My top 10 books for the 1936 Club

the 1936-club

#1936Club

For several years, Simon at Stuck in a Book, has been organizing club years, in which he encourages everybody to read books published in the same year.

For this year, he chose 1936. As I had a few titles from that year on my Classics Club list, I thought that would be a great way to work on my list.

I think the main idea is to draw a literary portrait of that year.
If you are curious, you can check on this Goodreads list or on this one (less complete, but you can compare with the books you have read), or on this wikipedia page (more complete I think) titles of books published that year.

It seems I have personally read 10 books published that year.
NB: For books translated into English, I am considering the year they were first published in their original language, not the year they were published in English

  1. Gone with the Wind
  2. The Joy of Cooking
  3. The Diary of a Country Priest
  4. A City of Bells
  5. Double Indemnity
  6. The Swedish Cavalier
  7. The A.B.C. Murders, by Agatha Christie
  8. Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie
  9. Cards on the Table, by Agatha Christie
  10. A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’

And I have 3 on my TBR list:

  1. Jamaica Inn
  2. War with the Newts
  3. Death at the President’s Lodging (Sir John Appleby, #1)

I have read and reviewed four since January 1st, 2021:

click on the covers to access my reviews

  The ABC Murders Murder in Mesopotamia

  Cards on the Table A cat a man and two women

So now, to follow the rules for #1936Club, here are 2 fresh reviews:

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity,
by James M. Cain
Published in 1936
115 pages
Mystery/noir
Goodreads

I watched the movie years ago, but didn’t remember all of the story, and have completely forgotten the ending, which is a good thing, as I am told the ending of the book is different. They changed the ending in the movie, to go along with the movie codes of the time.

It’s basically the story of Walter Huff, a Californian insurance salesman always on the lookout for the ideal client for a perfect sale. He thinks Mr. Nirdlinger could be one. Until things don’t go exactly as planned.

What really struck me right away was the style. It’s a first person narrative that flows like daily conversation and inner monologue, with loose grammar. I think this raw style fits beautifully to tell that story, but it sounds quite modern for 1936.

There’s many a man walking around today that’s worth more to his loved ones dead than alive, only he don’t know it yet.
Chapter 1

The richness of the book is in the astute psychological study of the characters.
As an Orthodox Christian steeped in Patristics, I have to say this was also a perfect illustration of the functioning of what we call temptations and the passions. You just touch something lightly with your little finger (at that point, you still have the freedom to get away afterwards), but you linger on the feeling, and then before you know it, you are stuck in up to your elbow, and then with your whole body and soul (and it’s basically too late to unglue yourself from the situation).
For instance, when Huff meets Mrs. Phyllis Nirdlinger for the first time, he sees all the red flags and his intuition tells him to get out of there presto, and yet he sits down and starts talking.
All along, Huff almost seems to be dragged along by inner forces stronger than his conscious will. 

I knew where I was at, of course.  I was standing right on the deep end, looking over the edge, and I kept telling myself to get out of there, and get quick, and never come back. But that was what I kept telling myself.  What I was doing was peeping over that edge, and all the time I was trying to pull away from it, there was something in me that kept edging a little closer, trying to get a better look.

But that thing was in me, pushing me still closer to the edge.
Chapter 2

And at the same time, he is actively getting more and more willingly and creatively involved. But is he even smart enough to do that?

Of course, the suspense is extremely well done. The story could go into so many directions, as little by little, more characters get involved.
The ending the author chose seems consistent to me with the inner mechanism I have described above.

It’s ultimately a great study of double manipulation. 

The Swedish CavalierThe Swedish Cavalier,
by Leo Perutz
(Austrian novelist and mathematician)
Translated from the German by John Brownjohn
Published in 1936
192 pages
Historical fiction
Goodreads

This was a major surprise, and I am shocked indeed to see that none of my fellow readers at the Classics Club seems to have reviewed it. I don’t remember seeing this title on any book blog I follow. The reason why it was on my TBR is that I heard about it in 2016 in a French TV literary program. It was recommended by contemporary author Emmanuel Carrère.

The foreword wants to present the story within a firm historical background, telling the reader this is based on the unknown memoirs published by Maria Christine von Blohme, whose father she only called “the Swedish cavalier”. His story, or the story of two men, then follows.

