Dai Sijie, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Two teen-age boys are sent to the remote countryside during Mao’s cultural revolution. Their “re-education” there comes not from the hard work in field and mine, but from secretly reading the French classics which have been translated into Chinese. They also educate the little seamstress, but what she learns is not what they expect.
Stendahl, The Red and the Black. The classic French novel from 1830, read by me in translation. The story begins as a tale of poor but ambitious young man on the make, moves into high-flown romance and ends as melodrama.
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Translated into Modern English by Nevill Coghill. I started this in a four-session class, where we only read selections, and then finished it on my own. It was a long slog, seemed like. I found many delightful patches, but as a whole it wearied me. I am not the person who can fully appreciate literature from this period.
Alison Lurie, Love and Friendship. After the heavy going in Stendahl and Chaucer, this light-weight academic social comedy was just the ticket. All is not well on the idyllic but isolated campus of Convers College, but then, why should it be?
Susan Cheever, Home Before Dark: A Biographical Memoir of John Cheever by His Daughter. The long subtitle accurately describes this affectionate but honest account of John Cheever’s life. After reading Cheever’s published Journals and Blake Bailey’s detailed biography, I thought I knew all I needed — or wanted — to know of this teller of suburban tales. I knew too much. Susan Cheever does it better in this sympathetic telling of her father’s story.
The Canterbury Tales (by Geoffrey Chaucer), adapted by Seymour Chwast. The whole thing is too long to read? You want a version more entertaining than Cliffs Notes? This graphic interpretation is probably right for you. It’s complete — all the tales and the prologues and the epilogues — but just the good parts, happily interpreted.
Patricia O’Brien, The Glory Cloak. In this historical novel, we meet and mingle real-life figures like Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton with fictional characters. The time is the Civil War, when Alcott served briefly as a nurse in the Union Hospital in Washington.
Loren Eiseley, Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It. It was not a quick trip from the Galapagos Islands to The Origin of Species and Darwin did not make the trip alone. He followed along behind Smith and Lamarck and Lyell and all the others who were trying to make sense of the discoveries of science.