Schine, Cathleen. The Evolution of Jane. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
It all starts when Jane’s mother thinks twenty five year old Jane needs a vacation to mend a broken heart. Jane has been left by her husband of only six months and while it has taken Jane only half that long to get over the abandonment she does not dispute her mother’s “quaint notion.” It is on this trip she has always wanted to take, to the Galapagos Islands, that Jane discovers her long-lost, once best friend, and cousin Martha is a guide. As Martha and Jane had fallen out of friendship Jane is baffled by this coincidence and is unsure how to proceed with her feelings and actions. She spends the entire vacation obsessing about the failed relationship.
The story itself jumps from the past to the present in an effort to explain Jane and Martha’s childhood friendship. Despite a mysterious family feud that split the rest of the family the two cousins were inseparable for a period of time. Until one day they weren’t. Jane’s obsession over what went wrong dominates the trip to the Galapagos. Even when her roommate tells her “let sleeping dogs lie” she can’t let it go.
Quotes I liked: “But I saw immediately that Martha was too familiar to meet for the first time” (p 13) and “I had traveled across two continents, from one ocean to another in order to be washed up on a beach with my next-door neighbor” (p 36).
Reason read: In honor of Charles Darwin’s birth month being in February. Simple enough.
Author Fact: Catherine Schine has an author page on LibraryThing with absolutely nothing on it.
Book Trivia: It was neat to find a New York Times review written by my favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver. She endorsed the book heavily because of its evolutionary and anthropological accuracies.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Galloping Through the Galapagos” (p 88).
December 2012 was a decidedly difficult month. I don’t mind admitting it was stressful and full of ups and downs. How else can I describe a period of time that contained mad love and the quiet urge to request freedom all at once? A month of feeling like the best thing on Earth and the last person anyone would want to be with? I buried myself in books to compensate for what I wasn’t sure I was feeling. And I won’t even mention the Sandy twins. But wait. I just did.
- The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of all things Hanukkah. This was by far my favorite book of the month.
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. This was a close second.
- The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels by Nina Berberlova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia being in December. I read a story every night.
- Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Carol Joyce Oates ~ in honor of Oates being born in December. I was able to read this in one sitting.
- The Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan ~ in honor of December being one of the best times to visit India
- Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox ~ in honor of Franking being born in December
- Billy by Albert French ~ in honor of Mississippi becoming a state in December
- Apples are From Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins ~ in honor of Kazakhstan gaining its independence in December.
In an attempt to finish some “series” I read:
- Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 3 by Giorgio Vasari (only one more to go after this, yay!)
- Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
For audio here’s what I listened to:
- The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald ~ this was laugh-out-loud funny
- Bellwether by Connie Willis ~ in honor of December being Willis’s birth month
For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing here’s what I read:
- Drinking with Men: a Memoir by Rosie Schaap
And here’s what I started:
- Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws
For fun: Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep.
Stegner, Wallace. Crossing to Safety. New York: Random House, 1987.
Crossing to Safety is a story you have to stick with in order to understand. For the first 100 pages you might find yourself asking, “what is the point?” because it seems to be about two couples who have a great relationship with one another. It’s all about the ups and downs of their friendship through the years and Stegner’s characters move in and out of prose casually, almost nonchalantly. He makes assumptions that you already know them by name. There are no obvious introductions to anyone. What’s more, there is a certain carefree attitude of the first decade of their friendship as well (mid 1930s). The women of the bonded friendship, both pregnant at the same time, enjoy champagne on a picnic. As the story moves along you can’t help but be drawn into the loyalty of their friendship; the push and pull of individual need against the fabric of their woven relationship.
Favorite lines (and there were a bunch of them), “It was a toss-up who was neglecting whom” (p 84).
Reason read: Wallace Stegner went to the University of Iowa and was in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing, “the Iowa Writers’ Workshop” and Iowa became a state in December. Yes, it is a stretch but that’s what I’m doing.
Can I just say I love the picture of Wallace Stegner on the back of Crossing to Safety? Or maybe it’s just the sweater. As an aside I would like to thank Stegner for introducing me to the 1931 Marmon. What a classy (but gangster!) car!
