Book choice for April 2009

American Pastoral [suggested by Lorraine Southern]

front cover

In his 22nd novel, Roth shows his age. Not that his writing is any less vigorous and supple. But in this autumnal tome, he is definitely in a reflective mood, looking backward. As the book opens, Roth's alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, recalls an innocent time when golden boy Seymour "the Swede" Levov was the pride of his Jewish neighborhood. Then, in precise, painful, perfectly rendered detail, he shows how the Swede's life did not turn out as gloriously as expected. How it was, in fact, devastated by a child's violent act. When Merry Levov blew up her quaint little town's post office to protest the Vietnam war, she didn't just kill passing physician Fred Conlon, she shattered the ties that bound her to her worshipful father. Merry disappears, then eventually reappears as a stick-thin Jain living in sacred povery in Newark, having killed three more people for the cause. Roth doesn't tell the whole story blow by blow but gives us the essentials in luminous, overlapping bits. In the end, the book positively resonates with the anguish of a father who has utterly lost his daughter. Highly recommended. [Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" ©1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.]

The novel has a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Philip Milton Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933, the son of American-born parents and the grandson of European Jews who were part of the nineteenth-century wave of immigration to the United States. He grew up in the city's lower-middle-class section of Weequahic and was educated in Newark public schools. He later attended Bucknell University, where he received his B.A., and the University of Chicago, where he completed his M.A. and taught English. Afterwards, at both Iowa and Princeton, he taught creative writing, and for many years he taught comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He retired from teaching in 1992.

His first book was Goodbye, Columbus (1959), a novella and five stories that use wit, irony, and humor to depict Jewish life in post-war America. The book won him critical recognition, including the National Book Award for fiction, and along with that, condemnation from some within the Jewish community for depicting what they saw as the unflattering side of contemporary Jewish American experience. His first full-length novel was Letting Go (1962), a Jamesian realistic work that explores many of the societal and ethical issues of the 1950s. This was followed in 1967 by When She Was Good, another novel in the realistic mode that takes as its focus a rare narrative voice in Roth's fiction: a young Midwestern female.

Roth has a Wikipedia entry and his own society from which the above biog is extracted (there is more).


Shortlisted for this month

The nominator can bring one, two, or three books to be chosen by the group (or mandated in the case of only one book being selected).  This month, Lorraine also brought the following selections:

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies is an allegorical novel by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding.  It discusses how culture created by man fails, using as an example a group of British schoolboys stuck on a deserted island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results.  Its stances on the already controversial subjects of human nature and individual welfare versus the common good earned it position 70 on the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 1990-2000.  In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.

Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding's first novel, and although it was not a great success at the time - selling fewer than three thousand copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of print - it soon went on to become a bestseller, and by the early 1960s was required reading in many schools and colleges.  It was adapted to film in 1963 by Peter Brook, and again in 1990 by Harry Hook.

The title is said to be a reference to the Hebrew name Beelzebub ("god of the fly", "host of the fly" or literally "Lord of Flies"), a name sometimes used as a synonym for Satan.

The book has its own Wikipedia page, from which the above is an extract, and was previously shortlisted by the group in November 2008.

About the Author

William Golding was born in 1911 in Newquay, Cornwall, UK, and died in 1993 at his home in Cornwall, near Truro.

Those bold facts, accompanied by the dates of his most significant events (book publishings, marriage, etc) are all you need to know, apparently. At least, if his website is to be believed.  He also, you'll be astonished to discover, has a Wikipedia page.



Dime-store psychology and half-baked moralizing undermine this character-driven police procedural. The fiction of Scotland's Welsh has traveled quite a distance from Trainspotting, as he returns to a character introduced in Filth (1998), a novel with a generic title similar to this one's. A sidekick in that book, Scottish DI Ray Lennox, takes center stage here. The investigation of a child rape and murder has left Lennox unhinged, so he is ordered to take recuperative leave with his fiancee, Trudi, in Miami. Obviously his superiors haven't read enough Florida crime fiction to realize that this cesspool isn't likely to facilitate Lennox's recovery. First he decides to discontinue the anti-depressants that have barely been keeping him afloat, and to return to the self-medication of alcohol and illicit drugs. Thus he finds himself increasingly at odds with Trudi, who is obsessed with planning the perfect wedding while Lennox's psyche continues to spiral downward. What was intended as a romantic getaway to take Lennox far from his troubles instead leads to a binge in which (what a coincidence!) he stumbles upon an American paedophile ring. Against considerable odds (and risking his crumbling relationship with Trudi in the process), he attempts to rescue a young girl in Florida as some sort of compensation for his failure to do the same in Scotland. A clever stylistic strategy is to alternate conventional, third-person, present-tense narration with second-person past-tense flashbacks (thus allowing the reader to enter Lennox's mind as "you"). Yet the novel is weakest when Welsh tries to provide the underpinnings for his protagonist's obsession in a boyhood trauma and dysfunctional family. Though Lennox is "depressed, lonely, and hung-over in a strange place, without his medication and possibly more vulnerable than he'd ever been in his life," he's ultimately the closest thing to a hero that the novelist has allowed himself to create. A good man in a very bad world, Lennox deserves a thematically richer novel.[review by Kirkus Reviews from]

About the Author

Irvine Welsh was born in the great city of Edinburgh, Scotland. He left Ainslie Park Secondary School when he was sixteen and had various jobs, until London called in the late seventies and he tried to catch up on some of the education he'd missed out on while daydreaming about more interesting things, as he enjoyed the London punk scene. Welsh eventually returned to Edinburgh where he worked for the city council in the housing department before going on to study for an MBA at Heriot Watt University.

Energised by the Edinburgh rave scene, he started to write. Digging out some old diaries, Welsh wrote a draft of what would become Trainspotting. He published parts of this from 1991 onwards in DOG, the West Coast Magazine, and New Writing Scotland. Duncan McLean published parts of the novel in two Clocktower pamphlets, A Parcel of Rogues and Past Tense: Four Stories from a Novel. Duncan McLean recommended Welsh to Robin Robertson, then editorial director of Secker & Warburg, who decided to publish Trainspotting, despite believing that it was unlikely to sell.

The above biog is abridged (and the very many typos and grammatical errors corrected) from Welsh's website where you'll find a bunch more if you can stand it.


Previous Months' Book Choices

March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006