Monthly Archives: January 2010

Sunday Salon – January 31, 2010

January 31, 2010

10:00 AM

Good morning, fellow readers and bloggers! I have been delinquent in posting a Sunday Salon for a few weeks now (my last post for this event was way back on January 3rd). I made an unplanned trip back east and was there for much of January…but now I’m home and have no more excuses!

So what have I been reading in January?

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (read my review) was just a tad disappointing to me.  I read and loved Oryx and Crake (in fact that was my first Atwood novel and made me an instant fan) so I had hoped to be blown away by Atwood’s latest companion novel. Although I still find her writing beyond brilliant, The Year of the Flood just didn’t live up to my expectations.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (read my review) is a rich, historical fiction about two sisters. Of See’s three historical novels (Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and Shanghai Girls) this one falls right in the middle in terms of my favorite, with Snowflower and the Secret Fan being in the #1 slot. This book was toured for TLC Book Tours and almost universally enjoyed.

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant (read my review) was another historical fiction novel. I really liked this one, although it has a slow start. Have you read anything by Dunant before? From what I understand from other bloggers, Sacred Hearts is a bit different from her other novels. I am eager to read more by this author.

The Writing of Fiction (read my review) AND The House of Mirth (read my review), both by Edith Wharton were books I read as part of The Classics Circuit. Have you checked out their site yet? They’ve already done tours for Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell, and beginning in February they’ll be hosting The Harlem Renaissance tour, then in March there will be a tour of Georgette Heyer. In 2010, I’d like to read more classics – I have a ton on my shelves!

Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini was a quick read – and I loved it. You’ll have to wait from my review as it is part of a tour for TLC Book Tours on February 4th – but I will tell you that if you are a foodie, love to travel, and enjoy an engrossing memoir from time to time…you will want to read this book. Along with my review on the 4th will be a guest post by the author – hope you’ll come back then to read it!

I am currently reading The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer – this one is a medical thriller and it is good genre fiction (my sister read this when I was visiting her and knocked it off in less than 3 days). Palmer’s writing is quite accessible and although there are some gory parts (what thriller doesn’t have those?), those readers who enjoy a compelling suspense-thriller will most likely gush over this one. I should have a review up by tomorrow or Tuesday (I expect to finish it today).

Next up is the much anticipated Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel. I am very eager to read this novel (which won the Booker Prize). Have you read it yet? What did you think?

Finally, the last thing I want to talk about is the Book Expo of America (BEA) and The Book Blogger Convention coming up at the end of May. Last year I sulked at not being at the BEA and vowed I’d go this year. Those plans were almost derailed when I had to travel back east this month…but, Kip and I have worked out the financial puzzle, and we’ll be there! The Book Blogger Convention is OFFICIALLY linked to the BEA (yay!) and will be held at the same venue on the 28th (the day after the BEA wraps up). Registering for that event will automatically get you your pass to the BEA (so you don’t have to register separately). I’m so excited…hope I’ll get to see some of you there!

What are your plans for today? Whatever they are, I hope they involve a good book!!

May in New York City…

May 28th, 2010

Have you all seen this? Thanks to some motivated and energetic bloggers (Trish, Amy, Natasha, Rebecca, Michelle, Nicole, and Pam) the Book Blogger Convention is a go. Scheduled to coordinate with the Book Expo of America in New York City (May 25, 26, and 27) this is an event you really don’t want to miss if you can help it. Some information about the event:

What is it?

  • A one day event intended to provide support, instruction, and social time for people who blog about books.

Where is it?

**NEW LOCATION as of January 30th:

NYC Seminar & Conference Center (map)
71 West 23rd Street
Suite 515/Lower Level
(northeast corner of 23rd Street & 6th Avenue)
New York, NY  10010

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
635 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001

**Same place as the BEA!

When is it?

  • Registration begins at 7:30 am on May 28, 2010, and conference sessions will begin promptly at 9AM and conclude at 5pm.

What are the topics?

  • Professionalism/Ethics
  • Marketing
  • Author/Blogger Relationships
  • Building Community
  • Writing/Building Content

How do you register?

  • Visit this page on the dedicated blog. Register by February 14, 2010 you can even save $25 of the registration fee of $115. Your registration for the conference will automatically get you a three day pass to the BEA!

For answers to more Frequently Asked Questions, visit this page.

