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Moonlight Reader

Welcome to 2019! 

Currently reading

The Secret History
Donna Tartt
William Shakespeare
Progress: 1 %
Late Eclipses
Seanan McGuire
Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination
Peter Ackroyd

Early psychological crime novel

The Colour of Murder (British Library Crime Classics) - Julian Symons

This was a very quick read - I think it took me about 2 hours from start to finish.


The format is interesting. The first 50% or so of the book is a first-person narration by the suspect to a psychologist. There is a lot of psychology to unpack in this section, with a main character who develops a deep hatred of his wife, and who becomes infatuated with a young woman working in the local library. He is not a likeable character, with significant delusions about his own desirability coupled with a strange self-loathing. The classic "nice guy" who really isn't all that nice. He also claims to be having "black-outs" prior to the beginning of the book and there is never really explanation of this phenomenon. 


The second half deals with the actual murder trial because he is accused of committing a violent murder. I'm not going to say who the victim is, because that's not revealed until midway through the book and it's a bit of a plot point. I feel like the book started to collapse a bit toward the end, and then there are some unsatisfying epilogues that are sort of intended to answer the fundamental question of "did he do it?" 


It's interesting that I picked this up right now the heels of My Cousin Rachel, which ends is a similarly opaque fashion. This book is no where near the quality of du Maurier, however. I initially rated it 4, but upon further reflection, I'm calling it a 3 1/2. I did like it, and it's an engaging read, but it's a bit thin and a contemporary writer would've made much more of the psychology. I can imagine Ruth Rendell taking the premise and really digging into it, resulting in both a more modern and a more interesting book.


It does feel a bit prescient of that type of book, which is interesting and I think that Symons should get some credit for writing a book that is quite different from the average Golden Age Mystery whodunnit.

Reading progress update: I've read 155 out of 262 pages.

The Colour of Murder (British Library Crime Classics) - Julian Symons

Well, the victim is not at all who I expected...

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 262 pages.

The Colour of Murder (British Library Crime Classics) - Julian Symons

Starting for:


11. Read a book set in a coastal/beach region that you love, or would love to visit, or a book that has a beach or ocean on the cover.


Isn't that a gorgeous cover? I hope that the book lives up to its promise!

What the fuck did I just read?

My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

Oh, this book. This book is crazy, intriguing, compelling, disturbing and unaccountable.


I feel like maybe I should just turn right around and read it again because I have NO IDEA WHAT JUST HAPPENED.


Dayum, can Daphne du Maurier tell stories or what. 


I think that this was actually better than Rebecca, and it was for sure better than Jamaica Inn.

Reading progress update: I've read 135 out of 348 pages.

My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

Someone needs to give the narrator a swift kick in the arse.

This is a call for your essential titles/authors?

This is a call - over the next week or so, spend some time putting together a short list of your personal essential titles that are maybe a little bit out of the mainstream. Say, your top 25 or so that you think are representative or transformative of their era or genre, or are culturally important or especially significant in some way.


Not Pride and Prejudice or The Great Gatsby or the titles that show up on every great books list, that we all - as avid readers - already either have read or are on our radar screen, but stuff that is a bit more out of the way than that.


For example, my list would definitely include Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, South Riding by Winifred Holtby, The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, and Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Anything goes - genre fiction/literary fiction/out-of-the-way classics, etc.


More diverse is better. Not all dead white guys - not that I'm adamantly opposed to dead white guys, but they tend to saturate the lists. And I'm definitely not saying that they won't be on the list - just that they're so obvious we don't need to look for them, IYKWIM.


Oh, and I know that books that are shiny and new are fun, but I'm looking for titles that we really think will stand the test of time, and sometimes the only way to know is to give them time, so be judicious with books that were published in the last five years or so. Hard to know if they will make the cut at the end of the day!


I'm interested in everyone's ideas b/c we have some incredibly well-read people on this website.


Tag your posts with either "crowdsourced" or "essential books" so I am sure to find them!


And thanks in advance to everyone for playing!

1001 Books?

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die - Peter Boxall

I bought this reference probably 5 years or so ago, and scanned through it at the time I purchased it. I took a second look at it last night.


Any list of this sort is going to have deficiencies, and this one definitely does. It is extremely heavy on "contemporary" fiction, particularly fiction published in the 1990's and 2000's, and some of the choices are really strange.


For example, there is only one Willa Cather selected - My Professor's House - and the compiler completely ignored My Antonia, Death Comes For the Archbishop, and her Pulitzer Prize winning WWI novel, One of Ours. There's one Agatha Christie - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which is a great one, but not And Then There Were None


And my edition has 7 entries by Paul Auster. I don't  know who he bribed, but that's ridiculous. There is no way that he has written 7 books that are worthy of inclusion in a list that purports to be 1001 of the greatest books ever written. 


I think that perhaps we need a BL crowd-sourced list. What do y'all think?



Reading progress update: I've read 36 out of 348 pages.

My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

"For God's sake, come to me quickly. She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment. If you delay, it may be too late."


OMG, that is an EPIC line.

Roll 8, Roll 8, Roll 8 is really great

My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

My husband's Cub Scout Den was called Den 8, and they would chant:


"Den 8, Den 8, Den 8 is really great"


at their meetings, so I couldn't help but adopt the chant for my 8th roll.


Anyway, I landed on:


7. Read a book that has a house on the cover, or that is related to something unique about your community (for example, if your community has a strawberry festival, read a book with strawberries on the cover).


and I have decided that I a going to read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier - my edition has a (rather large) house on the cover.

The first Inspector Lynley

A Great Deliverance - Elizabeth  George

OB's reviews of the first three books in the Inspector Lynley series have compelled me to reread them - I initially read them around the time of publication, which in the case of this book was 1988. I think that I probably read it in the early 1990's, maybe 1994 or so. I have a very distinct memory of reading one of the first entries into the series on a cruise ship balcony. I don't recall if I had picked up the book in one of those terrible cruise ship libraries that are the sad depository of musty Barbara Cartlands and poorly-written thrillers, or if it was one of the carefully curated stack of books I packed, long before the invention of the kindle meant that I could carry an entire library in my purse.


I forgot how good the beginning of this series is. This is really just an outstanding mystery - disturbing, emotionally resonant and horrifying. Tommy Lynley feels a little bit underdeveloped, but we're already getting deep into Barbara Havers, who is by far the best character in the series. In fact, tbh, George probably should have called it the DI Barbara Havers series.


I just placed a library hold on book 2. I can't remember when the books start to decline, but I do remember THAT BOOK. The one that all of you other series readers will also remember - where George goes completely off the fucking rails and takes a wrecking ball to everything that she has spent a dozen or so books building.

Books about being a reader

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life - Andy Miller My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues - Pamela Paul Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading - Nina Sankovitch

I have a bit of an ongoing love-affair with reading memoirs. I've read a few others, and there are still more on my TBR.


Over the last few weeks, in an effort to work through what was an incipient, or possibly present, reading slump, I managed to finish three of them. Well, not quite finish, actually. I'm still reading Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, but I am far enough along to know where it will sit in my ranking of the three.


I have one more on its way to me, as well - I bought Howards End is on the Landing, by Susan Hill, for $4.00 on Abebooks. I expect it to show up in the mailbox one of these days.


So, in order of preference:


My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul was my favorite of the three. I think that this is because Ms. Paul and I are, in many ways, both contemporaries and kindred spirits. We both had bookish childhoods. Many of her reminisces were very similar to my own reactions to books and the role that they played in my life. I am, of course, an literary underachiever, having not reached the exalted heights of editor for the New York Times Book Review, but, still, I suspect that she and I would be able to have a delightful time sharing a bottle of wine and talking books.


The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller takes second place. Mr. Miller and I, unlike Ms. Paul and I, would likely not be friends. I found him to be a bit of a git, to be honest. But, I liked the books he chose, and I liked the format of his book and his "List of Betterment." In a lot of ways, his approach mirrors my participation in both rounds of the classics club, and reading TYoRD is responsible from the creation of my classics club, round 2, list of books. 


Tolstoy in the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovich was (is) my least favorite of the three, although I am still enjoying it. But I don't like the premise as much as the other two - which is focused around a year in which Ms. Sankovich reads a book a day. I feel like some of the bookishness is actually lost in the gimmicky nature of the premise. 


Do any of you have a favorite reading memoir that I haven't mentioned? Hit me below, if there's something that you think I would enjoy!

Reading progress update: I've read 47 out of 416 pages.

A Passage to India - E.M. Forster, Pankaj Mishra, Oliver Stallybrass


Playing politics!

Below the Clock - J.V. Turner

This was my second parliamentary murder in a couple of weeks, along with The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkenson.


I liked them both. I think that Turner's mystery was a bit better, but Wilkinson's background and political characterizations were deeper. I would recommend either of them for fans of classic mystery, especially if you're looking for a book with political intrigue.

Another Agathytes Buddy Read?

Cards on the Table (Hercule Poirot, #15) - Agatha Christie

I know that there was some discussion around buddy reading Cards on the Table next. Given that we are already into the month of June, we can either plan to read in late June, or wait until July.


Is anyone else interested?


Let's talk timing below!



The Winner!

A Passage to India - E.M. Forster, Pankaj Mishra, Oliver Stallybrass

The votes are in and the results of the poll are as follows:


A Passage to India wins with 7

Beloved received 4 votes

Ethan Frome received 4 votes

Orient Express brought up the rear with a still respectable 3 votes


I have the Penguin Classics edition, which is 376 pages long. I've been meaning to read Forster for years, so I'm excited to get down to business on this one, although I would have been happy with any of the choices. I have a few books to finish up before I tackle this one - I really do want to finish up my Detection Club project, so I think I will do that first! I only have two relatively short books left for that one!


Moby Dick remains in the future...

