It Happened in Monterey

I miss chatting with bookstore owners who are avid readers. With only one independent bookstore on the island (BookEnds in Kailua) and a perfunctory Barnes and Noble at the mall, the pickings are slim in Hawaii. On a recent trip to the Monterey Peninsula, I found four independent bookstores within a five mile radius, and with booksellers happy to share their favorites. Of course, I could not get out of a store without buying a book or two.  img_4298

At Bookworks in Pacific Grove, I found two books: an older (2012) Donna Leon mystery I had not read, with my favorite sleuth, Commissario Guido Brunetti – “Beastly Things,” and Joanna Trollope’s “Sense and Sensibility” (2013), her modernized version of the Jane Austen classic.

At Old Capitol Books in Monterey, I found myself scanning the stacks of old used books, some rare editions, checking off those I had read. Looking for favorite authors, I found an Amy Bloom book I had not read (at least I don’t remember reading it) – “Lucky Us.”

In Pilgrim’s Way, the charming bookstore connected to a garden in Carmel, I decided on “The Green Thoreau” and Scottish author Beatrice Colin’s “To Capture What We Cannot Keep.”

Chatting with the proprietor led me to another independent bookstore not far away – River House Books. There I found the first of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books – “Still Life” – recommended by a good friend, and Amy Bloom’s new book – “White Houses.” The bookseller commisserated about “Manhattan Beach” – like me, she had not been able to finish it – but I plan to try again. And her recommendation for the best page-turner she had read recently – “The Dry” – went to the top of my to-read list.

With this stack, Laura Lippman’s “Sunburn” on my iPhone and Navin’s “Only Child” on audible, I am ready for a long flight – unless, of course, the movie selection has an Oscar nominee to distract me.

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The Immortalists

How long do you expect to live?  Chloe Benjamin uses the theory of expectations to deliver a compellng family saga of four siblings who visit a fortune teller after their father dies at forty-five. When the clairvoyant names the dates they will die, predicting a short life for the younger two, middle-age for the oldest son, and a long life for the eldest daughter, each designs a life destined to fulfill the phropecy.

Each life is revealed separately, weaving in  the circumstances of the others over fifty years. Simon, the youngest, drops out of high school to escape to San Francisco in the nineteen eighties with his sister, an aspiring magician.  Knowing he will die young, he adopts a reckless gay lifestyle leading to devastating consequences.

The deaths of the two middle children seem contrived with both dying on their appointed days, but Benjamin reveals her message with Vy, the eldest and longest living, who works as a researcher for a pharmaceutical firm developing a longevity formula.  To live to her predicted 88 yesrs, Vy has severely limited her caloric intake and avoids physical contact, suffers from an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and lives in fear. An observer of her life comments she may be surviving but she is not living.

I remember a line from a movie with Tom Hanks asking the spy who is about to be sentenced why he is not worried.  The spy answers: “Would it help (to worry)?”  What will happen will happen. What would you do if you knew the date of your death? Would you try to change your life’s trajectory or worry as the date drew near?

Is It Time to Revisit Montaigne?

In the frenzy of caustic political diatribe in the weeks before the vote for President in the United States, Tim Parks offers the voice of reason in his articleShould Novels Aim for the Heart or the Head? in the Book Review section of the New York Times.  

“Montaigne’s position was always that we must be extremely careful about our emotions, in particular our tendency to get emotional about ideas.  He didn’t advise neutrality, but simply that ‘we should not nail ourselves so strongly to our humors and complexions.’ To foster emotions deliberately and habitually was dangerous, because once a strong emotion had kicked in it was very difficult to find a way back.”

The rhetoric of emotional intensity has spilled over from reality show television and action packed books and movies into the political arena, a place where the calm assessment of affairs has been replaced by dyspeptic rants, brutal verbal attacks on adversaries, and “horror for the future.”  Montaigne notes: “No one is exempt from speaking nonsense – the only misfortune is to do it solemnly.”