I am DEFINITELY going to be there (to see who else is registered so far, visit the attendees page of the blog). And I am VERY excited about it.

I am also going to the BEA this year (and Kip is coming with me). Bloggers are considered Press…so if you are registering, make sure you go through the Press registration form to get free admission to all three days of the event. If you’re like me, the whole thing is a little confusing…so to help us all learn what we need to know, there is a blog tour scheduled to give us the information we need. Here is the schedule:

Monday, February 1st

Tuesday, February 2nd

Wednesday, February 3rd

Thursday, February 4th

Friday, February 5th

Saturday, February 6th

Sunday, February 7th

Monday, February 8th

Tuesday, February 9th

Wednesday, February 10th

Thursday, February 11th

Friday, February 12th

Saturday, February 13th

Sunday, February 14th

Monday, Feburary 15th

Are you excited yet??!?

The Basic Book of Digital Photography: Book Review

Digital photography is fascinating, fulfilling, and  just plain fun. Little wonder that in relatively few years it has become far more popular than film photography. (It was 1994 when the first consumer digital camera appeared.) In our fast-paced times, we all want instant gratification – and that’s what you get with digital photography. There’s no more waiting for the film to be processed to see how your pictures came out. These days you can literally point and shoot a camera – and immediately see the results. – from The Basic Book of Digital Photography, introduction –

Are you still using  an “old style” camera, but want to switch to digital photography? Have you recently bought a digital camera, but find yourself overwhelmed with the new terminology and all the things it can do? Have you had your digital camera for awhile, but want to get more out of it including better photos? If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, then you might want to pick up a copy of Tom and Michele Grimm’s latest book.

The Grimms, both veteran photographers and authors, have been recognized for their classic guide to photography (The Basic Book of Photography) for more than 30 years. Now they’ve written the ultimate guide to digital photography with 400 illustrative photos and organized into eighteen easy to read sections and two appendices.

I resisted buying a digital camera for a long time – instead relying on my reliable 35mm Minolta which my dad gave me for my sixteenth birthday. But when that camera broke and I found I could not get the parts to fix it, I was forced to reconsider my options. My purchase of a Nikon digital camera was one of the best decisions I’ve made…but I quickly discovered that the amount of  knowledge I needed to use it to its fullest capacity was a bit overwhelming. I could have used the Grimm’s guide!

The Basic Book of Digital Photography covers the most elemental aspects of the craft up to the more complex ideas. Whether you have a simple point and shoot or a more complicated SLR model, the book provides easy to access guidelines. Individuals who are considering purchasing a digital camera will find the section on choosing the right camera helpful. There are also sections which deal with lenses, accessories, and settings; as well as teaching you the best way to use the settings on your camera, special techniques for shooting, creative composition, and even transferring your images from camera to computer, organizing them, editing them, and finally printing them. I found the section on shooting video the most helpful as that is one aspect of my camera I have neglected to learn.

I can recommend this book for beginning digital photographers, as well as those who are comfortable with their cameras, but want to improve on their photography. I know I will continue to reference this helpful guide as I grow more and more comfortable with my camera.

Visit the Author’s Website

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from FSB Associates.

Below is an article I am reprinting here with permission from the authors:

Simple Ways to Make Better Pictures with Your Camera Phone
By Tom Grimm and Michele Grimm,
Authors of The Basic Book of Digital Photography: How to Shoot, Enhance, and Share Your Digital Pictures

As camera phones become more prevalent, they are expected to become as popular for casual photography as regular point-and-shoot digital cameras. Unfortunately, camera phone photos are often poor or mediocre. But that is usually the fault of careless shooters, not the quality of the phone’s camera.

Here are five simple ways to instantly help you make better pictures with your camera phone. Professional photographers Michele and Tom Grimm offer these and many more tips in their brand-new handbook, The Basic Book of Digital Photography.

1) Keep the Camera Phone Steady. Many cell phones are small, lightweight, and awkward to hold for shooting. In order to prevent blurred pictures, use both hands and brace your arms against your body. For additional support, lean against something solid, such as a tree or a wall. A common problem is the delay after you press the shutter release until the camera fires, so remember to remain motionless until you are certain the shutter has opened and closed.

2) Get Close to Your Subjects. Move closer physically, or adjust an optical zoom lens (if available) toward its telephoto setting. Note that shooting close up at a wide-angle setting can distort your subjects, which is particularly unflattering for people. Do not use a digital zoom function; it only enlarges the pixels in a picture, which degrades the image.

