Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (Classics Club #5)

I scarcely know how to describe that room. It became, in a way, every room I had ever been in and every room I find myself in hereafter will remind me of Giovanni’s room. I did not really stay there very long – we met before the spring began and I left there during the summer – but it still seems to me that I spent a lifetime there. Life in that room seemed to be occurring underwater, as I say, and it is certain that I underwent a sea change there.

81IceqICE0LI’ve been putting off writing this review for weeks now because I feel intimidated, almost unqualified to write about this book. It was a five-star read for me, one that I feel like I could pick up again just a few weeks later and read all over again, losing myself in the quality of the lush prose and the haunting ideas and emotions. Giovanni’s Room is stunning, and even though I have only now read two of Baldwin’s books (this and The Fire Next Time) I have to put him among my favorite authors. I must read everything else he’s written. Published in 1956, this is a story of a man at war with himself, his inner turmoil spilling over and also scarring anyone who comes close enough to care about him.

David is a young white man in Paris in the 1950s, staying at a rented country house outside the city, reflecting on his life and recent events as the novel begins. He is melancholy and alone – his fiancée Hella has left him to return to America and someone named Giovanni (we don’t initially know his significance in David’s life) is “about to perish, sometime between this night and this morning, on the guillotine.”  He then recounts a long-buried sensual experience as a teenager with a male friend named Joey and the reader knows this is someone who is afraid to truly acknowledge his sexuality.

We had our arms around each other. It was like holding in my hand some rare, exhausted, nearly doomed bird which I had miraculously happened to find. I was very frightened; I am sure he was frightened too, and we shut our eyes. To remember it so clearly, so painfully tonight tells me that I have never for an instant truly forgotten it. 

Later on in the first chapter David says, “I had decided to allow no room in the universe for something which shamed and frightened me.”

And this sets the stage for the main action of the novel, where we find that David, broke817TxalnT7L and having proposed to Hella, waiting for her answer, (she has gone to Spain to travel and think about it) meets a young Italian waiter named Giovanni. He has been spending much of his time with people who were, “as Parisians put it, of le milieu, and while this milieu was certainly anxious enough to claim me, I was intent on proving, to them and to myself, that I was not of their company.” These older, wealthier gay men don’t seem to mind David’s condescension and continue to lend him money. The new waiter at the local bar causes a sensation among the regular patrons, but it is David who he ends up chatting with in sparkling and lightly flirtatious conversation, a fact which doesn’t escape the notice of everyone there. Jacques, one of the older men who seems much wiser than David in the ways of the heart, pointedly tells him, “Confusion is a luxury which only the very very young  can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore.”

I don’t want to go further and spoil anything else because this is a novel which deserves the designation “classic” and one that is so readable that modern readers will find a treasure trove of beautiful, philosophical lines to relish. As David and Giovanni become closer and Hella finally reenters the picture David is forced to make some hard choices about the path his life is going to take. No one is left unscathed by the outcome. As the reader already knows from the third page that Giovanni has done something that has caused him to be sentenced to death, it will come as no surprise that this novel is a sad one. Hella’s heartache when David finally opens up is also terribly moving. But as an exploration of the human heart and a man wrestling with his own shame this novel is a must-read.

(This book is also the 13th book from my 20 Books of Summer list.)

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Book Blogger Tag

I was tagged WAY back in May by the lovely Erin @ Feel, Learn, Wonder and I’m just now getting around to writing this tag post! But I thought it would be a nice diversion from my 20 Books of Summer and Classics Club reviews that I haven’t yet written. If you haven’t checked out Erin’s blog, please do give it a look!

img_2523Where do you write your blog posts?

At my desk in my living room. It’s an old hand-me-down desk from my father-in-law, not an antique, just old, with peeling paint and stickers that my son has put on it over the years. We have talked about buying a “grown-up desk” but it’s not a high priority so we haven’t yet done so. We DID just buy a new office chair, though, and it’s so comfy!

 

How long does it take you to write a book review?

Ha ha! Well, once I actually SIT DOWN to do it, probably about an hour. It’s the sitting my behind down in the chair that’s the issue.

When did you start your book blog?

December 31, 2014. I can’t believe I’m coming up on four years already. My first blog post didn’t even mention that I was starting this blog – it was just a list of my reading resolutions for the coming year. I guess I really didn’t even know what I was planning to do with this or for whom I was writing. (Do I know these things now? Ha ha!)

