What I’ve Just Finished Reading
Emily Arsenault’s The Broken Teaglass
, which I read all in one evening because I needed so much to know what happened happened next. It reminded me a bit of Barbara Michaels’ Houses of Stone
, because both books are above all mysteries about texts - texts that ultimately lead back to a dead body, but the corpse remains secondary to the text. (It occurs to me that there is something of this quality in The Silkworm
This has rapidly become my very favorite
type of mystery, and I have probably read the only two in existence. WOE.
I also read Oliver James’ Affluenza
, because read the first couple of chapters and the conclusion in a bookstore in London. Having now read the bits in the middle as well, I can testify that the first couple of chapters and the conclusion are all anyone really needs. James has his thesis: that the modern obsession with celebrity and wealth, downgrading of the importance of emotional ties, and the concomitant belief in watered-down Social Darwinism, are causing a rise in mental health problems among people in the developed world (particularly in countries with an ideological commitment to the American vision of capitalism).
And that is pretty much all he has. The middle part of the book is mostly portraits of people and cultures that he met in his travels, which all seem to fold neatly back into his thesis - even if they seem to fly in the face of it, he always seemed to be able to rationalize them back within his theoretical apparatus. I began to get the feeling no facts would dent his belief in his thesis, which undermined his credibility.
And, finally, William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter
, largely because I liked his article The Ivy League, Mental Illness, and the Meaning of Life
- which, by the by, puts forth a similar argument to Affluena
, although Deresiewicz focuses on the negative effects of the sense that love is conditional on achievement (and the perfectionism that results from that sense), rather than consumerism.
Most of his portraits of Austen’s characters are spot-on. I do think he’s a little too hard on Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood, but then I realize my feelings about them are out of sync with everyone else’s, and generally the book is a pleasure to read. But I don’t think I learned anything really new about Austen’s novels - certainly not like I did from John Mullen’s What Matters in Austen?
, which I recommend. I don’t always agree with Mullen’s character judgments (I think he’s too hard on Mr. Woodhouse, for instance), but he makes his points so thoughtfully that it makes me think about why I disagree. What I’m Reading Now
Hilary McKay’s Caddy’s World
, which - woe! - is the last of the Casson books currently published. What will I do without my Casson family fix?? Perhaps another one will come out. But in the meantime I am reading this one a chapter a day, to savor it. What I Plan to Read Next
I’m thinking about reading William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
, although it’s possible that he summarized the whole thing in the above-linked article and I needn’t read it in book form. On the other hand, if there were ever a time to really dig into the path to a meaningful life, now is probably it.
I’ve also put holds on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury
, on the theory that six years have passed since I’ve read Faulkner so maybe I will appreciate him more now; and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor
, which I tried to read earlier this summer and stalled out on. Maybe it will go better this time around.