The first part opens in the cold winter of 1701, along the war-torn Polish-Russian border. By chance, a thief fleeing the gallows meets Christian von Tornefeld, a Swedish aristocrat and deserter (because he no longer wants to fight for foreign powers), now on his way to fight for his Swedish king Charles XII. But neither will reach his destination, and their fate is going to get inter connected in many ways, to the extreme that I will not specify here to avoid spoilers.

If Cain chose a rather modern style, Perutz did just the opposite, with a curious mix of genres (and it works superbly!): older style historical fiction, crime novel, and fairy tale (for instance with the secret powers of an arcanum, the character of the old miller, and the visits to the young girl at the end). It totally felt I was meeting with Don Quixote again. It has some of its humoristic passages (for instance with the thief giving his particular interpretation to what he sees in the fields, and then following that as reality), yet also dramatic scenes not unlike Dante’s Inferno (the bishop’s stamp-mill is even called the inferno; and there are a few final judgement scenes), and outcome that have made some critics compare it to Kafkaesque literature.
I often also felt I was inside a Bruegel painting!

The Swedish Cavalier has themes not uncommon to Double Indemnity, such as manipulation, deceit, and betrayal, but with a more metaphysical outlook, with moral values like courage and loyalty, an active conscience leading to thoughts of repentance, as well as aspects of redemption, totally absent in Cain’s novel.

This is a fascinating story in its form and content, and I highly recommend it.

My year 1936 recap over three continents:

A major American classic (and I am sorry, but if you plan on cancelling it, you have no idea what REAL culture and history are, and you might want to look into ways to get educated in the first place); a major French classic; a cookbook that is still used in many households; a charming and romantic British classic (at least that’s the memory I have of this book by Elizabeth Goudge I read in my late teens); three books by the queen of crime; a whimsy Japanese classic; and the two unique works (including one from Austria) reviewed here: all these attest to a rich and diverse year 1936, at least from I have read.

HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THESE?
CLICK ON THE 1936 CLUB LOGO TO DISCOVER MANY MORE REVIEWS
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK PUBLISHED IN 1936?

Book club January 2019 and Friday Finds

Bookshelf4
Picture from my bookshelves
edited with Pixlr
#Fridayfinds

I’m presenting here the books we shared
at our last block Book Club meeting
– it’s a potluck book club,
meaning each member shares about his/her latest good read.
Awesome for diversity in books, lively conversations,
and your TBR getting suddenly taller!
(synopsis taken from Goodreads.com)

Wow, looks like I haven’t shared about our Book Club reads for a long time. So here are the titles we talked about at our January meeting:

1. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker  (2017)
presented by M.

The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert—Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab—reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better.
Sleep is one of the most important but least understood aspects of our life, wellness, and longevity. Until very recently, science had no answer to the question of why we sleep, or what good it served, or why we suffer such devastating health consequences when we don’t sleep. Compared to the other basic drives in life—eating, drinking, and reproducing—the purpose of sleep remained elusive.
An explosion of scientific discoveries in the last twenty years has shed new light on this fundamental aspect of our lives. Now, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Within the brain, sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming mollifies painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.
Walker answers important questions about sleep: how do caffeine and alcohol affect sleep? What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime? How do common sleep aids affect us and can they do long-term damage? Charting cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and synthesizing decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses. Clear-eyed, fascinating, and accessible, Why We Sleepis a crucial and illuminating book.

2. The Good Muslim (Bangla Desh #2)by Tahmima Anam  (2011)
presented by B.

From prizewinning Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam comes her deeply moving second novel about the rise of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh, seen through the intimate lens of a family.
Pankaj Mishra praised A Golden Age, Tahmima Anam’s debut novel, as a “startlingly accomplished and gripping novel that describes not only the tumult of a great historical event . . . but also the small but heroic struggles of individuals living in the shadow of revolution and war.” In her new novel, The Good Muslim, Anam again deftly weaves the personal and the political, evoking with great skill and urgency the lasting ravages of war and the competing loyalties of love and belief.
In the dying days of a brutal civil war, Sohail Haque stumbles upon an abandoned building. Inside he finds a young woman whose story will haunt him for a lifetime to come. . . . Almost a decade later, Sohail’s sister, Maya, returns home after a long absence to find her beloved brother transformed. While Maya has stuck to her revolutionary ideals, Sohail has shunned his old life to become a charismatic religious leader. And when Sohail decides to send his son to a madrasa, the conflict between brother and sister comes to a devastating climax. Set in Bangladesh at a time when religious fundamentalism is on the rise, The Good Muslim is an epic story about faith, family, and the long shadow of war.