What’s the worst thing about having a book blog?

Is there a “worst” thing? I suppose it would be the same affliction I have on all social media platforms, which is comparing myself to others. Others write such in-depth reviews! They post so much more frequently! Their blogs look nicer than mine! Blah Blah Blah. I’ve always compared myself to others, even before the days of computers, so it’s just one of my bad habits. I’m trying to quit.

What is the best thing about having a book blog?

Without a doubt, it’s YOU GUYS. I am so happy to have “met” so many interesting, smart, curious, and supportive people from all over the world through blogging. You all save my faith in humanity sometimes! And you all have such good taste in books too!  🙂

What post have you had the most fun writing so far?

I don’t know – they’re all fun once I get going! But I’m gonna share a post from way back in 2015 about a picture book that I love and think you all should know about. Most of you weren’t regular readers of mine back then so here you go:  https://bigreadinglife.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/sidewalk-flowers-by-jonarno-lawson/

What is your favorite type of blog post to write?

Lately I love the Five Sentence Reviews I’ve started doing, and also the Library Checkout meme that Bookish Beck introduced me to.

When do you typically write?

At night when my son has gone to bed and my husband is still at work, around 9:00 pm.  Sometimes if it’s super slow at work on a Saturday I’ll start a rough draft of a post.

How do you write your book reviews? With a cup of tea or coffee? With Netflix? Cuddle up with your fur-baby?

Well, I usually put on a Pandora radio station – I write best with music. Lately it’s the Sylvan Esso station, sort of dreamy electronic/pop/dance music. Sometimes I drink a glass of wine. Sometimes I eat Twizzlers. Sometimes I just write.

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Sylvan Esso

When do you write book reviews – right after finishing the book? Two weeks after finishing the book?

Um… lately it’s been OVER two weeks after finishing. When I’m on the ball it’s usually a few days after finishing.

How often do you post?

My goal is 2 posts a week. 🙂

I don’t want to tag anyone else but if you feel moved to put this one up on your own blog, please do. How do you write your blog posts? With snacks? On a laptop in bed? With the TV on? Do you also like Sylvan Esso? Tell me in the comments. 

More Five Sentence Reviews: The Radium Girls, Ongoingness, and The Janus Stone

I hope everyone is having a good week so far. It’s August! It’s hot. I just saw the new Mission Impossible movie yesterday and it’s terrific! Non-stop action. I’m currently reading books 16 and 17 from my 20 Books of Summer list, taking my time especially with George Saunders’s CivilWarLand in Bad Decline because it’s dark. Very good, but dark. And, in this current political hellscape,  I can only deal with so much dark at once. Plus I’m still trying to savor short story collections rather than blazing through them quickly. But I’ve got a stack of overdue reviews, so here is another batch of Five Sentence Reviews.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. 51GLNSdDDqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Young American women considered themselves lucky to have jobs painting illuminated watch and clock dials in the 1910’s-1930’s. They licked the brushes, dipped them in radium-mixed paint, and painted, over and over again all day. When they started falling ill, the companies who employed them disavowed any responsibility. I’m so glad the stories of these brave women (who fought back against the companies despite grave illness and horrific injury) are finally being told. But important as that is, I felt like the narrative was disjointed and repetitive – and also very sad. (3 Stars.)

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso. A 95-page memoir and exploration of the keeping and letting go of a meticulous daily diary, full of meditations on identity, motherhood, the passage of 81aIlYK3KLLtime, memory. I marked many passages, especially once Manguso became pregnant and had a child. I related to so much of what she wrote. “Before I was a mother, I thought I was asking, How, then, can I survive forgetting so much? Then I came to understand that the forgotten moments are the price of continued participation in life, a force indifferent to time.” (3 Stars.)

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway mystery #2.) I barely took any notes on this one, I read it so quickly. This mystery series is the perfect mix of realistic and cozy – not too gruesome for me to handle, but not too precious or 51+aKyKRIeL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_cutesy to be believable either. In this one forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called to investigate a child’s bones found at the demolition site of a former Catholic children’s home and, before that, a private residence. Someone is trying to frighten her off the case, of course, and she continues to work with the attractive (and married) DCI Harry Nelson. Their bond continues to be complicated, and I am really enjoying this series. (4 Stars.)

So how has your August in books been so far? Still going with 20 Books of Summer? Have you read any of these, and if so, what did you think?

