Sunday Salon – March 14, 2010

March 14, 2010

What crazy weather we have been having this month. Friday night it hailed, then we had a huge thunder and lightening storm that sent Gizmo under the bed and gave Raven a barking fit, then we had a blizzard with almost a foot of snow. Yesterday was cold and sunny. Today is supposed to heat up and be in the 60s.  All that, and we’ve lost an hour too:

Today Kip and I are going to a corned beef and cabbage dinner (for only $7 per person) at the volunteer fire station in our town. They put on these great feeds several times a year to raise money for the fire station (we never miss the Bean Feed and always try to make it the town fair where the food is burgers, hotdogs, chips and soda). The first year I was in Shingletown, we arrived at the Bean Feed and were the only people under the age of 70…but the food is good and it is fun being part of this small town tradition. So, we’ll be celebrating St. Paddy’s day with traditional fare and bumping elbows with people in our community at the same time.

I am ALMOST finished reading The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. Wow, what a terrific book this has been. Byatt has a ton of characters in this family saga (in fact, early on I stopped reading and made a flow chart of the families and the masses of children in the book), but I never felt overwhelmed. The more I read, the easier it was to put a face to all the names because Byatt is nothing but skilled at character development. I hope to have my review up very soon on this one.


Since I’ve read Wolf Hall (read my review) and now The Children’s Book, I think I am qualified to say that Byatt’s book should have captured The Booker Prize. Not only was it an amazing look at the turn of the 19th century to the 20th century in Europe (Britain specifically), but Byatt’s story telling was riveting. Mantel, on the other hand, seemed more interested in being different in her style than being accessible to her readers. (I also think Byatt wins on cover art – hands down.)

As far as characterization goes – well, I have to say that Mantel had the potential to blow Byatt out of the water with her main character Thomas Cromwell (what a fascinating historical figure). But she became so incomprehensible to me as more and more characters were introduced and she continued to play around with the ambiguous pronoun “he”, that I ended up just finding myself confused and irritated. Byatt also had a huge cast of characters (mostly fictional, but some historical), but they were so well developed that after a while I had no trouble following their individual lives. I was interested in Byatt’s characters. I cared what happened to them. I wanted to understand them.

So on all fronts: story, characters, even cover art…Byatt wins for me.

This is all just my opinion, of course. If you’ve read both books, what do YOU think?

If you are a prize list follower, you might want to check out Jackie’s predictions for the Orange Prize long list. On her list, the only ones I’ve read are The Children’s Book, Wolf Hall and The Year of the Flood (read my review). I am planning to read The Lacuna this month, and The Little Stranger next month. And Tyler’s and Tremain’s new book’s are on my wish list. The rest I need to do some research on…so I am withholding opinion for now!

Speaking of lists, here is a new list of sorts…The University of Rochester is recognizing translated literature with their Best Translated Book Award. Here is their short list, of which the winner turned out to be The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven (translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu). I have not read ANY of the books on their list (sadly), but if you are like me and wish to read more translated works, this is a good place to start.

That wraps up this edition of Sunday Salon. What great books are you reading lately? Do you have any plans for today? If so, I hope that at some point they involve reading a good book!

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  1. I started Wolf Hall and The Children’s Book at the end of last year and put them to one side whilst we moved house. I promptly forgot about them even though I really did want to read them. Your post is so interesting comparing them and I also found myself more drawn to A S Byatt’s book.

    I will have to rescue them from the backlog of books and read them sooner rather than later. I have The Little Stranger also begging to be read. There are just so many good books to read!

  2. I agree that The Children’s Book is better than Wolf Hall – especially in terms of cover design! I thought Wolf Hall was one of the weakest on the Booker list last year – I thought The Glass Room deserved to win. I would have loved to see How to Paint a Dead Man win, but unfortuantely it didn’t even make the Booker short list. I’m hoping it is more successful with this year’s Orange prize. I hope you enjoy reading some Orange nominees later this month.

