Commonwealth Reboot

shopping-2   I don’t like rereading books; I’d rather spend the time with a new story, but Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth was an exception.  Exploring the depths of Commonwealth’s complicated family and the catalysts changing their lives gave me a better understanding of the story’s structure with its underlying conceits, and a new respect for Ann Patchett’s writing talent.

In preparing for the book club discussion, I researched the author.  I was already familiar with her other books; this time I looked for her background as a way of connecting with her own family references in this book, and I found a few to share at the book club.  I always like book lists and authors who inspire writers, and in my meanderings I found Ann Patchett offered some new possibilities.

Because Patchett mentioned her friendship with Jacqueline Woodson, four time winner of the Newbery Award, I listened to an online podcast at the Free Library of Philadelphia with both authors discussing Patchett’s Commonwealth and Woodson’s Another Brooklyn.  The podcast is a one hour discussion with Patchett and Woodson reading from their books.  In the publisher’s excerpt, childhood memory is the common element – how the  memory of childhood events differs, according to the age of the child experiencing it.

For the New York Times “By the Book,” Patchett named Saul Bellow, the winner of the Nobel, Pulitzer, and National Book Awards, as one of her favorite authors, as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin, award winning author and historian.  In the podcast she also offers a number of her favorite books from Charlotte’s Web to The Witches of Blackbird Pond to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, When Breath Becomes Air, The Underground Railroad, and more.  She has a monthly blog talking about her favorite books at “Ann’s Blog”

As a result of  rediscovering Ann Patchett,  I am now reading:

  • Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn
  • Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift
  • Henry James’ The Ambassadors
  • Matthew Desmond’s Evicted

Through the interviews I learned more about Patchett, the person.  She’s warm and funny and real – someone I would enjoy meeting for coffee.  Maybe I will someday, if I ever get to Tennessee.

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Read It Again, Sam

 As this year comes to an end, you may be looking back at those books you read; maybe you’ll consider reading them again?

In his essay for the New York Times Book Review – Read It Again, Sam –  David Bowman identifies famous authors who reread books – for inspiration, for motivation, to identify a structure to follow, to discover nuances, or just in awe of great writing…

“The biographer and novelist Edmund White {notes}: ‘I reread in order to remind myself how good you have to be in order to be any good at all.’ “

Stephen King regularly rereads The Lord of the Flies and The Lord of the Rings; Helen DeWitt (The Last Samurai) started her rereads with The Nancy Drew Series; Patti Smith, winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction rereads An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, reasoning that rereading is a necessity, echoing a familiar complaint of mine:

“…I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything…”

 I shy away from rereading most books, preferring to move on to the next adventure.  If I do reread a book, I may understand more or “build impressions.”  I may even remember more as I finish reading a second time, but I agree with French literary theorist Roland Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text:

“…{rereading may cause pleasure}, but not my bliss: bliss may come only with the absolutely new…”

Do you have books you regularly reread?