Books On My Night Table

Three fine books I highly recommend.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, 1992. In the near future, Kivrin Engle, a young medieval scholar is sent back to 1320 England to study the period. Unfortunately, just as she leaves, a new strain of influenza grips 21st century England, and Kivrin falls ill in the 14th century. Thus, her time travel plans get a bit screwed up. This fascinating novel alternates chapters between the 14th century and the 21st century. The structure is frustrating because the details of Kivrin’s medieval life are by far the novel’s strongest chapters. Thanks to Seraphic Secret reader David Foster for recommending the work of Connie Willis, a uniquely talented and original writer.

Letters to His Neighbor by Marcel Proust, Translated by Lydia Davis, 2018. What do you do when you have noisy neighbors? Bang on the walls? Complain to the police? Hire a lawyer? The great novelist Marcel Proust, who lined the walls of his bedroom in cork in order to achieve silence, sat down and wrote exquisitely polite letters to his upstairs neighbor, a dentist and his wife, who were renovating their Paris apartment situated right above Proust’s. Proust had his letters sent by post and they were frequently accompanied with gifts of flowers and even roasted pheasant. Proust is ever-so-polite, but you can sense his simmering fury beneath the incredibly digressive sentences. This slim collection is both hilarious and illuminating. A beautiful little volume published with facsimile letters and photographs.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, 2017. My #1 rule for screenplays is: Every great movie is a love story. Karen was reading this novel over Shabbat. As she turned the pages she would, every once in a while, look up at me and say: “You have to read this.” Dutifully, I sat down and devoured Chris Cleave’s novel of London and Malta during World War II. We follow Mary, Tom, Hilda, and Alistair as they deal with war, hunger, death, and a classic love triangle. Author Chris Cleave writes beautiful prose, and dialogue which is so very British that I kept murmuring, “Jolly well done.” A luminous novel that reminds us that the British were once a great and courageous people who alone stood against evil.

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  1. kishke
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I read part of Willis’ “Blackout” a few years back. I found it dull going, and stopped.
    The others sound interesting, though.
    I am nearing the end of Deon Meyer’s “Fever.” Excellent book.

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  2. peter
    Posted April 6, 2018 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    OK Robert. You and David have sold me on Doomsday Book.
    A few more pennies in Jeff Bezos’ account!!
    Hope all is well.


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  3. David Foster
    Posted April 4, 2018 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Glad you’ve enjoyed the Connie Willis book. I’d also highly recommend her short-story collection, which has stories ranging from the very funny (‘Mail Order Clone’) to the rather disturbing (‘Daisy, in the Sun’), plus the title story, in which historian Kivrin is transported to Blitz-era London.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted April 5, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink


      I’ve ordered her short story collection and the Lincoln book. Her sense of humor distinguishes her work from those all too solemn sci-fi and fantasy authors. She is quite special. Thanks so much for the tip.

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