Best of 2006 – Part One

April 1, 2007 at 7:22 pm (books)

Books discussed in this post:

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

An Imperfect Lens by Anne Roiphe

Intuition by Allegra Goodman

The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

The Old Wine Shades by Martha Grimes

Restless by William Boyd

Archie and Amelie by Donna M. Lucey

The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Andy Grove by Richard S. Tedlow

In its March/April 2007 issue, Bookmarks Magazine took lists of best books from various publications and online sources and came up with a handy graph showing the forty most frequently cited titles that were named by these sources. THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA , discussed in Best of 2006 – Part Two, came in at number six. Number one is THE LOOMING TOWER: AL QAEDA AND THE ROAD TO 9/11, by Lawrence Wright. I have seen much praise of this undoubtedly worthwhile book, but I doubt I will ever read it. THE EMPEROR’S CHILDREN by Claire Messud occupies the second slot on the list, and I am delighted to see it there. The best reading I had in 2006 was in mystery and suspense novels, and nonfiction, but Emperor’s Children was probably the single best novel I read last year. It concerns a circle of friends who had originally met one another while attending Brown University in the early 1990’s. Ten years on, they find themselves living in New York City struggling to make a go of things, both professionally and personally. The father of one of them is a media darling and tastemaker; his words – and actions, for that matter – have a crucial affect on the lives of his daughter and her friends.

Okay – time to whip through some additional “best” titles of 2006 and then put this topic to sleep. I mean, April is upon us, after all! So, here goes:

Fiction

In AN IMPERFECT LENS, author Anne Roiphe transports the reader to Alexandria, Egypt, in the 1880’s. A cholera epidemic has the city in its grip, so Louis Pasteur sends scientists from his famous institute to see if they can isolate the microbe that causes this devastating illness. To this heady mix of exotic locale and medical menace, Roiphe adds a poignant love story. This novel, small in size but large in scope, is based on a true story.

In Allegra Goodman’s INTUITION, gifted scientists and graduate students working at an elite research laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. are plagued by backbiting, envy, and outright deception. The results of crucial research are compromised, and other dire consequences follow.

Many of us “of a certain age” may recall from childhood our parents reading to us from Tales of Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. (This would be an especially vivid memory if you had a brainiac parent like my mother!) Until recently, I believed that Charles and Mary were husband and wife. They were, actually, brother and sister. I also tended to think of them as innocuous authors of children’s literature. Charles Lamb was actually a renowned essayist, but as for Mary Lamb…Ooh, Mary, what a wicked thing you did!! I shall not say another word about it: read THE LAMBS OF LONDON, a delicious entertainment by Peter Ackroyd, and find out for yourself.

Mystery and Suspense

Barbara Vine, a.k.a Ruth Rendell, has provided us with yet another wonderfully creepy tale in THE MINOTAUR. When Kerstin Kvist, a levelheaded young woman from Sweden, comes to England and enters the employ of the Cosways, her primary task is to help the family care for son John, who is mentally disabled. It doesn’t take Kerstin long to determine that for all his problems, John may be the the only sane member of an extremely eccentric household.

Martha Grimes is back in rare form with THE OLD WINE SHADES. A man walks into a wine bar…So begins the strange tale that one Harry Johnson relates to Detective Inspector Richard Jury. A woman, her son, and their dog disappear. One year later, the dog, an animal of seemingly preternatural intelligence, returns minus his human companions. What gives??!! (I absolutely love the way Grimes writes about animals; watch out for the incredibly mischievous Cyril the cat, who lives, of all places, at police headquarters!)

I was especially delighted by William Boyd’s RESTLESS, the first novel of espionage I’ve read in some time whose plot I could actually follow! Sally Gilmartin believes that someone is trying to kill her. Daughter Ruth Gilmartin is bewildered by this apparently irrational fear. Little does Ruth suspect that she will soon learn the whole stunning truth about the mother she thought she knew. In addition to a plot blessedly free of Byzantine twists and turns, RESTLESS features flesh and blood, three dimensional characters about whose ultimate fate the reader is made to care – and care deeply.

Nonfiction

In ARCHIE AND AMELIE: LOVE AND MADNESS IN THE GILDED AGE, Donna M. Lucey tells the story of the disastrous marriage of John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler and Amelie Rives. Archie was heir to the Astor fortune; Amelie was a beautiful Southern belle with some decidedly odd proclivities. This book is yet another proof that truth can be stranger – and frequently one heck of a lot more fun – than fiction.

I have always had a general idea of the circumstances in which the novel Frankenstein was written. Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler have greatly enriched and deepened my knowledge of this subject in THE MONSTERS: MARY SHELLEY AND THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. In particular, the authors’ retelling of what happened on that fateful night at the Villa Deodati in Switzerland is mesmerizing. In addition, the reader gleans fascinating facts about the lives of Mary and Percy Shelley, the heedless Lord Byron, the sad John Polidori, and the scheming Clare Claremont. These people lived lives almost totally free of of the restraints of conventional society. Mary Shelley’s story is a sad and poignant one; of the four children she bore, only one lived to adulthood. As for Byron, despite a streak of sadism a mile wide, he was what today we would call a “babe magnet.” Pity the poor victims of his careless, brutal charm! Not for nothing was he known as the most dangerous man in Europe.

In 1956, Andy Grove fled his native Hungary, and came to America armed only with high hopes and tremendous intelligence. He went on to take part in the founding of Intel Corporation; under his leadership, the company became one of the most important, powerful and successful enterprises in the ruthlessly competitive world of Silicon Valley. With engaging gusto, Richard S. Tedlow tells the story of this extraordinary man and the world in which he triumphed. The book is aptly titled ANDY GROVE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN.

[In the interest of full disclosure: Richard Tedlow, I am pleased to say, is my brother.]

[ If Part Two is not displaying, click on “March 2007” in Archives, in the column to the right and near the top.]

5 Comments

  1. Joan Tedlow said,

    Hi Robin,

    You write with such ease; your words just flow. I was particularly interested in your thoughts on the Roiphe book, which I am about to read. And, on Intuition, Allegra Goodman’s excellent take on the politics of research labs.
    Keep them coming!!
    Love,
    Joan

  2. Ginny Hoverman said,

    Dear Roberta,
    I LOVED Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American!! Dr. Tedlow’s writing is interesting, enthusiastic, and an extremely insightful look into Andy Grove’s life and success. How inspiring to read of a man who came with no financial backing yet created and nurtured such a successful company as Intel. Thank you so much for introducing me to this book!
    Ginny

  3. Roberta recommends, July 2: love stories « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Imperfect Lens by Anne Roiphe. See the post “Best of 2006 – Part One” for an annotation of this, one of my favorite historical novels in recent […]

  4. Roberta REALLY Recommends: Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939, by Katie Roiphe « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] I remembered: Percy Bysshe Shelley. He too did not know what it meant to be a supportive spouse; Mary Shelley’s various tribulations regarding illness and childbirth were usually met by a recitation of his own ailments and […]

  5. Happy Blogday, Books to the Ceiling! « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] first entry is entitled “Best of 2006 – Part Two.” Where, you may reasonably ask, is Part One? Well, it ended up being posted several days later, on April 1, 2007, to be […]

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