What Do I Read Next?

At a recent conference Random House representatives Steve Atinksy and Wade Lucas offered a list of books to read.

51j1810-p6L._AC_US218_   At the top of their list was John Boyne’s The Hearts Invisible Furies, a 2014 publication with good reviews but not a popular following.  Their teaser might be enough for you to find this tormented Irish tale:

“Boyne’s new novel opens in the small west Cork village of Goleen, in 1945, during mass in the parish church. Instead of giving a sermon, Father James Monroe rises to denounce 16-year-old Catherine Goggin, recently discovered to be pregnant. The priest calls her up to the altar to shame her before family and congregation, before kicking her out of the church and banishing her from the parish. Boyne introduces this scene by informing us that it will be known later that this priest has himself fathered two children in the area, and his brutality is inflamed rather then tempered by hypocrisy.”

9780553447583  Their recommendation for book club discussions is Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles – a story about a paraplegic vet who suddenly rises to his feet, catching the attention of religious leaders, reality TV producers, and skeptics.  Just reviewed by the New York Times, Christopher Beta asks “is he healed or is it a hoax?”

511KC48VxJL._SX353_BO1,204,203,200_  Man Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes makes their list with his new book  – The Only Story – another small book (261 pages) packed with large ideas.  The Only Story opens with a question: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?”  A story about an old man reminiscing about his affair with a 48 year old woman when he was 19, the Washington Post review promises the same “writerly skill” as The Sense of an Ending, but “is so full of grieving sighs that it practically hyperventilates. ”   Sounds depressing.  Let me know if you read it.

A few on their list I’ve read and reviewed:

 

 

 

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Agatha Christie Solves the Mystery of Happiness in Marriage

hercule-poirot    After enjoying Edward Sorel’s cartoon in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review – The Literati Sketchbook – I was inspired to research Agatha Christie and her marriages.

Archie Christie, Agatha’s first husband, was a dashing pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. After fourteen years of marriage to Agatha, he did leave her for a younger woman, Nancy Neele.  Surprisingly, Archie Christie did love golf, as noted by Sorel, and belonged to the  Sunningdale Golf Club. (“He spent many of his weekends there while Agatha worked on her novels in their London flat.”)

After discovering her husband’s affair, Agatha did disappear:  “A major police hunt was undertaken, and Christie was questioned by the police. She was discovered ten days later at the Old Swan Hotel in Yorkshire, registered under the name of her husband’s lover… and suffering from a complete loss of memory when found and identified by her husband.” – just as Sorel depicts in his cartoon.

After divorcing Archie, Agatha meets and marries Max Mallowan, an archeologist fourteen years younger.  They live happily ever after for forty-five years.

In the last frame Sorrel shows an old Agatha solving the mystery of happiness in marriage, saying:

“An archeologist is the best husband any woman can get. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.”

Amazing what cartoons can teach us.   Might be fun to see the 1979 film version with Vanessa Redgrave as Agatha.  Roger Ebert reviews the film – here.

Tempting Fare for Book Clubs – Quindlen’s Alternate Side

9780812996067   Love New York City?  Want to improve your vocabulary? Your neighbors driving you crazy? What do you think about the homeless?  Do you have parking?  Anna Quindlen’s story about lives intersecting in Alternate Side has so much to talk about.

It’s hard to appreciate the value of a parking space unless you do not have one.  In Calvin Trillin’s Tepper Isn’t going Out, the main character jockeys moving his car to alternate sides of the street to accommodate New York City’s idiosyncratic parking rules.  Parking space is sacred, maybe more important than the car.  I could relate – I’ve been there.  In Quindlen’s story, Charlie and Nora have finally scored a parking spot in the private empty lot at the end of their dead end street in New York City.  At first, the description of the cul-de-sac occupants seems innocuous – just another neighborhood – until one of the residents whacks the indispensable handyman with a golf club for blocking his car.

