Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BBBs, B&N, & the "New" Guardian Books Blog

What is the Best Big Book (BBB) of the summer?

Some may pick the 20th anniversary edition of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, as did a friend who attempted to bribe a bookstore employee to sell it before the publication date; some will recommend David Foster Wallace's posthumously published novel, The Pale King; others will read cover-to-cover the revised Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire, the French chef's culinary bible.

I'm time-traveling to Victorian England, where I would undoubtedly have been a maid instead of a lady, despite zealous genealogical claims that we rode on the Mayflower and are related to...whom? 

My pick of the summer is Anthony Trollope's He Knew He Was Right, an 822-page pageturner about  marriage, money, and male chauvinism.  Jane Smiley recently recommended it in The Barnes & Noble Review.  A longtime fan of this masterpiece, I knew I Couldn't Go Wrong and pulled it off the shelf.

In 1869, when He Knew He Was Right was published, Trollope was at the height of his powers.  His pitch-perfect prose is the perfect vehicle for the delineation of the complex loves and losses of his richly realized characters.  

The novel focuses on the marriage of Emily Rowley, daughter of the governor of the Mandarin Islands, and Lewis Trevelyan, a Cambridge graduate and poet "who possessed 3,000 pounds a year of his own, arising from perfectly secure investments."  They are happy in London for two years until Colonel Osborne, Emily's father's best friend, visits too often and is too blatantly flirtatious.  He has annoyed other married couples in London, according to rumor, and drove one husband to whisk his wife away to Italy. 

But Emily, who does not flirt back and points out that he knew her as a baby, is enraged when Lewis tries to bar him from the house.

"When he had endeavored to make her understand his wishes by certain disparaging hints which he had thrown out as to Colonel Osborne, saying that he was a dangerous man, one who did not show his true character, a snake in the grass, a man without settled principles, and such like, his wife had taken up the cudgels for her friend, and had openly declared that she did not believe a word of the things that were alleged against him."
The couple eventually separates: Emily will not end her relationship with Colonel Osborne, and Lewis, though he knows she is innocent, does not believe that the relationship should continue.  He arranges for Emily, their baby, and her sister Nora to live in a village with the Stanhopes, the mother and sister of Lewis's best friend, Hugh.  

Lewis will not compromise, nor will Emily. And we watch Lewis slowly go mad.

The correlation between the Emily-Lewis-Colonel Osborne triangle and other romantic triangles is fascinating: Nora, Hugh, and the wealthy Lord Glascock; Hugh's sister Dorothy, the clergyman Mr. Gibson, and Brooke Burgess, Aunt Stanhope's heir.

Barnes and NobleHow fast can a bookstore change?  The local Barnes and Noble began to compete with Borders about five years ago, expanding its backlist and stocking  "intellectual" (?!) books as well as pop.  

Borders closed in May. Suddenly B&N has fewer comfortable chairs, less enticing displays, and no copies of small-press books like Lynne Tillman's Someday This Will Funny and John Sayles's A Moment in the Sun.  It is now a (smug) seller's market. B&N needs competition.

Guardian Books Blog.  First, let me say how much I like the Guardian books blog.

Do you like the "New" Guardian books blog?  I still haven't gotten used to the redesigned books page, which seems awfully busy and unclear. As far as I can tell, the "new" version of the books blog marks the occasion of firing the freelance writers.

Now only staff writers will write the blog, according to Guardian staff writer Sarah Crown.  A. L. Kennedy's blog entries and those of several other writers were really "columns," not blog entries.  Columns will be integrated with the articles on the books page.  

I'm confused and only hope I'll see the freelancers' writing again.

Hannah Freeman, another Guardian staff writer, blogged this week, "We turn the Guardian First book award longlist over to you and we ask to see your battered books, there may not be much time left to post your suggestions for other series, articles or reviews, but if you have an idea you'd like us to know about, this, as ever, is the place to post them."

That's called commenting.

Bring back the old blog.

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