3) Make Sure Your Subjects are in Good Light. That way your pictures will show the most detail. Beware of harsh sunlight that creates dark shadows and high contrast in phone photos. If available, use the built-in light or flash even in daylight to give more clarity to your subject. Or, when indoors, turn on more lights if you can. Try to avoid backlighted subjects, unless you want them to turn out as silhouettes.

4) Keep the Lens Clean. Most lenses are protected only by a see-through plastic or glass cover, which can quickly get dirty when carrying your camera phone in a pocket or purse. Also, the lens is quite small, so dust or finger smudges will be more evident in your pictures. Wipe the lens gently with a microfiber cleaning cloth designed for regular camera lenses or eyeglasses.

5) Always Shoot at the Highest Image Quality. The names of the quality settings vary with the phone manufacturer. For example, the choices might be called: high, medium, low; or super fine, fine, normal; check your phone’s user guide. Image files are automatically compressed to save space in the phone’s internal memory or on a removable memory card; the higher the image quality you set, the less compression.

You’ll also find settings for image resolution, which may be called image size. We recommend you always select the highest resolution, especially if you expect to print your photos. The higher the resolution, the larger the picture will be displayed on a computer or television screen. Also, more detail will show in the image. Image resolution/image size in some camera phones ranges from 320×240 pixels (low) to 1600×1200 pixels (high).

By the way, do not confuse image resolution with the resolution of the image sensor in a camera phone, which is expressed in megapixels, abbreviated MP. Little attention is paid to image sensors and their maximum megapixels (MP) in camera phones, but higher-end models range from 5 MP to as many as 10 MP.

If you are serious about getting quality photos and are buying a new camera phone, look for a model with high-resolution capability, autofocus, an optical zoom lens, built-in flash, and a large LCD screen to compose and review the images. For the most versatility, the camera phone should also have a slot that accepts a removable memory card. As you might expect, top-end camera phones can be expensive and often cost more than regular non-SLR digital cameras.

Most user guides for mobile phones have minimal information and instructions for the camera, but read carefully to learn as much as you can about its various features, as well as any limitations. For example, most camera phones can be set to shoot in black-and-white or old-time sepia tones rather than color.

Try out all the different settings by shooting practice photos, and then analyze the results. It is worth the time to become familiar with the camera operation so you won’t be fumbling with the phone and pressing the wrong buttons when a photo opportunity suddenly appears.

Photos you make with a camera phone are automatically saved in the JPEG (.jpg) image file format. They can be viewed on the phone’s LCD screen as a group of thumbnail photos or as larger individual images. On the screen, you can select images to delete, or to send to another mobile phone, a Web site, desktop printer, photo kiosk, or computer.

Camera phones with WiFi, Bluetooth or IrDA (infrared) technology make it easy to download images to a wireless-enabled computer or printer, or to a photo kiosk that makes prints. Some phones have a port to plug in a cable that connects to your computer to download the image files. Of course, if your camera phone has a removable memory card, it can be inserted into a memory card reader that is built in or connected to your computer.

However, you probably will be sending most images from your camera phone directly to another mobile phone or to a Web site or in E-mails. The fees to transmit image data from a camera phone can add up quickly. If you shoot and send many photos, we suggest you buy an unlimited media package from your mobile phone service provider in order to save money.

Finally, as with any camera you use, remember to be respectful of your photographic subjects and situations. Despite the temptation, don’t take voyeuristic photos or use your camera phone in places where photography is prohibited, as in health club dressing rooms, and many museums, theaters and concert halls.

©2009 Tom Grimm and Michele Grimm, authors of The Basic Book of Digital Photography: How to Shoot, Enhance, and Share Your Digital Pictures

Friday Finds – January 29, 2010

Welcome to Friday Finds hosted by Jenn at Should Be Reading. It has been a long time since I’ve participated in this meme and I have quite a few *starred* items in my Google Reader…books which have caught my attention through fantastic reviews and ticklers.

Clicking on book titles will take you to Amazon where you can read more information about the book; clicking on the featured blogger will take you to their review or post about the book.

To join Friday Finds, visit Jenn’s post today and link up!

