Tag Archives: 2010 Summer Reading List

Review: Coming Up for Air

Coming Up for Air Book Cover 

Coming Up for Air
By George Orwell
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
October 1969
288pp 

The Short of It: 

An odd little book, but what a treasure. 

The Rest of It: 

I’m not sure why I enjoy Orwell’s writing so much. It may be his pessimistic take on what we call civilization, or it could be that I am a bit of a realist. I see things as they are…no imagined glory here. The same can be said for this book. Coming Up for Air is a novel about George Bowling. He’s a married, middle-aged man who after winning a horse race, decides to visit his hometown to re-live the years of his youth. 

There’s a bit of a problem though. George is married to Hilda and lives the typical suburban lifestyle that includes a house and two kids. George doesn’t seem to want to remember this though. The day-to-day that George shares with us is anything but dreadful, but the normalcy, the lack of excitement is a constant thorn in his side.  With war looming in the distance, he reminisces on how life was, and how it could be. 

There’s time for everything except the things worth doing. Think of something you really care about. Then add hour to hour and calculate the fraction of your life that you’ve actually spent in doing it. And then calculate the time you’ve spent on things like shaving, riding to and fro on buses, waiting in railway junctions, swapping dirty stories and reading the newspapers. [Page 93] 

But Lower Binfield is not what it used to be. As you can imagine, progress can be a wicked thing to behold and George’s quaint hometown is not so little anymore and even the things that haven’t changed, seem to be different twenty years later. 

It’s a queer experience to go over a bit of country that you haven’t seen in twenty years. You remember it in great detail, and you remember it all wrong. [Page 209] 

To add insult to injury, the people are not the same either as evidenced by this account where he happens to run into an old flame. 

Only twenty-four years, and the girl I’d known, with her milky-white skin and red mouth and kind of dull-gold hair, had turned into this great, round-shouldered hag, shambling along on twisted heels. [Page 243] 

What’s wonderful about this book is that everyone can relate to it. Things change. We change. There is a “George” in all of us and Orwell’s wry, sarcastic take on progress is at times very funny. This isn’t an account of a man falling apart. There is no mid-life crises per se, but what we view through George’s eyes is a quiet realization that one cannot recapture their youth and that time marches on whether or not we accept it. 

If you enjoy “day in the life” type stories you will enjoy this one. 

Source: Purchased.

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Review: The Inn at Lake Devine

The Inn at Lake Devine Book CoverThe Inn at Lake Devine
By Elinor Lipman
Knopf Doubleday
April 1999
272pp

The Short of It:

The Inn at Lake Devine is the perfect summer read. The setting and the characters do not disappoint and it’s surprisingly meaty given its summery feel.

The Rest of It:

It was not complicated, and, as my mother pointed out, not even personal. They had a hotel; they didn’t want Jews; we were Jews.

So begins the story of young Natalie Marx and her infatuation with the Inn at Lake Devine. Natalie’s mother sends an inquiry to the Vermont hotel inquiring about summer accommodations for her and her family, and receives a polite, but firm note back indicating that the hotel does not do business with Jews.  Shocked, but intrigued, Natalie wonders about the person who wrote the note and in her own way, stages a rebellion from afar.

However, when Natalie discovers that a friend visits the Inn each summer, she realizes that it’s a chance of a lifetime and manages to get the family to invite her to join them for the summer. Her parents, knowing how this establishment operates, doesn’t want her to go, but her host family insists, so her adventure during that 1960’s summer begins.

I can’t really call this a “coming of age” novel because Natalie has a very strong sense of self, even as a young girl, but as she matures, her sense of self deepens and she seems to understand, or perhaps appreciate her Jewish roots more. Natalie is a pleasure to know. She flounders a bit with her personal life, but she never seems the worse for it and her pragmatic way of dealing with life made for pleasurable reading.

I’ve heard of Elinor Lipman before but have never read any of her books. The Inn at Lake Devine is my first experience with her writing. Her writing is very authentic with a touch of sarcasm thrown in. The writing is humorous, but not overly so. I especially enjoyed her depictions of “family” and the interactions between parent and child.

I was also charmed by the setting. A lakeside hotel in Vermont? I’m so there. I could see the porch, the out-buildings and the shimmering lake. It all felt so genuine to me.

As far as pace, I breezed through the book and read it in one sitting. There was one spot where it dragged a tad, and got a bit silly, but not enough to make me want to put it down. The first person narrative threw me off a couple of times. I don’t read too many novels written in this narrative but it seemed to fit.

An interesting tidbit…apparently such a letter existed. Lipman’s mother remembered the wording of the letter she received one summer, and it became the inspiration for this story.

I was quite happy with The Inn at Lake Devine and can’t wait to read another Lipman. For those that have read her before, which book should I read next?

Source: Borrowed from the library.

Recommended by: Thomas at My Porch.