Book Report

I seem to have felt increasingly frivolous lately:

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke

It’s been a long time since I was as taken with a book as I was with this astonishing, witty novel. The last time was Jeanette Wall’s heart-rending, yet inspirational memoir, The Glass Castle, and before that (you guessed it), Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. With a fresh, unique voice, Clarke gives us the unlikely story of a teenager who accidentally sets fire to Emily Dickinson’s house, killing a husband and wife in the process. He does his time, is released from jail, and starts a new life. But he can’t escape his past, especially when writers’ homes start going up in flames again.

A tragi-comic delight, from start to finish.

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo

It’s been six years since Russo’s tour de force, Empire Falls (the mini-series was, unusually, as good as the book), so I was more than ready for one of Russo’s guided tours of small town New York State. In all fairness, I will disclose that I have a sentimental attachment to small town NY, having been brought up there (mostly) and to Russo’s poignant portraits of everyday, small town life. As with Jane Austen, it’s a small canvas, but painted with great richness.

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, by Dana Thomas

Thomas knows whereof she writes: she writes for the New York Times style magazine, that staple of my Sunday reading, and covered fashion for Newsweek in Paris for 12 years. This gives her access to the big guns of the big luxury houses, gets her behind the scenes at factories and offices, and gives us a peek into the secrets of the world’s most famous designers and brands. Sadly, luxury brands are now almost entirely owned by huge conglomerates, and few women wear couture. But for the very wealthy, true luxury is still available – at a price. And the rest of us can read all about it.

The Deep and Other Stories, by Mary Swan

I went looking for Ms. Swan’s latest book, The Boys in the Trees, but the library didn’t have it. They did have this earlier work, and by page 7 I was completely enchanted, in a different world. Graceful, lyrical, with characters popping in and out of stories. Unexpected. Moving.

I’m going to have to buy the new one.

The Little Lady Agency and the Prince, by Hester Browne

The third in a series of fizzy books about a well brought up London girl who opens an agency to help hapless men. Not in the traditional way, but helping them to buy stylish clothes, get good gifts for their girlfriends, improve their manners, break up gracefully, and other things that most men just can’t manage on their own.

When I was at the hotel waiting for my things to arrive, I ran out of books so I picked up the first in the series at the local Borders, and couldn’t wait to read the second one. Great escapism, lots of fun, like a champagne cocktail beside a Riviera pool.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, by Crystal Zevon

What with the excellent Californication (a must-see; just get past the silly title and even sillier first scene and it’ll charm the pants off you) constantly playing Zevon songs and/or referring to them, and at least two of the New York Times book critics choosing this book as one of their top ten of the year, I had to check it out. I couldn’t put it down. You don’t have to know anything about Warren Zevon (I didn’t) to be fascinated by this book. He knew everybody and did everything. As he put it himself, “I was Jim Morrison for a lot longer than he was”. Amazing.

The Spare Wife, by Alex Witchel

The title refers to the glamorous former model and current socialite Ponce Porter, who acts as a “spare wife” to both people in a couple, equally helpful to husband and wife without being threatening. Quite a feat, as is her being a pro bono lawyer who never gets up before noon.

Her perfect existence is threatened when a power-hungry assistant editor at a well-regarded magazine learns Ponce’s deepest and darkest secret and threatens to expose it. But Ponce won’t give up without a fight.

Set in the glittering high society of present-day New York, it’s all surface and no substance.

Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar

Apparently her real name and pretty much her real life, since she grew up on the Upper East Side and went to a fancy private school, like the girls in the book. The drama! The drinking! The heartaches! The shopping! Frivolous fun, and I’ve already started downloading the TV series. What can I say? I’m the world’s oldest teenager.

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

I can’t help myself, I’m a “Shopaholic”-aholic, even though I know their heroine is irresponsible and the consequences of her actions would be anything but amusing and easily resolved in real life. Reality, whether on TV or in your life, is overrated in my opinion, especially when your current reality includes the shopping cart people and buying groceries at Lucky. So I need my escapism, and I need it bad.

Shopaholic Becky is missing from the latest effort, replaced by the delightfully named amnesiac Lexi Smart, who wakes up in the hospital one day to find that she had a car accident. She can’t remember a thing, including her gorgeous millionaire husband, her insanely luxurious apartment, and her high-powered job. Is her glamorous life everything it seems to be? Will Lexi regain her memory? It’s a fun premise and a romp of a read.

On deck:

The Monsters of Templeton

Like You’d Understand Anyway

Later, At the Bar

Summer at Tiffany

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