The Courilof Affair by Irene Nemirovsky caught my eye through a review by Booklover Book Reviews who wrote: ‘Don’t let the lack of words used (only 168 pages) fool you – Nemirovsky delivers a powerful message through the telling of this story. In her usual beautiful prose (credit must also go to translator Sandra Smith) she does much more than relate historical events and experiences of our narrating character at the dusk of his life – she evokes a mood.‘ I’ve read two books by this author and loved them both. I will definitely be putting this on my TBR pile!

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton was reviewed by Chris at Book-A-Rama who wrote: ‘The Custom of the Country is mostly a feminist novel but it’s also a satirical look at wealth: the rising nouveau riche of America and the fading old families of New York and Europe. They are all subject to their own follies.‘ I just finished reading The House of Mirth (read my review) and Wharton is one of my favorite classic writers. Thanks for the great review, Chris…you’ve added another one to my wish list!

Fall of the Giants by Ken Follett came to my attention through a tickler on Passages to the Past. This book is the first in a projected trilogy which follows five interrelated families – one American, one Russian, one German, one English and one Welsh – beginning during WWI and the Russian Revolution. I LOVE Follett’s writing. This book gets released in September 2010 and will definitely be making its way onto my TBR pile.

Forgetting English by Midge Raymond was reviewed in December by Ti at Book Chatter. She wrote: ‘I am not a fan of short fiction but every now and then I give it a try and usually I am disappointed. That said, I was not disappointed by Forgetting English. In fact, I was so mesmerized by the beauty of the writing that I spent an entire morning on the couch enjoying it. From one story to the next, I found myself completely and utterly absorbed. Each story is so different and yet there are common themes…insecurity, yearning, shame and the need to escape.‘ I love finding good collections of short stories, and Ti’s review made me sit up and take notice of this one. On to my wish list it goes!

Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld caught my eye at Amy’s blog My Friend Amy. Hinnefeld’s previous novel In Hovering Flight was my top read in 2009 (read my review) and I am thrilled to see she will be publishing another novel in the Fall of 2010. This latest book is about a young women, one haunted by the past, who forges a troubled friendship in Kentucky in the early 1960s. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one! *sorry there is no link to Amazon yet!*

Beside A Burning Sea by John Shors was reviewed by Carrie at Books and Movies who wrote: ‘Shors’ strength obviously lies in writing character and in understanding people, no matter their heritage or background. I loved so many of these characters…‘ I adore historical fiction which has wonderful characters, and this book seems like it would be a good fit for me. Thanks for the great review, Carrie!

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden was reviewed way back in November by Books and Other Stuff who wrote: ‘This novel really deserved winning the Giller Prize, and I can’t wait for next part of the trilogy.Through Black Spruce is the second book in a trilogy and centers around Native American Will Bird. It sounds like an amazing book.

The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan was reviewed over at Beth Fish Reads in November. This is a children’s book which can be enjoyed by adults as well. Beth writes: ‘Although The Rabbits is the winner of The Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Picture Book of the Year award, the sparsely told story addresses adult and universal issues.‘ and ‘I recommend this book for parents who like to discuss political and environmental issues with their children and to anyone who loves beautiful art. The paintings are incredible, and I will turn to this book many times to study the details.‘ Doesn’t this sound incredible???

A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn got a terrific review at Reactions to Reading who wrote: ‘This is yet another book that has everything I look for in my crime fiction and had me alternating between indignant mutterings under my breath, heart-in-my-mouth fear and more than a few tears.‘ This crime fiction novel is one that I don’t want to miss.

That sums up my most recent finds! What are yours??

NBCC Announces Finalists…

Do you haunt the prize lists like I do? Well, if you do, then you’ve probably already seen the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle. If not, I thought I’d share them with you:

Autobiography:

  • Somewhere Towards the End, by Diana Athill (Norton)
  • Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, by Debra Gwartney (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Lit, by Mary Karr (Harper)
  • Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America, by Kati Marton (Simon & Schuster)
  • City Boy, by Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

Biography:

  • Cheever: A Life, by Blake Bailey (Knopf)
  • Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, by Brad Gooch (Little, Brown)
  • Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, by Benjamin Moser (Oxford University Press)
  • Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone, by Stanislao G. Pugliese (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line, by Martha A. Sandweiss (Penguin Press)

Criticism:

  • Notes From No Man’s Land: American Essays, by Eula Biss (Graywolf Press)
  • Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry, by Stephen Burt (Graywolf Press)
  • Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, by Morris Dickstein (Norton)
  • Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture, by David Hajdu (Da Capo Press)
  • Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, by Greg Milner (Faber)

Fiction:

  • American Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Wayne State University Press)
  • The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James(Riverhead)
  • Blame, by Michelle Huneven (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG)
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (Holt)
  • Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips (Knopf)

Nonfiction:

  • The Hindus: An Alternative History, by Wendy Doniger (Penguin Press)
  • Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan Books)
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, by Richard Holmes (Pantheon)
  • Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder (Random House)
  • Imperial, by William T. Vollmann (Viking)

Poetry:

  • Versed, by Rae Armantrout (Wesleyan)
  • A Village Life, by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Chronic, by D.A. Powell (Graywolf Press)
  • Captive Voices: New and Selected Poems, 1960–2008, by Eleanor Ross Taylor (Louisiana State University Press)
  • Museum of Accidents, by Rachel Zucker (Wave Books)

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing:

  • Joan Acocella

Finalists:

  • Michael Antman
  • William Deresiewicz
  • Donna Seaman
  • Wendy Smith

Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award:

  • Joyce Carol Oates

Have you read any of these? Learn more about the NBCC awards by visiting their blog.

The Classics Circuit: Edith Wharton on Tour

Welcome to my tour of Edith Wharton (1862-1937) for this month’s Classics Circuit. I read two books written by Edith Wharton for this tour: The House of Mirth (read my review) and The Writing of Fiction (read my review). I am really glad I read these books back to back as Wharton’s guide to writing fiction allowed me some valuable insight into her writing.

I am a huge fan of Wharton, not just for her writing, but because she was a woman far ahead of her time. Wharton’s work (which includes more than 40 books including novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction) typically explores the morality of  the wealthy and elite, women’s rights, and the need for order in society. She was criticized for her dark portrayal of the upper classes which included revealing their moral decay and superficiality. Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for literature for her novel The Age of Innocence in 1920, and became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale.

I was very lucky to be able to visit Wharton’s home in the Berkshires last spring. I met up with a group of book friends from Library Thing and toured the estate and gardens. You can read my extensive post and view the photos about that trip here. The photo to the right may be enlarged by clicking on it.

To visit all the fabulous Classics Circuit tours for Edith Wharton follow the links below:

The Writing of Fiction – Book Review

Since Balzac and Stendhal, fiction has reached out in many new directions, and made all sorts of experiments; but it has never ceased to cultivate the ground they cleared for it, or gone back to the realm of abstractions. It is still, however, an art in the making, fluent and dirigible, and combining a past full enough for the deduction of certain general principles with a future rich in untried possibilities. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 10 –

Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her very first novel – The Age of Innocence. The Writing of Fiction is a glimpse into her view of the craft of writing…an expose which looks at the history of the novel and the authors who most influenced Wharton, as well as her theories on writing. In this slim book, Wharton examines the art of the short story and how it differs from writing a novel, the development of character, the difference between the novel of situation and that of the novel of character, and finishes with a short chapter on the brilliance of Proust.

I was impressed by how current Wharton’s theories and observations are more than 80 years after she penned them. It is not unusual to have writers voice the fear that what they are writing may have already been done before. And it is this common fear which Wharton first addresses in her guide:

Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before; for though one of the instincts of youth is imitation, another, equally imperious, is that of fiercely guarding against it. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 17 –

She then goes on to define her concept of originality:

True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision. That new, that personal, vision is attained only by looking long enough at the object represented to make it the writer’s own; and the mind which would bring this secret germ to fruition must be able to nourish it with accumulated wealth of knowledge and experience. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 17 –

I found many of Wharton’s observations to be truths I have experienced not only as a writer, but as a reader, as evidenced by the following quotes:

The moment the reader loses faith in the author’s sureness of foot the chasm of improbability gapes. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 31 –

Quiet iteration is far more racking than diversified assaults; the expected is more frightful than the unforeseen. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 32 –

The use of dialogue in fiction seems to be one of the few things about which a fairly definite rule may be laid down. It should be reserved for the culminating moments, and regarded as the spray into which the great wave of narrative breaks in curving toward the watcher on the shore. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 55 –

It is obvious that a mediocre book is always too long, and that a great one usually seems too short. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 74 –

A novelist who does not know when his story is finished, but goes on stringing episode to episode after it is over, not only weakens the effect of the conclusion, but robs of significance all that has gone before. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 78 –

I especially enjoyed Wharton’s advice regarding point of view: ‘One thing more is needful for the ultimate effect of probability; and that is, never to let the character who serves as reflector record anything not naturally within his register.‘ She goes on to caution the writer against shifting point of view too often, and when using multiple points of view to take care that each character provides a piece of the whole history in order to provide a unity of impression. Wharton’s philosophy was that the novel writer should tell his or her story from not more than two or three different perspectives.

