You can now have my Style Notes column delivered direct to your inbox every Saturday morning, by subscribing to my new blog Maggie Alderson Style Notes.

Click on the rather faint grey link above.

Follow me on marvellous Twitter @MaggieA

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Here I go with my first post in my List of Books I’ve Read This Year. But just one thing to make clear before I start – these are not reviews. I don’t review novels.

Just one time I reviewed a novel for a newspaper and my verdict wasn’t entirely positive. When I came to write my own first one, not long after, and discovered exactly how much work is involved, I was consumed with regret and swore I would never write another review of a work of fiction by a living author.

There is a reason there are those who do and those who criticise…

So these are my very personal reactions to the books I’ve read this year. I’m doing it for fun, but also to make my reading more ‘active’, which I think can help improve your own writing.

I will also do my best not to give the stories away.

1. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

What a stellar start to my first catalogued reading year. This is a fascinating book on several different levels, written in a very quiet and measured voice, which is surprisingly compelling.

It’s the first person story of an American First Lady, based - in the author’s own statement - on a very particular recent presidency the reader will immediately recognise. Apart from that, she says, the characters and what happens to them are fictional. So that’s a pretty interesting set up to begin with: real, but not real.

One of the major themes, it seemed to me, was an exploration of the American class system, which seems to be a personal obsession of Sittenfeld’s.

Her first novel, Prep, which I also loved, was about a regular teenage girl who wins a scholarship to an elite private boarding school and her introduction to – and subsequent disillusionment with - the very particular behaviour, values and mores of America’s privileged class.

The family the narrator of this books marries into come from exactly this milieu, while she is the daughter of simple white-collar down home folk, whose good looks propel her upwards.

I’m fascinated by the nuances of class and the peculiar behaviour of the very rich myself, so find all that gripping.

Then there was the imaginative leap of seeing inside the bedroom of the White House, which I thought she pulled off brilliantly. How it feels to sit in your body as a simple human being, but know your husband can fundamentally affect the lives of millions of other people with any decision he makes.

There are actually some pretty massive flaws in this book – I won’t spoil it, by dissecting them – but that actually made me like it more. It gave me something to chew over, as I read, just as a beautiful face is made more compelling by a scar.

Reading satisfaction: 8
Un-put-downable-ness: 6
Recommend to best girlfriend: 8


  1. Oooh thankyou. I saw this last week and thought I might pick it up 'next time'. Now I'll be sure to. I've started my list too - certainly not blogging about all that I read, just keeping the list and recommending those that I particularly like.

  2. Dear Maggie,
    I am 11/10 happy that you have started reblogging! I love reading your articles in the Sydney Morning Herald weekend magazine and am pleased to know that there will be further opportunities to read your musings! Keep up the good Work!

  3. Thanks for comments! I'm shy about doing this and it's v encouraging.

    Half way through Book 2 and really looking forward to commenting on it. It's fascinating...


  4. Yes, blog more! About anything! Don't be shy!