Archive for the ‘novels’ Tag

Clueless but Not Hopeless   Leave a comment

Late last year, a friend and I decided to reread Emma before seeing the most recent film version. We met twice to talk about it shortly after the movie was released, but hadn’t had a chance to see it once theatres closed in March. We’re optimistic about seeing it together – perhaps along with one of my daughters-in-law.

Among the beauties of a Jane Austen novel is the ease and comfort that accompanies revisiting it. It had been years since I’d last read Emma. The depth of the characters – or in Emma’s case her shallowness – along with the descriptive sense of place — made it fun to revisit.

Yes, Emma is intelligent, wealthy and beautiful. She’s also selfish, but has a kind heart. Thankfully, she has Mr. Knightly to try to open her eyes beyond the estate where she lives with her father. Mr. Woodhouse is a distressed man worrying about his health and attempting to project his mindset on others. Emma patiently caters to him.

Although the plot involving a free-thinking, independent young woman with friends representing different social stations and various  degrees of romance/matchmaking/unrequited love is familiar to Austen fans, Emma is simply  an enjoyable read. The 1995 film entitled Clueless is the perfect description of Emma. She is unable to correctly assess situations when it comes to relationships, whether for others or herself.

Yet, Austen ensures that Emma is an endearing character because her efforts to play a role in the happiness of others are sincere, even if misguided.

Five Bookmarks
Penguin Classics, 1996 (first published in 1815)
476 pages (includes Introduction, Chronology, Further Reading)

Family Dinners   Leave a comment

Bread & Butter is bound to appeal to foodies. Author Michelle Wildgen combines her talents as a writer with her past restaurant experience to tell the story of three brothers with two competing eateries in their hometown.

Leo and Britt have been running Winesap, their fashionable restaurant for more than a decade. When their younger brother, Harry, returns home they find it difficult to be enthusiastic about his plans to open another upscale establishment in a weak economy. Yet, it’s not just the competition that has the older two apprehensive. Harry has bounced around from educational pursuits to various jobs in the years since he’s been gone. Leo and Britt are certain Harry lacks the stamina, knowledge and commitment to run a successful business. They see him as a neophyte, and Harry, who wants their support, is driven to prove them wrong.

Wildgen has created likeable, sometimes exasperating, characters whose voices and situations ring true. Eventually, Britt signs on as Harry’s partner while maintaining his front-of-house role at Winesap. Tensions mount as expectations, many unfounded, lead to several surprises when Harry’s place opens for business.

Descriptions of food, prepping for dinner service and the relationships among the employees (and owners) are vivid and realistic.

Ultimately, the siblings have credible culinary chops; they also have difficulty relinquishing family issues precipitated by birth order. This tends to bog things down a bit. Wildgen emphasizes that sometimes family members are often seen as what we want them to be, rather than who they truly are.

Bread & Butter
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2014
314 pages

A White Bread Analogy   3 comments

James W. Hall writes crime thrillers and teaches college-level courses about popular
fiction, specifically bestsellers. Although it’s interesting, his recent nonfiction endeav-
or, Hit Lit  subtitled Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest
, reads like a textbook, but one likely to end up on the bargain table in a

The concept is intriguing: analyze 12 novels and identify the characteristics that
make them bestsellers. Included in the list is To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone
with the Wind, The DaVinci Code, The Exorcist, Valley of the Dolls,
The Godfather, The Dead Zone, The Firm, The Hunt for Red October,
The Bridges of Madison County, Peyton Place
and, Jaws. I admit I’ve
only read six. Interestingly, the dozen were also made into popular movies – but
that’s another story. Hall, apparently stuck on the number 12, establishes that same
quantity of criteria to examine and actually makes a good case for why, say, Valley
of the Dolls
struck a chord with so many readers. What might be even more worth-
while would be to compare these with less popular tomes. to me, the titles selected
by Hall are the equivalent of white bread. It’s easy enough to slap together a sand-
wich between two pieces of nutrition-lacking, tasteless slices, but there are so many
other varieties that go well beyond mere basic sustenance.

I can easily envision using Hall’s work in the classroom, with the caveat that the num-
ber twelve, both in the book selections and the characteristics reviewed, is not neces-
sarily a magic number.

Hit Lit

Two-and-a-Half Bookmarks
Random House, 2012
287 pages (includes index)

Posted August 5, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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