Wharton also address the plot driven novel vs. the character driven novel – and notes that ‘the novel of character and manners may seem superior in richness, variety and play of light and shade‘ and ‘…so far the greatest novels have undoubtedly dealt with character and manners rather than with mere situation.‘ Lest one think Wharton is being self-serving in this observation, she quickly points out the danger of too much focus on character:

In the inevitable reaction against the arbitrary “plot” many novelists have gone too far in the other direction, either swamping themselves in the tedious “stream of consciousness,” or else – another frequent error – giving an exaggerated importance to trivial incidents when the tale is concerned with trivial lives. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 102 –

If there is a weakness in Wharton’s book about writing fiction, it is her abrupt last chapter which extols the brilliance of Proust. Since up to this point, The Writing of Fiction focused almost entirely on the history and craft of the art of writing, her switch to discussing Proust and his work felt out of place. Perhaps she desired to profile an author who exhibited what she felt were the best attributes of a writer. Indeed, in reference to Proust, she states:

Out of all the flux of judgments and theories which have darkened counsel in respect of novel-writing, one stable fact seems always to emerge; the quality the greatest novelist have always had in common is that of making their people live. – from The Writing of Fiction, page 111 –

In this quote, Wharton could almost have been writing of herself.

The Writing of Fiction is a gem of a book, allowing readers to glimpse the brilliance of a great female writer whose work still resonates with truth in today’s world. Writers in all stages of their development would do themselves a favor to pick up Wharton’s acutely observed guide to writing.

As part of The Classics Circuit tour for Edith Wharton, you might be interested in another review of this book:

Joyfully Retired

The House of Mirth – Book Review

“Ah, there’s the difference – a girl must, a man may if he chooses.” She surveyed him critically. “Your coat’s a little shabby – but who cares? It doesn’t keep people from asking you to dine. If I were shabby no one would have me: a woman is asked out as much for her clothes as for herself. The clothes are the background, the frame, if you like; they don’t make success, but they are a part of it. Who wants a dingy woman? We are expected to be pretty and well-dressed till we drop – and if we can’t keep it up alone, we have to go into partnership.” – from House of Mirth, page 10 –

Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth follows the ill fated life of Lily Bart, a girl from a poor family who aspires to be a member of old New York high society. She moves in with her wealthy aunt and establishes herself among the elite – dining with them, gambling with them, and ultimately being undone by them. Lily is naive and beautiful and depends on others to provide for her financially. She overspends and finds herself continually in debt. Her answer to this problem is to work at snagging a rich husband. Her fear of living in poverty makes her resistant to love with the sincere, yet poor Mr. Selden and so Lily finds herself enmeshed in manipulations with men of means who expect a sexual return on their investments. When Lily’s rich society “friends” and family betray her, however, Lily finds herself penniless and lonely with little hope for the future of which she dreamed.

As with many of Wharton’s novels, The House of Mirth is a cynical and harsh look at New York society where one either fits in with the masses, or is shunned. The superficiality of the wealthy is revealed, along with their infidelities and secrets. The rich characters in House of Mirth are mostly lacking in morality…shallow people who are concerned with their own desires and are quick to do what it takes to protect themselves, even if it means betraying their friends.

Wharton’s view of women’s friendships in the novel is one of petty jealousies, gossip, and betrayal. Nearly every friend Lily has betrays her at some point – if not in action, then in thought. When lies about her surface, Lily is shunned by those who previously opened their arms to her. Only her financially poor cousin Gerty and Carry Fisher (who has also been the victim of vicious gossip) stand by her.

You asked me just now for the truth; well, the truth about any girl is that once she’s talked about she’s done for; and the more she explains her case the worse it looks. – from House of Mirth, page 238 –

The women in the novel are typically portrayed as weak and needing the help of men to survive. When faced with financial peril, Lily considers marriage to a man she finds repugnant rather than curbing her spending or adjusting her lifestyle. Elevating oneself in society appears to be the most important goal.

