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Basic Black with Pearls
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
A lost feminist classic and winner of the Toronto Book Award reissued to coincide with the 35th anniversary of publication. In her yearning, elusive search for a lover, Shirley Kaszenbowski sheds her drab basic black existence together with torturous memories of guilt and loss as a Jewish immigrant in Toronto. Shirley Kaszenbowski, ne Silverberg, is a middle-aged, middle-class woman in a Holt Renfrew tweed coat, a basic black dress, and a strand of real pearls. She may seem ordinary enough, pricing silk scarves at Eatons or idling in hotel coffee shops, but in fact she is searching for her lover. He is an elusive figure, a man connected with The Agency, a powerful technocrat who may or may not have suggested a rendezvous based on a secret code in the National Geographic. Her search takes her to the world of her past as a Jewish immigrant in the Spadina-Dundas area of Toronto. She finds the bakeries and rooming houses of her youth still haunted by survivors of postwar Europe and by her own memories of guilt and loss, while the consolations of art, opera, and pornography offer only echoes of her own illusions and desires. Her strange, wryly funny odyssey ends in a dramatic confrontation scene with her husband and the other woman, as she trades in her basic black for another chance. In Basic Black with Pearls, Weinzweig displays her gift for creating sympathetic characters in a slightly surreal, but always recognizable world.
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batsy
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Pickpick

This book, published in 1980 when the author was 65, astonished me. It won the Toronto Book Award in 1981, but the book or the author are not well-known. Weinman in her afterword calls it an "interior feminist espionage novel", & because the protagonist Shirley, alias Lola, travels from city to city to meet her mysterious lover who works for an international organisation called The Agency, I thought this would be Graham Greene-esque territory.

batsy It was not. Instead, it was reminiscent of domestic gothic, & it was existentialist & absurdist. A kind of feminine Waiting for Godot, but with the conversation largely being between a woman & herself; the plot a sequence of events that is a fever dream of memory & imagination. Perhaps reality is always just that. It's a slim book at 146 pages but its scope feels large. I admire how Weinzweig played with the form of the novel to produce this work. 3w
batsy There is also a deliciously discreet but ironic sense of subversive humour running through it all, best summed up for me in this line: "I was about to expatiate on the phenomenon of paradox, when I remembered that my philosophizing causes Coenraad to lose his erection." Truly a gem that I'm glad I read with the #NYRBBookClub @vivastory 3w
TrishB Wow 😯 what a review! Brilliant as always. 3w
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batsy @TrishB Thank you! ❤️ 3w
Graywacke Terrific review! 3w
Cathythoughts Great review 💫 3w
The_Penniless_Author This book sounds like something I would love. Stacking immediately 😀 3w
batsy @Graywacke @Cathythoughts Thank you! 💜💜 3w
batsy @The_Penniless_Author If you give it a try, I hope you like it! It's definitely a unique read 🙂 3w
MicheleinPhilly That is a line indeed! 😂 3w
LeahBergen Fantastic review … but I still didn‘t like the book at all. 😆😆 I think I was in a cranky headspace when I was reading it and the absurdist element got on my nerves. 😆😆 3w
charl08 Intriguing! 3w
Billypar I really like the description "fever dream of memory and imagination" - that sums it up so nicely. Great review! 3w
CarolynM Your quote made me laugh out loud🤣 Not sure if I could stomach a whole book of it, though🤔😆 3w
batsy @LeahBergen Thank you! 💜 I understand completely! I do wonder if I wasn't in the right mood if I would have struggled with it, too. 3w
batsy @charl08 Yes! 3w
batsy @Billypar Thank you! I love that it was such an interior novel played out entirely on the "outside" spaces, the streets, cafés, galleries. 3w
batsy @CarolynM It's a good one, I couldn't resist 😆 But no, it's not a novel full of lines and quips like that. The humour is a lot more subtle 🙂 3w
Hamlet Fantastic, nuanced review! This looks like quite a break from your Greek tragedy line up. You grabbed my interest; thanks for all you do here on Litsy! 3w
batsy @Hamlet Thank you so much for your kind words 💜 I'm so glad to have read this with the #NYRBBookClub, I've discovered a lot of great titles that way. And yes, I'm doing all of the Greek plays this year based on an idea I saw on a blog I frequent, so it's one play a week 😅 I'm enjoying it! 3w
Suet624 I‘m with @hamlet. Thank you. 💕 1w
batsy @Suet624 And thanks to you, as well; I derive great pleasure from your posts 💕 1w
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DrexEdit
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Pickpick

Thanks #NYRBBookClub for another really good read! This is definitely not a book I would have picked up on my own. While it's hard to say that this story is “enjoyable“ I did enjoy the feverish paranoid quality of the characters stories and imaginings. I started out trying to sort out what was true and what wasn't and then realized it would be better just to go with the flow. A truly unique and mesmerizing read.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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#NYRBBookClub
And the final question:
According to Weinman's afterword, Weinzweig struggled with the ending of her novel for over a year. Did you find the ending satisfactory?

GatheringBooks The open-ended nature of the ending, the many questions it engenders, and the bated breath that seemed to follow it is fitting I thought for such a surreal narrative. 4w
vivastory @GatheringBooks I completely agree. I found the ending appropriate & immensely satisfying, despite the “closure“ 4w
sarahbarnes I did like the ending as well. To me it seemed to signify that she had found a relationship in which she could be her authentic self rather than meet societal expectations. 4w
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DrexEdit I did like the ending. The choice of a new dress with color and her choosing a new relationship (probably) where she wanted to be seemed satisfactory to me. Like things were going to get better. 4w
Sapphire I thought the color of dress was interesting as well. But for me it seemed like another “put on personality “. Maybe a more sustainable one. It does hint at the schizophrenia potential. But also a more feminist comment on the roles women are forced to take on for survival or belonging. 4w
quietjenn It did feel fitting to me. And, even the change of dress does mean that she'll be embracing some other alternate identity, it was enough to make me hopeful that this one may be more satisfying and “true.“ 4w
batsy @GatheringBooks @vivastory Yes, I agree! The ending was fitting & it held both hope & possibility, but a sense of potential unease, as well. Is Shirley able to incorporate her various fragmented selves or will it fracture into another identity? I was really taken by how Weinzweig maintained the sense of mystery till the end without having to resort to trite resolutions. 3w
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vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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#NYRBBookClub
It has been posited that Shirley is suffering from schizophrenia, but as was the case in the April NYRB selection, it is evident throughout the book she has a curiosity in & appreciation for art. Do you think this was autobiographical? Or do you think there was something else at work?