Staking a claim for immortality

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers

Title: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
Author: Carson McCullers
Date Published: 1940
Page: 359


Plot Summary: Carson McCullers’ prodigious first novel was published to instant acclaim when she was just twenty-three. Set in a small town in the middle of the deep South, it is the story of John Singer, a lonely deaf-mute, and a disparate group of people who are drawn towards his kind, sympathetic nature. The owner of the café where Singer eats every day, a young girl desperate to grow up, an angry drunkard, a frustrated black doctor: each pours their heart out to Singer, their silent confidant, and he in turn changes their disenchanted lives in ways they could never imagine.


Carson McCullers was 23 when she wrote The Heart is the Lonely Hunter, and already married to Reese McCullers. In 1934, she left home, in Columbus, Georgia, and went to New York City to study at Julliard, by herself, with $500.00 pinned to her underwear. She was 17 years old.


It's hard, in 2019, with a 23 year old daughter of my own, to imagine anyone having the life experience to write The Heart is a Lonely Hunter at that age. Carson McCullers was, obviously, remarkable. She died young, 3 years younger than I am right now, her body worn down from illness and alcoholism. She wasn't a prolific writer, leaving behind a small body of work: 4 novels and a dozen or so short stories, as her claim to immortality. But what a claim she makes.


There is research that demonstrates that reading, and especially reading literary fiction, improves the reader's ability to empathize. Reading a book like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter makes that statement almost laughably obvious. Of course, reading fiction improves empathy. How could it not?


This book is painfully resonant. McCuller's characters are so real that they nearly leap off the page. The center of the book is John Singer, a deaf-mute who, at the beginning of the book is living with his best friend, Antonopoulos, a fellow deaf-mute. Their lives are very simple - they rise, they go to work at their disparate employments, they meet after work and return home to dinner. Singer speaks with his hands, and talks all evening to his friend. Antonopoulos does not speak in return, and it's never clear to anyone, including Singer, that he understands what he is being told. Singer is deeply, and non-sexually, committed to Antonopoulos. After a while, Antonopoulos begins acting out in town, and his cousin has him committed to a mental institution, which is the event that really starts the book.


Singer moves out of the apartment he shared with his friend because it is too painful for him to live there alone, and he moves to the home of Mick Kelly, a teenage girl who is, to me, the true heart of the book. He begins frequenting the New York Cafe, owned by Biff Branner. He meets Benedict Copeland, the black doctor in town, and Jake Blount, usually drunk and always scrappy. And he, somewhat inexplicably, becomes the sun around which all of these characters orbit.


BY MIDSUMMER Singer had visitors more often than any other person in the house. From his room in the evening there was nearly always the sound of a voice. After dinner at the New York Café he bathed and dressed himself in one of his cool wash suits and as a rule did not go out again. The room was cool and pleasant. He had an icebox in the closet where he kept bottles of cold beer and fruit drinks. He was never busy or in a hurry. And always he met his guests at the door with a welcome smile.


We never do find out very much about Singer - his interior life is largely closed to the reader. We know that he visits his friend, Antonopoulos, in the institution and those visits give us just the smallest glimpse into Singer. But, he really serves as the catalyst for us to learn about the interior lives of the other characters.


McCuller's portrayal of the black community in this small town in Georgia was astonishing. When I was digging around on the internet after finishing the book, still in the throes of the emotional weight of the story, I found quotes by James Baldwin and Richard Wright, author of Native Son, who said, of McCullers that she had the ability to "embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness."


Dr. Copeland says:


"My people were brought from the great plains, and the dark, green jungles,’ he said once to Mr. Singer. ‘On the long chained journeys to the coast they died by the thousands. Only the strong survived. Chained in the foul ships that brought them here they died again. Only the hardy Negroes with will could live. Beaten and chained and sold on the block, the least of these strong ones perished again. And finally through the bitter years the strongest of my people are still here. Their sons and daughters, their grandsons and great-grandsons."


Mick Kelly is Scout Finch, if Atticus had been an out-of-work watch repairman with too many children and not nearly enough money, and if Scout had been a musician. Mick is the character who broke my heart into one million pieces, with the futility of her love of music and the chains of her birth circumstances tightening around her as the novel progresses. She is Thea Kronberg, from The Song of the Lark, without wings to lift her. There are no happy endings here, as she submits gracelessly to her fate, working at Woolworth's, saying goodbye to her dreams, for the $10.00 a week that will help her feed her family.


And then we have Jake Blount, the drunken communist with a dark past.


“And the reason I think like I do is this: We live in the richest country in the world. There’s plenty and to spare for no man, woman, or child to be in want. And in addition to this our country was founded on what should have been a great, true principle—the freedom, equality, and rights of each individual. Huh! And what has come of that start? There are corporations worth billions of dollars—and hundreds of thousands of people who don’t get to eat.”


This book was written during the grimmest part of the Great Depression, and yet the more things change, the more things stay the same. Like all of the very best fiction, it shows the reader things that are true in the way that only fiction can be true. I think that I could read this book a hundred times and I would get something different out of it with each reading.