NY Times Book Club

Every week, I read the Sunday NY Times. Along with breakfast and a leisurely coffee, I can relax for at least an hour or two dipping into its different sections. Surprisingly, I find the Business section quite interesting and of course, there’s the Opinion pieces and competition between my husband and I over who gets to read that first. But I digress.

Two weeks ago, I noticed a full page ad for the Times’ book club inviting subscribers to join a discussion of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. I’d never read any of Wharton’s fiction, but I did read her WWI diaries – a fascinating look at Paris and other parts of France during that terrible conflict. Those diaries gave me tidbits of inspiration as I wrote Lies Told In Silence. A NY Times discussion of an author who wrote in the late 19th and early twentieth century sounded like a great idea to me, so I signed up.

Edith Wharton – source Goodreads

If you’re interested in a synopsis of The Custom of the Country, you can check it out here.

The main character, Undine Spragg, is a Midwestern girl who attempts to ascend New York society. Needless to say, those of influence in NYC are at first not the slightest bit interested in a brash, grasping young woman whose only attractive feature is her beauty. That is, not until the son of a family from established New York ‘aristocracy’ decides to marry her.

Claire Messud, author of The Emperor’s Children, presented the novel along with details of Edith Wharton’s background and writing career – apparently Edith wrote her first book at 40 and has many works to her credit, including novels, poetry, novellas, non-fiction, and short stories.

Claire Messud called The Custom of the Country a ‘comedy of manners’ that was written during a time when Wharton was divorcing her husband Teddy Wharton and relocating to Paris. Messud suggested that Undine Spragg – the initials US being significant – is an indomitable heroine of unwavering ambition. Watching the chat comments it was clear to me that many of those attending disliked the heroine intensely – my opinion as well.

What was it like to participate in a book club of more than 4000 people? Actually, there was no participation – unless you call a chat column that scrolled so quickly you couldn’t really read it participation. However, I did appreciate Claire Messud’s presentation and her enthusiasm for both Wharton and The Custom of the Country and I applaud the New York Times’ book club venture.

I think I’ll try Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence next.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

4 thoughts on “NY Times Book Club”

  1. I have not read this work of Edith Wharton, but I have read Age of Innocence along with others. Wharton is a remarkable writer, and a woman I admire for her determination to achieve her dream of writing during the time in which she lived. Thanks for sharing the title of this other work; I’ll check my local library for it.

  2. What synchronicity! This afternoon I’ve been updating my Goodreads books and added Wharton’s Fighting France which I too referred to while writing my WWI mss. You’re the first person I’ve run across who has done the same (or very close)! I loved your Time and Regret and Unravelled, btw.

    1. You might also want to look at Mildred Aldrich’s journal/diary, Elaine. I think it’s available on Project Gutenberg as well.

      So pleased to hear you enjoyed two of my novels. I hope you’ll give Paris In Ruins a try and let me know what you think!

      All best … Mary

    2. Sorry to be so slow with my response, Elaine. I’m deep in the chaos of marketing Paris In Ruins. And I’m so glad to know that you enjoyed Time and Regret as well as Unravelled. I hope you’ll give my new one – Paris In Ruins – a try!

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