Wednesday, August 14, 2019

the books of Karen Dukess's The Last Book Party, a novel for the end of summer

I was cleaning up our break room when I came across The Last Book Party, a July novel from Karen Dukess. As the reading hoarder I can be, I wound up setting it aside for one last perusal before moving on. It had some bookseller love when it was published. So I tried it.

I know that I’m always supposed to be reading ahead, but like any number of readers in the publishing and bookselling world (including authors) who complain that reading, the thing we love that brought us to this industry, can sometimes feel more like work than pleasure. Sometimes it’s nice to read something that isn’t under deadline. There’s no Indie Next quote desired, the author isn’t coming. That said, I’m not sure I could handle reading a book that was out of print, unless my goal was to convince someone to republish it. So of course I turned my diversion into a blog post.

Here's the set up. Eve Rosen is an editorial secretary at Hodder, Strike who has dreams of moving up in the hierarchy. They read books off the slush pile, sometimes aloud to the co-workers. The editorial folks are different from the publicity people; they are introverted and don’t have progressive parties. I should note that when I was in publishing, I don’t think there was much outside socializing between the brains (editorial) and the money (sales, marketing, publicity). But it’s also possible I just wasn’t invited. I should note that one of the recent attendees at our book club worked in editorial and her closest friend was in publicity. So every house is different.

In any case, Eve* is passed over for a promotion and jumps ship to assist Henry Grey, an old-school, Cape-Cod-based New Yorker journalist who has been working on his memoirs for years. She first meets him through his son Franny, an unbookish artist type with whom she has a dalliance, back when she was still in publishing. But it turns out the connections are web-like. Franny’s roommate at Choate is Jordan Grand, the hot young author that is Hodder, Strike’s big property. Meanwhile, Henry Grey’s memoir languishes unedited in the drawer of Malcolm his editor.

Henry lives an artistic life with his spouse Tillie the poet, who worked for years in Henry’s shadow, but now has a flourishing career. Their lives seem so exotic to Eve, whose family may live nearby, but are world’s away in terms of this insular world. And the season will all culminate in the Grey’s end-of-season book party, a costume extravaganza where everyone comes dressed as book characters.

And did I imagine that there’s a lot of secrets and withholding of information? Some things are revealed pretty early, such as Jeremy Grand is actually Jeremy Greenberg, who like Eve is just a middle-class Jewish kid, only he's from New Jersey.

Well, you can only imagine what happens. The story is a bit of a play on the innocent whose clumsy maneuverings crash down the intricate house of cards that the other players have constructed. And it’s also a play on the mentor story, calling to mind two novels from 2018, Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry and Sigrid Nuñez’s The Friend. I have this tendency when I’m reading to call out advice to the protagonist, “Please don’t do this,” but they always do what I hope they won’t.

In a way, the awful things that happen don’t destroy Eve so much as jump-start her. When I hear authors offer advice to others, one common refrain is “Read, read, read. Write, write, write.” And the thing about Eve is that she is just having trouble with the latter, and is even called out for it. But she has no such issues with the former, and that is one of my favorite parts of The Last Book Party. I loved Eve’s voracious reading habit, and from bookstores to libraries to flea markets, there were books everywhere. Classics mix with popular fiction of the time; mixed in are a number of lost treasures. I spent more than a few moments searching for the story behind obscure titles and authors. I wouldn't mind talking books with Alva the librarian.

If there were ever a book that demanded a reading list, this is one. So hereforth are the books of The Last Book Party.

The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert Service (12)
The detective novels of Ngaio Marsh (17)
The detective novels of P.D. James (17)
The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough (17)
MyAntonia, by Willa Cather (17)
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (18)
Love in Bloomsbury: Memories, by Frances Partridge (37)
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte (37)
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson (38)
A Wreath for the Enemy, by Pamela Frankau (67)
Cape Cod, by Henry David Thoreau (73)
The Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds (Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 73)
The Encyclopedia of Ancient Battles, edited by Michael Whitby and Harry Sidebottom (73)
World’s Fair, by E.L. Doctorow (73)
Stones for Ibarra, by Harriet Doerr (73)
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (73)
The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins (73)
Rich Man, Poor Man, by Irwin Shaw (73)
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy (73)
I’ll Take Manhattan, by Judith Krantz (84)
Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson (85)
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, by Eric Hodgins (89)
Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon (91)
Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw (92)
Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink (92)
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (92)
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (92)
Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk (93)
Exodus, by Leon Uris (93)
The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene (94)
Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier (94)
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (94)
Sweet Savage Love, by Rosemary Rogers (94)
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (96)
The Robert McCloskey books (103)
The novels of Dominic Dunne (113)
The novels of Bret Easton Ellis (113)
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe (114)
Middlemarch, by George Eliot (114)
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison (114)
Scoop, by Evelyn Waught (114)
Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish (114)
Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm (114)
Snappy Eats of 1932, by the Temple Sisterhood of Pine Bluff, Arkansas (114)
Gentleman Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos (114)
The novels of Don Delillo (116)
The novels of Thomas Pynchon (116)
Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson (116)
Thy Neighbor’s Wife, by Gay Talese (124)
Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert (139)
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (140)
Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak (140)
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov (140)
Take Forty Eggs, by Basil Collier (152)
Eleanor and Franklin, by Joseph P Lash (153)
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (153)
Dracula, by Bram Stoker (194)
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas (194)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote (194)
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (194)
Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne (194)
The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins (196)
Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth (197)
Dangerous Liaisons, by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos (198)
Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney (205)
Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (205)
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (205)
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston (226)
Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (226)
Tourist Season, by Carl Hiaasen (226)
The novels of Edna Ferber (226)
The novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (226)
The novels of Sidney Sheldon (226)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach

This book so feels like the end of summer, what with a lot of high schools already in session. Dukess's novel sort of feels like a bookend to John Glynn's Out East, a memoir about another publishing person out of his league in another summer resort community.

*I called the protagonist Eva in our email newsletter. It was a last-minute addition and we didn't proof thoroughly.

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