Category Archives: books

7 Books and Counting

Yes, I am still reading.  A few quick notes on some of the books:

Recent Publications

9780062469687_p0_v1_s192x300  The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

If there is an opposite to chick lit, this is it.  A story about men, boys, Boy Scouts, coming of age, growing old – all men, but focused on a few – Wilbur, the Scout Master, who saves Nelson, the upright nerd, and Jonathan, an older boy who wavers between being the cool dude he wants to be and the righteous man of goodwill he tries not to be. A good story across generations with friendship among men as the angle.    And the author has the hallowed credential of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

 Unknown-4  Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

So – is Ingrid, the mother, still alive?  Did she find the courage to swim away from her philandering husband who betrayed her with her best friend?  Did she leave the old coot English professor who used her secret fantasies to finally write his best seller?  Did she start a new life or end a desperate one? You decide.

Classics I Finally Got Around to:

Unknown-1  Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner

Reading Wallace Stegner’s first novel – Remembering Laughter – reminded me of how great an author he is.  The poignant story of two women continuing to live together after the younger one has an affair and gets pregnant with her sister’s husband.  Though short, the story had the same impact on me as his famous Crossing to Safety.  If you have never read Stegner, this is a good place to start.   If you know him, the reissue of his first book is a gift.

0031398233688_p0_v1_s192x300   Unknown-2 Genius and Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe

In the movie “Genius” with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, the editor Maxwell Perkins gleans the best from Thomas Wolfe’s manuscripts to produce the first two of his lengthy novels.  Jude Law plays the writer, Thomas Wolfe, but his contemporaries are just as fascinating – a clever F. Scott Fitzgerald moping over his wife’s debilitating depression and his subsequent inability to write, and Ernest Hemingway, gloriously manly as he is about to go off to war.  Maxwell Perkins was editor to them all.  I had read Ftizgerald and Hemingway, but never Thomas Wolfe and Perkins was a stranger to me.   Inspired by the movie, I am reading Look Homeward Angel with a long introduction by Maxwell Perkins.  Only ten pages into the 508 of the story, I am convinced Wolfe is the genius portrayed.

 

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell

Poor Mrs. Bridge – she lived in her insular world, not knowing or caring to know what happened around her.  Republished in paperback to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, Connell’s depiction of a privileged white woman in the nineteen thirties has notes of women in the fifties, but sadly, her plight could be applied to some women today.  Written in short paragraphs and chapters, Mrs. Bridge slowly evolves but never really grows.  Pathetic in her ignorance, she protects herself from the world, sometimes wondering about issues she is never curious enough to pursue – lest they disturb her bubble.  Of course she is sad and unfulfilled, yet she never realizes she could do something about her life – why would she?

Now Reading

Unknown-5   The Horse Dancer by Jojo Moyes

9780385316576_p0_v2_s192x300   Follow Your Heart by Susanna Tamaro

 

 

 

Taking a Short Break

I’ve decided to take a little time off from reviewing books to focus on a few unfinished projects.  I’ll still be reading voraciously and thinking about how each book changes my outlook.

To start the month of April, I am looking forward to reading:

9781101870730_p0_v1_s192x300 Autumn by Ali Smith (I listened to this on the plane, but I need to see it in print – so many nuances, I want to digest Smith’s words slowly).

9780679735908_p0_v1_s118x184Possession by A.S. Byatt (my friendly librarian gave me the movie version and now I am anxious to see how it compares to the novel by this Man Booker winner).

9781609453855_p0_v2_s192x300Ties by Domenico Starnone, translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri (I just started reading this and am already under Lahiri’s spell of luxurious language).

9781941040515_p0_v1_s118x184Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller (a pick of one of my book discussion groups).

9781616206901_p0_v2_s192x300The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth Church (another book club pick).

9780385350907_p0_v2_s118x184The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve (her newest novel to be published April 18th.

I hope to restart the discussion of books with you here again next month.

 

 

 

 

Mo Willems – When a Pig Meets an Elephant

Catching up with the New Yorker recently, I not only laughed out loud at Rivka Glachen’s profile of children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems – Funny Failures – but also connected to this children’s author’s wry outlook.  I needed to find his books.