(These three books are numbers 10, 11, and 12 from my 20 Books of Summer list.)

Classics Club Spin Result and 20 Books of Summer Check-In

So the big Classics Club spin number is… drumroll… number 9! Which means I’ll be reading Beryl Markham’s 1942 memoir West With the Night. Here’s a summary I found on Amazon:81yAt9aNOEL

Beryl Markham’s West with the Night is a true classic, a book that deserves the same acclaim and readership as the work of her contemporaries Ernest Hemingway, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Isak Dinesen.
If the first responsibility of a memoirist is to lead a life worth writing about, Markham succeeded beyond all measure. Born Beryl Clutterbuck in the middle of England, she and her father moved to Kenya when she was a girl, and she grew up with a zebra for a pet; horses for friends; baboons, lions, and gazelles for neighbors. She made money by scouting elephants from a tiny plane. And she would spend most of the rest of her life in East Africa as an adventurer, a racehorse trainer, and an aviatrix―she became the first person to fly nonstop from Europe to America, the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic. Hers was indisputably a life full of adventure and beauty.
And then there is the writing. When Hemingway read Markham’s book, he wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins: “She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [She] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers . . . It is really a bloody wonderful book.”

I decided I wanted to read her memoir after I read Megan Mayhew Bergman’s short story about her in Almost Famous Women called “A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down For Lunch.” If you haven’t read that collection, by the way, please do so, it’s awesome!

In other news, I thought I’d take stock of my 20 Books of Summer experience so far. I’ve read fifteen of the twenty so far – YAY! It’s a new personal record for the three summers I’ve attempted this challenge. I consider it a total success at this point, even if I don’t read any others. I’m in the middle of George Saunders’s short story collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, and I definitely will read my July Book Group book (we meet week after next to discuss, and I like to wait as close as possible to the discussion to read the book so it’s nice and fresh in my mind.) It’s The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, a graphic memoir about the author’s experience escaping Vietnam in the 1970s and trying to adapt to their new life in America. So that is at least 17/20.51UDKhEnEXL

I’ve only reviewed nine of the 15 I’ve read, so I’m quite a bit behind. I just can’t seem to make myself sit down and do these reviews in a timely fashion. I’m not sure what’s up with that. And the longer they go, the less I want to do it. I see some more five-sentence reviews in my near future! But I will do a full post on Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin because it was BRILLIANT and also a Classics Club pick  -which is also true for Shirley Jackson’s The Bird’s Nest (good but not brilliant.)

How are you doing with 20 Books of Summer? If you’re a member of The Classics Club are you happy with your book number 9? Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned above?

 

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (Classics Club #4)

She wanted to ask her if she had seen the advertisement. She did not know why she wanted to ask her this, but she wanted to. How stupid not to be able to speak to her. She looked so kind. She looked so unhappy. Why couldn’t two unhappy people refresh each other on their way through this dusty business of life by a little talk – real, natural talk, about what they felt, what they would have liked, what they still tried to hope? And she could not help thinking that Mrs. Arbuthnot, too, was reading that very same advertisement. Her eyes were on the very part of the paper. Was she, too, picturing what it would be like, – the colour, the fragrance, the light, the soft lapping pf the seam among little hot rocks? Colour, fragrance, light, sea; instead of Shaftesbury Avenue, and the wet omnibuses, and the fish department at Shoolbread’s, and the Tube to Hampstead, and dinner, tomorrow the same and the day after the same, and always the same…

9780143107736I thoroughly enjoyed my fourth read for The Classics Club, Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel The Enchanted April. I read it back in June so forgive me if my impressions are a bit foggy. But I want to write a little bit about it before any more time passes.

Lotty Wilkins, Rose Arbuthnot, Mrs. Fisher, and Lady Caroline Dester are strangers to one another when Lotty first sees the advertisement in the paper while at her ladies’ club on a dreary day:

To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine. Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let Furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.

Lotty and Rose go to church together and belong to the same club, and when Lotty sees Rose reading the same page of the newspaper and staring dreamily into the distance, she seizes the moment to ask if she’d like to go in together on renting the castle. After persuading husbands and putting their own advertisement in the paper for two more ladies (the young and beautiful Lady Caroline Dester and the elderly widow Mrs. Fisher) to join them and share the rent, they make their way to Italy.