3. The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena (2016)
presented by JD.

It all started at a dinner party. . .
A domestic suspense debut about a young couple and their apparently friendly neighbors–a twisty, rollercoaster ride of lies, betrayal, and the secrets between husbands and wives. . .
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.
Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.
What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family–a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

4. The New Neighbors, by Simon Lelic  (2018)
also presented by JD.

The Girl Before meets The Couple Next Door in a Hitchcockian thriller about a couple who moves into their dream neighborhood only to discover nothing is as it seems…
The perfect couple. The perfect house. The perfect crime.
Londoners Jack and Syd found their dream home: lots of space, a great location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.
Everything is exactly what they hoped for when they move in—except Jack makes a disturbing discovery in the attic, and Syd begins to wonder about the girl next door. And they each keep the other in the dark.
A mistake.
Because someone has just been killed outside their back door, and now the police are watching them.
This is their chance to prove they’re innocent—or to get away with murder.
Whose story do you believe?

Plainsong5.  Plainsong, (Plainsong #1) by Kent Haruf  (1999)
presented by P.

A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.
In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known.
From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.
Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.

My own review is here

6. Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi  (2013)
presented by JM

BOY Novak turns twenty and decides to try for a brand-new life. Flax Hill, Massachusetts, isn’t exactly a welcoming town, but it does have the virtue of being the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. Flax Hill is also the hometown of Arturo Whitman –- craftsman, widower, and father of Snow. SNOW is mild-mannered, radiant and deeply cherished –- exactly the sort of little girl Boy never was, and Boy is utterly beguiled by her. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird. When BIRD is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her, and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart. Sparkling with wit and vibrancy, Boy, Snow, Bird is a deeply moving novel about three women and the strange connection between them. It confirms Helen Oyeyemi’s place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of her generation.

7. From Sand and Ash, by Amy Harmon (2016)
presented by S.

Italy, 1943—Germany occupies much of the country, placing the Jewish population in grave danger during World War II.
As children, Eva Rosselli and Angelo Bianco were raised like family but divided by circumstance and religion. As the years go by, the two find themselves falling in love. But the church calls to Angelo and, despite his deep feelings for Eva, he chooses the priesthood.
Now, more than a decade later, Angelo is a Catholic priest and Eva is a woman with nowhere to turn. With the Gestapo closing in, Angelo hides Eva within the walls of a convent, where Eva discovers she is just one of many Jews being sheltered by the Catholic Church.
But Eva can’t quietly hide, waiting for deliverance, while Angelo risks everything to keep her safe. With the world at war and so many in need, Angelo and Eva face trial after trial, choice after agonizing choice, until fate and fortune finally collide, leaving them with the most difficult decision of all.

Hear our Defeats8. Hear Our Defeats, by Laurent Gaudé  (Jan 2019)
presented by me

Timely and provocative, Hear Our Defeats is a novel about the battles that define us. The battles lost, won, and those still being fought.
A French intelligence officer, Assem, is tasked with tracking down a former member of the U.S. Special Forces suspected of drug trafficking during the War in Afghanistan. En route to Beirut he shares a night with Miriam, an Iraqi archaeologist, who is in a race against time to save ancient artifacts across the Middle East from the destruction wreaked by ISIS.

Woven into these two forceful, gripping storylines are stylish meditations on humankind’s bellicose history: Hannibal’s failed march on Rome and the burning of his fleet on the waters of the Mediterranean; Grant’s pursuit of the Confederates into rural Virginia; Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; and Emperor Haile Selassie’s swift retreat from Ethiopia. All turning points in world history, each showing a different facet of how nations and individuals face defeat.
Gaudé writes with a riveting immediacy, seamlessly taking the reader across the battlefields of our past to reflect upon the implications of conflicts being waged today.

My own review is here

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 HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THOSE?
WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVORITE?