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Barbara Pym

In 1977, the Times Literary Supplement polled several well-known British critics and authors and asked them to name the most underrated writer of the previous 75 years. Barbara Pym was the only writer to receive two votes, one from the poet Philip Larkin and one from the biographer Lord David Cecil, who said that Pym's "unpretentious, subtle, accomplished novels...are for me the finest examples of high comedy to have appeared in England during the past seventy-five years." Although the poll results led to a resurgence of interest in Pym and in her novels, I think that she may still be one of the most underrated writers of the last 75 years. And speaking very personally, I'd like that to change.

Barbara Pym was born in 1913 and raised in Shropshire, England, near the Welsh border. She attended St. Hilda's College, Oxford, where she majored in English Literature. After she graduated, she wrote her first novel Some Tame Gazelle, which she completed when she was 22 …
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Most Anticipated Books of 2019

I thought it might be fun to follow up a post on my favorite books of 2018 with a post on the books that are scheduled for publication in 2019 that I am most looking forward to reading. To be fair, there are lots of pronouncements out there about the big books of 2019, so this is not an original idea. But those articles tend to focus on the books that are expected to be bestsellers or on the ones that will get the most attention, and that's not my focus here. The library runs its popular Book Buzz program twice a year (in March for spring and summer books and in September for fall and winter books), and that's where we talk about the books slated for publication that are getting the most pre-publication buzz in the world of books and book lovers. By contrast, the books that I mention below are the ones that are getting the most pre-publication buzz in my head (and maybe only in my head). But I'm sufficiently excited about them to want to share the news.

To state the obviou…

Best Books of 2018

Initially, I wasn't sure that I would go through the painful exercise of generating a best books list again this year. I had not intended that my Best Books of 2017 post from last December would become the first of an annual tradition. But two things happened over the course of this past month to change my mind. The first was the annual onslaught of lists of the best books of the year, which included wide-ranging choices from newspapers and magazines I respect (just to share a few: NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New Yorker). Once again, I found myself surprised, bemused and kind of disappointed by the titles on the lists, and even more so by the titles NOT on the lists. The second thing that happened was that I started making a list of my favorite books of the year in my head, not deliberately, but almost instinctively. Once I had done that, I could not resist writing the list down and then looking at it, tinkering with it, adding a few, deleting …

Thursday Night Book Club -- December, 2018

With just a few days to go until Christmas Day, the Thursday Night Book Club gathered on Thursday, December 20th to discuss Charles Dickens' classic and enduring tale of the holiday, A Christmas Carol. The first of five Christmas books written by Dickens in the 1840s, A Christmas Carol is one of the best known and most loved of all of Dickens' books. It tells the story of the transformation of Ebeneezer Scrooge, that "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner," from a tight-fisted curmudgeon into a generous and kind man. Scrooge's metamorphosis is brought about by a series of visitations, first from his famously dead ("Marley was dead, to begin with") partner Jacob Marley, and then from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. These spirits remind Scrooge of happier days, show him the generosity of others in times of adversity and terrify him with dire visions of his future if he does not change his ways. Di…

Holiday Reading

Time for a confession: I have a soft spot for books that take place over the holidays. They may be just a tad formulaic, but many of these novels do such a good job of conjuring up the best aspects of the holiday season (snow, cold weather that hasn't gotten annoying yet, wrapping presents, hot chocolate and mulled cider and eggnog, holiday cookies, thick, warm sweaters, fireplaces, good will towards man and so on) that I forgive them their predictability. Reading one of these books is like pulling on your favorite cozy socks and curling up on the couch under your favorite soft blanket. You know that you'll feel warm and fuzzy when you've finished.

Some authors, like Debbie Macomber, Fern Michaels, Richard Paul Evans, Jill Shalvis, Susan Mallory and Anne Perry, just to name a few, reliably churn out a holiday book every year or so. These novels tend to be the book version of a Hallmark made-for-TV movie. There is the inevitable romance, which often starts off very poorly,…

The 2018 National Book Awards

Established in 1950, the National Book Award has become America's premier literary prize. In 2018, publishers submitted 1,637 books for consideration to the panels of literary experts judging this year's awards: 368 in fiction, 546 in Nonfiction, 256 in poetry, 142 in translated literature (a revitalized category that last appeared in 1983) and 325 in young people's literature. A longlist of ten books per category was announced in the middle of September, and a shortlist of five books per category was announced on October 10th. The winners were announced on Wednesday, November 14th during a black-tie ceremony hosted by actor and author Nick Offerman at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The award for nonfiction went to The New Negro: The Life of Alan Locke by Jeffrey Stewart. The poetry award was won by Justin Phillip Reed for Indecency. The award for translated literature went to The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani. Elizabeth Acevado receive…

Thursday Night Book Club -- November, 2018

The plan had been that the Thursday Night Book Club would gather one week before Thanksgiving to discuss Anne Tyler's 1985 novel The Accidental Tourist. But Winter Storm Avery had other plans for us last Thursday night. The snow and the wind from the storm made driving conditions hazardous, and the library closed at 7 pm. As a result, the Thursday Night Book Club missed the opportunity to gather together to talk about Anne Tyler's wonderful novel.
Winner of the 1985 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and made into a movie starring William Hurt, Gina Davis and Kathleen Turner, The Accidental Tourist is the story of Macon Leary, a travel writer who hates to travel and who writes guidebooks that make the traveler feel as if he had never left home. "Other travelers hoped to discover distinctive local wines; Macon's readers searched for pasteurized and homogenized milk." After an unsettled early childhood, Macon and …