GatheringBooks If it was autobiographical, then Weinzweig managed to create a feminist metafiction filled with allusions, lyricism, and sufficient obscurity to enable her to disclose her heart without revealing specifics or identities, elevating her experience to one of poetic form. 4w
sarahbarnes I think art is one way to transport yourself to a different reality, away from the one you are faced with. Maybe she appreciates art for the same reasons she is wandering around the world - seeking a different reality. 4w
vivastory @sarahbarnes Well said 👏 👏 It definitely offered a freedom for her. I *almost* watched Children of Paradise yesterday. I watched a different movie. I now wish I had watched Children of Paradise. (edited) 4w
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sarahbarnes @vivastory yes! And I haven‘t seen the film but am definitely intrigued now having read this book. You can still watch it! 😃 4w
vivastory @sarahbarnes I plan on it this week. Looking forward to it! 4w
Sapphire @GatheringBooks wow. What a fascinating and intriguing comment. Just wow. Stopped me. 4w
quietjenn I definitely think that she incorporates a lot of what is familiar to her. Is that enough to make it autobiographical? 🤷🏽‍♀️ 4w
merelybookish Wow I like what @GatheringBooks posits! 🤔 Raises this book to a whole new level. I think she drew on aspects of her life. She was married to a renowned musician in Canada 4w
merelybookish Sent send too soon. 🙄 They stayed married but who knows if she was happy with him tho? She definitely wrote a real Toronto! I have only been a few times but I can recognize it. I wonder who all the gentrification plays into her own sense of shifting identity. 4w
vivastory @merelybookish I agree. I also really like @gatheringbooks comment & I read a similar statement in a review (I forget which one now) From the little that I read, it seems like she had some dissatisfactions with her marriage but nothing terribly dramatic. It seems like there were autobiographical elements incorporated into her fiction, but I wouldn't call them autofiction. 3w
batsy Well put @GatheringBooks ! There seem to be some definite autobiographical elements, like the bit about growing up in poverty & Shirley's projection onto the girl in the painting. I also shared this tweet with @Billypar earlier when he was musing over the painting scene https://twitter.com/AEAkinwumi/status/1363917510626709506?t (I'm really taken with the fact that she produced this at a late age—the "late bloomer" aspect of it is v uplifting!) 3w
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vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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#NYRBBookClub
Shirley has several unusual encounters in a series of vignettes throughout the book. What did you make of these encounters? Are there any that struck you as particularly memorable or unusual & how did they change your expectations of the novel?

GatheringBooks Perhaps the most poignant for me was her memory of her childhood - the sense of isolation, misery, despair and abject indifference from people who are supposed to nurture her and care for her. 4w
vivastory @GatheringBooks I read a few reviews & it seemed to me that there was war trauma underlying the book, but it didn't really show up in hardly any reviews I read. I found that really surprising...the lack of discussion about her experiences as a child 4w
sarahbarnes I think for me the most memorable was the scene in the bakery. When she throws the coins onto the floor and then helps the woman pick them back up. And then leaves the bread she bought there in the bag. It was poignant how they seemed to understand one another. 4w
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vivastory @sarahbarnes That was a fascinating scene! It made me uncomfortable at first, when Shirley was throwing the money on the ground but by the end of the scene it was for sure one of my favorite moments in the book. As you say, an understanding. 4w
DrexEdit The encounter with the painting was the first turning point for me in suspecting not all that was happening was actually happening. The scene at the costume shop with the opera singers was a deja vu moment for me because when the singers started I recognized it as an opera I had seen. She doesn't identify it as a Bartok opera (Bluebeard's Castle) until the end of that scene. So then I decided she was communicating with me in code. 4w
DrexEdit It was hard not to get paranoid in that way while reading this book. Every art or book reference she made seemed to mean something. If I had had more time while reading I would have been done a serious rabbit hole! 4w
Sapphire @DrexEdit that is an interesting comment. If the author could make you feel that, then there was an effectiveness of mood! I wish I had more cultural references points for those details to have been clearer to me. 4w
Billypar @DrexEdit I agree about the experience of reading some of those passages dense with references. The more surreal scenes also had me in one of those reading states where I forget everything going on around me because I'm so wrapped up the book, so it didn't seem far removed from Shirley's experience. 4w
Billypar The scene with the crying woman was a flashback but it still reminded me of some of those other scenes. It also seemed like a rare moment that she mentioned the war, and the interaction with Coenraad that follows makes me wonder how much the trauma of her history plays a role in her delusions or paranoia. 4w
quietjenn Like @sarahbarnes, the encounter in the bakery was the one I found most impactful, and it's the one that I most remember weeks later. I did love the costume shop scene when I was reading it, but it hasn't stayed with me the way that one did. 4w
merelybookish Yes to the bakery scene! @sarahbarnes @quietjenn I also found her daily interaction with the waitress at breakfast weird and striking. She just never seems to belong anywhere or with anyone. 4w
sarahbarnes @merelybookish yes! I‘ve wondered what the deal is with her and the waitress. 4w
sarahbarnes Also, your comment @merelybookish reminds me of her occasional encounters with waiter types who seem to have been expecting her. Is this also a figment of her creation, part of the story she is building? 4w
merelybookish @sarahbarnes I don't know? There's also that scene where she's the only woman in the restaurant. 4w
Megabooks @sarahbarnes @vivastory I think the interaction with the bakery worker will be what sticks with me from this. So much was communicated- from frustration to anger to compassion to companionship. A really great passage. 3w
Megabooks The interaction with the actors made such vivid pictures in my mind. They seemed so much more real than her. 3w
vivastory @Megabooks I agree. The passage in the bakery was one of my favorite scenes in the book, as was the scene with the actors rehearsing Bluebeard. 3w
batsy I loved the painting scene. It felt a little bit Yellow Wallpaper to me, & it also seemed to speak back to a trauma. (& of course, it was interesting to learn the autobiographical connection to that period of being "almost kidnapped" by her father). I also liked her interactions with the waitress, & her statement elsewhere that she's always always drawn back to poverty. It does suggest that Shirley has been trying to escape her past. 3w
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vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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#NYRBBookClub
In the Chicago Tribune, Kathleen Rooney writes, “Perhaps better than any spy thriller, it invites readers to contemplate the mystery of how, in a society where the pressures and expectations put on wives and mothers are great enough to drive anyone mad, maybe so-called sanity itself is the greatest deception and putative normalcy the flimsiest disguise.“ Do you agree with Rooney's statement?

