A Short Wrap-Up and How It All Began

 

I am reading an old Penelope Lively book  – How It All Began – a comforting light read as I try to avoid the news and politics.   Charlotte, an older woman, falls after she is mugged and breaks her hip.  This one action triggers a series of events affecting her family and strangers she has never met, seven overall  – the butterfly effect rippling through lives.  Lively reminds the reader how little control we have over everything.

As the the catalyst for a cast of characters with a range of emotions and experiences as their lives are derailed, Charlotte rallies, recovers, and continues with a constructive life as Lively’s chapters consider those around her.  Charlotte’s fall requires her to move in with her daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Gerry, which leads to Rose taking time off from her job with an old historian, which leads to her boss asking his niece, Marion, to accompany him on a lecture trip, which leads to Marion’s leaving a message for her married lover, which leads his wife to discover the message and file for divorce.  And so it goes – a series of sometimes unfortunate events.

Charlotte is a retired English teacher, and her wise pronouncements sometimes seem worth noting for future reference.  As she convalesces, she notes how her circumstances have changed her reading habits to magazines and, horrors, pulp novels, until finally when she is able to read a Henry James novel again, she considers herself on the road to recovery.  I am not a fan of Henry James, but I did find her book, What Maisie Knew, in my library system – and maybe I’ll read it, but I doubt it.

Penelope Lively’s characters follow life’s chaos and uncertainties, a comfort to all of us living in that inevitable vein. Lively was a children’s book author before writing novels for adults and her first book, the children’s novel Astercote (1970) is about modern English villagers who fear a resurgence of the medieval plague – seems timely with the recent outbreak of a deadly virus from China. I’ve ordered the book from my library.

 

Other books I have been reading:

Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Famous for her Ruth Galloway mystery series, Elly Griffiths new book – Stranger Diaries – has none of her familiar characters but this stand alone mystery seemed familiar. I was sure I had read the book before and even knew the murderer, but I was wrong on both counts.  I was sure she was the murderer, but she was not.

 

The Key by Patricia Wentworth

A 1946 paperback with browned pages, some taped back together, turned out to be a great story.  When Michael Harsch is found dead (soon after he finally perfected his formula for the government) in the church behind a locked door with a key in his pocket, the mystery begins.  The inquest rules suicide but Miss Silver knows it is a murder, but who did it?  Despite its age, the mystery had a modern twist and held my attention throughout.

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

If you are a fan of the irreverent “Good Place” series, you will relish Hackwith’s Library of the Unwritten.  A librarian who was human but didn’t make it past the pearly gates, Claire oversees books not yet written; the library is in hell.  When one character escapes from his book to meet with his author on Earth, and another soul offers stolen pages from the devil’s Coda in exchange for living among the angels, the action starts, and never falters.  An exciting ride through different worlds where the devils are more fun and the angels tend to be judgmental and arrogant, the book swerves through lives and characters.  Noting the cautionary note to all procrastinating authors (me included) – “there’s nothing an unwritten book wants more than to be written” – I listened to the book on Audible and found myself speeding up the narrative to get to the next chapter.

AND FINALLY –

Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? – A Mother’s Suggestions by Patricia Marx and Roz Chast

Skip the introduction and go immediately to the one-liners With Roz Chast’s illustrations for motherly advice you can use.  Here are a few:

  • Never do anything you can pay someone to do.
  • If you feel guilty about throwing out the leftovers, put them in the back of your refrigerator for five days and then throw them out.
  • When it comes to raising children, nothing beats bribery.
  • Resist the temptation to buy clothes on your skinniest days.

A FOOTNOTE:

I am listening to a scary story on Audible – Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me.  Scary stories tend to keep my attention when listening, and this one started with a Mexican woman and her daughter in dire straits (before American Dirt was published).

 

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…”

Starting the New Year Going Into Town with Roz Chast

After Roz Chast entertained me with her clever graphic novel about her aging parents in “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” I couldn’t wait for her next installment of graphic humor, but her Going Into Town, a Love Letter to New York had me thinking I should carry the book with me the next time I visit the city. Not only are the illustrations and text hilarious, the chapter on how to use the subway could be very useful for my directionally clueless nature.

With her signature New Yorker comic strip art and her East Coast conversational style, Chast takes the reader from a basic layout of Manhattan, through “stuff to do…food…apartments” and all the practical basics for living, surviving, accessing Manhattan.  As promised, this is not a guide for tourists (although some might find it helpful) but an insider’s manual – “some maps, some tips…Nothing too overwhelming” created for her daughter, a freshman in college in Manhattan.  

Lately, I’ve been reading historic tomes full of man’s inhumanity to man, and it’s lovely to start the new year with a funny and optimistic view of one of my favorite cities. Might be a good new year’s resolution to read more like this.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

9781608198061_p0_v13_s260x420We all die eventually, right?  And, with a little luck – or not, depending on our state of health – we may live to a very old age.  But most of us would prefer to be in denial about death, old age, debilitating illness, and any talk about the inevitable future. Roz Chast, cartoonist for The New Yorker, addresses these uncomfortable issues with grace and humor in her graphic novel/memoir – Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

If you have lived through the agonizing ritual of watching your elderly parents decline and die, Chast’s comments may offer some comfort when you realize you are not alone in your conflict of resentment vs caring.  Issues of her parents’ slow decline, their resistance to change and to any discussion about change, despite their increasing inability to manage ordinary tasks – are handled with poignant humor.  I laughed out loud at some of Chast’s punch lines, but also cringed a little at how close she had come to knowing how I had felt when dealing with my own 94 year old mother.  Could it be Chast has discovered some universal truth about aging daughters with elderly parents?

Whether or not you have experienced Chast’s story of watching her parents age well into their nineties and die, her story of human behavior and parent-child relationships has the notes of humor, nostalgia, guilt, and love easily relatable to anyone.  You may be crying at times – but mostly you will be laughing – maybe at yourself.  Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  has that Dr. Seuss quality of delivering truth with a good dose of reality, as you smile through the drawings and words of wisdom.