And just like that, we are two-thirds of the way through 20 Books of Summer! Where does the time go?
As I suspected, I am not doing very well at all this summer. I have read 9 of my 15 main books and 3 of my additional list of 5 but worse than that, I’ve only managed to review a small handful of what I’ve read!
On a positive note, I have read the two chunksters on my list – American Wife and Lonesome Dove, which is almost 900 pages long – that could count as three smaller books, right? As always when I do 20 Books of Summer, I’ve been tempted to read some books that aren’t on the list, so in my defense, I have actually read a couple of extra books including The Weekend by Charlotte Wood and How High We Go In the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu, both of which I’ll talk about in my August Miscellany.
In an attempt to get caught up and back on track, I am going to share three mini-reviews of some of the books that I’ve managed to finish.
No 368 Party Monster by James St James
It has been a long time since I’ve read a book that I hated, but I really hated Party Monster by James St James. Originally published under the title Disco Bloodbath, Party Monster is set in the hedonistic world of New York City club kids in the ’90s.
Author James St. James was friends with Michael Alig until Alig was convicted of killing a drug dealer known as Angel. St James uses his loose connection to this brutal murder to attempt to elevate what is essentially a memoir of his time as the king of the club world and it is a cheap trick. He treats the murder itself as something of a joke, playing what was a vicious and random attack for laughs. The scene that these people were a part of is portrayed as a world of fabulous and bitchy fun, but instead it comes across as a something squalid, mean and sordid. Misogyny abounds throughout the book, paedophilia and child sex trafficking are not only played for laughs but also condoned and the writing is not half as clever as St James thinks it is.
It is a shame, because there are some interesting aspects that could have been explored, but any time St James gets close to examining the drug use or the craving for fame he reverts to shallow quips that are supposed to be witty but are in fact banal.
I finish every book I start, but I wish I hadn’t finished this one.
Book 8 of 20 Books of Summer
No 367 Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson
In stark contrast to Party Monsters, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was an absolute delight. First published in 1938, the novel follows one day in the life of Miss Pettigrew. Miss Pettigrew is a governess, but not a very good one and if she does not find work today, she will be thrown out of her renter rooms. When her employment agency makes a mistake and sends her to the wrong address, Miss Pettigrew finds herself having to think on her feet and using all her wits to try to please the glorious and gloriously named Miss Delysia La Fosse, a nightclub singer she believes to be her new client. What follows is a day of experiences and of epiphanies in which Miss Pettigrew finally embraces the fun side of life, discovers a completely new side to her own personality, and has experiences she could never have dreamed of before.
On the surface, this is a fun and frothy story of misdirection, love triangles, men and makeovers but it also has a lot to say about believing in yourself, trusting your instinct and taking chances when chances present themselves. As the song says, ‘enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think’. It is very enjoyable to watch Miss Pettigrew grow as a character throughout the book and if you aren’t rooting for a happy ending for her, you have a heart of stone. The book features some really witty dialogue that leaps off the page and despite it’s light subject matter, contains some really deft and thoughtful characterisation.
My enjoyment of the novel was enhanced by the inclusion of the original line drawing illustrations by Mary Thomson.
Book 9 of 20 Books of Summer
No 366 Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor
It was probably cheating a little to count Address Unknown as a book, when it is in reality, closer to a short story than anything else. It does pack a punch though, more so than many novels I have read.
Address Unknown was first published in Story magazine in September 1938, and then in book form a year later, becoming an instant bestseller. It has been translated across the world, adapted into a 1944 film and into multiple productions for the stage and radio and its impact was striking, the story credited with having “jolted America”, alerting it to the horror unfolding in Nazi Germany.
Address Unknown is an epistolary story, following the correspondence between two friends and business colleagues over a period of just sixteen months between 1932 and 1934. Martin and Max have run a successful art gallery together in San Francisco but as the book opens, Martin has returned to Germany to live with his family, just as Hitler is coming to power. Both men are German, but Max is a Jew and as he sees Hitler’s ideology unfold, he watches in disbelief as the man who was once his closest friend, embraces the all-consuming creed and turns on those he once loved.
By focusing on two ordinary people, this powerful story warns us that ideology, once it has captured a nation, is stronger than friendship and more powerful than reason. It is a succinct exploration of the insidious nature of fascism, the need for self-preservation and the decimation of friendship. All this in the space of just a few pages and with a killer twist, and it is clear to see why Address Unknown is considered such a classic.
Kim has written a lovely review of Address Unknown on her blog here.
Book 10 of 20 Books of Summer
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!