Suddenly, the atmosphere shifts to the underlying currents plaguing this quiet area – not only the mysterious bags of dog poop on Nora’s front stoop or the rats running out from under the cars but also Charlie’s unsuccessful quest for recognition in his career and Nora’s dissatisfaction with her marriage.  With her usual flair for relatable characters, Quindlen reviews the parallel tracks of the haves and the have-nots, comparing lives :  a group of homeowners with rising equity in old Victorian homes to the Jamaican nannies/housekeepers and handymen from the Dominican Republic who serve them; the superficial wealthy founder of a jewelry museum to the fake homeless guy outside the building; Nora’s private yearning for the lost love of her gay college boyfriend to the husband she settled for.  Quindlen uses a phrase to mock them all – “First world problems” – how is it they want something else, when what they have seems so much more.

Quindlen’s stories are quiet yet forceful, and she is on my list of favorite writers; she can’t write fast enough for me.  One of my favorites – Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake – her “roadmap for growing older while still enjoying life” has one of her relatable lines I still live through.  In Alternate Side, she offers an opportunity to examine what is important in life, and how long it takes sometimes to realize it – if ever.  Or – an alternate view might be, she offers a tale of a middle-aged couple in New York City who finally got a parking space.

An Added Note:    My best friend and I were reading this book simultaneously, her on the East Coast, me in the middle of the ocean, and we both loved the words – our favorite is “bespoke,”  but a few others crept in too – eschew, ersatz – you might find more.  And I had to highlight some favorite phrases:

“If all the women who fantasized about their husbands’ passings made them happen, there would be no men in the world.”

“There remained the hand-tinted wedding portrait hanging at the end of the upstairs hall, in which both of their parents looked stiff, a little uncomfortable, almost as though they had not yet been introduced.”

“…since she was eleven, the beginning of a time when, Nora knew now from experience, girls are mean as sleet and should be cryogenically frozen and reconstituted later…”

Related:  Miller’s Valley

 

The Great Alone

511Dl74cE9L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_  In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, courage and perseverance battle the threatening elements of the Alaskan frontier in a family saga of the untamed wilderness.  Using elements of her own family’s experience in Alaska, Hannah captures the raw beauty in the magnificent stillness as well as the terror of survival in an unforgiving landscape.  Much like Ivey’s historical novel – To The Bright Edge of the Word, The Great Alone invokes the forbidding yet beautiful lure of Alaska as well as the fortitude of those who would live there.

A young girl, Leni, narrates her life story from 1974 to 2009, documenting her struggle in a family plagued by her father’s post-traumatic stress disorder following his return as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  Moving from place to place, looking for peace and a place in a “world being run by lunatics,” her father suddenly inherits a parcel of isolated land in Kaneq, Alaska from a dead Army buddy. The family leaves Seattle to become pioneers in a place promising freedom from the trauma of the seventies – the Munich Olympics, Watergate, hijacked planes, and more.  Unprepared, the family struggles in a run-down log cabin with no electricity or running water, and only makes it through with the help of their neighbors, but Ernt, Leni’s father, sinks deeper into depression and becomes more abusive as the days become long nights in the Alaskan dark winter.

The characters surrounding the family represent a chorus of sturdy, sometimes stereotyped pioneers, from the tough former prosecutor, Large Marge, to the wealthy Walkers, descended from a hearty stock of generations of  homesteaders.  Earl Harlan, the old codger whose son, Bo, gifted the land, feeds Ernt’s negative outlook on life with his own pessimistic ramblings.  The liquor helps too.

Looking for a connection, Leni finally finds it in a young Matthew Walker.  As they grow from adolescence into young adulthood, their story becomes a Shakespearean tragedy, yet this Romeo and Juliet find ways to nurture their love despite their families’ feud and her father’s abuse. Through them Hannah reveals not only the wonder of the Alaskan beauty but also the hope of future generations.

