The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell

This is the story of two brothers who lead wildly different lives and suffer different fates.

Sergey Nabokov is the younger brother of the famous novelist Vladimir Nabokov. This book is a fictional narration of Sergey’s life. Both brothers were born with “silver spoons in their mouths.” Their father is a wealthy merchant in pre-revolutionary Russia. The narrative starts in early 1900s. Sergey is as gifted intellectually as his older brother, but suffers from a number of deficits including a terrible stutter and the fact that he is gay. When his family discovers his proclivities he is sent to a brutal doctor, who first humiliates him and then abuses him. He has numerous love affairs which scandalize his family. He lives his life as an openly gay man at a time when gay men are treated with as much respect as vampires. If you’re in the wrong spot you could get a stake through your heart.  After the Russian Revolution the family flees from St. Petersburg and ends up in Germany. Sergey, alternating between Paris and Berlin uses his charm, wit, and Paris connections to meet many famous people from that time, including Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and the whole literary and artistic scene of the 1920s. He also develops a nasty opium smoking habit. Things begin to turn around for Sergey in the middle 1930s when he meets Hermann, the son of well off German aristocrats, who gives him unconditional love and material support. Hermann gets Sergey into rehab and changes his life. Events in Germany are taking an ominous turn in the late 1930s with the rise of Hitler and his increasing persecution of ethnic groups and “undesirables”.

Vladimir detests his younger brother because of his “affliction” and they are estranged for a number of years.  As the Nazi regime closes in, Sergey tries to reconcile with his brother who is trying to escape Germany, and ultimately ends up in America. Sergey unwisely decides to stay in Germany with Hermann and is ultimately arrested and sent to a labor camp. Vladimir prospers after the war and goes on to great fame and fortune. Sergey eventually succumbs to the inhuman conditions in the concentration camp and dies before the Allied Liberation of Germany.

This book was based on a true story entitled “The Gay Nabokov” by Les Grossman that was published in Salon, an on-line newsmagazine, in 2000.  The author does a terrific job of envisioning Sergey’s life and transforming it into a credible story.


Earthly Delights

Earthly Delights by Kerry Greenwood

The Corinna Chapman mystery series by Kerry Greenwood is an unexpected pleasure. Kerry is best know for her Phryne Fisher series, set in 1920s Melbourne with the exotic and now rich private investigator Phryne. The Earthly Delights books are set in modern Melbourne, in and around an eccentric Roman-style apartment building. Corinna, a former accountant, now bakes artisan bread, and groans everytime the alarm rings at 4:00am. She acquires an unusual young apprentice, and has two actress/model hopefuls as shop assistants. Corinna also has a nose for solving crimes. We meet the quirky residents of her building, vicariously enjoy some wonderful meals, and explore the best and also the poorer parts of Melbourne. I’ve read and enjoyed the first four books in the series and have two more to go. Visit Kerry’s website for more about Corinna, Melbourne, and some delicious looking recipes. The books are:

Earthly Delights

Heavenly Pleasures

Devil’s Food

Trick or Treat

Forbidden Fruit

Cooking the Books


Enjoy, and let me know if you try any of the recipes.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is not another Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s funny memoir about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Wild is a raw, moving, and uplifting journey of discovery on the very challenging Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl, 26, newly divorced and still grieving her mother’s death a few years earlier, decides to find herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. Cheryl saves up her tips from waitressing, stuffs everything she might need into a backpack nicknamed “The Monster”, laces up her boots, and sets out to hike 1100 miles in 100 days, from the Mojave Desert to the Columbia River Gorge. Cheryl has issues: her love life, divorce from a man she still loves, drugs, grief, and a lack of family ties, but she has plenty of guts and willpower. Cheryl has canoed and camped, but never actually backpacked. Every 100 miles or so, she looks forward to a box of supplies and a little money a friend is mailing to her. Along the way she faces lots of challenges, including bears, rattlesnakes, weather extremes, and detours that require hitchhiking. I had to put this book down for a couple of days and skimmed ahead another time because I was worried about Cheryl. She’s bruised and losing toenails, hitchhiking can be scary, water isn’t always available, money is tight, and Cheryl’s behavior is unpredictable. But she’s also good company, as are the many kind and encouraging folks she meets along the way. Visit Cheryl’s website and watch a video trailer about her journey.


Books and Videos for Fans of Downton Abbey

Books and videos to enjoy while waiting for the next season of Downton Abbey:


Dean, Rebecca. The Golden Prince.

Faulks, Sebastian. Birdsong.

Fellowes, Julian. Past Imperfect; Snobs.

Follett, Ken. Fall of Giants.

Forster, E.M. Howards End.

Galsworthy, John. The Forsyte Saga

Goodwin, Daisy. An American Heiress.

Hollinghurst, Alan. The Stranger’s Child.

Ibbotson, Eva. A Countess Below Stairs.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Remains of the Day.

Jones, Sadie. Uninvited Guests.

Kindl, Patrice. Keeping the Castle.

Morton, Kate. The House at Riverton.

Nicolson, Juliet. Abdication.

Solomons, Natasha. The House at Tyneford.

Todd, Charles. A Duty to the Dead, and other books in the Bess Crawford series.

Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited.

Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence.

Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs and other books in the Maisie Dobbs series


Carnarvon, Countess of. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.

Davis, Wade. Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest.

Fellowes, Jessica. The World of Downton Abbey.

Foreman, Amanda. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Harrison, Rosina. Rose: My Life in Service.

Hyams, Jacky. Real Life Downton Abbey.

MacColl, Gail. To Marry an English Lord.

Powell, Margaret. Below Stairs.


Brideshead Revisited                

The Forsyte Saga

Gosford Park

Howards End

Lark Rise to Candleford

Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate

Remains of the Day

The Shooting Party

Upstairs, Downstairs

Note: the Woodridge Public Library does not own all of these titles, but they are available for interlibrary loan from other SWAN libraries.




Elegy for Eddie

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

Gentle Eddie Pettit, who could calm any horse, is killed in an accident at a paper factory where he ran errands. Psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs is asked to look into the accident by friends of her father. Maisie grew up poor in Lambeth, Eddie’s neighborhood, but education and an inheritance have her moving uneasily between the worlds of rich and poor in 1930s England. When her employee is attacked near the factory and she learns that a friend of Eddie fell off a bridge, her suspicions deepen. Through her lover James Compton she meets John Otterburn, owner of the factory and a newspaperman who is doing his bit to draw attention to Hitler’s rise in Germany. Struggling to see a future with James and being reminded that giving away her money to friends in need isn’t always helpful, Maisie does a lot of soul searching in this mystery, the ninth in a series starting with Maisie Dobbs. As her books are set in England after World War I among the rich and poor, they might appeal to fans of Downton Abbey. I listened to the audiobook, beautifully narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. Learn more about Maisie on the author’s website.


Food for Thought

These books and many more are on a book display in the library called “Food for Thought”. Enjoy! 

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Eat My Globe: One Year to Go Everywhere and Eat Everything by Simon Majumdar

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

Mediterranean Summer: A Season on Frances’s Cote d’Azur and Italy’s Costa Bella by David Shalleck

Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes by Shoba Narayan

Passion on the Vine: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Family in the Heart of Italy by Sergio Esposito

Plenty: One man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum

The World in My Kitchen: The Adventures of a (Mostly) French Woman in America by Colette Rossant


Drop Dead Healthy

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

Writer A. J. Jacobs is always ready for self-improvement. He read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and spent a year trying to follow every rule in the Bible, resulting in the books The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically. A case of pneumonia has A.J. ready to listen to his wife’s pleas for him to shape up, especially as he gets winded while playing with their three young sons. So, at 41, he consults numerous health experts as well as his hippy aunt Marti. A. J. spends more than two years on his project to become healthier, and we follow along as he tries all kinds of exercise programs, including playing cave man in Central Park and literally running to do his errands. He explores many different diets, looks at noise pollution, the dangers of sitting all day, and tries to avoid toxic chemicals, all the while chipping away at a very long list of health related goals. Becoming an Okinawan woman seems impossible, but how about the fact that Academy Award winners live three years longer on average than non-Oscar winners? Always interesting and frequently funny, A.J. comes away from his quest with some very sensible suggestions on how to get healthier.


An Object of Beauty

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

“Great paintings live on because they’re not quite explicable.” says Steve Martin.  In “An Object of Beauty” , Steve Martin puts his considerable knowledge of the art world in full display.  This novel is part fictional memoir, and part primer on the business of fine art collecting.  It takes place in New York City and covers a period from about 1997 through 2008.

The novel is narrated by Daniel Franks, a writer for art world publications but who is really a stand in for Martin.  The main character is  Lacey Yeager, who is young, ambitious, gorgeous, quick witted and morally suspect.  We follow her from art school to an  internship at Sotheby’s,  to working for a private art dealer to opening her own art gallery.  Lacey  is a master manipulator of men.   She has Daniel Franks in her thrall throughout the book.   Lacey sleeps with every man she meets, except Franks. She commits fraud for personal monetary gain, spies on competitors,  and makes the big time.

The art market is booming along with the housing bubble in the early 2000s with money coming in from Russia and China.  But as they say what goes up must come down as her career slides in the collapse of Wall Street and the subsequent drying up of the big money.   As Martin states: “Art as an aesthetic principle was supported by thousands of years of discernment and psychic rewards, but art as a commodity was held up by air. The loss of confidence that affected banks and financial instruments was now affecting art as well.”

As we go through the book the works of art that Martin is talking about are displayed in full color inserts so that we can better appreciate them. 

Steve Martin is an American actor, comedian, author, playwright, producer, musician and composer, and an avid art collector.  I knew he was funny but had no idea he was such a good writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.




Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

Nightwoods, set in Appalachia fifty years ago, is not big on plot. Instead the story alternates between hope and a sense of impending menace in the North Carolina woods with some very unusual characters. Luce is the caretaker for an old lodge an hour by car from the town across the lake where she grew up. She inherits twins when her sister Lily is killed. Dolores and Frank like fire but won’t talk, providing her with an interesting challenge. The new owner of the lodge comes to town, as does the twins’ stepfather Bud, who hopes to get his hands on money his wife may have left. Bud stays clear of Luce, but unexpectedly tangles with her father, who is only slightly less of a hazard than Bud. Very atmospheric, with memorable characters. Frazier is the author of Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons.