I’m a sucker for Tudor tales, so you can bet I’m excited that Philippa Gregory’s wonderful novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, is coming to the big screen this coming weekend (opens on February 29). I’ve certainly read a lot about Anne Boleyn over the years, but Mary Boleyn? This piece of historical fiction was new to me. And, oh, what scandal and intrigue ensue when Anne and Mary (and their brother, George) arrive at King Henry VIII’s court! Was Mary, who was already married to one of Henry’s courtiers, really the favored sister? What scheming took place to make sure that the Howard family rose to power above the Seymours? The book is a fast-paced almost racy read, and certainly worth reading before you see the movie (starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson; my excitement knows no bounds!).
What to read next, to keep the Tudor fires burning? There’s certainly no shortage in historical fiction for this slice of history, but if you liked The Other Boleyn Girl, try these two by the same author: The Constant Princess (follows the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII) and The Boleyn Inheritance (lady-in-waiting Jane Boleyn testifies against Anne of Cleves, while her family works to place Katherine Howard on the throne). Or perhaps you, like me, have a bit of a Lady Jane Grey obsession going that started way back in elementary school? Then you won’t want to miss Innocent Traitor, the first novel by respected biographer Alison Weir. It’s a bit meatier than The Other Boleyn Girl, but just as engrossing.
Let’s hear about some other Tudor novels you’ve read …
Being of Scottish descent on my mother’s side of the family (the Crawford Clan), I eagerly await and devour each fictional window of modern Scotland from Alexander McCall-Smith. Although best known for his delightful tales (beginning with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) set in Botswana, he also brings today’s Scottish folks alive in two series set in Edinburgh: the light mysteries featuring Isabel Dalhousie, an ethics philosopher, and the crazy quilt of characters living in or otherwise connected to the 44 Scotland Street apartment building.
Beyond being a wise and hilarious writer, McCall-Smith is a voice in the wilderness as he muses about the socially dark side of consumerism, celebrity worship and the global economy. For me, and for many, I think, it’s impossible to make it through one of his books without shedding a few tears and laughing out loud. Treat yourself!
The dowager queen of suspense, prolific author Phyllis Whitney died earlier this month (February 8, 2008) from pneumonia. She was 104 years old. In 80 years she wrote more than 100 short stories and 70 novels in four genres — adult, children’s mystery, young adult and nonfiction guides to writing. She published her last book when she was 94. She also received many prestigious awards, served as president of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and in 1988 earned MWA’s Grand Master Award, a lifetime achievement award for mystery writers.
Whitney said she stayed young by writing fast-paced, cliff-hanger tales of suspense. Maybe in high school you read The Winter People, and swooned in terror with Dina, or maybe years later you discovered Amethyst Dreams, a riveting tale of Hallie’s frantic search for her closest friend Susan.
According to her Website, Whitney did exhaustive research for her novels, always writing from the viewpoint of an American visiting the country for the first time. She ascribed her success to persistence and an abiding faith in her abilities. “Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those too),” she wrote in Guide to Fiction Writing. “Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.”
Let’s honor the mystery queen, climb her train and rediscover her voluminous work.
My book group recently had a discussion of the books that led to our best –- and most memorable –- discussions ever. It was nice not only to reflect on the many books we’ve read and discussed together, but also look at what makes a “good book club book.” About five or six titles stood out, most notably The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff, a novel that would be a nice companion with Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (another one of our favorites). Two other all-time favorites happen to be part of Seattle Reads: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. (My book club friends will be quick to point out that we read these before they were selected by Seattle Reads. And we read Middlesex before Oprah discovered it. We like to point out things like that.) A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot and The Awakening by Kate Chopin are two we keep going back to. Memorable evenings together Continue reading “Books that inspire the best book group discussions”
There’s something in the air this President’s Day. Call it Millard Fillmania. You’ve probably all seen the recent car commercial offering a soap-on-a-rope effigy of the forgotten statesman touted to be the first to take a bath in the White House. (This oft-repeated “fact” was actually a sly hoax perpetrated by H.L. Mencken, by the way). Then there’s John Blumenthal’s oddball romance, Millard Filmore, Mon Amour, which tells of a deeply neurotic millionaire working on a massive biography of the man. In addition to being a close runner-up among eye-catching presidential titles to Lydia Millet’s George Bush: Dark Prince of Love, it surely has one of the most improbable subject headings in history: Fillmore, Millard, 1800-1874 — Influence — Fiction. But the real tipping point for the Millard Fillmore revival has to be George Pendle’s delightfully daft The Remarkable Millard Fillmore: The Unbelievable Life of a Forgotten President. Taking Mencken’s antic impulse and running with it, Pendle brings forth little-known aspects of our nation’s 13th president, such as his piratical origins, his minstrel show days, his curious disguise during the battle for the Alamo, and his invention of the T-Shirt, all culled from Fillmore’s recently rediscovered “napkin doodles.” Not since Forrest Gump has one man done so much for an ungrateful world. And surely it isn’t just my being a librarian that has me in stitches over the index, with its helpful entries for “Clothes – eating of, 7-8. -refusal to wear, 14. Commas 1-243. Conclusions – jumped to, 34. – leapt to, 189.” etc. No worries: the library still has plenty of real books about Millard for kids doing reports on him. And those presidential napkin doodles? We have those, too.
A quick update for President’s Day: Fillmore Fever continues to sweep the nation. Check out this cool Waiting-for-Guffmanesque Millard Fillmore Musical, The Accidental President, on Youtube, including such numbers as No One Will Remember Me, How Lonesome This World Is, Out There, and my personal favorite, It Has to Have a Window Seat!