As I read, I worried.  Would they meet the same fate as Shakespeare’s lovers?  Would the villain (the abusive father who becomes uncontrollable) destroy everyone around him?  Be assured, this is Kristin Hannah, an author who believes in happy endings.  Although the ending is somewhat contrived, and not everyone lives happily ever after, the lovers do survive.

In a world of conveniences, it’s easy to forget how difficult life was not so long ago.  Despite its modernization, in Alaska, the “last frontier,”  some still battle the rough and brutal elements and live “off the grid.”  Hannah uses them to demonstrate survival and communal strength; after all, love conquers all.

Related Reviews:

Books and Donuts

Today, March 19th, is St. Joseph’s Day, noteworthy in Italian families for the fried donuts traditionally made and consumed to celebrate the feast day.  In Hawaii, any day is a good excuse to eat fried donuts, known as malasadas, but on the East Coast, many Italian families eat zeppole.  The ingredients of the dough vary and the small donuts can be cream filled or plain, baked or fried.  But the traditional recipe my grandmother used was fast and easy, resembling a beignet.  Click on the recipe – here.  Good with a glass of milk back in the day but now great with coffee and a good book.  Here are a few books I’ve been reading while munching my donuts:

A Mystery by Jennifer EganManhattan Beach

The first time I tried reading Egan’s Manhattan Beach, I could not get past the first fifty pages, but when I tried again, the story flew by in a day.  Some books you just have to be ready to read, or, in my case, forced to read for a book club discussion, but glad I did.

title.esplanade  The dull windup (which had me stopping in the first read) was Anna’s sad childhood with her disabled sister, and her twelve year old yearnings for a better life as she accompanies her father to a house on Manhattan Beach, where he is obviously making a deal with a rich organized crime crook.  But stay with the story – it gets better.

Set during the Rosie Riveter era of World War II, Anna becomes the first woman diver working on ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  After her father mysteriously disappears and her sister dies, Anna’s mother leaves her alone in the big city. But this working girl knows her way around, finding an unlikely girlfriend in Nell who leads her to that same mobster boss in a nightclub, igniting a relationship and a story worthy of a film noir plot.  The murder mystery revolves around Anna’s father, but the resolution is unexpected.

In his review for the New York Times, Amor Towles, author of The Gentleman from Moscow, notes the importance of the beach and the ocean in Egan’s book:

“Turning their backs on the crowded constraints of their urban lives, all three {main characters}look to the ocean as a realm that while inherently dangerous also promises the potential for personal discovery and an almost mystical liberty.”

With her incise language Egan cleverly leads the story to a satisfying ending, and simultaneously informs the reader about an era, a location, and a woman’s vocation based on real events.

35411583  Listening to Sophie – Surprise Me!

A few bystanders may have wondered what I was laughing about as I tried out my new Beatsx earbuds, listening to Sophie Kinsella’a Surprise Me.  Kinsella’s newest addition to the Shopaholic series has heroine Sylvie married to Dan and mother to twin girls. Her job as a development officer at a family museum seems in jeopardy, and a doctor’s prediction of longevity for the couple alerts them to the long years ahead in their relationship. To shake up their ten year marriage, Kinsella has them surprising one another, creating laughable and ridiculous circumstances.  A serious note threatens to reveal a family secret, but with her usual wit and charm, Kinsella leads the reader to the expected happy ending.

81d62354b0e8908efae37b21420cdf5160d125f7Flavia is Back in Alan Bradley’s The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place

My favorite detective is back in Bradley’s newest addition to the Flavia de Luce mysteries – The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place.   Flavia’s father has died; to recover from their grief Dogger, their old family friend, has taken Flavia and her sisters on a fishing excursion.  Flavia hooks a dead body instead of a fish, and the mystery begins.

If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of this perspicuous young woman with an extensive knowledge of chemical poisons and a flair for solving crimes, you are missing a good time.  This is the ninth in this series, from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, but you can start anywhere.

Related ReviewA Red Herring Without Mustard