Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Have you read Strout?

What's your opinion?
Early reviews of Elizabeth Strout's new novel, "My Name Is Lucy Barton," have noted a "fierce clarity of vision, "an ill-advised title," great openness and wisdom" and "a tedious but quietly elegiac style." That's a mixed bag of praise—guaranteed to make any author take notice.
Strout wrote "Olive Kittredge," a wonderfully rich character portrait which won a Pulitzer Prize and became an HBO film. Yet it had its detractors.
Readers can't usually depend on critiques and those quick blurbs on the back cover of a book for an accurate appraisal. In the past, critics have pulverized great writers, differing widely in their appraisals; they always will. Lord Byron referred to the poet Keats' work as "piss-in-a-bed poetry" and H.G. Wells called George Bernard Shaw "an idiot child screaming in a hospital." Joseph Conrad considered D.H. Lawrence's fiction "Filth." B.R. Myers, writing in The Atlantic, compared Annie Proulx's writing style in "Accordion Crimes" to "a bad photographer hurrying through a slide show."
There are plenty of nasty things to be said out there, and plenty of people who will disagree with those lofty estimations of another's talent.
So you can't go by the critics. It helps readers to check several reviews beforehand, but the bottom line is that a book speaks differently to each person and what others dislike may be wonderful to you.
So have you read "My Name Is Lucy Barton" yet? What's your take? Send me a quick response to it (has to be short and sweet!) for next time. Other club members may benefit from your appraisal.
The same holds true for other new books, released in late 2015 and in 2016, that most of us haven't had a chance to check out yet. I'd love to know your take on them, and hope to use a quote from your comments on specific books in future columns. I do think clubs would like to know what peer readers are finding out about the new books before they commit to them.
I welcome your input. Send information to me at and label it for Read It and Reap. Deadline is 10 days before the last Sunday of each month. If you are in a book club, please mention the name/location of that club. Thanks.
Free books, anyone?
Random House has joined with other publishers who make review copies available to those willing to submit a short review of the book. Each month, they'll select some folks to receive an advance e-book of a new mystery, then review it. It's free. Find out more at