Her vulgar cares were at an end. She would be able to arrange her life as she pleased, to soar into that empyrean of security where creditors cannot penetrate. She would have smarter gowns than Judy Trenor, and far, far more jewels than Bertha Dorset. She would be free forever from the shifts, the expedients, the humiliations of the relatively poor. – from House of Mirth, page 50 –

Lily sadly faces only scandal, distrust, betrayal and ultimately total ruin in her search for a place among the elite.

Wharton focuses a sardonic eye on the wealthy of society…and demonstrates their weaknesses and immorality. Her writing is sharply observed and her characters are meticulously developed. Lily Bart is a silly, superficial girl…and yet, the reader grows to empathize with her plight and hopes for a good end for her. At its core, The House of Mirth is a tragedy. Instead of making a good life for herself, Lily Bart becomes the victim of fate and gossip – the result of seeking a life with little meaning.

The House of Mirth is one of Wharton’s most popular novels and is a good representation of her work. Readers who love classics and want to read a character-driven novel of drama, love and tragedy will find The House of Mirth a good choice.

Recommended.

To read other reviews of this book as part of The Classics Circuit tour for Edith Wharton, follow the links below:

Mailbox Monday – January 25, 2010

Welcome to this week’s edition of Mailbox Monday hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. Each Monday readers are encouraged to post about the books which arrived at their homes in the last week…and then share those posts by linking up through Marcia’s blog.

This week proved to be another good week in books…

A Stain on the Silence by Andrew Taylor arrived unsolicited from Hyperion. This suspense novel is due for release on February 16th and is described as a “fast paced thriller [which] will keep you guessing until the very last page.” Set in London, the story centers around a man who not only discovers he has a grown daughter from an affair 25 years earlier, but must then deal with the revelation that she is pregnant and wanted for murder.  In 2009, I read Taylor’s novel Bleeding Heart Square (read my review) and I am interested to crack his latest book. Learn more about Taylor and his work by visiting the author’s website.

Life Sentences by Laura Lippman came to me from William Morrow for a TLC Book Tour. I read Lippman’s previous novel What the Dead Know last spring (read my review) and loved it…so when I saw that she would be touring Life Sentences at TLC in March, I could not resist. In this novel, Lippman once again tackles a cold case – this time the possible murder of a an infant. To read more about Lippman and her work, visit the author’s website…and make sure you come back here on March 3rd to read my review of this novel.

Then Came the Evening by Brian Hart arrived through a Shelf Awareness offer from Bloomsbury. This debut novel is set in Idaho and centers around Bandy Dorner, a Vietnam vet who is just being released from prison after 20 years. The book jacket reads: ‘With resolute honesty and restrained beauty, Brian Hart explores the hopes and limitations of his characters as they struggle toward a shared future, imbuing this deeply American story with the power of classic Greek tragedy.‘ To learn more about Hart and his work, visit the author’s website.

Between Me and The River by Carrie Host came to me from Lisa Roe…and I cannot tell you how touched I was to receive this book. Lisa is one of the most kind and generous people I know – and when she found out my sister was dealing with cancer, she decided to send me this book. Carrie Host’s memoir is the story of a journey through the devastating diagnosis of cancer at the age of forty. The book jacket reads: ‘[…] Host also recounts the many spiritual and eye-opening lessons that made her journey so bearable: how to see what is available rather than what is absent, how to free up energy to heal by letting go of anger and fear, and how to believe in the future.‘ Clive Cussler writes about this book: ‘A beautiful, tender story about a woman who is supported by friendships, love of family and dedication of doctors. The powerful, thought-provoking book never leaves you.‘ Thank you, Lisa – your thoughtfulness warms my heart. To learn more about Host and her work, visit the author’s website.

Winners: Shanghai Girls

Thank you to all who entered the giveaway for Shanghai Girls. We had over 45 entries and the two winners were chosen randomly using Random.Org

Congratulations to:

Victoria who wrote “I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in a weekend… I couldn’t put it down I loved it so much! Thanks for the chance.

AND…

Shari D. who wrote “I have never read any of her books, but would love to read this one.

I will be emailing both winners … please send me your snail mail address within 7 days. Your books will be coming directly from the publisher.

For those of you who entered but did not a win a book, I hope you’ll consider purchasing the book!