Book Notes

Just a few thoughts for a Friday evening. Since finishing Infinite Jest, I’ve been focusing on Laurie King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which I’m reading for my non-mystery book group, even though the book happens to be a detective novel. I’m almost finished with it, and I’ll write a proper review later, but my conclusion will be that the book is a disappointment. It has many potentially interesting things in it, but it never manages to pull everything together to be a really engaging read, and if a detective novel isn’t an engaging read, there’s a problem. From what I’ve heard from my book group friends, I don’t think there will be much controversy over this one; everyone so far has agreed it’s not that great. Oh, well.

I received one new book in the mail this week: Robert Dessaix’s Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev. I know nothing about Dessaix and have never read Turgenev (although I’ve been meaning to for a long time), but this book interested me because it’s a combination of memoir, travel narrative, and literary history, and I love books about books and writing that mix genres in this way. This is what Publisher’s Weekly says:

While the problem of irrational love in a world of reason is the dominant theme, Dessaix’s work explores much more: Russian theology, the experience of being far away and therefore barbarian in European eyes, the modern confusion of the erotic with the sexual, and of course, the problem of death.

And on the topic of books about books and writers, I recently learned that J.C. Hallman will be publishing a very interesting-sounding anthology called The Story About the Story, a collection of essays by writers about writing. The Table of Contents looks absolutely fabulous. It has selections by Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Salman Rushdie, Cynthia Ozick, Geoff Dyer, Randell Jarrell, Susan Sontag, and a whole bunch of other great people. The idea is that these selections are personal approaches to literature — great writing about great writing. (As I look over the Table of Contents I’m wondering why he didn’t include a selection from Nicholson Baker’s U&I, but, of course he couldn’t include everything).

Amusingly enough, I found out about the book on this blog, in the comments of which I called Hallman an impolite name (if you read the post, you’ll see why), and then Hallman himself appeared and responded. The internet can be such a great place, can’t it? I love it that people can be having a book discussion and then all the sudden the author can show up and contribute. Even if I do get caught out being impolite…

After I finish reading Laurie King, I’m not entirely sure what I will pick up next, although perhaps something I’m more likely to like, perhaps something older and canonical. Or perhaps an interesting nonfiction. We’ll see.


Filed under Books, Fiction, Nonfiction

18 responses to “Book Notes

  1. I’m at the LebowskiFest in Minneapolis this year, so I’m a bit drunk, but I appreciate this (mostly) kind post…

    Check out The Story About The Story…


  2. I’m sorry to hear that The Beekeeper’s Apprentice hasn’t been a success. I love that whole series, but I do think the first book is the weakest. Book 3 is where she really hits her stride.


  3. Ooh what a coincidence! I’m reading that Robert Dessaix right now and I can assure you it’s excellent. He writes so beautifully.

    The discussion with Hallman was quite a hoot, actually. Ah, only in the virtual world!


  4. Sarah

    I agree with Teresa that the Mary Russell series doesn’t really get going until book 3, as King lays the groundwork and writes episodically in the earlier books. I’ve enjoyed it though, as I have a deep love of the Holmes stories.

    Dessaix is a well known essayist and novelist here in Australia. The work of his I’ve read (including Travels with Turganev) has been wonderful- lyrical and thought provoking. I’ve been meaning to read his latest (Arabesques), another genre blending book focusing on Andre Gide, so thanks for the reminder!


  5. Laurie King’s first book is a bit of a mishmash and it took me a while to get through it as I never quite felt that ‘I can’t put this one down’ urge! If you do think you feel the inclination to give her work another try, she really does get better! The Dessaix book sounds interesting–your posts on books like these always make me want to read outside my comfort zone…now if only I would do it!


  6. Lisa

    I was thinking of reading it because of my growing interest in beekeeping. But I haven’t even read much Holmes.


  7. The King books get progressively better as you go. (Is there in echo in the comments today?) I hope this one reading experience does not turn you off of the rest. I kept reading because I am such a Holmes fan, and I loved seeing the female patterned version of an uber detective. And I am glad I did.


