One-Minute Book Reviews

August 26, 2008

What Critics Read on Vacation — Dorothy Parker and More

Filed under: Nonfiction,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:00 pm
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Frances McDormand starred in the movie version of "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day"

Lately I’ve realized that I’m the literary equivalent of a survivalist who has a cellar full of tinned Vienna sausages and sauerkraut just in case there’s an enemy attack. I’m dog-sitting for a week for a couple whose house resembles a Barnes and Noble annex: She’s led several book clubs and he’s a reporter covering the Democratic National Convention.

Still, I must be prepared. What if none of my friends’ books is exactly what I need to survive the week? So before leaving home I spent days thinking about which books to pack until a dozen or so went into my suitcase, including these five:

The Portable Dorothy Parker: Revised and Enlarged Edition (Viking, 1973), by Dorothy Parker with an introduction by Brendan Gill. I try always to take a good book of literary criticism on vacation, and this one has some of Parker’s best Constant Reader columns for The New Yorker plus a selection of her poems, articles and short stories. A favorite line: Parker writes in a review of a book by the wife of a British prime minister: “The affair between Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live as one of the prettiest in all of literature.”

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Dial, 2008), by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Based on the reviews and word-of-mouth, I just sent this epistolary novel as an 85th birthday present to an aunt in Peoria (along with a cherry-red tin of thistle-shaped Walker’s shortbread as a substitute for potato peel pie). Need to read the book to find out if Aunt Lois is still speaking to me.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective (Walker, 2008) by Kate Summerscale. An easy call. This is one of year’s most highly praised books of historical true crime. I read a few chapters earlier this month and had to force myself to stop and save the book for this week. I also have a soft spot for books in which the body turns up in an outhouse for reasons perhaps best saved for another post. and

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Persephone Classics, 2008), by Winifred Watson with an introduction by Henrietta Twycross-Martin. English journalists have called the London–based Persephone Books is “the new Virago,” a defunct imprint that specialized in neglected minor classics by women, so I’ve been looking forward to getting to know its list. The dust jacket says of this book says, “Miss Pettigrew is a down-on-her-luck, middle-aged governess sent by her employment agency to work for a nightclub singer rather than a household of unruly children. Over a period of 24 hours her life is changed – forever.” And a Guardian reviewer wrote: “Why has it taken more than half a century for this wonderful flight of humor to be rediscovered? Pure Cinderella fantasy farce with beaus, bounders, negligees and nightclubs – Miss Pettigrews’s blossoming is a delight to observe.” Frances McDormand starred in a 2008 movie version of the novel

Sports Stories (Kingfisher, 2000, ages 9 and up), chosen by Alan Durant and illustrated by David Kearney. For a long time I’ve been looking for a good book of short stories about sports for middle-school and older students. This one caught my eye at the library because it includes new and classic writing on a variety of girls’ or boys sports, including soccer, tennis, baseball, basketball, hockey, swimming and running. The quality of writing in anthologies tends to be uneven, and I’m hoping to find out this week if Sports Stories achieves enough consistency to recommend it.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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