As the official bookseller at the Literary Orange conference, The Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore of San Diego had a ballroom of books for purchase. How could I not buy a book? Although I limited myself to two easy reading paperbacks for my plane ride ( I always need one book and a backup if I finish the first), I have a new list of titles to find in the library.
Why did I buy Julia Claiborne Johnson’s “Be Frank With Me”? She made me laugh in person and her book sounds funny, confirmed by Joanna Rakoff’s New York Times review. When asked how she finds inspiration for her books, Johnson said she just – “takes a nap.” I could relate.
As for my other purchase – “One True Loves” – Taylor Jenkins Reid’s description of the novel as Helen Hunt’s side of the story from Castaway sold me. I couldn’t help thinking of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in the classic movie My Favorite Wife. If I like this one, I may get her new book – “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” – to be published in June
Christina Baker Kline
Books I plan to look for include Fannie Flagg’s winning short story that turned into her first novel, “Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man,” and Christina Baker Kline’s “Bird in Hand” because she disclosed she liked her own title better – “Four Way Stop” – before it was changed in editing.
The best quote from an author was Steven Rowley’s “elevator line” – that one line pitch when someone asks “what is your book about?” Rowley summed up his “Lily and the Octopus” as a cross between “A Year of Magical Thinking” and “Moby Dick.” I may have to wait awhile to read this one, but it jumped onto my list.
In attendance were authors of mysteries, romance, nonfiction, memoirs, young adult fiction, family drama, historical fiction, cookbooks, and ghost writers with NDA’s (Nondisclosure Agreements) – an amazing range. I wish I could have met them all but maybe I can read all their books.
A quick trip to Big Sur brought me to Nepenthe, the former cabin owned by Orson Welles that was transformed into a cliffside gathering place for artists in the 1950s. The new owners were the parents of textile designer Kaffe Fassett, whose fabric I had just used at quilt camp. The connection was a pleasant surprise, and the adjacent shop housed more of Fassett’s unique designs as well as his biography.
The book section displayed books from famous writers who lived and wrote near Big Sur, including Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and John Steinbeck. I discovered one of Steinbeck’s short stories – “The Flight” – in the collection “The Long Valley, and I felt a special connection as I read Steinbeck’s words while I looked out over the beautiful vista. If you can’t get there in person, Steinbeck’s words will transport you. “The Flight” begins with:
“Out fifteen miles below Monterey, on the wild coast, the Torres family had their farm, a few sloping acres above a cliff that dropped to the brown reefs and to the hissing white waters of the ocean. Behind the farm the stone mountains stood up against the sky. The farm buildings huddled like the clinging aphids on the mountain skirts, crouched low to the ground as though the wind might blow them into the sea…”
If you take Barbara Kingsolver’s advice in her New York Times review of Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, as I did – “avoiding everything written about it…” including Kingsolver’s review – you will enjoy the surprise that Fowler conceals until almost 100 pages into the story. No spoilers here but you might consider stopping right here so you won’t risk it.
Rosemary Cooke, narrates the tale of her family. Her father is a respected university psychologist with a crew of graduate students to help with his research in animal behavior. She starts her story “in the middle” and jumps back and forth from her college days at the University of California Davis to her childhood with her brother, Lowell, who becomes a fugitive from the FBI before graduating from high school, and her sister, Fern, who suffers a terrible fate when she is only five years old, that changes everything for everyone.
Fowler includes some comic moments with a puppet modeled after Madame Defarge (Madame Guillotine), but the serious notes predominate, with frequent references to scientific study and political upheaval – at times overwhelming the story with detailed erudite citations and shocking brutal treatment of animals. In addition to her obvious agenda for animal rights, Fowler slowly unravels family lives that are irrevocably sidetracked. When the surprise is revealed, the consequences of family interaction seem unique to their situation, but by the end Fowler has connected the story to all families who suffer the distractions of sibling rivalry as well as family loyalty. And, she may challenge your perception of what is normal human behavior.
It’s no surprise that the New York Times asked Kingsolver to write the review; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has faint notes of Flight Behavior – a book with a message and characters who will stay with you.