  8. I’m sorry to read that King was a disappointment, but I might try her anyway at some point. I’ve read some pretty awful mysteries (thank goodness for Book Mooch) but am glad I tried them.


  9. Too bad the Beekeeper’s Apprentice is disappointing. The Dessaix books sounds very interesting though. The internet is a marvelous place. I’ve been impolite before too and made to feel guilty for it. It is easy to forget (and always a surprise when reminded) that anyone and everyone can read what you say. I hope Hallman’s book ends up being fun. It sounds good.


  10. Thanks for tipping me off to the Hallman book–and the exchange with him. I looked at his pieces at Tin House and they are pretty provocative; I’m trying to think of how, if at all, I might respond to some of his dismissive generalizations.


  11. Since you mentioned Turgenev, I remember when I was growing up in Hong Kong, the translations of Turgenev’s works was quite popular (into Chinese)… we had to read his stories even in grade school or junior high. I’ve never read any Turgenev in English.


  12. J.C. Hallman — and thank you for being much nicer to me than I’ve been to you!

    Teresa — I’ve heard from so many people that the series gets better, that I may keep going with it, at some point at least. Perhaps I can find others on audio, which would be a great way to test the others out.

    Litlove — oh, wonderful, I’m glad you’re reading and enjoying the Dessaix. If you feel like posting your thoughts on the book, I’ll read them with great interest!

    Sarah — I love genre-bending books, especially when they are about other books! I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed his books. Perhaps the Turgenev book will inspire me to read others he’s written, which would be great.

    Danielle — I did start to get into the story towards the end, but it did take forever to get any momentum going. The real story is about the relationship, not about any detecting going on. But I might give later books in the series a chance, we’ll see.

    Lisa — I think you don’t really have to know the Holmes books to appreciate King’s series. A little bit of knowledge helps, but you can still appreciate the book without it. And bees do become important in the book on the metaphorical level, which is interesting.

    Frances — it’s good to get so much confirmation that it’s worthwhile to keep going in the series! It was fun to read about a female match to Holmes, and it made me want to read more Holmes stories.

    Debby — I’d say the King book is pretty respectable and not awful at all, just not top-notch. If you want to borrow my copy, just let me know!

    Stefanie — I prefer to forget that authors can read what I write, because I don’t want to worry about it and don’t want to feel limited in what I say. But that means sometimes I do get surprised. Oh, well, this time it went quite well, actually, because Hallman is going to send me a copy of his book! My rudeness has paid off 🙂

    Rohan — I’m looking forward to reading the Hallman anthology, but I don’t like much of what he’s said about literature. I’d certainly love to read your response, if you ever write one!

    Arti — I didn’t know Turgenev was popular in China — do you know why that is? What I should do, of course, is read some Turgenev, and then read Dessaix’s book.


  13. Ann

    I have the Laurie King on order from the library after reading about it somewhere, but I trust your judgement, so I’ll wait now and see what you have to say about it before collecting.


  14. <i.I’d certainly love to read your response, if you ever write one!



  15. Ann — I hope to write a review after my book group meeting on Friday. I trust what the others are saying, though — that the first one isn’t so great, but that the series gets better as it goes along.

    Rohan — I’m going to give your response a good read as soon as I can.


  16. Looking forward to your final review of the Laurie King. I loved that book when I read it years ago, but I didn’t like the second one in the series so much and never returned to it (although many tell me she gets much better). I went on to read another one of her books (not in a series) and didn’t like it at all, so kind of gave up on her until I started reading blogs and decided that at some point, I might give her another try (what an influence blogs have on me!).


  17. Emily — interesting that you’re the first one I’ve heard who loved the first book. Apparently the third one is where she really gets going, so it might be worth you while to try her again…


  18. Pingback: This Week in My Classes Revisited, with Some Thoughts on J. C. Hallman » Novel Readings - Just another WordPress weblog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s