26 April, 2010

The Duchess Reads . . .

April has been an active reading month for the Duchess, and as she promised to provide reviews on books mentioned previously here, she seizes this opportunity to offer her thoughts on the books she has just read, in hopes you will do the same.

"This is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper is an amusing family tragi-comedy centered on seven days of shiva in the wake of the patriarch's death. A collection of disaffected, misfit siblings and their midlife crises, entertainingly narrated by the cuckolded, unemployed, middle brother Judd, serve as caricatures of our own problems and complicated relationships. It was witty, fresh and lively, with enough pathos to be touching. The Duchess recommends.

The Duchess wishes she hadn't read "An Inconvenient Woman" by Dominick Dunne just so she could anticipate reading it all over again (which she very well may do nonetheless). Adore this book. The sharply observed mannerisms and modus operandi of society Los Angelenos (as opposed to Hollywood people, we'll get to them in a bit) make this quasi-noir thriller crackle and pop. The late Dunne was high society's keenest chronicler, and he was in top form here. The Duchess very highly recommends.

"Elements of Style" by Wendy Wasserstein. This was the book equivalent of Bazaar magazine's "A Fashionable Life" column -- fluffy, but still a fun and easy read.

"Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann. Amazing. An absolutely amazing book. "Let the Great World Spin" won the National Book Award in 2009, and for many a very good reason. This was a profound and moving novel, complex but nimble; in some ways a paean to the city of New York but really more significant than that -- McCann, without judgment or sentimentality, probes the lives of a broad swath of society's individuals (each in the first person) in what the Duchess perceives to be an effort at illuminating their interconnectedness, and sameness. It's very simply a novel about human nature, and one beautifully executed.

And last, but most certainly not least -- "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" by Julia Phillips. This book is one of the Duchess's most loved in years. Not that it was spectacularly well-written, to the contrary. The narrative, especially at the book's end, was choppy and inelegant at times. The Duchess chalks much of that up to a poor editing job, but even so. No, what the Duchess loved about this book was its raw honesty. Its acknowledgment of personal failure, and ultimately, its inability to escape those vices that led to the author's downfall. In some ways the book is sensational, of course. It points fingers, it gets angry and irrational. But all of that is so deeply felt, and so real. The protagonist was perfect because she was imperfect, deeply flawed and hindered by her own humanness. At the same time, she never lost hope, and she never stopped trying to improve or better her situation. It's a book about men and women, about the casting couch, about the power imbalance that ever was and ever shall be. It's perfectly relatable -- the legal version would be "You'll Never Drink Starbucks in This Town Again." It's courageous. If only everyone could chronicle their lives in such a remarkably frank, embittered, nostalgic, grand, dreamy, romantic way, well, wouldn't we all have truly lived? Brava, Julia.


  1. The Elements of Style Book has the most amazing cover (sorry to go to the covers first) - and these are all lovely recommendations. I've added a few to my list!
    -Sanity Fair



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