Literary Notes #13


One of my favorite discoveries on my recent trip to London was Daunt Books.  Located in the charming Marlyebone neighborhood, this amazing shop combines two of my great loves: literature and travel.  Located in an original Edwardian bookshop, the books are organized by geographic region!  How brilliant.  I was able to pick up Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping from the US section and peruse the Middle East section to get ideas for my next read on that area.  The books are not all travel books – while there are some amazing guide and photo books from each region, they also stock the best books by native authors.  Perfect!  So in the US section you would find the great American novels next to US political commentary and photo journalism, guide books, non-fiction, and maybe even a spy novel or two.  No Twilight here!  Whoever buys the books for this store know his stuff!  We only had about thirty minutes to browse before the store closed but I could have spent hours here…delicious hours savoring the feel of heavy photo books and losing myself in a great novel.


As I wasn’t about to be that annoying tourist who disturbs everyone by snapping pictures, these are from their website – which I highly recommend visiting.  They have links to reading lists and you can take a virtual tour of their Marlyebone store!

And since I’m on the subject and I haven’t done a book entry in a while, here’s what I’ve been reading.

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman: Audio Book Cover

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman

Since moving to the UK I’ve become increasingly interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict.  Having come from America and it’s very pro-Israel stance, I’d never really thought about the region except to think it would be cool to visit some day – deep, I know.  So when I moved over here and saw lots of “Boycott Israel” demonstrations and “Pro-Palestine” rallies I became curious and knew I needed to take a more serious look.  Then I started working at this crunchy little store and my manager told me to stop ordering items from Israel as it’s her conviction that it’s right to boycott Israeli goods.  That was the clincher and I started looking for books and my friend Amanda recommended I read Friedman’s book.  Having listened to The World is Flat this past Christmas, I was a bit apprehensive as Friedman’s writing style struck me as inflated and egotistical.  This book is entirely different.  It was written nearly twenty years ago so the information is dated but it’s excellent.  It gives a lot of historical background to the conflict, including a lengthy but fascinating look at the “desert tribal” mentality that shapes so much of Middle Eastern politics.  It’s full of personal anecdotes from Friedman’s twelve year sojourn in Beruit and Jerusalem.  This gives faces and humanity to a conflict that is often reduced to political verbiage and makes this book a fascinating read.  It hasn’t helped me make any sort of decision as to what side is in the right but it’s given me a respect for how intensely complicated and deeply rooted the conflict is and will continue to be.  My next read on the subject is A Peace to End All Peace and I am open to suggestions on other titles.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel (P.S.)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

This one was a selection for book club and Spark was a new author for me.  A story set in Edinburgh and written by an Edinburgh native it was a fitting selection and I enjoyed it, especially the descriptions of the city and revelations that the Old Town was still a somewhat dangerous slum back in the 1930s.  It’s also a strange little story with lots of repetition and seems fairly experimental for the time period in which it was written.  It’s a modern classic and while the book club consensus was that we liked it, we’re not quite sure why it’s regularly listed among the top 100 works of literature.  Not that we’re experts and I’m sure a skilled literature teacher could open up all sorts of deeper meanings that I missed.  I am glad that I read it and it was a very good book club book as it fostered good discussion.

How We Survived Communism & Even LaughedHow We Survived Communism and Even Laughed by Slavenka Drakulic

Lent to me by my friend Ashli, I’ve taken nearly a year to finish this book.  It’s a book that is easy to pick up, read a bit, and then put down.  I think that this is mostly due to the fact that it’s a collection of vignettes about the author’s experiences growing up under communism and eventually moving to NY and then regularly returning.  As a feminist writer, her memories revolve around the women she knew and she focusses on how Communism affected them in their everyday lives.  Communist leaders, despite their proclaimed beliefs in gender equality failed to produce a system that empowered women in the most basic ways – there were no washing machines, only one color of lipstick (if any at all), no sanitary products.  Women were viewed as equals by the state and in Drakulic’s experience this only meant that they worked as hard as men outside of the home only to return to their traditional roles once they were home – doubling their responsibility while eliminating the goods that had made their lives easier pre-Communism.  While that description makes the book sound like a feminist historical text, it is more than that.  Some of the stories are quite poignant and Drakulic makes good work at showing the psychological effects of living under such a system – how it affected women’s understanding of themselves, how it changed marriages, friendships, and family relationships.  Drakulic is clearly not a native English speaker and that comes through in her work – an effect that is at times charming but can be quite confusing.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This book begins with the curious story of the author riding in a limousine through New York City on her way to a high society dinner when she looks out the window to see her mother digging through a trash can in search of something to eat.  Talk about an effective way to capture a reader’s attention!  I don’t want to give away too much of this memoir but it’s amazing.  Quite disturbing at some points, heartbreaking and heartwarming, it is a story of delusion, neglect, courage, love, and strength.  While I was reading it, I often caught myself thinking “there is no way this happened” so I’ve done a bit of research and the author’s siblings have backed up her story and there has been no Million Little Pieces-style controversy about accuracy.  I’ve talked with my mom about it and it does create great material for discussions on the accuracy of memory – especially memories formed as a young child.  This would be a great book club book!

So…what have you been reading?

About Rebecca

Hi! After five years in Europe, I'm adjusting to life back in the US. I use this blog to record my adventures, post photos, organize recipes, and post about things that interest me.
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9 Responses to Literary Notes #13

  1. Hilary says:

    I heard an interview on NPR with Jeannette Walls. She elaborated on her story. I really want to read it. Glad you did and shared it with us. Love you!

  2. Karin says:

    Oh my goodness, don’t knock Twilight until you try it! 🙂

    • Rebecca says:

      Karin! I did read it…in fact I reviewed it on here a few months ago. I am sorry but I cannot share your sentiments about it. I think we had a deal though… I would read it and then you would have to read a book of my choosing. So, here it goes: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I think you’ll like it and …We can talk about it (along with Twilight) in December. How’s that sound?

  3. Russ says:

    Daunts ….. Just the name brings back good memories. Solomon and I stumbled on the one in Holland Park (Notting Hill borough) and I was immediately struck by their very clever book arrangement too. If you want a respite from the hubbub of the city you will be hard pressed to find a better one. The only problem is trying to leave.

    A book that I’ve been reading is Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder. A non-fiction adventure. Check the reviews at I agree with them all.

  4. realoves says:

    First of all thanks so much for posting the pics of Daunt Books–I can’t wait for my next trip to London just to go there! Now, The Glass Castle–wow, what a read! Having grown up in an alcoholic home, so many of the sentiments the author describes hit me right between the eyes. The love/hate relationship with the alcoholic, the compulsion to hold things together, the various roles each of the children are forced to play, the tightness of the children’s relationships which become an island of survival in the midst of the chaos–all so very familiar. I hope she’ll write a sequel about overcoming the lasting effects of this type of upbringing. That would be fascinating (and helpful) reading as well!

  5. Karin says:

    Oh no! I hate when I have to eat my words! Okay, I’m looking for a copy of Crossing to Safety now.

    In the meantime, I’ll continue to live in my fantasy world where Edwards exist and are loved by all.

    And I’m so looking forward to seeing you!!!

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