The Grumpy Librarian: Embrace the Middlebrow
Not Your Average Readers' Advice Column
Caitlin Goodman, aka, The Grumpy Librarian, is here to help. The rules are simple: if you’re looking for what book to read next (who isn’t), just send over two books you love, and one you… don’t. The Grumpy Librarian will do the math and provide you with the ideal next read. (To submit your books, you can email TheGrumpyLibrarian@lithub.com.)
William Boyd, Any Human Heart (2002)
Elizabeth Taylor, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (1971)
DID NOT LOVE
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (2013)
For a brief, shining moment, the Grumpy Librarian thought that Elizabeth “Violet Eyes” “White Diamonds” Taylor had written a novel, apologies to all the fans of the novelist out there. It sounds like a really delightful book version of Getting On, even though the title made the GL think first of some sort of mid-century tea and sympathy “women’s novel.” Again, apologies to all the Elizabeth-Taylor-THE-NOVELIST fans out there. The GL has also not read The Goldfinch, but you can credit that to an intentional act of self-preservation, not the blissful unawareness of Donna Tartt. A scarring few weeks were spent with The Secret History several years ago and the GL was briefly put off books entirely. Sorry, Pulitzer committee, but you were probably wrong this time.
If a novel were to combine the British black humor and old people of Mrs. Palfrey and the Forrest Gump history tourism of Any Human Heart, it would end up being, well, pretty odd. It might be something like Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow, although probably the GL should do a better job of accounting for the Nazis. So spoiler alert: time runs backwards, and there are an awful lot of Nazis.
Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife (2010)
Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding (2011)
DID NOT LOVE
Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train (2015)
Did you forget your week-old copy of the New Yorker at the airport one day and decide to pick up the most “acceptable” bestseller that you could find at the Hudson’s kiosk? It’s a mystery to the GL why some titles manage the perilous crossing from genre corral to literary sensation, because clearly it’s not just quality (sure, Gone Girl was great but a big WOOF to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and why aren’t more people reading Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series anyway). But trust your instincts! If they point you towards comfortably middlebrow award-winners, don’t feel obligated to read The Girl on the Train just because all the other girls on the train are.
The GL particularly enjoys comfortably middlebrow award-winners, including both The Tiger’s Wife and The Art of Fielding, so she feels suitably equipped to offer up Nicole Krauss’s Great House as your next read. It’s nominally centered on a writing desk, and dutifully fractured in plot and structure, but it is also an engaging and accessible (and not least beautifully written) novel that would be a handsome addition to your bookshelf. You probably saw an excerpt from it already in the fiction section of one of the magazines you read (the GL is pretty sure it was in all of them).