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Summer readings

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides:
Plot: In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls school, Grosse Pointe, MI, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking, strawberry-blond classmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between themalong with Callies failure to developleads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. The explanation for this shocking state of affairs takes us out of suburbiaback before the Detroit race riots of 1967, before the rise of the Motor City, to 1922, when the Turks sacked Smyrna and Callies grandparents fled for their lives, back to a tiny village in Asia Minor where two lovers, and one rare genetic mutation, set in motion the metamorphosis that will turn Callie into a being both mythical and perfectly real: a hermaphrodite.

My comment: This is one of my favourite books ever and even if I discovered and loved Eugenides with "The Virgin Suicides", in my opinion this is his masterpiece.

The Crimsom petal and the white by Michel Faber:
Plot: Meet Sugar, a nineteen-year-old prostitute in nineteenth-century London who yearns for escape to a better life. From the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, she begins her ascent through society, meeting a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters on the way. 
                                     They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose empire is fueled by his lust for Sugar; his unhinged, child-like wife Agnes; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie; and his pious brother Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox. 
Teeming with life, this is a big, juicy must-read of a novel that has enthralled hundreds of thousands of readers-and will continue to do so for years to come.

My comment: This is one of those books that you wouldn't want to finish. Ever.
Warning! DO NOT buy "The Apple (New Crimson petal stories)". It's a swindle.

Norwegian wood by Haruki Murakami
Plot: When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire - to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.

My comment: Intimate and ethereal, this book made me fall in love with Japanese culture and literature.
It is amazing that it is very actual even if it was written twentyfour years ago.

The house of sleep by Jonathan Coe
Plot: Like a surreal and highly caffeinated version of The Big Chill, Jonathan Coe's novel follows four students who knew each other in college in the eighties. Sarah is a narcoleptic who has dreams so vivid she mistakes them for real events. Robert has his life changed forever by the misunderstandings that arise from her condition. Terry spends his wakeful nights fueling his obsession with movies. And an increasingly unstable doctor, Gregory, sees sleep as a life-shortening disease which he must eradicate.
But after ten years of fretful slumber and dreams gone bad, the four reunite in their college town to confront their disorders. In a Gothic cliffside manor being used as a clinic for sleep disorders, they discover that neither love, nor lunacy, nor obsession ever rests.

My comment: All the people to whom I recommended this book, appreciated it. I think it is a very good story, really well written.

The lives of the muses by Francine Prose
Plot: In The Lives of the Muses, Francine Prose writes a spirited and enlightening exposé of nine women who fired the imaginations of some of the most inimitable artists and thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. 
In addition to Alice Liddell, Prose looks at the following women: Hester Thrale, a long-suffering brewer's wife whose romantic friendship allowed the depressive Dr. Samuel Johnson to continue writing; the tormented Elizabeth Siddal, an opium-addicted artist who became Beatrice to Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Lou Andreas-Salome, who captivated and aroused a triumvirate of original thinkers: Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Sigmund Freud; the "imperious" Gala Dali, who continued to sleep with her ex-husband, poet Paul Eluard, even as she transformed herself into a phenomenal marketing machine for surrealist Salvador Dali; Lee Miller, a model who mastered the techniques of Man Ray and others, and became a talented photographer; Suzanne Farrell, a ballerina who incarnated, animated, and was inspired to great heights of artistry by the compositions of choreographer George Balanchine; Charis Weston, one in a long line of the erotically restless Edward Weston's cast-off art wives and lovers; and the infamous Yoko Ono, who fought fiercely for recognition as an avant-garde artist as she sought to subserve John Lennon into the role of muse.

My comment: I was on holiday in Scotland when I came into a charity shop in Edinburgh and there, left alone on the shelf, there was this book: as a big fan of the Beatles and the 60's and 70's culture, I was immediately impressed by John and Yoko on the cover and just a second later, by the price (just 3£!).
I was so intrigued that I started to read it the same evening in my hostel's bed and for a whole month, I have been part of the muses' circle.Absolutely recommended!

Rude awakenings of a Jane Austen addict by Laurie Viera Rigler 
Plot: Jane Mansfield, a gentleman's daughter in 1813 England, has long wished to escape a life in which career choices are limited to wife or maiden aunt. But awakening one morning in twenty-first-century Los Angeles - in the body of someone called Courtney Stone - is not exactly what she had in mind. Jane must quickly get to grips with a world in which no one knows her true identity: a dizzying world of horseless metal carriages, unrestricted clothing, tiny apartments, all manner of flirting, and unheard-of liberties for womankind. The only thing Jane appears to have in common with the lady in whose life she has landed is a love for the novels of Jane Austen. But are the wise words of her favourite novelist enough to guide her through this bewildering new world? 