  3. I think it’s awesome that you go to the firehouse dinners! I need to find more things like that to support in my community.

    On the books…well alas, Booker nominated seems to turn me off since I do sort of equate the idea with hard to read books. I haven’t read many but the ones I’ve read are not my typical reads. I would like to try A.S. Byatt someday, though.

    • Ariel on March 14, 2010 at 09:34

    I am glad to hear this about the Byatt book. I have read several of hers (although not, crucially, “Possession”) and have never really developed an appreciation of her work. Maybe this is the one to go on the TBR shelf after “Possession.”

    Meanwhile, I am heading off right now to look at this new translation award – thanks for letting us know about it!

    • Kim on March 14, 2010 at 09:36

    I have read similar comments regarding both Wolf Hall and The Children’s Book. I have not read either of them, but am drawn to Byatt’s cover first! I am currently reading Out Stealing Horses–(I know! About 3 years after everyone else!)– and it was a Dublin Award winner, also a translation.
    Have a great Sunday and hope you enjoy your community dinner! 🙂

    • Laura on March 14, 2010 at 10:58

    OK, now I know I should read The Children’s Book! I’d been scared off it for some reason. But if you liked it, I know that I will. Have a great day, Wendy!

    • Lahni on March 14, 2010 at 12:27

    I started Wolf Hall about a month ago and didn’t even make it 100 pages before ditching it. I just couldn’t follow the story – there were too many characters and the “ambiguous pronoun” just made the book way too much work to read. I’m just not interested in reading a book like that right now. I’m definitely going to add The Children’s Book to my list now though!

    • gavin on March 14, 2010 at 15:14

    The weather here has also been weird. Temperature changes of 15 degrees in and hour, hail and heavy rain, then sunny and warm. Must be March!

    I loved both The Children’s Book and Wolf Hall but I have to give my vote to Mantel. I loved the historic depth of both novels and truely admire both authors for the tremendous work they put into them.
    I actually liked the “ambiguous pronoun”, found reading the book a real challenge that I enjoyed. I was completely taken in by Cromwell and all the people surrounding him. I really wanted to find out what happened to them.

    Thanks for the links to the lists. Three Percent is one of my favorite websites.

  4. I am currently reading WEolf Hall and I agree, Mantel’s ambiguous use of he can be very confusing. I have only read about 100 pages but I am enjoying it so far. I hope to read The Children’s Book soon too.

  5. I’m not a big fan of this hour loss either! ACK!

    And I’ve heard more positive things about “The Children’s Book” than “Wolf Hall.”

    • Wendy on March 15, 2010 at 17:16

    Margaret: I’ve posted my review of The Children’s Book now…it is a wonderful book, I hope you’ll read it and share your thoughts soon! I agree, there are far too many books out there which are begging to be read!

    Jackie: I’ll be reading The Glass Room this month…so then I can compare all three books 🙂 I am eagerly waiting for the Orange Prize longlist to come out! I have been very bad lately about reading for that challenge…need to remedy that soon!

    Amy: The firehouse dinner was delish! I know what you mean about the Bookers – sometimes they are real challenges. This was my first Byatt…but I plan on reading more by her!

    Ariel: What didn’t work for you with Byatt’s previous work? I’m curious! I want to read more of her work, but not sure which to read (although Possession is an obvious choice).

    Kim: I LOVED Out Stealing Horses – such a beautiful book. Hope you are enjoying it 🙂

    Laura: Don’t be scared – jump right in with both feet – I think you’ll love it!

    Lahni: I know what you mean about Wolf Hall – I might not have finished it myself except it was for a book group. I don’t think you will find Byatt’s book as much work!

    Gavin: It is always interesting to hear a different opinion about a book. I know you are not alone in your love of Wolf Hall…

    Stephanie: I will wait eagerly for your thoughts (and comparisons) of both books!

    Jenners: I think Byatt is much more accessible to her readers than Mantel and perhaps that is one reason you are seeing more positive reviews of the Children’s Book vs. Wolf Hall.

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