!), and anyone who ever wanted to know what it is like to attend one of the Costume Institute shindigs.

Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto. I picked up Spoto's biography of Marilyn Monroe because I am huge fan of Smash on NBC and didn't really know that much about the Blonde Bombshell, though I've seen most of her movies (several times). And although it's depressing as Hell, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography is a very well researched biography, albeit too focused on Marilyn's psychiatric care and death for my taste, that exposes the many myths surrounding Monroe's life, romances, and death. Fascinating.

Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach. Before stumbling upon this book at my local library, I had no idea who Gertrude Bell was or anything about the history or formation of Iraq. Boy, was this book an eye opener. The incredible story of an incredible woman, Desert Queen shows how (and why) things went so terribly wrong in the Middle East -- then and now -- and why any Western attempts to "fix things" or bring democracy to that region will most likely fail. To repeat myself, fascinating.

Note: To see previous Book Nook posts, click on the "Book Nook" label, below, or click on the "Book Recommendations" link in the right-hand column.


Betty Cracker said...

Great timing! I was just trying to decide what to read next...

friedlander said...

Have you read all these books???

J. said...

@friedlander, did you read the first two sentences of this post???