9781590514832_p0_v1_s192x300   Rereading Sarah Bakewell’s A Life of Montaigne has immersed me into introspection – and a new appreciation for nonfiction.

 It will not stop me, however, from escaping reality and losing myself in the next book of fiction – life seems better when it’s not real all the time.  Alan Bradley has my attention now in the return of Flavia de Luce. 9780345539960_p0_v2_s192x300 

 

 

The Red Car

Addendum

In reviewing The Red Car for the New York Times – Fast and Furious –  Daniel Handler noted “There is, now, a literary term for a book you can’t stop reading that makes you stop to think.  It is “The Red Car.”  And that’s just what happened to me when I read it.

AN ASIDE

After finishing The Red Car, I felt like Leah, the main character, riding in a car with its own mind – taking me on its own journey – for my own good.  My first thoughts were not to review but to remember.  You might want to skip this “aside” and go straight to the review below – but like Leah riding in the red car, I just had to write it.

I remember waking up one day and noticing I was not wearing earrings.  When had I stopped?   Then I remembered; it was when my baby took to pulling them off my ears and I worried about her swallowing them.  Now she was grown and had pierced ears, but I still forgot to look at my own ears.

It was a wake-up call, as though I had been someone else all those years, dreaming through life, pretending to have it all together and rushing around trying to keep everyone happy – my daughter, my husband, my dissertation committee, my students, my mother.  It never occurred to me to keep myself happy.

Much later, it happened again.  This time I was older and about to enter another decade – without the responsibilities of parenthood and career.  I decided to get my ears pierced – a tribute to five decades of meeting expectations.  For a while, I was happy, until once again I fell into the mode of responsibility.  It still seems difficult to make decisions only for myself.  I could blame my Catholic schooling or my strict Italian father.  I could wonder what if, as we all do periodically, especially when life seems unbearable.  I should just be grateful – so many have a much poorer life.

Maybe someday someone will leave me a red car to jolt me.

MY REVIEW

9781631492334_p0_v8_s192x300   Marcy Dermansky’s short novel – The Red Car – will lead you on a wild ride, but possibly leave you with an urging to reexamine your life.  When her former boss dies and leaves her red sports car and some money to Leah, a budding novelist, Leah revisits her old life, discovers strands of unfinished business and the courage to find her own happiness.  A quick read, The Red Car offers a philosophic look to sleepwalking through life,  with the same quirky, humorous, yet disarming grounding as Where’d You Go Bernadette?  It’s no wonder Maria Semple highly recommended this new book.  Read it in a sitting, but be prepared to think about it longer.

The Man Booker Shortlist

Not surprisingly, my favorite among the thirteen books long listed for the Man Booker Prize did not make the cut.  The six shortlisted this year:

 

9781250083258_p0_v5_s192x300 9781620406694_p0_v3_s118x184 9781510719217_p0_v1_s118x184 9781594206627_large_eileen_draft-211x320 9781555977535_p0_v2_s118x184  9780393609882_p0_v1_s192x300

  • The Sellout – a satire of race relations, reintroducing slavery in Los Angeles
  • Hot Milk – a daughter copes with a hypochondriac mother
  • His Bloody Project –  the story of a seventeen year old boy who committed a brutal triple murder in the Scottish Highlands 
  • Eileen  A lonely young woman working in a boys’ prison outside Boston 
  • All That Man Is – collection of nine stories about men in different stages of life
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing – a young woman who has fled China and the Tiananmen Square protests

My record is low.  I read and reviewed only one on the list – Eileen;  I left The Sellout unfinished, and am slowly making my way through Hot Milk.    

According to the Man Booker Prize announcement, two of the finalists hail from previous  publishing house winners.  OneWorld who published The Sellout, also published last year’s winner A Brief History of Seven Killings, and Granta, the publisher of Do Not Say We have Nothing also published the 2014 winner, The Luminaries.  Only one author has been nominated before – Deborah Levy in 2012.

The winner will be announced in October.  

My favorite?  Read my review of The Many.