An Academic Question, The Busman's Honeymoon, Alone Time, & Mr. Ives' Christmas


An Academic Question by Barbara Pym

From a slow beginning, An Academic Question gradually develops into a story with potential, but sadly fizzles out at the end. Set in a university town and told from the perspective of one professor's wife, the central academic question is: just how far would you go to get tenure? Our professor does something unethical, but just as I was getting interested in seeing what the backlash would be, it ends. There's a solution of sorts, but it's disappointing and left me wishing this book had a few more chapters and a little more oomph. 

The Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers

This was my first Dorothy Sayers, but it won't be my last. Her writing is an absolute pleasure to read. The story, about a just-married couple who find a dead body in the basement of their new country house on their wedding night, is interesting and the characters are well drawn. But, if you need your mysteries to be page-turners this is probably not the one for you. I for one thoroughly enjoy these quiet British mysteries, actually quiet British stories of any genre, are wonderfully appealing to me. Is it the language, or the quaint settings and quirky characters, or maybe all the tangled rules of manners and comportment? Yes, I love all of that. Very enjoyable reading!

Alone Time by Stephanie Rosenbloom

In this travel story Ms. Rosenbloom encourages us to experience the pleasures of touring alone. She recounts her journey of doing just that in four different cities, in four different seasons: spring in Paris, summer in Istanbul, autumn in Florence, and winter in New York. With 84 pages about Paris, 48 about Istanbul, 46 about Florence, and 34 about New York, it's the Paris section that has stayed with me, though all were fun to read.

She writes about the advantages of visiting museums on your own, about wandering through cities and stopping when and where you like without having to consider what someone else might want to do, and about eating alone in restaurants and how it allows you to savour your food without having to make conversation. When I read that back it sounds almost selfish, but she does make a lot of good points. She includes a chapter at the end called Tips and Tools for Going It Alone with some helpful advice for anyone thinking of taking a solo vacation. 

I enjoyed the book, though I'd like to have read more about her experiences in Istanbul and Florence. 

Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Spoiler alert: In order to tell you about this book, I find it necessary to refer to the ending. I don't think it will make any difference because it's a natural conclusion, not anything dramatic at all. But still, if you'd rather not know, please don't read on. 

When I was reading this I found it terribly sad, but now that I've had a few weeks to process it, I think it's quite beautiful. It begins with a tragedy. Mr. Ives loses his 17 year old son at Christmastime in a senseless shooting, a shock that rocks his faith and takes most of his life to come to terms with. He and his wife carry on living their lives, but his sadness wears them both down over the years. Slowly, he begins to understand how his pain has changed him and affected everyone else in his life, and that brings us full circle to another, more peaceful Christmastime. 

It turned out to be a much more profound reading experience than I had expected, certainly not one of those light-hearted Christmas fictions where there's a perfect ending for everyone. It hasn't much to do with Christmas at all, other than as a starting and stopping point, so if a light Christmas read is what you're looking for, I wouldn't recommend it.  Otherwise I do very much recommend it. It is a melancholy story, but gently, beautifully written and satisfying to read. 


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