The Paying Guests–Sarah Waters
The Paying Guests is a book about a mother and daughter who come out of World War I so close to financial ruin that they’re forced to rent out portions of their elegant London home to a pair of married lodgers.
And that’s all I’m going to say about it. You see, that’s all I knew of the plot when I decided to read Sarah Waters’ most recent book. Sure, I’d heard rumors that it might be a romance or a crime novel and might even feature some supernatural bits (like the author’s excellent 2009 book, The Little Stranger), but that was really all I knew. For some reason, not having the book pegged into a specific genre made reading it that much more fun for me. So I’m not going to say anything more about it except that I highly recommend The Paying Guests. Unless I read something surprisingly fantastic in the next two months, I suspect it’ll be my favorite book published in 2014.
The Night in Question–Tobias Wolff
I’ve been reading many of the stories mentioned in Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (see the list below for more). One of the stories I got from that book was “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff. I found the story in the author’s collection, The Night in Question. As the story’s title would suggest, it’s about the thoughts that go through a man’s head during the instant a bullet enters his brain. It was the last story in the book; I liked it so much that when I finished it, I turned to the first page of the book and read the first story, and the second, and the third. On and on. It wasn’t long before I was back where I’d started from.
The Night in Question is one of the best single-author short story collections I’ve read in the last few years. Highlights include “Mortals”, about a newspaper writer who publishes an obituary of a still-living man; “The Chain”, about the consequences of taking revenge after a vicious dog attack; and “The Other Miller”, about the confusion that results when two men in the same military company share a last name. With the exception of “Lady’s Dream”, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the stories and could’ve listed each of them as highlights. I really stumbled on a good one here. I look forward to tracking down Tobias Wolff’s other short story collections.
The Philosophy of Beards–Thomas S. Gowing
This is the book I purchased when Beth and I visited the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris. I had to purchase something, right? It’s a strange little book consisting of a Victorian era lecture about the awesomeness of Beards–the word is always capitalized in the book–and how men who shave are basically wusses. As it states on the front cover:
The absence of Beard is usually a sign of physical and moral weakness.
As a man who gives the finger to the television every time a Gillette commercial comes on (now with six rotating balls and 13 blades!), I can certainly get behind a book that isn’t afraid to stick it to the clean-shaven. Unfortunately, most of the best lines are on the cover and the book itself fails to live up to its promise. It probably suffers a bit from the fact that the author was most likely insane. Oh well, I like the cover.
OTHER STORIES READ:
“The Luck of Roaring Camp”–Bret Harte
“The Outcasts of Poker Flat”–Bret Harte
“The Girls in Their Summer Dresses”–Irwin Shaw
“The Eighty-Yard Run”–Irwin Shaw
“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”–F. Scott Fitzgerald
Strange Shores–Arnaldur Indridason
(the october books all had fine covers)