RIP Mad Men Reading and Viewing List

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Is anyone else devastated by the end of Mad Men? Last Sunday’s series’ finale was, for the most part, a solid finish for my favourite show on television ever. But how to fill the gaping hole in our hearts now that it’s gone?

Try these:

Watch The Sopranos, where Mad Men showrunner, Matthew Weiner, cut his teeth as a staff writer.

Read this trio of mid-century male authors: John Cheever, John Updike, and Richard Yates. Or for a more female version of the 1960s, try The Group, by Mary McCarthy, published in 1963. It follows the lives of eight Vassar graduates, known simply to their classmates as “the group”.

If you’re more interested in Nonfiction, read Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the 60s and Beyond, by Jane Maas or The Long Winded Lady, by Maeve Brennan.

For something truly authentic, check out the New York Public Library’s comprehensive list of all the books that have appeared on Mad Men, by season and episode. Or try another list of books seen on the show organized by character.

You might also want to peruse The Millions’ 10 Books to Read When Man Men is Over.

Whatever you do, know that I am with you in grief over this colossal cultural loss. I, for one, am just going to start watching it again, starting with season one.

-Heidi

Patricia’s Fresh Picks for May 2015

This May sees the long awaited return of Penn Cage and a comedy about the return of a major historical figure that no one expected (or wanted) to see.  Welcome to my Fresh Picks for May 2015.

bonetreeThe Bone Tree by Greg Iles

When we last saw Penn Cage, he and his fiancee had barely escaped the clutches of the Double Eagles.  Penn’s father, Tom, was on the run from the FBI following the death of his nurse, Violet.  The Bone Tree picks up right where Natchez Burning left off, taking readers on a thrill ride through the turbulence of the civil rights movement and into the heart of the Kennedy assassination.

lookLook Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

What would the modern world make of Hitler’s resurrection?  Why he’d be made a YouTube sensation for sure!  At least that’s the premise of this satirical novel, which pits Hitler’s dangerous bigotry against the absurdity of modern celebrity culture.

librarianThe Librarian* by Mikhail Elizarov

All good librarians know that reading gives you superpowers… figuratively.  In Elizarov’s satire The Librarian, this idea is explored more literally as readers of an obscure Soviet writer literally become endowed with special powers.  The Librarian won the Russian Booker Prize in 2008.

–Patricia

*Thanks to NetGalley for providing an Advanced Readers Copy of this title.

A thriller booklovers can fall in love with

This week I took a break from the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist to read a book that just showed up in my mailbox at home.  Obviously someone in our house ordered it, but neither my husband or I remember doing so.  The book is Jung-Myung Lee’s The Investigation, and I highly recommend it to all booklovers.

investigationWhy read it now?  The Investigation has been getting a fair bit of attention this year thanks to its inclusion on the International Foreign Fiction Prize longlist.

What’s the story?  A 19-year old prison guard Watanabe is put in charge of investigating his sadistic partner’s murder.  The investigation brings him close to the secret heart of the prison, and causes him to question the treatment of the Japanese prison’s Korean inmates.

shadowWhat would I compare it too?  My experience falling in love with this book reminded me of The Shadow of the WindBoth do an excellent job describing what it is to be in love with books, and both do so in the genre of a thriller.  The two novels both have small moments of exultant joy within crushing realities.  And both are set in the 1940s.

Why did I love it?  The story is a combination of two things I love:  a page-turning thriller and a celebration of language.  Within the novel are bits of poetry written by real-life Korean poet Yun Dong-ju — an inmate, and heartwrenching images that will stay with me for a long time.

Want to know more about The InvestigationRead this interview with the author in which he talks about the story behind The Investigation.

–Patricia

Baileys Women’s Prize Shortlist: Battle of the Darlings

June third is fast approaching and I’m two-thirds of the way through this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize Shortlist.  For the past two week’s I’ve been reading two titles by beloved authors, Anne Tyler and Sarah WatersLet the battle begin!

spoolA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Why is she a darling?  Tyler is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist with 20 novels to her name who has twice been shortlisted for the Orange Prize.  She is perhaps best known for The Accidental Tourist (later made into a film starring Geena Davis), though my favourite novel of hers is Digging to America.

What’s this book about?  Like most of Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread centres around the the life of an everyday American family.  Abby and Red Whitshank are getting on in years and decisions must be made about what to do with the house, which was built by Red’s father.

What keeps you reading?  Tyler does an excellent job of writing memorable characters who feel authentic, the Whitshanks are no different.  The digressive section on Red’s parents courtship was particularly entertaining.

Verdict:  While I thoroughly enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread, the narrative is less coherent than Tyler’s other works and therefore less satisfying.  If you’re a Tyler fan already, read it.  If you are new to her work, there are better starting points.

vs.

payingThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Why is she a darling?  Waters is known for writing Victorian novels featuring lesbian protagonists.  She was twice shortlisted for the Orange Prize.  Her best known works are Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet.

What’s this book about?  Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter Frances take in a married couple as lodgers to make ends meet.  Frances becomes quite close to the wife, Lilian.

What keeps you reading?  The early stages of the novel paint an affecting portrait of female friendship.  Midway through, it becomes a crime drama.  I kept reading to see how (and if) the main characters’ relationship would survive.

Verdict:  As with Tyler, I don’t find this to be Waters’ best work.  I found the melding of two genres readable but ultimately unsatisfying.  If you are new to her work, I’d pick up Fingersmith or another early work instead.

The Winner

While I enjoyed A Spool of Blue Thread more than The Paying Guests, I found the latter harder to put down.  In the end, I’m still routing for Rachel Cusk’s Outline or Laline Paull’s The Bees to take home Bessie on June 3rd.

Registration is now open for our Baileys Women’s Prize Party on June 3rd.  The party will celebrate the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction and will feature readings from the shortlisted books, drinks, refreshments, and prizes! You can register via our event calendar here: http://bit.ly/1E5jyEw

–Patricia

Bailey’s Prize Shortlist Announced!

For some reason, I thought I had another week to make my Baileys Women’s Prize shortlist predictions and so I had only a vague impression of which novels I’d like to see on there other than two standouts:  Laline Paull’s The Bees and Rachel Cusk’s Outline; both of which made the grade.

beesPaull’s The Bees is one of those reads that is so original that when someone asks you to recommend what they should read after it, it’s almost impossible to answer.  For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s a book with almost no human characters; it’s about bees.  It’s an animal narrated fantasy, a dystopian work, and a wildly creative piece of environmental fiction.  Flora is born into the hive (which should conjure up images of oppressive totalitarian regimes) and doesn’t fit in.  She rebels, as we would expect, and finds herself answering to a higher calling than that of the rest of the hive who live to accept, obey, and serve.

outlineLike The Bees, Outline is based on an unusual idea:  the protagonist is a novelist who has gone to Athens to teach a creative writing course.  While this is not strange in itself, what is unique is how Cusk approaches that material.  As readers we only learn the haziest of details about our protagonist; she exists only in outline.  Instead it is those she interacts with that jump off the page:  a fellow passenger on the flight to Athens, another teacher, her students.  There isn’t a story in the way we traditionally think of story, and yet the novel is mesmerizing.  I almost didn’t read Outline because the cover and blurb didn’t enticingly convey how wonderfully this concept is executed.  I would have missed out.

–Patricia