That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

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Richard Russo must have had fun writing That Old Cape Magic — a thinking person’s beach book. No, it’s not Empire Falls or The Bridge of Sighs, but it’s not intended to be.
Instead of sitting down and opening a vein, as writers are said to do, author Richard Russo might have sat down at his computer and opened a bottle of locally brewed Shipyard beer to launch himself into the story of ex-screenwriter Jack Griffin. Griffin’s marriage unravels on Cape Cod, in Truro, where he and his wife, Joy, celebrated their honeymoon many years before. The story jumps around—from Griffin’s childhood with two eccentric academic parents to the early years of Griffin’s marriage to his parents’ declining years and Griffin’s own daughter’s eventual wedding—succeeding in the neat trick of making you muse about the nature of marriage and parenthood while you laugh…and wince. A perfect end-of-summer read.
In an entertaining Q&A on Knopf’s Web site, Russo says his two daughters were both married during the period in which he wrote That Old Cape Magic, confessing that he imagined a disastrous wedding scene for the book as a way of warding off catastrophe in real life. (His ploy worked.)
Richard Russo talks on tape with New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus here.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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I was surprised by Malcolm Gladwell‘s recent New Yorker article about To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Is it fair to judge the actions and sensibilities of characters in a novel from a different time by the standards of today?
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, as seen through the eyes of his young daughter, Scout, was willing to stand up in court and defend a black man against the charge of raping a white woman — an unpopular move and one that was doomed to failure. Mr. Gladwell seems to be arguing that Atticus Finch shouldn’t be held up as a hero because his defense largely rested on asking the jury to make moral distinctions rather than racial distinctions, and because he accepted the reality of the status quo in his small Southern town. Mr. Gladwell thinks Atticus should have been angry at the jury’s unjust verdict although he would have known from the start what the outcome would be, because he knew the racial prejudice of the jury. He faults Atticus for being too tolerant of his fellow townspeople’s intolerance, and seems to miss the point of the book almost entirely in his zeal to present it in a new light.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960. I think it stands up well almost 50 years later as a testament to a single individual’s principled attempt to act as he would have others act.

How It Ended by Jay McInerney

>If you only read one collection of contemporary short stories this year, How It Ended is a great bet.
Jay McInerney’s first novel, Bright Lights, Big City, came to embody the frenzied, cocaine-fueled excesses of New York’s young and hip of the 1980s, although the book’s reputation largely ignores the serious soul of the book.
How It Ended
, the author’s newly released collection of short stories, zigs and zags through the author’s 26-year writing career, including stories in which characters from some of his novels first appeared. The jaded, jangly narrator of Bright Lights, Big City first appeared in the story, It’s Six A.M. Do You Know Where You Are?, which opens the collection.
The audio version of How It Ended, read by Ray Porter, is done so well that as soon as the last story ended I wanted to listen to it all over again from the beginning. Skip this book if you have no patience for flawed young people, but if you want to hear some good writing read aloud – especially if you came of age in the 80s and don’t mind some “dirty bits” – you need to listen to this amazing collection.
Even if you think you don’t like short stories.
The New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin has somewhat grudgingly said it best:

Mr. McInerney was a callow, facile and extremely entertaining writer from the very first. He had a smart student’s command of technical virtues and an eagerness to show them off. He also had such a tiresome infatuation with 1980s-style decadence that it lingers sentimentally even now. But his stories have grown more elegant, subtle, shapely and reflective over time, to the point where some of the recent works are perfect specimens.He has quietly achieved the literary stature to which he once so noisily laid claim.

Listen to a short sample at http://www.blackstoneaudio.com.

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