GatheringBooks Wow with “putative normalcy” - I don‘t even know what that means! 🤷🏽‍♀️lols. But just to attempt my two cents‘ worth, perhaps normalcy is overrated. Maybe Shirley‘s audacious adventures with all the codes and face-reading and lover-hunting-down-Canada is the way to go to transcend life‘s moribund drudgery 🌸🌸🌸 4w
vivastory @GatheringBooks I agree. Normalcy IS overrated & I can't help but wonder how gendered ideas of normalcy it is too. I think that Shirley is not suffering from schizophrenia or any other mental illness, rather she is a sort of domestic Walter Mitty. 4w
sarahbarnes Wow. 🤯 I think this is spot on and agree with you both - I don‘t think Shirley was any more “mad” than any other woman given that label then, when they reached a breaking point with the responsibilities and burdens laid upon them. 4w
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vivastory @sarahbarnes One of my favorite aspects of the novel is how few pages are devoted to her home life. A lesser writer might have been tempted to have her return home sooner. 4w
Billypar I think the idea of the insane being sane and normal life being insane is a little too neat for it to fit as a core theme. That may not be what Rooney meant, but I do think what @GatheringBooks said about normalcy being overrated is closer to what I was thinking. And towards the end, I think Shirley realizes that her new life isn't as different from her old one as she thought, since both require her to wait for her man to dictate her actions. 4w
Billypar I'm watching the show Killing Eve now, and this quote from Villanelle seems relevant to Shirley's situation: "Most of the time, most days, I feel nothing. I don't feel anything. It is so boring. I wake up and I think, again, really? I have to do this again? And what I really don't understand is how come everyone else isn't screaming with, with boredom, too, and I try to find ways to make myself feel something." 4w
vivastory @Billypar I agree with your point about at the end Shirley realizing that her new life isn't as different, since it is still dependent on a man. What intrigued me was the idea of a fantasy life vs conventional ideas of mental health. I think Shirley found freedom in the act of constructing her fantasy that was lacking in her domestic life, even if there were somewhat similar outcomes. 4w
vivastory @Billypar Definitely a case where the adaptation is leaps & bounds better than the source material. 👏 4w
vivastory @Billypar On the point of normalcy being overrated, in the afterword Weinman mentions that it has been pointed out that Weinzweig was influenced by Margaret Laurence. When I read that I was pretty sceptical bc I didn't see any influence, but that *is* one area they have in common for sure 4w
DrexEdit @Billypar That's a good point about her new life not being as different as the one she left. I wonder why the author did that though? She called herself Lola Montez. She could have been anyone, and she reinvented herself as a woman who is still waiting on a man? So is this really a feminist novel? Because Shirley seems just as repressed looking back at her relationship with Coenraad as she is married to Zbigniew. 4w
Sapphire I kept waiting for the fact she was in Toronto to have some revelation beyond she thinks Conraed brought her back home to say goodbye. But that is when I thought she really had gone all the places the postcards represent. But hometowns as characters can be significant commentary on what restricts and what frees us, individually and societally. 4w
vivastory @DrexEdit Although she is waiting on Coenraad, it did seem to me that Lola enjoyed more freedoms (visiting bars, art galleries, the movies) than Shirley did in her domestic space. Both were certainly trapped by the expectations of the men in their life, but IMO she had more freedom in her fantasy world 4w
vivastory @Sapphire That is a good point. There is that line in the novel about you can never go home again, which is actually revealing in hindsight 4w
Billypar @vivastory I haven't read Laurence before but I did think that the comparison to Wittgenstein's Mistress was spot on. Not in the sense that Markson was borrowing from this novel, but just a slight overlap in themes and style. 4w
Billypar @DrexEdit I did see it as a feminist novel but one that critiques a more simplistic version of feminism- like, women should just emulate men, so if men can have affairs, women should too. But if someone chooses a relationship at all (which is too often forgotten as a choice), it's the more subtle dynamics within a relationship that make more of the difference for feminism because they're more linked to individual freedom. 4w
quietjenn While I do think that normalcy is overrated and that there is much to be had from a pretty rich interior (fantasy) life, I'm not convinced that that's all it was for her. As pointed out, we get so little view of her “real“ domestic life and I guess, for me, what we do see isn't repressive enough to create a fantasy this elaborate, without something else going on. 4w
vivastory @quietjenn I think there might be some war trauma that also contributes. 4w
quietjenn @vivastory I suspect you're right about that. 4w
merelybookish That is interesting that she was inspired by Laurence! I think maybe because she's trying to write truthfully about women's lives? Even if the style is different. Although characters in Laurence also have rich fantasy lives, so maybe she just opted to stay in that realm. I think there were several suggestions that Shirley had experience abuse and/or trauma. She seemed so attune to it in others. 4w
merelybookish Oops meant to tag you Scott 👆 @vivastory 4w
Liz_M I absolutely agree that sanity is a construct, defined by society/culture - not only what we think of as insane, but also how the disease manifests. American schizophrenics hear voices that are threatening, but African and Indian schizophrenics typically hear voices that are playful. So, it doesn't surprise me that the fantasy world Lola creates has many of the same constraints and gender roles as the culture she comes from. (edited) 4w
vivastory @Liz_M If I remember correctly Yaa Gyasi speaks about the cultural aspect of schizophrenia in Transcendent Kingdom. (I might be misremembering). 3w
Megabooks @DrexEdit that is an excellent point that she chooses to reinvent herself as someone still waiting on a man. Although she did have more freedom with Coenraad @vivastory but I just still wonder how much of that life with C was 💯 imaginary. 3w
batsy I like Rooney's statement and think there's a lot of truth to it, especially for women in that particular generation. Most were raised to fulfil certain gendered expectations of normalcy, but 2nd wave feminism was showing a different way of being. I'm wondering if Lola was a role she could slip into and thus enable a different side of herself to energe (perhaps a self that Shirley wasn't ready to quite accept?) 3w
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vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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#NYRBBookClub
There are no scenes with Coenraad present in the novel except as flashbacks. Do you think he exists?

GatheringBooks I may have missed out on a blurb or a description to not have captured the possibility of Coenraad being a figment of Shirley‘s deluded mind. Now I am questioning everything I have read and what it all means if that were true. 🤯🤯🤯 4w
vivastory @GatheringBooks I don't think he was real. I found it suspicious that the name of the organization he worked for was called The Agency, which seems incredibly vague. Also, the codes themselves seem to be to be not actual codes but random passages that Shirley ascribed meaning to. 4w
Billypar Yeah, I think there's plenty of evidence that he was imagined - e.g., mistaking strangers for him, the discovery of the Dutch Elm flyer, the general implausibilty of being with a mysterious spy. But I found myself wanting to believe he was real because of all the interesting details she describes about the relationship. 4w
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vivastory @Billypar At one point I thought maybe his name was an anagram, especially after Andy was introduced into the book but I couldn't make it work. 4w
sarahbarnes I also think he was imagined, but didn‘t come to that realization until late in the book. Then as I looked back on it, I realized how unlikely it was that the very opaque clues she was following to get to him could‘ve been anything other than a creation of her own mind. 4w
vivastory @sarahbarnes I also didn't make up my mind until late in the book, which I think says a lot about Weinzweig's ability to construct a richly imagined inner world for Lola/Shirley 4w
DrexEdit I'm on that making up my mind later in the book boat also. At first I took it at face value, then I wanted him to be real because that was interesting, and then I ended up on “she must be imagining him.“ 4w
vivastory @DrexEdit I think that it helped that she set limits on what he could do & also with the (imagined) flashbacks... 4w
DrexEdit I found it fascinating how the author took real things and incorporated them into the story, creating meanings around them. There really is an article about the common tern in volume 144, issue #2 of Natl Geo., the Bonnard painting, the Bartok opera the people at the costume company were rehearsing. 4w
Sapphire That was the primary question in my mind. I changed my guess several times as the story progressed as to him being a complete figment or an enhancement of some brief encounter. The messages really I think were not real. But the second lover and the return to home with her husband and his new wife through me again as to the authors intent. If the husband just took the woman who showed up, is any of the rest not just required suspension of disbelief 4w
Sapphire @DrexEdit those are rabbit holes it would be fun to pursue. 4w
vivastory @DrexEdit That's a fun bit of info about Nat Geo! 4w
quietjenn I think I was pretty skeptical of him from the get-go, as both the codes and the extent of his costuming abilities seemed really remarkable. But, I was willing to go with it for a good long while, because it made being in her mind interesting, even if I didn't really trust it. love the way @Sapphire phrases it - “enhancement of some brief encounter“ which seems entirely possible. And I love those bits of reality that @DrexEdit mentions! 4w
emilyhaldi I started to doubt that he was real very early on… and also considered his name as an anagram!! With each additional encounter of Shirley‘s I wondered more if her entire story was a delusion and in fact she was dreaming it up from inside a mental hospital. 4w
merelybookish I also decided he wasn't real, although I will admit to being disappointed. It was all so farfetched but who wouldnt want a spy & master of disguise as your lover? 😁 As outlandish as the locales and clues were the dynamics of the affair felt real. So perhaps she did have an affair at some point but even that proved boring in some way so she spiced it up. I liked the idea of his name being a clue @emilyhaldi 4w
Liz_M I only considered the spy story as possibly real until I learned that Lola was just the lover of a spy, not a spy herself. And then I was stuck on, but wait, how/who is paying for all this international travel?!!? 4w
Megabooks I was skeptical pretty early on as well, especially since her lover took different forms as far as eye color, hair, skin, etc. I began to think the whole thing was a flight of imagination because her existence as a housewife had driven her mad. 3w
LeahBergen I thought that he was imaginary pretty early on and just a figment of her psychoses. And she DID seem to actually take home random strangers whom she had convinced herself were Coenraad, didn‘t she? For example, when the maid suddenly treated her better because there was evidence of a night of sex in her room. 😬 3w
batsy I was also wondering about the existence of an actual lover when she had doubts about his physical traits which she tried to explain away as part of his disguises. Like @LeahBergen I was thinking that she might have multiple lovers, but that Coenraad is a figment of imagination in terms of trying to create a romantic, more respectable fiction she can live with, or the memory of one particular man/love affair that she still clings to. 3w
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blurb
vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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The discussion will begin shortly. Discussion open to all who have read the book. Please comment when free today/tomorrow/following few days. I'm tagging below, but will not be tagging for separate discussion questions:
@BarbaraBB @catebutler @daena @arubabookwoman @emilyhaldi @quietjenn @sprainedbrain @mklong @youneverarrived @LeahBergen @Leftcoastzen @Liz_M @merelybookish @GatheringBooks @readordierachel @sarahbarnes @batsy @Billypar

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review
Billypar
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Pickpick

#nyrbbookclub
There's a certain kind of novel about a female heroine with mental health issues who sees the world differently and at first BBwP fits nearly into that literary box. When the novel opens with Shirley decoding messages from her spy lover, it seemed like par for the course. Yet, as it went on I started to question that assumption, almost like the opposite of a novel where you find at the end that a character hallucinated everything 👇

Billypar Shirley has an active imagination that is at the heart of why she leaves her family life of unrelenting routine for her travels with Coenraad, whatever the truth of those adventures entails. She gradually realizes how being trapped in a marriage isn't so different from perpetually waiting for a lover on an adventure. And she glimpses her own struggle in gorgeous, disorienting passages where she imagines the inner lives of women in similar traps. 4w
Billypar I'm very much looking forward to the discussion today @vivastory ! 4w
vivastory Excellent review! I couldn't agree more! Yesterday I went back & reread the last half. When I first read it a couple of weeks ago I was a bit distracted by construction outside of my apartment building. I'm so glad that I did. I think there will be a lot to discuss & it seems to be a hidden gem from the NYRB catalog. 4w
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batsy Nice review! I found this really surprising in how Weinzweig played with the form of the novel and did so much within so few pages. And as Weinman says in the afterword, "interior feminist espionage novel" really captures the mystery; it's the self that's the puzzle that needs unravelling. 4w
Billypar @vivastory Thanks! I liked seeing everyone thoughts yesterday - I wish I had more time to chat since there is so much to talk about. And I do think distractions can be especially bad for a novel like this. I would have preferred fewer and longer reading sessions given how much concentration was needed, but I still enjoyed it a great deal. 3w
Billypar @batsy Thanks! I don't always connect as well to novels that are so deep in the character's head, but Weinzweig's experiments with form were done with such precision that I could follow it mostly if I slowed down enough. And it still managed to keep a sense of humor and light touch - you had a good example of that in your review 😅 3w
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review
Megabooks
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Pickpick

I‘m very interested to read the #NYRBBookClub discussion of this one because I have some different ideas about it than the author who wrote the afterword. A lot of my thoughts are spoilers, so I‘ll keep them to myself for now. Glad I read this one!

This is my #bookspin @TheAromaofBooks 👍🏻

This hydrangea is new to the yard, so I‘m pleasantly surprised it has some color this year!

IuliaC Your garden is truly fabulous 😍 1mo
Dragon Love hydrangeas 💚🐉 1mo
Cinfhen One of my favorite flowers 🧡🤩 1mo
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Soubhiville I love the mix of pink and white. Did you change the soil pH to get better color? 1mo
TheAromaofBooks Woohoo!! 1mo
Megabooks @IuliaC thank you!! 😊😊 1mo
Megabooks @Dragon same! It‘s one of my favorite summer flowers. 1mo
Megabooks @Cinfhen I think I have spied these in your vases before! 🧐💜 1mo
Megabooks @Soubhiville since these are new this year, we haven‘t done anything to the soil around them. Over the past few years, all our colored hydrangeas have come up pink (light to medium). I‘m kind of ready for blue at this point so idk what we‘ll decide to do next year. But very pleased with these for their first year in the garden!! 👍🏻👍🏻 1mo
Megabooks @TheAromaofBooks ready for June now!!! 1mo
BarbaraBB So happy to have you join the discussion 🤍 1mo
Cinfhen It‘s a very short season here for them, but I try to get them whenever they are available. We had the blues / purples in my Philly garden. They attracted SO MANY 🦋🐝🦋🐝🦋🐝 1mo
Dragon I like all the different colours of hydrangea - they don‘t flower here till later in the summer 💚🐉 1mo
84 likes13 comments
review
LeahBergen
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Panpan

Oh dear. I really enjoyed the first 40 pages or so and then I started to actively loathe this book. 😆😆 I hate-read the rest of it and found Sarah Weinman‘s afterword the best part of the reading experience for me.

It could be the headspace I‘m in today or maybe not. I can‘t wait for the discussion and hope some of you prove me wrong!

#NYRBBookClub
@vivastory

Suet624 I can‘t remember you ever panning a book before! 1mo
Tamra You had the wherewithal to finish! That‘s hard to do. 😬 1mo
AmyG Yikes. 😬 1mo
See All 8 Comments
LeahBergen @Suet624 Probably because I would bail on it first! 😆 The shortness of this novel and the fact that it‘s an #NYRBBookClub pick made me finish. 😆 1mo
LeahBergen @Tamra It was quite short (and I admit to some speed reading going on in the latter half). 😆 1mo
LeahBergen @AmyG I always feel guilty when I “pan” a book. 😆 1mo
BarbaraBB I love your review, you‘re not often that outspokenly negative. That will add to the discussion 💛 1mo
LeahBergen @BarbaraBB Haha, I know! I always find it hard to “pan” a book. But sometimes… 🤷🏻‍♀️ 1mo
85 likes8 comments
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LeahBergen
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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It‘s time to start this month‘s #NYRBBookClub!

@vivastory

vivastory 🍷📚 Enjoy 1mo
Suet624 I started it yesterday. I'm dying to talk to someone about a seemingly random event that takes place in the early part of the book! :) 1mo
batsy I hope you enjoy! I've yet to start 😅 I'm hoping to this week or next, since we have a little bit more time and because Camp Litsy is also starting 😆 1mo
See All 8 Comments
LeahBergen @vivastory @Suet624 @batsy Eek! I really didn‘t get along with this one. 😬 I posted a very short review and will comment more during the discussion. 1mo
batsy @LeahBergen Oh no, that's a bummer. 1mo
LeahBergen @batsy I hope you like it more than I did! 🤞 1mo
Sapphire @Suet624 that piques my curiosity! 1mo
Suet624 @Sapphire 🥴🤪😂 1mo
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review
Liz_M
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Pickpick

“Lola” is living her best life. Having left a husband and two children, she travels the world directed by coded messages interpreted from magazines for assignations with her spy lover. But does she?

As she waits, she reminisces about past meetings and her past life. The narrative is fully interior and dreamy, with a nebulous timeline and hints that not is all as it might seem and the narrator might be even wholly unreliable. Quite fascinating.

Liz_M Digression: The most unreliable omission for me is where does the money coming from to pay for all this travel? 1mo
kspenmoll Sounds intriguing! 1mo
BarbaraBB I was wondering too about the money! 1mo
39 likes1 stack add4 comments
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quietjenn
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Today was all about avoiding the heat, delving into the current #nybrbookclub selection, and bonding with one of our new cats. 🐈‍⬛

vivastory Sounds like a wonderful day! 1mo
BarbaraBB How are you enjoying the book? 1mo
Ruthiella 😻😻😻 1mo
See All 24 Comments
Caroline2 Ahhhh! Such a cute cat!!! 😍 1mo
batsy Awww 🐈 1mo
LeahBergen You have new cats??? 🥰🥰 1mo
mabell Oh how sweet 💕 1mo
MaureenMc 💕💕 1mo
Tamra Cutie! 😻 1mo
Billypar Congrats on the new cat! And you pretty much spelled out my plans for today 😸📚 1mo
quietjenn @vivastory it was really quite lovely 😊 1mo
quietjenn @BarbaraBB I liked it, but I'm glad that I read it a bit earlier than I usually do, so I'll have time to ruminate on it before our discussion. 1mo
quietjenn @LeahBergen yes, our sweet senior kitty passed away earlier this spring, so we've been feeling a bit lonely. Took a trip to the shelter and ended up adopting two! 1mo
quietjenn @Billypar Thanks! I hope you enjoy your day (and the book). 1mo
BarbaraBB The more I think about it the more I like it! 1mo
merelybookish New kitties are so fun! Sometime like having miniature horses galloping about. 😁 1mo
Suet624 Aww, I want a kitty. 1mo
rubyslippersreads @merelybookish My downstairs neighbor says she can hear my cats galloping through the house. 😹 Congratulations on the new kitties @quietjenn 😻 1mo
merelybookish @rubyslippersreads Oh good. After I wrote that I thought @quietjenn would think I was so weird. But they really do sound like little 🐎🐎 😹 1mo
quietjenn @merelybookish haha, nothing to worry about. We often hear the upstairs cats and this one I think is little but dart-y, so I can totally see it! @rubyslippersreads thank you! They are super fun. 1mo
quietjenn @Suet624 I do recommend the experience 🙂 1mo
rubyslippersreads @Suet624 I second the recommendation from @quietjenn 😸 1mo
Leftcoastzen Aww!😻 1mo
PaperbackPirate 😻 congratulations! 4w
70 likes24 comments
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Billypar
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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#nyrbbookclub
I'm really enjoying this one so far! I'm not quite halfway through, but there's a scene involving this Bonnard painting in the Toronto gallery the main character visits that is pretty surreal and, without preempting our eventual discussion where we can dig into its meaning, I'm wondering if those who've read it can confirm if my reading of the basic 'what's happening' level is the same as yours. I'll summarize in the comments...

Billypar My main question is the place and time of this experience: I think it's happening in the Toronto gallery but I wasn't 100% sure at times. It begins right after a memory she had at the Frick gallery, but it shifts to the present tense. And I can't find any indication that the Bonnard painting was ever at the AGO, but the prior Marchesa Casati painting is. Still, an inconsistency like that isn't a problem in fiction. But there's another detail... 1mo
Billypar On page 59 of the NYRB edition, the paragraph "In Paris, I was so caught up with waiting each day for Coenraad's arrival..." refers to a possible memory dated in 1967, but in it she describes forgetting a promise made to the girl in the painting she's currently looking at in the late 1970s so there's a time paradox going on if the painting fantasy is happening in the present... 1mo
Billypar And it's even more disorienting since the world of the painting is the 1930s. But maybe that's the point - once she's in the painting she's in that room's time, so she can imagine 1967 is the future and insert that broken promise into her fantasy. Is that the way you were thinking of it? Tagging those who posted reviews to see if you were also puzzling over time traveling matters 🙃 @merelybookish @sarahbarnes @BarbaraBB 1mo
See All 11 Comments
BarbaraBB I wasn‘t aware of these various time frames but she is not the most reliable narrator, so maybe that can be the reason? 1mo
Billypar @BarbaraBB It's a good question - like, is she faithfully recounting a 'petit mal attack' as she claims, or trying to turn her despair of waiting for Coenraad (both present day and in Paris) into an artistic construction to ward off loneliness? Or maybe somewhere in between. 1mo
merelybookish I think I read it as your last suggestion - that she becomes the vulnerable girl in the painting in her imagination. It's such a disorienting shift, it took a moment to 'get' what was happening. But throughout the book, she seems to recollect a variety of stories about young girls who are violated in some way. She overhears them, reads them in the newspaper, and this one triggered by art. It's something she is very attune to 1mo
Billypar @merelybookish Yeah, it was the dreamiest sequence so far in the novel, and I thought I got what was happening until she brought the Paris thing into it. But I think you're right, she has a real pattern with her responses to these stories and Weinzweig nicely dramatizes how deep in her head she is in reacting to the painting. 1mo
batsy I just finished this scene and have read on for a few more pages, where she once again vividly imagines another woman's reaction (this time to a drunk husband). I'm not sure if she's re-living aspects of her own life through these associations, & the dissolution of time/space seems to be either the workings of her memory. Or is this book a tale of a protracted breakdown, of sorts? I'm not sure but I'm finding it so intriguing. 1mo
batsy A search of this book on Twitter brought this up, because I've not heard much about this book at all, and it's kind of interesting https://twitter.com/AEAkinwumi/status/1363917510626709506?t 1mo
Billypar @batsy Those moments are so intriguing! I love Weinzweig's style in gradually transitioning from what Shirley is seeing to what she's imagining. I think a lot of her own situation comes through in those daydreams. I'm so curious what the group has to say about this one in our discussion. Especially how much of what we're witnessing should be filed under 'mental health' as opposed to a very imaginative person having a mid-life crisis of sorts. 1mo
Billypar @batsy That's a great author quote - I like it when authors give special attention to what books can do that other narrative art forms can't. It's not about just being experimental for the sake of experimenting - there's a specific effect she's going for. 1mo
37 likes11 comments
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vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Megabooks Excited to read this next week! 1mo
Leftcoastzen I‘m about half way through, enjoying it! 1mo
vivastory @Megabooks I'll be diving in next week as well. Looking forward to it! 1mo
See All 10 Comments
vivastory @Leftcoastzen 👏 👏 1mo
sarahbarnes Looking forward to it! 1mo
LeahBergen I‘ll be cracking it open next week, too 👍 1mo
vivastory @LeahBergen I hope it works for you! 1mo
vivastory @sarahbarnes I think it will be a good discussion! 1mo
merelybookish I'll be there with pearls on! 😁 1mo
51 likes10 comments
review
BarbaraBB
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Pickpick

Shirley Kaszenbowski , a Jewish immigrant in Toronto, escapes her “basic black” life for a more exciting one: one with secret rendezvous all over the world with a mysterious lover, who is a spy for the Agency. They communicate by code an this time this leads her to her hometown.
While walking the streets of Toronto it becomes clear how unreliable our narrator is. I can‘t say too much without spoilers but it‘s quite the read!

#NYRBBookClub

CarolynM Sounds good🙂 1mo
Sapphire I really enjoyed this one 1mo
merelybookish Great review! 1mo
See All 8 Comments
Megabooks Excited to read this! 1mo
Suet624 I had some other books I thought I‘d read next (Valerie Perrin … library books!) but fine. Your review sealed the deal. I‘ll pull this one off the shelf and read it next. 1mo
BarbaraBB @Suet624 I feel the pressure! I love that you‘re reading a #NYRB but I can‘t imagine it‘s as good as the new Perrin! 1mo
Suet624 Hmmm…. Very good point. 1mo
vivastory Great review. Looking forward to discussing in a couple of weeks 👏 1mo
82 likes3 stack adds8 comments
review
sarahbarnes
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Pickpick

I really enjoyed this interior story of a woman‘s search for meaning and happiness. I have so many questions about Shirley, her experiences in the novel, and her account of events. Which means I‘m really looking forward to the discussion! #nyrbbookclub @vivastory

vivastory I'm glad that you enjoyed this one! I'm looking forward to the discussion. 1mo
merelybookish Yes, lots of questions! 1mo
33 likes2 comments
review
merelybookish
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Pickpick

Shirley has an international affair with a spy lover who she finds by deciphering obscure clues to their next renderzvous location. An article on elm disease leads her to Toronto where she undertakes a search to find him. Toronto is her hometown, so as she crisscrosses the city, she recalls memories & collects new stories. Shirley is observant, imaginative, sensitive & alert. I enjoyed being inside her head even if she's 'unreliable.' She 👇

merelybookish still speaks truth about the precariousness of women's lives and finding ways to subvert male domination. 2mo
merelybookish A good one to discuss, as usual! #nyrbbookclub @vivastory 2mo
merelybookish Also, I will add it was fun to read this underappreciated work of Canadian literature! I had never heard of it before . 2mo
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Suet624 I have this on my shelf and always mean to read it. 2mo
merelybookish @Suet624 We are discussing at the end of the month. You'd be welcome to join in! 2mo
Suet624 I‘m just about to jump into So Much Blue by Percival Everett. After that, definitely! 2mo
sarahbarnes I‘m enjoying this one, too! 2mo
batsy I haven't started, but I'm looking forward to it even more now. I didn't realise she was a Canadian writer! 2mo
BarbaraBB @Suet624 Enjoy So Much Blue 💙! I am having one more book to read too and then will start this one! 2mo
vivastory I'm glad to hear that you liked this one. I'm really looking forward to reading & discussing. Definitely an underrated work. I think I stumbled upon it when it was included in the NYRB noir flash sale & then I saw someone on Twitter endorse it. 2mo
vivastory @Suet624 Looking forward to your thoughts on the Everett & you will have plenty of time before the NYRB discussion. Due to Memorial Day weekend the discussion will be the first weekend of June. Feel free to join! 2mo
merelybookish @Suet624 I read and enjoyed that a few years ago (whenever it was in the TOB). 2mo
merelybookish @sarahbarnes Oh good! Will be interested in comparing notes! 🙂 2mo
merelybookish @batsy I had never heard of her and she didn't publish a lot. Her husband was a famous Canadian classical composer who I also had never heard of. 🤷 2mo
merelybookish @BarbaraBB This feels like a very NYRB book! Kind of weird and perfect for discussion! 2mo
merelybookish @vivastory That's interesting it was classified as noir. 🤔 2mo
Suet624 @vivastory I think I bought my copy during the same noir flash sale. 😀 thanks for the heads up on the timing of the group discussion. 2mo
Suet624 @BarbaraBB thanks, Barbara! 2mo
Suet624 @merelybookish I‘ve become a big Everett fan and can‘t believe I‘ve missed so much of his writing. Looking forward to reading this one. 2mo
BarbaraBB Looking forward to it! 2mo
LeahBergen Great review! I‘m looking forward to it even more now. 2mo
merelybookish @LeahBergen Thanks! I think you'll especially enjoy it if you've spent much time in Toronto. (I have not but still got a lot of the street references.) 2mo
74 likes2 stack adds22 comments
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sarahbarnes
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Having fun reading this book alone at a bar tonight, just like the main character. 🍷

vivastory I like your style 🍷📚 2mo
sarahbarnes @vivastory I‘m loving this book! 2mo
BarbaraBB Great pic! I‘ll start this week too. 2mo
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LeahBergen I‘ll be starting this soon, too! 🍷 2mo
batsy Oh, nice! 2mo
Megabooks I enjoy reading alone at restaurants/bars too. 2mo
27 likes6 comments
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sarahbarnes
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Starting this month‘s #nyrbbookclub pick and was happy to see a quote from Ann Quin after reading so much about her in Checkout 19. Love these kinds of book coincidences. 😁 @vivastory

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merelybookish
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Hung out a coffee shop for first time in forever today. Got to read and people watch while waiting for my daughter. Started the May #NYRBbookclub book and enjoying so far!
@vivastory

vivastory I miss coffee shop reading. It was one of my favorite activities when I lived downtown. I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying the book! 2mo
73 likes1 comment
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Megabooks
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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So excited for this #bookmail plus a #DollarTreeHaul! Despite being tired, it was a really good day, AND the sun finally came out! ☀️😀📚

BarbaraBB Excited to have you join us for the tagged book discussion 🤍 3mo
Megabooks @BarbaraBB me too! I appreciate y‘all welcoming me. 💜 3mo
Megabooks @BarbaraBB it‘s for June right? 3mo
See All 9 Comments
BarbaraBB End of May! 3mo
Cinfhen Nice haul❣️❣️echo chamber was an odd one for Boyne - obviously he was a little peeved 😉 3mo
Megabooks @BarbaraBB I‘ll be there. 👍🏻 3mo
Megabooks @Cinfhen yeah, I think he was over the reception of his prior book, but I‘m excited read something different from him. I also have this lined up too 3mo
vivastory @Megabooks @BarbaraBB Just a heads up, due to Memorial Day weekend the discussion for Basic Black will be the first weekend of June 3mo
BarbaraBB @vivastory You‘re right, you mentioned that. I forgot! 3mo
91 likes9 comments
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vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Megabooks This is tempting because you recommended this to me awhile back and it sounds so good! 4mo
BarbaraBB Looking good Scott! @Megabooks Feel free to join us for this one. It will be great to have you join the discussion! 4mo
See All 12 Comments
vivastory @Megabooks I agree with @BarbaraBB It'd be great to have you join! The discussion will most likely be the first weekend of June due to memorial day weekend, so you have plenty of time! 4mo
sarahbarnes Thanks Scott, looking forward to it! 4mo
LeahBergen Thanks, Scott! 👍 4mo
Megabooks @vivastory @BarbaraBB thank you for being so welcoming! I‘ve stacked the book in my Amazon cart. 👍🏻 4mo
Addison_Reads @vivastory I would love to join and that leaves me time to get my hands on the book. Thank you. 4mo
Leftcoastzen Yay! 4mo
quietjenn I've been intrigued by this one for a while! 4mo
Suet624 Oooh I bought this one ages ago. I should read it now! 3mo
vivastory @Suet624 If you do, feel free to join the discussion 3mo
63 likes1 stack add12 comments
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vivastory
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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My NYRB Classics Noir Flash sale arrived. Four of these were high on my TBR, I was unfamiliar with the tagged book but added it as soon as I read the summary. Looks like it's going to be #NoirNovember for me! Especially as I plan on reading Nightmare Alley before the movie is released in December.

LeahBergen Ooo! 👀 8mo
Ruthiella The Big Clock is good and interestingly the basis (with some tweaks) for the Kevin Costner film “No Way Out”. 8mo
vivastory @Ruthiella Glad to hear that it's good! I was entirely unaware of the Costner movie. I'm looking forward to reading it. Out of all of these Big Clock is the one I have had on my TBR for the longest. 8mo
See All 8 Comments
BarbaraBB Those look good! 🖤 8mo
vivastory @BarbaraBB I'm really looking forward to reading them! I was organizing my books last weekend & I was happy to see how much my NYRB collection has grown 💙 8mo
BarbaraBB I love that too! Just bought some new ones too! Looking forward to your reviews of these noir ones! 8mo
vivastory @BarbaraBB Post a pic when you receive them, please! I decided today that they have the best designs of any publisher. I think they are more consistent with the quality of their covers than any other pub. 8mo
batsy Oh wow, those look fab 😍 8mo
60 likes8 comments
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Liz_M
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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BPL book sale had a couple of potential picks for #nyrbbookclub and some nice editions of books I love, and a couple from the Tbr.

LeahBergen Nice! 👏🏻👏🏻 3y
batsy Ooh what a glorious haul 😍 3y
Billypar Great choices! I'm still unsure which Hustvedt I'll read next, so I'll be interested in your review of this one. I really liked Time's Arrow and Bell Jar. 3y
See All 6 Comments
Liz_M @Billypar Given the length of the TBR it might be a few years before I get to it 3y
Billypar Yeah, that makes sense: even with an author I really like, it probably works out to a couple years in between books on average (and I just read a Hustvedt this year). 3y
BarbaraBB Time‘sArrow is so good! 3y
16 likes6 comments
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sisilia
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Meeting these lovelies for NYRB Classics Reading Society June Meetup. We read Basic Black with Pearls, which gained polarized reviews among us

Theaelizabet Looks like a great group! 3y
Anna40 I agree, looks like a great group. I miss being part of a book club 3y
sisilia @Theaelizabet @Anna40 We are lucky that it remains small 😆 3y
saresmoore You are so beautiful! 😍 3y
sisilia Aww thanks @saresmoore 🤗 3y
92 likes5 comments
quote
sisilia
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Sad but true! Even though I didn‘t quite enjoy this book, I love Weinzweig‘s thoughts and observations about life as we know it 💞

review
sisilia
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Mehso-so

2⭐️ Maybe I‘m just too dense to appreciate this novel, but it‘s really hard to truly enjoy reading it. I thought this was just a simple affair story, but nope - I encountered a delusional woman whose memory is also failing her. I‘m not sure what‘s real and what‘s not, and I doubt that her lover is real 🙈 Definitely not something in my alley 😕 #nyrbclassics #nyrb

Reggie And in a way, you made it sound like my type of book. Stacked. 3y
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sisilia
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Arrived safely in Tokyo, otw to the hotel now. My IRL NYRB bookclub is reading this book for June 😍 #nyrb #nyrbclassics #nyrbclassicsreadingsociety

BarbaraBB 😍 3y
saresmoore Fun! 3y
Palimpsest Sounds wonderful! 3y
75 likes3 comments
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sisilia
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Current reads:
• To Kill a Mockingbird because I‘m going to watch the play in NYC next week ☺️
• Basic Black with Pearls for June‘s NYRB Classics Reading Society in Singapore

batsy Basic Black is on my list! Sounds good. 3y
Weaponxgirl I have this book and it looks so good. Looking forward to your thoughts on it. 3y
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review
unabridgedchick
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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Mehso-so

A very interior-oriented novel that reminded me of Erica Jong and Kate Chopin. Our narrator is having an international affair with a spy, but the codes and clues required for their trysts verges on unbelievable. As our narrator tries to find her lover, we find more of her. What is true is less important than what is satisfying.

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Liberty
Basic Black with Pearls | Helen Weinzweig
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My stack for this weekend‘s @24in48 #readathon! (There‘s still time to sign up!) I know I won‘t get through them all, because I still have a lot of work reading, but it‘s fun to share stacks of books. ❤️

Jess_Read_This The spine alone on Portable Shelter has me scampering off to research what this book is about! ❤️ 4y
rmaclean4 Love stacks of book. I enjoyed The unnamed Midwife! 4y
balletbookworm By “work reading” you mean “comes out on 1/30” right? 😉 4y
BarbaraBB Mrs Bridge 😍 4y
180 likes1 stack add4 comments