Book Lust Rediscoveries is a series devoted to reprinting some of the best (and now out of print) novels originally published between 1960-2000. Each book is personally selected by Nancy Pearl and includes an introduction by her, as well as discussion questions for book groups and a list of recommended further reading.
The Last Night At the Ritz
By Elizabeth Savage
Amazon, 196 pages, $14.95
Elizabeth Savage’s Last Night at the Ritz tells the story of the “Mad Men” generation ten years on. Written in the late 60s about the late 50s, the book tells the story of one night out on the town with a group of old friends. The nameless narrator flashes back on scenes with all of the characters in her group, and the novel gradually illuminates the shades of gray that are present in any long term relationship. This is a novel about relationships, rather than actions, but by the end of the night you will care deeply about these characters and you will find yourself thinking about them long after you’ve closed the book. Readers who are curious for a more realistic and grounded approach to the mid-20th century than they’ll find on television will also appreciate the casual details and setting of the novel. These are never overbearing, but many of them are starkly evocative.
A Gay and Melancholy Sound
By Merle Miller
AmazonEncore, 566 pages, $14.95
The overarching emotion of Merle Miller’s A Gay and Melancholy Sound is self-hatred. Although this sounds like a grim foundation for a novel, it really isn’t. Joshua Bland, the narrator, has never quite lived up to the expectations of his demanding mother, absent father, overbearing stepfather, wives, or even in the end, himself. As he looks back through his life, the reader gets a sweeping review of the mid-20th century and a good idea of why Joshua is the way he is. The best part about this book is the humor. Much of the humor is black and some of it may cross the line to twisted, but anyone who’s failed at anything important will both empathize and laugh with Joshua, even while hating him at times.
Merle Miller is probably best known for his coming out essay, and the author’s life in the closet enables him to have real insight into Joshua. It also lets him find the perfect balance between antagonistic and sympathetic for the characters. Some readers may be turned off by the non-linear story line and the slightly stream of consciousness style, but this is definitely a book that’s worth the effort.
By Frederick G. Dillen
Amazon, 320 pages, $14.95
Frederick Dillen’s novel Fool tells the story of Barnaby Griswold, a man who is ultimately self-absorbed. His disgrace on Wall Street will be all too familiar to post-recession readers, and the aftermath may be cathartic. His self-discovery, if not growth, in the wake of his disgrace is filled with humor, and many of the scenes in this novel are laugh-out-loud funny, particularly those involving Barnaby’s ex-mother-in-law, Ada. The stream of consciousness style, particularly in the drunken scenes towards the beginning of the book might be off-putting to some readers, but Dillen’s way with words, and obvious love for words, helps pull the reader through.
By Rhian Ellis
AmazonEncore, 310 pages, $14.95
Rhian Ellis’ After Life tells the story of Naomi. Her mother is a practicing medium, and to escape trouble she moves them from New Orleans, the city of Naomi’s birth, to the small town of Train Line, New York, a city founded by spiritualists as a summer retreat and still operated by a spiritualist church. Naomi comes of age there, and eventually starts working as a medium. After Life opens with Naomi disposing of a body, who we quickly learn was Peter Morton, her boyfriend. But what happens to you if you’ve committed murder and you’re a spiritualist? A medium?
This book is something beyond a standard thriller (after all, we know who the killer is from page 1). It is a heart-warming and sometimes heart-breaking story of a mother-daughter relationship, and of how a person becomes an adult.
Reviewed by Katie Richards
Nancy Pearl is a librarian and lifelong reader. She regularly comments on books on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. Her books include 2003’s Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason, 2005’s More Book Lust: 1,000 New Reading Recommendations for Every Mood, Moment and Reason; Book Crush: For Kids and Teens: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Interest, published in 2007, and 2010’s Book Lust To Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers. Among her many awards and honors are the 2011 Librarian of the Year Award from Library Journal; the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association; the 2010 Margaret E. Monroe Award from the Reference and Users Services Association of the American Library Association; and the 2004 Women’s National Book Association Award, given to “a living American woman who… has done meritorious work in the world of books beyond the duties or responsibilities of her profession or occupation.”