What I loved about the book was that each lady underwent a transformation of sorts – they all had things they wanted to escape from back in England, or maybe things they weren’t even aware they were escaping from until they actually left. Feeling underappreciated and overworked, awkward and painful emotional distance between a wife and a husband, feeling unloved, or being loved and desired for the wrong reasons… each woman gained clarity and insight through distance and fresh surroundings. Old wounds were healed, new friendships were cemented, and the beauty of Italy was the catalyst for everything.ae60b4438cb7eaa661c82c38e568b553-w204@1x

She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it. Such beauty; and she alive to feel it. Her face was bathed in light. Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her. A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair. Far out in the bay a cluster of almost motionless fishing boats hovered like a flock of white birds on the tranquil sea. How beautiful, how beautiful. Not to have died before this… to have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this… She stared, lips parted. Happy? Poor, ordinary, everyday word. But what could one say, how could one describe it? It was as though she could hardly stay inside herself, it was as though she were too small to hold so much of joy, it was as though she were washed through with light. 

What a delight! There is a freshness and a sense of humor to the writing that makes this classic novel feel much more modern. This is my first book by von Arnim and I am curious about the rest of her works. I can definitely see myself reading this one again when I want a comfort read. I watched the movie (1991) and it was a faithful adaptation – solid performances, beautiful scenery, makes for a pleasant evening’s entertainment. But if you need a breath of fresh air in your reading life and want to take a trip to Italy, I highly recommend reading The Enchanted April.

(This is the 4th book reviewed from my Classics Club list and the 9th book reviewed from my 20 Books of Summer list.)

Library Checkout: July 2018

I’ve been meaning to participate in Rebecca Foster’s (Bookish Beck) Library Checkout meme for a couple of months now and I finally remembered and got my act together enough to put together a post before the end of the month! Yes! She’s skipping this month due to travels but if you’ve never checked out her blog before please do so for some insightful and varied reviews (such a voracious reader.) Note: I’m only highlighting books checked out for me in this post. At any given time I have about 15 books checked out for my son in various states of being read!library-checkout-feature-image

LIBRARY BOOKS READ:

  • The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (Ruth Galloway mystery #2) ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
  • The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

SKIMMED:

  • Just Cook It!: 145 Built-to-be-Easy Recipes That Are Totally Delicious by Justin Chapple

CURRENTLY READING:

  • The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson (I’m about 70 pages from finishing – boy, it’s nuts!)download (1)
  • The Book of Self-Care: Remedies For Healing Mind, Body, and Soul by Mary Beth Janssen (I’m pretty much skimming this one too.)

 

 

 

CHECKED OUT, TO BE READ:

  • An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
  • The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty
  • Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel Jodie Older (Shadowshaper series #2)

IN THE HOLDS QUEUE:

  • Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurstondownload
  • There There by Tommy Orange
  • Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump by Dan Pfeiffer
  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life And Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
  • The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
  • The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
  • Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce

RETURNED UNREAD: None.

Anything from my list appeal to you, or have you read any of these? What have you checked out lately from your local library?

 

Classics Club Spin #18!

It’s Spin time! I joined The Classics Club (now under new leadership) earlier this year and got the word yesterday that it’s time for another Spin (my second.) What’s a #CCSpin? Well, basically you choose 20 books from your original list and then on Spin Day the Classics Club leaders choose a number from 1-20. Whichever number is drawn is the classic book you read and write about next!

So here are my 20, pretty much chosen randomly (I did put some chunksters in there to mix it up:)

  1. Fahrenheit 451 – Bradbury
  2. Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon – Austen
  3. Jane Eyre – Brontë (re-read)
  4. The Woman in White – Collins
  5. A Study in Scarlet – Conan Doyle
  6. The Thin Man – Hammett
  7. The Count of Monte Cristo – Dumas
  8. The Lottery and Other Stories – Jackson
  9. West With the Night – Markham
  10. 1984 – Orwell
  11. Less Than Angels – Pym
  12. Anna Karenina- Tolstoy
  13. Crossing to Safety – Stegner
  14. Native Son – Wright
  15. Ceremony – Silko
  16. Stoner – Williams
  17. Island of Dr. Moreau – Wells
  18. Brideshead Revisited – Waugh
  19. Beloved – Morrison (re-read)
  20. The Gowk Storm – Morrison

If you’re in the Classics Club, good luck with your spin! I hope you all get the number you want. (Totally statistically impossible, but you know.) 🙂

Have you read any of these? Have any thoughts?