My Ántonia

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Read 08/10/2017-16/10/2017

Rating: 4 stars

I chose this book for Nebraska in the US Road Trip reading challenge that The Reader’s Room ran from July to September. I didn’t manage to complete the challenge, but I’ve decided to carry on because I’m enjoying discovering new-to-me American authors. I hadn’t heard of Willa Cather. My Ántonia has a 34-page introduction in the Oxford World’s Classics edition that I borrowed from the library, which I skipped to read the novel, but then didn’t return to because I didn’t want someone else’s academic critique to spoil the book with earnest dullness. Maybe it wasn’t dull at all. (It looked dull.)

Anyway, to my hopefully not dull critique of the novel! Jim Burden, a New York-based lawyer for a railway company, encounters an old friend on a train journey across Iowa. They begin to reminisce about a woman, the Ántonia of the title, whom they both knew in Nebraska when they were young. Continue reading

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The Maid’s Version

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Read 17/09/2017-20/09/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

According to a quote from Roddy Doyle on the front cover of The Maid’s Version, Daniel Woodrell is one of the world’s greatest novelists. I hadn’t heard of him until Missouri came up on the US Road Trip Challenge and I was hunting around for a book set there or written by a local author. I discovered that he wrote Winter’s Bone, on which the film I’ve started watching a couple of times but never finished is based. My local library doesn’t have its own copy of Winter’s Bone, so I borrowed The Maid’s Version instead. I found the opening scenes of the film version of Winter’s Bone visually dark and grey, so I was expecting The Maid’s Version to be the same. I was wrong. It started muted but, as it progressed, there were bursts of colour. Continue reading

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

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Read 12/09/2017-17/09/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

It’s a funny old thing, time. Gwen and I have been chatting in the comments over on her blog about how our attitudes to books and their authors change over time, and how where you are in your life can affect how you react to a book, from thinking it’s the best thing ever written to throwing it down in disgust before you’re even half way through.

That’s almost where I am with Bill Bryson. Continue reading

The End of the World: A Love Story

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Read 19/08/2017-26/08/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

I hadn’t heard of Edward Eggleston before. I’m unsure how well known he and his brother George are in the US, but they were certainly celebrated in life and their home in Indiana is now an historical monument. I needed to find a book for the Indiana stage of the Road Trip Across America challenge I’m doing, so I Googled authors from the state and sought out something I liked the sound of. My local library wasn’t much help, so I ended up downloading Edward Eggleston’s second novel from Project Gutenberg.

The End of the World sounded like the kind of easy going 19th century literature I typically enjoy. It’s very much as you would expect a novel written in 1872 to be. The characters are extremes of human nature, almost clichés. There is the hen pecked husband who is easily manipulated by his shrewish wife, and a pair of young lovers who are kept apart by her parents because he, a farmhand and a foreigner, isn’t good enough. Lots and lots of prejudice, and lots and lots of over dramatisation. On the first page, Mrs Anderson is introduced as a manipulative harridan, and I almost stopped reading right there. However, as other characters were introduced, I realised that the descriptions were intended as comedic, and the novel was tongue in cheek. It made me think of the musicals I loved watching when I was young. Calamity Jane, Oklahoma!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Lots of rambunctious action and foolhardy decisions before everything comes right in the end. Continue reading

Deadeye Dick

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Read 12/08/2017-18/08/2017

Rating: 5 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge.

I love Kurt Vonnegut. He is one of my favourite authors. I enjoy his deceptively simple prose and his wryly weary take on how ridiculous humanity is. His books are part satire, part morality tale, and part whimsy.

Deadeye Dick follows Rudy Waltz, resident of Midland City, Ohio, a fictional place based on the Midwest towns Vonnegut was familiar with. Rudy is the son of the black sheep scion of a family whose wealth came from their success in the pharmaceutical industry. Continue reading