Author fact: There is a great website dedicated to Wallace Stegner here.
Book trivia: People either love or hate the “nonplot” approach. I loved it…once I got used to it.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107).
Adams, Alice. After You’ve Gone. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.
I feel positively silly titling a blog “After You’ve Gone” because the phrase has been so overused in music, television, theater and yes, even books. This review is for the compilation of short stories by Alice Adams and not to be confused with the Nova Scotia novel of the same name by Jefferey Lent or the Scottish one by Joan Lingard. I’m sure there are others…
After You’ve Gone could be described as a compilation of stories with two central themes: relationships and change. There are fourteen short stories in all and every one of them addresses the subject of a change (mostly involving women or from the woman’s point of view). The changes range from divorce, loss, aging…It’s as if Adams rode the train to work everyday and stared at the same fourteen people. Ordinary people. Many of them with underwhelming, ordinary stories to tell. Each story is a moment in time for each passenger. My favorite one was the title story. A newly divorced woman is addressing her ex-husband. It’s the only one of its kind. Her tone takes on different emotions throughout the monologue. Regret is obvious as she recounts the things she misses about him, irritation becomes apparent when revealing his new lover has been writing to her, and a show of defiance when she talks about her new/old relationship and the trip she plans to take with him. It’s brilliant. The rest of the stories are a little redundant. The characters are either academic, artistic or medical. Most live in some part of California. I found reading more than two stories in one sitting was a little tiresome.
Reason read: Adams was born in August.
Author Fact: Adams is known for her short stories.
Book Trivia: The best way to read After You’ve Gone is a story a day. Digesting the seemingly similar stories is easier that way. There is less redundancy.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “A…My Name is Alice” (p 1). Simple as that.
Szymborska, Wislawa. “True Love.” Poems New and Collected 1957 – 1997. 1998. Trans. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 2000.
I couldn’t help but think of Natalie Merchant singing “Jealousy” when I read this poem for the first time. It sounds spiteful and catty. It could have been written by someone sitting alone on prom night or someone with no one to kiss on New Year’s Eve. That wallflower with the mad-enough-to-spit-nails attitude. It’s sad and snarly. The echo of longing for a relationship is loud and resonating and clear and yet, the poem speaks of true love being a farce, a joke, something he or she cannot possibly believe in.
As an aside…I have been struggling with what to say at my cousin’s burial. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the guy. It’s the love that has me livid. I’m thinking if I had been a little less loving while he was alive this wouldn’t hurt so much NOW. There is truth to not believing in love.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Polish Poetry and Prose” (p 188).
Miller, Sue. While I Was Gone.
My mother borrowed this book from a house she manages. For that reason I needed to finish it before leaving the island. Piece of cake. I was able to read this, start to finish, in two days. Mostly because I found myself thinking about it long after I had put it down.
While the plot was amazing Jo Becker wasn’t a likable character for me. Which is probably what Sue Miller wanted from me. I found her to be deceitful, conniving, and more than a little self centered and selfish. Jo is a woman of lies; an easy liar. So much so that her everyday relationships are tinged with half truths and falsehoods. Even her daughters recognize her deceit and are sensitive to her phoniness. When an old roommate from Jo’s past resurfaces more lies are uncovered.
But it’s not her falsity that hangs like sour fruit. It’s her selfishness that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. She misinterprets the intentions of the old roommate and begins to fantasize about an affair with him. When she thinks about how easy it would be to commit adultery she barely gives thought to whether or not her husband has ever thought about straying. When a terrible secret stands between Jo and having the affair she expects her husband to support her and not be upset by the turn of events.
The best part of While I was Gone was the character development of Jo’s husband. Watching Daniel struggle with jealousy and anger was like a metamorphosis. He emerges a different man.
This book made me question secrets. Which is worse? A half truth or a half lie?
Best line: “With the closing of the door I felt released from the awareness of his sorrow that had held me in his orbit” (p 8).
Author fact: Sue Miller has connections to Western Massachusetts.
