A Prescription for Comfort Books

When an Advil at breakfast no longer seemed like such a good idea to my stomach and wasn’t doing a whole lot for my aching back anyway,  focusing on reading a book was hard – but I wanted the distraction so badly.  YA books came to the rescue – from unlikely sources.

UnknownBuried in a pile of old Scholastic books, I found an Alice Hoffman story about a mermaid – Aquamarine.  Hoffman is one of my favorite writers for magical realism; I’ve read most of her books for adults and eagerly anticipate her next one.  Aquamarine is a short tale, not requiring a lot of time or attention; it flows easily into a story about two friends about to be separated at the end of the summer.  Aquamarine is a real mermaid, of course, accidentally trapped in a swimming pool after a storm.

41sKG6FpKvL._AC_UL160_Although I had started reading Eleanor and Park when it was first published in 2012, I never read past the sample pages on my iPhone.  When my ninety-two year old friend suggested we be a book club of two to discuss the ending, I downloaded the story of the two teenagers’ story of first love.  Not exactly star-crossed lovers, these two are from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but they connect on the school bus and save each other.  A short easy read with an ending my friend says “left her with a good vibe” – glad I read it.

y450-300A recent New York Times article by author Robert Lipsyte  – “My Struggle to Write Honestly About a Test of Manhood” -alerted me to his YA book – One Fat Summer.  The book has been reframed into a movie – “The Measure of a Man,” but the book sounds better.  I have it on my iPhone to read.

“In “One Fat Summer,” my glorified semi-autobiographical hero, Bobby, stood up to the bullies and survived their beating, an important lesson for males then. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. He endured the summer in what he thought was manly fashion, hanging tough, taking risks and trusting only himself. No wonder at the end, the girl liked him back. At least in the novel.”

img_5943-e1453331441807And finally, Margery Sharp.  I found this author through an old movie with Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones in “Cluny Brown.”  Cluny Brown may be the patron saint of the distracted and Sharp perfected the easy style of story telling with  a Sophie Kinsella flair over eighty years ago.  The movie led to reading her books – funny and comforting.  I had forgotten about “The Gipsy in the Parlor,”  a two dollar purchase buried in my list of books on my iPhone.  Not a YA book, but easy reading and I am now happily and distractedly enjoying it .

Do you have a favorite YA book or some easy reading to recommend for an aching back?

 

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Royal Wedding

UnknownA friend recently reminded me the Americans fought a war to get away from the English Royals, yet many of us were happy to succumb to the pomp and ceremony of the recent royal wedding between an American who gave up her religion, her career, and her country for the love of a Prince – a plot right out of the Hallmark Channel.  Most public commentators were either politely politically correct or effusively complimentary; privately, opinions on the dress, the celebrities attending, and the sermon varied – but everyone loved the Queen.

51kkZEjM6bL._AC_US218_I found Anthony Lane’s “Daily Comment” in the New Yorker this morning, and I  laughed so hard, my fascinator fell off.  After reading “Harry and Meghan Look to the Future, but Some Royals Never Change,” I decided to download his collection of New Yorker essays – Nobody’s Perfect.  Since Lane is a movie critic, the book is full of his irreverent reviews from “Indecent Proposal: to “Pearl Harbor.”  Although he skewers the plots, the actors, and producers – even Julia Roberts and Alfred Hitchcock do not escape – the book is full of honest laughs.  The Queen would approve.

Assume the Worst

In fourth grade Sister Eugene Marie taught us to lower our expectations. When you Assume the Worst – the title of a hilarious collaboration between Carl Hiaasen and Roz Chast – you won’t be disapppointed. Sometimes, you might be happily surprised.

In their “Graduation Speech You Will Never Hear,” Hiaasen offers his humorous advice, accompanied by Roz Chast’s signature illustrations.

Among my favorite lines:

“….when the ignorant outperform the attentive—dimness triumphs. The result is that we end up with dangerously unqualified leaders, and then sit around disconsolately hoping the worst of them will be taken down by scandal or maybe an exploding prostate…”

“Stupidity is a real-world pandemic from which there’s no refuge, even at college. Each year, on prestigious campuses from coast to coast, no small number of diplomas are handed out to young men and women who barely scraped by.” (accompanied by Chast’s diploma for a Bachelor of Existing.)

“Spending all your waking hours doing only what feels good is a viable life plan if you’re a Labrador retriever…”

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