Sunday, January 22, 2012

Vacation Reading: Two Mini-Reviews

by E.L. Doctorow

Ragtime, winner of the 1975 National Book Critics Circle Award, intermingles historical figures with fictional characters to capture the mood and spirit of New York City in the early years of the twentieth century.

The novel opens as Harry Houdini crashes his car into a telephone pole outside a home in New Rochelle. The family invites him in,  and the line between fact and fiction begins to blur. Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Evelyn Nesbit, and even Sigmund Freud wander in and out of the story. They cross paths with our fictional family, a Ragtime musician from Harlem, and a poor immigrant desperately trying to protect his young daughter.

The novel was quick reading and entertaining, but the neither the writing nor plot really stood out for me. I ended up leaving it in our rented condo for a future vacationer. My book club's reaction was mixed, too. Eight of us read the book, but only three would recommend it to a friend.

My rating:

Where Angels Fear To Tread
by E.M. Forster

Forster's first novel deals with his signature themes of class, manners, and the collision of cultures.

Plot Summary (from amazon):
 When a young English widow takes off on the grand tour and along the way marries a penniless Italian, her in-laws are not amused. That the marriage should fail and poor Lilia die tragically are only to be expected. But that Lilia should have had a baby -- and that the baby should be raised as an Italian! -- are matters requiring immediate correction by Philip Herriton, his dour sister Harriet, and their well-meaning friend Miss Abbott.

I've read several of Forster's novels and especially enjoyed Howards End and A Room With A View. When Thomas mentioned that reading this novel in the sun would enhance the experience, I decided to bring it to Florida (there is no sun in central New York this time of year!)  Of course, he was right. Reading about the lush Italian countryside while soaking up the sun myself was sublime. Maybe not quite as polished as his later novels, but definitely recommended for any E.M. Forster fan.

My rating:


  1. I adored Homer & Langely, so I guess it is good to know that I shouldn't grab this one as a follow up.

  2. I am a much bigger fan of Ragtime than you are, I guess. Much bigger fan than your book club was, too. I first read it when I was 14 or 15, very pleased to be reading a grown-up book at that age. I think it's a good grown-up book to give to younger readers.

  3. Both of these books sound like perfect vacation reads. I am sorry you did not find Ragtime as enjoyable was as it promises to be. Still, I may put it on the "skim" list - as the blur between fiction and reality is quite interesting to me these days.

  4. Now I want to re-read Where Angels Fear to Tread. A small book if I remember correctly? And yes, not al polished as other Forster offerings but really enjoyable all the same. Hope your vacation was a happy one!

  5. Sandy - I added Homer & Langley to my wish list after reading your review. Still plan to give it a try on audio.

    C.B. James - The whole time I was reading, I felt like I should have been enjoying Ragtime more. It was a strange feeling. I can see where it would be a good grown-up book for younger readers though.

    Molly - I had very high hopes for Ragtime... that may have contributed to the problem.

    Frances - And I want to reread Howards End now... just loved that book! Had a great time in Florida, but as usual, it passed too quickly.

  6. I enjoy reading Forster. Read "Angels" many years ago now and what I remember is the sun and Italian countryside. Definitely loved the setting!

  7. I had no idea Where Angels Fear to Tread was Forster! I like the idea of lying in the sun reading about the Italian countryside...

  8. I enjoyed these reviews, JoAnn especially Where Angels Fear to Tread. I love E.M. Forster's books. Your review reminded me how much I enjoyed Hoard's End, A Room with a View and "...Angels...". I'll save this book to read when there's some good, warm sun in Brooklyn or...maybe I should go to Florida!

    I've read only one of Doctorow's books and have Homer & Langley on my wishlist. Ragtime sounds very interesting. It's too bad it doesn't sound like it quite lives up to its promise. But, still, I might read it one of these days!

  9. I have a copy of Where angels fear to tread that I read during our teenage love with A Room with a view. Maybe it's time for a re read - on the summer though.

  10. Thomas told me Where Angles Fear to Thread should be my next Forster years ago, and it's about time I listen. I haven't read anything by him in too long.

  11. Sorry Ragtime was a disappointment; I own it but haven't read it. i do want to read "Angels" it sounds like one I might really enjoy.

    Have a great week JoAnn.

  12. Loved these mini-reviews. If you left the book behind that tells me all I want to know. But, the other one sounds like it could be good and I've yet to read this author!

  13. Terri B - The setting reminded of The Enchanted April. It's also set in the Italian countryside - I loved that one, too.

    Sam - It was one of those instances where the reading setting adds to the overall enjoyment... a perfect combination.

    Amy -Homer & Langley is on my wish list, too, and I still plan to give it a shot. I'm sure you'll have sunny days in Brooklyn that would be perfect for reading Forster, but you may have to wait a few months ;-)

    Joan Hunter Dunn - Definitely in the summer! I may reread A Room with a View then, too.

    Nymeth - It's been a few years since I read Forster, too. My last one was A Passage to India, and I was in Florida then, too . It didn't help much though. It's still my least favorite of his novels.

    Diane - I'm wondering if my expectations weren't too high with Ragtime. It seems like everyone loves it. I do think you would enjoy the Forster.

    Staci - I just couldn't see lugging the book back in my carry-on. My daughter left a couple books, too. The next occupants should have plenty of reading material!

  14. I've always wanted to read Ragtime, and now I'm curious how well I will like it. It's always best to not have too high of expectations, so I think I'm in a good place now :)
    I agree you about Where Angels Fear to Tread. I was enchanted by the setting, and the story was interesting, but it wasn't as good as some of Forster's others.

  15. Shelley - I think Ragtime definitely fell victim to 'expectations'. But there was still plenty to enjoy in Where Angels Fear to Tread, even if it wasn't Forster's best.

  16. "Ragtime" is one of my all-time favs but I think it was enhanced by the fact that I had just seen the movie adaptation when I read the book. I'm reading a book about Evelyn Nesbit right now - after reading "Ragtime" I've always been interested in that aspect of the book.

  17. Lisa - The Evelyn Nesbit sections were my favorite! I'd like to see the movie, too... heading over to Netflix now.

  18. I feel as though I need to give Forster another chance. I did not like Howards End but now I'm thinking it was my mood? I do have Where Angels Fear and Room with a View on my day.

    I do love a read that matches your location/surroundings/mood, though!

  19. Trish - If you give Forster another chance, go with A Room With A View. Howards End is my fave, but I'd try something else instead of going back to it.


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