I haven't done a Bookshelf post in a bit, and since we are driving so much these days (seriously, if this road trip were a version of the Oregon Trail computer game, our pace would be grueling and we would need to rest for days to recover. No one has died of dysentery, though, thankfully) I have a lot of time to read--just a couple of my latest reads are below.
Z by Therese Ann Fowler:
I bought this book awhile ago, but I hadn’t really had a chance to get into it until this trip started—and got into it I did—I seriously could not put it down.
Z is a fictionalized account, told in first person, of Zelda Fitzgerald’s life during her time married to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Most Fitzgerald scholars agree that one is either strongly in Camp Fitzgerald or Camp Zelda--meaning these two had a tumultuous relationship about which much has been written and speculated over the years, but no one really knows for sure what caused the downfall of these two Jazz Age darlings.
I have always been fairly fascinated by Zelda—like Yoko Ono, she gets a pretty tough rep for being the reason why Fitzgerald failed in so much of his life after the publication of Gatsby (which wasn’t even well received upon publication, despite Fitzgerald knowing/believing that it was going to change his life—Gatsby did not receive the accolades it today knows until the mid 1960s).
This novel paints a new picture of Zelda—one I haven’t seen before—as a highly intellectual, sensitive and passionate person. She was very much taken by Fitzgerald’s charisma and intellectualism, meeting him when she was only 17, and he quickly enchanted her into a life of hedonism and wonton alcoholism.
The book follows Zelda and Fitzgerald (Scott or Deo as she calls him) from their marriage in 1919 to their ultimate separation in 1933 following a series of mental and physical breakdowns on her part and a steep and tragic descent into alcoholism and a suggested homosexual affair with Ernest Hemingway on his part. The end is tragic--seeing a couple who obviously love and care so deeply for one another stumble and struggle through their relationship, holding desperately onto it even as he moves to Hollywood to pursue (yet another failed) attempt at screenwriting and she staying in Montgomery to keep the demons away from her mental collapse. Fitzgerald dies young in his 40s of a heart attack, leaving Zelda and Scottie, their one daughter, with a massive amount of debt and very little to live upon for the rest of their years.
Though there are undoubtedly parts of this book that I’m sure are heavily fictionalized, the overall gist of the novel and this author's intent are clear—it isn’t always the woman who ruins the man, and in Fitzgerald’s case, it was actually quite the opposite, Fitzgerald’s inability to retreat from his pursuit of perfectionism to raise and care for his wife and child, leading the family into what one of Zelda’s psychoanalysts describes as a “jazz age train wreck in slow motion.” Highly, highly, highly recommended. There is also a really interesting interview with the author here on NPR that I also recommend.
Circles of Time by Philip Rock:
I read the first of this series, The Passing Bells, during the first week of this trip. It literally grabbed me and I couldn’t stop—it’s a storm, much like Downton Abbey, of a wealthy aristocratic family living in England prior to and during WWI and then into the 1920s. This novel trilogy, though, was published years ago, in the mid-80s, far before Downton Abbey came onto the scene. The first book, Passing Bells, deals with the family and their help’s lives during WWI, but the second book, Circles of Time, moves into the 1920s and then into the rise of Hitler and the Socialist party in the 1930s in Europe. It continues to follow the same characters from the first book (except those who died….as there were several causalities in the first book) and it’s just fantastic. I am super excited to read the third book—each one is about 400 pages long, though, so I’m trying to hold off and read some other things first.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
We started reading this book to each other after a stop at an RV park about a week ago in Texas. The owner of the RV park, a very pleasant woman named Bonnie (a stopped by our trailer after we checked in to grab some paperwork she had mistakenly given us—while she chatted, she told us all about her 2 dacschounds that she and her husband adopted in Tennessee about 4 years ago.
Both dogs had to have back surgery after their spinal cords came out of whack and they were both still in recovery. Through this lengthy and interesting story, she told us about Dr. Poole, a doctor practicing out of Weidman, Michigan on large animals. Apparently Dr. Poole has become quite well known and now he has a show on National Geographic Channel. At any rate, I asked if he was anything like James Herriot and she said, “Oh, yes! Just like that!” and so, since Dr. Poole’s book is still forthcoming, we decided (well, I decided) that we would read All Creatures Great and Small to one another during long stretches of highway.
I remember my mom reading this book to me and with me as a young child and Ian has never read any Herriot, so I was quite excited to start this. He is still a little unsure if he actually likes the book, and, truth be told, when I say, “I could read you the book,” he usually says, “How about a podcast?”, but I love it and so sometimes he doesn’t have a choice. So far Dr. Herriot has delivered a breached cow and cleaned some really intense abscesses out of horse hooves. He has also examined a cow with a clogged teat, which led us to a long conversation about Ruth Ann’s teats (which are really big, as far as I’m concerned, and not shrinking nearly as fast or as much as I thought they would) and her various ailments.