The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

New Yorker reviewer James Wood beat me to reviewing The Privileges by Jonathan Dee, doing a much better job of it, of course. (Beware —contains some plot spoilers.) Like him, though, I was struck by how the jacket copy called The Privileges “an odyssey of a couple touched by fortune, changed by time, and guided above all else by their epic love for each other.” The Privileges is a compelling story of two narcissists with ambitions that coincide, whose physical beauty, family connections, and boldness ensure them money and power, but romantic love story? No.

The Privileges begins with the golden couple, Adam and Cynthia Morey,  getting married young, quickly discarding parents and their pasts; then leaps forward to the couple in their New York City apartment, dissatisfied with their stalled upward mobility — him, in the financial sector without an MBA; her, at home with two young children. Later, another leap, and the Moreys’ grown children become characters, young adults struggling in the cocoon of their parents’ now-immense wealth.
Adam and Cynthia Morey are fascinating, the way glittering-eyed cobras are. Were you to meet them in real life (in rarefied circles of New York philanthropy or finance) you wouldn’t really want to. And they would barely acknowledge your existence.
If you liked The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (whose blurb is prominently on the front cover), pick up this memorable novel (the author’s fifth) of characters seemingly headed full-tilt for self-destruction or, at least, comeuppance.
Jonathan Dee is a former senior editor of The Paris Review and teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and the New School.

The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs

Winter snow and ice getting you down? Try some humorous reading. Esquire editor-at-large A.J. Jacobs has made a niche for himself by practicing various extreme ways of life — to the exasperation of his wife, friends, and complete strangers — and thenwriting about them.

His last book, A Year of Living Biblically, was about trying to follow all the prescriptions and proscription in the Bible. Before that, he read the whole Encyclopedia Britannica, from A to Z, and sharing his newfound knowledge in The Know-It-All.

In The Guinea Pig Diaries, the author writes about, among other experiments in abnormal living, trying radical honesty for a month (in a chapter called “I Think You’re Fat”) and, for another month, abiding by all of George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (“What Would George Washington Do?”).
Here’s how the chapter on outsourcing (“My Outsourced Life”) begins:

“I really shouldn’t have to write this piece myself. I mean, why am I the one stuck in front of a computer terminal? All this tedious picking out of words on my laptop. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions. Sheesh. What a pain in my butt. Can’t someone else do it?”

Read a longer excerpt — and sample other memoirs– at SMITH Magazine here:
Excerpt: The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs | Memoirville

Robert Parker Dies Writing at Age 77

>The Boston area lost one of its own on Monday, January 18, with the death of Robert B. Parker, best known as the author of three popular mystery series featuring Massachusetts investigators: Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall. Split Image, the ninth Jesse Stone novel, is due out on February 23.

“Publishing 65 books in 37 years,” Bryan Marquard writes in yesterday’s Boston Globe, “Mr. Parker was as prolific as he was well-read. He featured Spenser – ‘spelled with an ‘s,’ just like the English poet,’ he said – in 37 novels.” Read the whole article here.

Booklist editor Bill Ott blogs about his pleasure in Robert Parker’s novels on the Booklist blog.

For many more tributes, obituaries, and reminiscences, including her own Los Angeles Times article, check out Sarah Weinman’s post on her blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian

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