A quick search showed ninety-eight of his titles in my local library system, so I returned to the article to note those highlighted in the five page article.  Two have won Caldecott Honors – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (2004) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2005).  Another I added, just to meet the elephant and the pig in We Are in a Book.

Knuffle Bunny may remind you of the last time you lost something in the laundry; the pigeon is hilarious – what’s the first thing any child wants to do when told not to?  As for the elephant and the pig, I dare you not to say “BANANA” when you read their book.

Although Willems’ books are identified as Easy Readers, in the same vein as Eric Carle  or P.D. Eastman, his animals are funny in their anxiety and resilient in their failures – a lesson for adults as well as children.  Give yourself a laugh; find Mo Willems.

9780786819881_p0_v3_s192x300   9781844280599_p0_v1_s192x300   9781423133087_p0_v3_s192x300

 

Meeting the Authors

How could I meet the authors without having read their books?  When the Literary Orange conference in Southern California invited a range of authors – many I had not yet read, I began binge reading to prepare, starting with the keynote speakers.

Christina Baker Kline

Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, based on the true history of thousands of children shipped to the American Midwest in the 1930’s was a fast read, with the two characters – a ninety year old train orphan telling her story to a seventeen year old girl in foster care.  Amazingly, they have a lot in common – misery, heartache, and the luck of a wonderful new life.

9780870708312_p0_v1_s192x300Her latest novel,  A Piece of the World,  imagines the story of Christina Olson, famously portrayed in Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting.

Fannie Flagg

9780399590733_p0_v1_s192x300Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is my favorite story by Fannie Flagg.   Her latest book, The Whole Town’s Talking, has that same country flavor as Flagg tells the story of Lordor Nordstrom, his Swedish mail-order bride, Katrina, and their neighbors and descendants as they live, love, die in a small Minnesota town. As life goes on,  ghosts are chatting in the cemetery, observing lives, catching up on the news as the newly dead join them over  a century of changes – reminiscent of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  But the ending reminded me of  Lincoln in the Bardo – we all have to move on.

Marcia Clark

9781503954007_p0_v1_s192x300Marcia Clark, the feisty attorney from the OJ trial came back into my radar with the recent televised “The People vs OJ Simpson” series.  Since then, she has written a series of murder mysteries. Blood Defense is her latest, with an ambitious, hard-charging Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as the star.

Other Authors Who Will Be There  (hope I can get to all their books before meeting them):

  • Martha Hall KellyLilac Girls
  • Victoria PetersonThis Vacant Paradise
  • Jessica Vogelsang – All Dogs Go to Kevin
  • Shanthi Sekaran‘s Lucky Boy
  • Shilpi Somaya Gowan‘s Secret Daughter
  • Stephen Rowley‘s Lily and the Octopus
  • Sherri Smith‘s Fly Girl
  • Jonathon Evison‘s This Is Your Life Harriet Chance!   

 

 

 

 

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

9781101906750_p0_v2_s192x300Although Jennifer Ryan’s The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir begins with lovely letters and seemingly benign characters, her story quickly escalates to a baby kidnapping and a testament to the power of women.  With the men of the town off to war, the women of the little town in England form their own women’s choir, their catalyst to independence and determination.

Letters and journal entries move the action, a nod to Britain’s Mass Observation project referenced in Ryan’s Acknowledgments; the social research organization encouraged keeping diaries and journals to document ordinary citizen’s coping with the war.  Members of the choir reveal their thoughts as well as the action of the story through the journal of a precocious twelve year old, Kitty; letters from her older and beautiful sister, Venetia to her friend in London; the menacing letters of Edwina Paltry, the conniving town midwife; the journal of Mrs. Tilling, widow, nurse, town conscience and the short entries of Sylvie, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia hiding a family secret.

The men are heroes and villains – a brutish husband bribing a midwife to switch babies, a handsome dilettante with a mysterious mission, a gruff widowed Colonel with a lot to offer, and assorted swains – some rich, some connected, some just handsome.  Ryan highlights the strength of the women on the home front as each struggles with her own destiny, grows stronger through adversity, and, in the end, lives happily ever after – with the choir as the bonding agent throughout.

With the same charming flavor as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir includes romance, adventure, and mystery with a touch of the horrors of war.