book reviews

I didn’t finish a book last year, which is a pretty good summary of how it looked on the body, spirit, and mind. Now I’m kind of on a hot streak, so I’m trying to keep this going and moving onto Brideshead Revisited. Working backwards:

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I had never read any other Austen besides Pride & Prejudice, and never really planned to. Y’all, on a technical level, Persuasion is tighter, funnier, looser, more modern in its contemporaneous presentation, and its situations translate well in a modern read. Austen doesn’t quite know how to end the book, but, out of the deep sense of melancholy in the premise, she cracks off enough brilliant, realized set pieces and exchanges that it doesn’t matter. There’s a charged, but considered idea of romance that’s interesting here.

But, really, and I may expand this into a fuller post, it’s the perfect book for the hook-up era (IM SORRY FOR THAT PHRASING). The basic line: Anne Elliot’s father and surrogate mother convinced her not to marry a good guy at age 19 when she was hot and lonely. Now 27 and faded, spends the first half of the book awkwardly running into him—in the present, he’s a handsome, accomplished naval captain—all over the place, as he hits on these sisters, she blows off her family, and they all go on a road trip together. It’s a situational disaster comedy.

It’s so modern that on my run this morning, I easily assembled a modern adaptation of it—all set in Mobile and New Orleans.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

On Fancy Bill McMorris’ recommendation at Christmas, I tried to crack Decline and Fall at Christmas and it really wasn’t my flow. I’m a Lucky Jim girl. Scoop was more my style. It pulls off a light touch throughout that’s impressive, especially given the subject matter; Waugh’s also fantastic at exposing the blind spots of a narrator through dialogue. You know certain characters are playing William before he does, but without it being frustrating or obtuse. I take it Dr. Benito is a reference to Mussolini, given Waugh’s trip to Ethiopia, but a nod to Benito Cereno also works; the treatment of the fake African country has some ugly spots, but I suppose it fits within the treatment of that subject matter during that era.

Secondly, it just occurred to me that I also read Right Ho, Jeeves earlier this year, and just like the use of “fruity one on the shin” is still cracking me up, “He and Mr Salter regarded it sadly” is this book’s minor phrasing that I love.

Separately, while I have love in my heart for several fine writers at the actual Daily Beast, now having read this book, it seems awfully cute to name a website the Daily Beast.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

A perfect book with a nearly perfect ending. I read it in two pretty distant chunks (in the Outer Banks in 2011 and then a few weeks ago), so I’d like to burn through it in a more contained way. It’s the most original book I’ve ever read and it has basically everything. It is worth reading.

And, finally, check out Keith Law’s 100 book list. Nothing I’ve selected off it yet has disappointed me.

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One of the few parts of my “Man Up” essay that ran in the book I can read without breaking out in a cold sweat, is the short section about my father (this comes after the break online, in the second half of the essay):

TJ Miller would never say ["sack up, ho"], but he’s comfortable with the idea. My father comes in at about five foot six and has a habit of reading during Redskins games. He’s a Silver Star, flew for the CIA, sold F-16s, and once got out of a mugging in the grocery store parking lot by hitting one of the muggers with a wine bottle. He’s watched, basically, every Atlanta Braves game played in the last two decades, curses with vigor and finesse, and rotates through about five flannel shirts in the winter. He stands in our driveway smoking and went to Harvard Business School. He tells badass stories about FBI agents and professional baseball players, and all of my brother’s friends are at least a little scared of him.

Separately, as a point of correction to my own personal essay, he will, unfailingly, only tell you a story if it is relevant to the discussion at hand, so he’ll just mention major life events, nonchalantly. He will Forrest Gump you**. Like, in the last 12 months, I found out that my father was in Cairo when Saddat was assassinated (noted on our way back from Chipotle), and he did the majority of his undergrad career at Harvard, where he was in the last ROTC class. (How could we not know this? His answer to, “Where did you go to school?” was always a helpful, “Lots of places.”)

That, of course, is him at right. I was trying to find a good picture from yore of my father and myself, but I had a really great handle on photo-bombing my own photos, and settled on this. The above image, circa 1996, captures his general demeanor.

Anyway, the point of that detour into my family history being: If your dad is at all like mine, you will really enjoy the chapter in Tina Fey’s book about her father.

Contine reading…