My comment: Haven't read it yet

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
Plot: Franny Glass is a pretty, effervescent college student on a date with her intellectually confident boyfriend, Lane. They appear to be the perfect couple, but as they struggle to communicate with each other about the things they really care about, slowly their true feelings come to the surface. The second story in this book, 'Zooey', plunges us into the world of her ethereal, sophisticated family. When Franny's emotional and spiritual doubts reach new heights, her older brother Zooey, a misanthropic former child genius, offers her consolation and brotherly advice.

Written in Salinger's typically irreverent style, these two stories offer a touching snapshot of the distraught mindset of early adulthood and are full of the insightful emotional observations and witty turns of phrase that have helped make Salinger's reputation what it is today.

My comment: Haven't read it yet

Rape: a love story by Joyce Carol Oates
Plot: Teena Maguire should not have tried to shortcut her way home that Fourth of July. Not after midnight, not through Rocky Point Park. Not the way she was dressed: tank top, denim cut-offs, high-heeled sandals. Not with her twelve-year-old daughter, Bethie. Not with packs of local guys running loose on hormones, rage, and alcohol. A victim of gang rape, left for dead in the park boathouse, the once vital and sexy Teena Maguire can now only regret that she has survived. And Bethie can barely remember a childhood uncolored by fear. For they're not even a neighborhood away, the men that she identified for the Niagara Falls Police Department: the wide-browed, sandy-haired Pick brothers; the sneering Jimmy DeLucca; Fritz Haaber with his moustache and stubbled jaw. They've killed her grandmother's longhaired orange cat. At a relentless, compelling pace punctuated by lonely cries in the night and the whisper of terror in the afternoon, National Book Award-winner Joyce Carol Oates unfolds the story of Teena and Bethie, their assailants, and their unexpected, silent champion, a man who knows the meaning of justice. And love.

My comment: Haven't read it yet

The perks of being a wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Plot: Charlie is a freshman. And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

My comment: Haven't read it yet

Slouching towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Plot: Universally acclaimed when it was first published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has become a modern classic. This collection captures the mood of 1960s America, especially the center of its counterculture, California. These essays, keynoted by an extraordinary report on San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, all reflect that, in one way or another, things are falling apart, "the center cannot hold." An incisive look at contemporary American life, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been admired for several decades as a stylistic masterpiece.

My comment: Haven't read it yet

The last of the Savages by Jay McInerney
Plot: When staid Patrick Keane meets his roommate at a New England boarding-school, a strange, enduring friendship of extremes is forged. For Will Savage, privileged white son of the Mississippi Delta, has embraced black soul music and adopted its raw, searing anthems as his own. Spanning three decades from the turbulent sixties to the nineties, The Last of the Savages is a profound exploration of interracial love, music, family, honour and friendship.

My comment: I had never herd of McInerney before I accidentaly found this book in my library and I was positively affected by it. A very nice and involving reading.

The character of rain by Amélie Nothomb
Plot: The Japanese believe that until the age of three, children are gods, each one an okosama, or 'Lord Child'. On their third birthday they fall from grace and join the rest of mankind. 
Narrated by a child - from the age of two and a half up until her third birthday - this novel reveals how this fall from grace can be a very difficult thing indeed from which to recover. 

My comment: Probably I would give away an arm to write as witty and caustic as Nothomb.
If you like this one, you can't miss "Loving sabotage" and "Fear and trembling".

The bell jar by Sylvia Plath
Plot: The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman's mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. 
The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly- written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman's descent into insanity. 

My comment: The first and the last novel written by Plath, this book is a poetic,lucid and disenchanted look about depression and mental illness.

Mine-Haha or on the bodily education of young girls by Frank Wedekind
Plot: At once a dystopian fantasy and a critique of sexual norms, 'Mine-Haha' describes a unique boarding institution for girls - part idyllic refuge, part prison - where pupils are trained only in the physical arts of movement, dance and music, before issuing into an adult world for which they have (unwittingly) been prepared. The narrator is an old woman recalling her strange childhood and the story is focused through the eyes of her earlier self. 'Mine-Haha' was praised for its progressive outlook by Leon Trotsky in 1908, and has inspired two films - Lucile Hadzihalilovic's 'Innocence' (2004) and John Irvin's 'The Fine Art of Love' (2005).
My comment: Haven't read it yet

One day by David NichollsPlot: This funny, emotionally engaging third novel from David Nicholls traces the unlikely relationship between Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew,told with toe-curlingly accurate insight and touching observation. If you left college sometime in the Eighties with no clear idea of what was going to happen next, or who your lifelong friends might turn out to be, this one's a definite for your holiday suitcase.

My comment: Haven't read it yet

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