The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott transports the reader back to the politics of the Cold War in the 1950s and the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the years immediately following World War II. At the heart of the story is the secret plan by the United States government to get its hands on Boris Pasternak’s masterpiece Doctor Zhivago in order to publish it for the world to read.
The Secrets We Kept is told in alternating chapters with scenes taking place between the United States and The Soviet Union. Much of the story revolves around the pressure and repercussions on Pasternak of writing a book that is in direct contrast with the government of the USSR and their eventual censorship of his novel. Pasternak’s struggle is not only with the government, it is also with his long time mistress, Olga Ivinskya, who became his most passionate advocate and sometime publicist. Olga also has the distinction of being the inspiration for the main character in Pasternak’s novel, Lara. The Soviet government went as far as imprisoning Olga for numerous years due to her association with Pasternak as an additional form of pressure on him. Upon her release, she returned and they picked up where they left off with the goal of publishing Pasternak’s book.
Simultaneously, in Washington, D. C., new college graduate Irina is plucked from her secretarial position within the US government and given orders to go undercover to help smuggle a copy of the book out of the USSR. Along with a few select others, she learns the ropes of becoming an international spy by transferring the manuscript of the book to its final destination. Inspired by the United States belief that literature can change the world, the hand selected group of US spies assume identities all over the world to ensure the book has a worldwide audience.
When I discovered that this book was centered on the writing of Doctor Zhivago, I was immediately intrigued. I knew just a little about the writing of the book and its aftermath, but this work of historical fiction is not only an intriguing read, but has me wanting to find out more about this time period and the men and women whose passion for literature brought the novel to a worldwide audience.
Many people turn to books for advice on how to live their lives or when they have certain questions they want answered. Do you have a favorite book that you refer back to, that you read when you need a pick-me-up, that you pull quotes from to inspire yourself? I certainly do and almost all of them are books from my childhood. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is one of my steady go-to’s.
What would Alice do? : Advice for the Modern Woman with a foreword by Lauren Laverne pulls quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and matches them up with a wide variety of categories that all relate. Instead of reading this book cover to cover, I found myself flipping through looking for quotes that caught my eye.
Crack open this book for advice from Alice on:
- Being Inspirational
- Having a Bad Day
- Getting On at Work
- Dealing with Difficult Characters
- Taking Risks
- Saying What You Mean
- Minding Your Manners
- Keeping Cool in a Crisis
- Being a Feminist
- Health and Safety
- Enjoying Food and Drink
- Being Brave
- Fun and Games
- The Value of a Good Education
- Growing Up
Even though this book is marketed as advice for the modern woman, the quotes present inside, I felt, are not uniquely meant for just women. The categories that Laverne chooses are full of helpful advice for everyone and the messages present everyone could benefit from. We could all use some new words of advice every now and then.
Subtitled “How Six Novels taught me love, friendship, and the things that really matter,” A Jane Austen Education is partly the story of how William Deresiewicz, now a well-regarded Austen scholar, evolved from being dismissive, to being a true fan.
There are chapters devoted to Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. It’s a close textual study of the best kind, not overly academic and pedantic. He explains why Austen has endured. Not because of the quaint period film adaptations, but because form and style drive Austen’s message.
Long passages in Emma are devoted to trivial matters and gossip. Austen skewers the mundane conversation of characters like Miss Bates, and the cruelty of Emma. She forces readers to confront in themselves easy and cavalier meanness.
Entwined in the literary criticism, is memoir. Deresiewicz movingly relates how the novels changed his life for the better. Austen’s message of compassion and kindness improved his relationships.
This all sounds like it would be a tough and boring slog, but it’s actually very accessible – especially for English lit (and Austen) geeks. If you didn’t know what the big deal was before, this is an enlightening read. If you were already a devotee, you’ll enjoy it even more.
In Why I Read , Lesser draws on a lifetime of pleasure reading and decades of editing one of the most distinguished literary magazines in the country, The Threepenny Review, to describe her love of literature. As Lesser writes in her prologue, “Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it.”
Here the reader will discover a definition of literature that is as broad as it is broad-minded. In addition to novels and stories, Lesser explores plays, poems, and essays along with mysteries, science fiction, and memoirs. As she examines these works from such perspectives as “Character and Plot,” “Novelty,” “Grandeur and Intimacy,” and “Authority,” Why I Read sparks an overwhelming desire to put aside quotidian tasks in favor of reading. Lesser’s passion for this pursuit resonates on every page, whether she is discussing the book as a physical object or a particular work’s influence. “Reading literature is a way of reaching back to something bigger and older and different,” she writes. “It can give you the feeling that you belong to the past as well as the present, and it can help you realize that your present will someday be someone else’s past. This may be disheartening, but it can also be strangely consoling at times.”
A book in the spirit of E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and Elizabeth Hardwick’s A View of My Own , Why I Read is iconoclastic, conversational, and full of insight. It will delight those who are already avid readers as well as neophytes in search of sheer literary fun. (description from publisher)
Here’s a beautiful quote, reminding us of the importance of nature. Do you know which book it comes from?
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what they had to teach; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Did we stump you? Find the answer here.
Last week’s quote was fun wasn’t it? Did you know what book it was from? Here’s the next quote to test your knowledge of books!
“I ran with the wind blowing on my face, and a smile as wide as the valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran”.
Check for the answer here.
Whoa – last week’s quote was a bit of a downer. Did you recognize which complicated Russian novel it was from? Let’s lighten things up a bit – after all, spring starts this week! – and go with something fun.
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”.
Now how could you not want to read this book after an opening line like that? If you’re not sure of the title and want to track it down you can find the answer here.
How did you do with last week’s quote? Did we stump you or are you a fan of classic horror and recognized it right away? Here’s an easy one that we’ve all heard. Do you know which famous book it’s from?
“Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.
Check here to see if you were right.
How are you doing with our Favorite Quotes? Having fun with them, or getting frustrated? Here’s the last line from a classic we all know, but may not have read….
“He was soon borne away by waves and lost in darkness and distance”.
For those of us unfamiliar with this one, the answer is here.
Did our Favorite Quote from last week stump you, or was it too obvious? Ready to give it another try? Here’s a pretty easy one, from an American classic, a poignant line that perfectly evokes the novel it comes from.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.
Check if you got the right answer here!