Book Trivia: While I Was Gone was made into a 2004 movie starring Kirstie Alley.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Wayward Wives” (p 232).
Wesley, Valerie Wilson. Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.New York: Avon, 1999.
While Kisa drove from 42 8′ 55″ N/72 36′ 29″ W to 44 6′ 13″ N/69 6′ 33″ W I read Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do. Four straight hours until I ran out of daylight and I ran out of words. It was the kind of reading that had me asking what would happen next. Not because the story had me on the edge of my seat in suspense, but because I had grown to care about all the characters and truly wanted to know how all their lives worked out. The biggest emotion everyone had in common was the desperate need to find the true meaning of love. Then there was the telling of how they went about finding that love.
First, there is 44 year old Hutch who ups and leaves his wife Eva, at two in the morning. He has no idea why he has to leave but he also knows there is no way he can stay. As he says, he lost his joy. No one is more baffled by Hutch’s behavior than Hutch himself, but leave he must. Eva, his second wife of ten years, oscillates between sheer rage and utter despair as she copes with a huge house she hasn’t a clue for to maintain. Hutch runs to Donald, his best friend, who is constantly cheating on his seemingly perfect wife yet Donald’s seemingly perfect wife seems like a perfect match for Hutch, especially in his confused state of mind. Eva seems best suited for her own daughter’s ex-boyfriend. It’s a merry-go-round of emotions and relationships and no relationship combination is spared: mother-daughter, father-son, best friends, lovers, old married couples, newlyweds…Everyone is looking for something just out of reach and ignoring what’s right in front of them.
Favorite line, “Raye’s eyes could always shake loose his truth” (p 41).
Two observations: The story starts out with Eva’s aunt hoo-doo magic. There is mention of dried twigs and a Vick’s VapoRub smell. I would have liked that hoo-doo to be more present throughout the story. Also, Wesley always seemed to be one stop ahead of me. Eva works as a librarian. She started out as a volunteer then asked for a paying position and got it. I questioned where was library school and the formal degree. In the very next chapter Eva’s boss is urging Eva to go to library school. There is another scene where Eva’s car breaks down and she is left stranded on the side of the road. I immediately wanted to know where her car phone and/or AAA membership was. Wesley explained those details soon enough, as if she was reading my mind.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Say” (p 13). The “She” in question being the authors.
Angelich, Jane. What’s a Mother (in-law) To Do?: 5 Essential Steps to Building a Loving Relationship with Your Son’s New Wife. New York: Howard Books, 2009.
I have to start off by saying this was a May 2009 Early Review book from LibraryThing. That means roughly a year ago I was supposed to read and review this book. I received it in the mail today. Today. June 26th, 2010. I am assuming this has already hit book stores and doesn’t really need my promotion. However, because I respect the program and the review process I am still going to write about it.
My first impression of What’s a Mother (in-law) To Do? was, “wow, this is short!” Indeed, it’s an odd little book. Hardcover yet the size of a paperback and only 130 pages long. As a librarian I automatically went to the back pages to look for a bibliography of sorts. If this is a book that involved research I expected to see a works cited page. There wasn’t one.
In the end I was disappointed by What’s a Mother (in-law) to Do? because I felt like it was something any old MIL could write: all she would have to do is fill 131 pages with a variety of stories from other in-laws (mothers and daughters), sprinkle in a few personal experiences, and add a layer of common sense advice. What would have been really interesting (and cater to a larger audience) is if Angelich researched building a relationship with your child’s new spouse. In other words, remove the specificity of the subject and make it work for any in-law relationship.
I honestly couldn’t take What’s a Mother (in-law) To Do? seriously. Angelich talks about conducting research but doesn’t provide real sources. She mentions “research conducted” but there’s no weight behind like what kind of research it was or who conducted it. She talks about taking advice from experts but doesn’t elaborate on how she solicited this advice. In short, I didn’t believe her “research.” This is a book I would have picked up and immediately put back, writing it off as “fluff” or pop psychology. I would recommend it for someone with a fair to mediocre relationship with their new daughter-in-law, but not to someone with a strained or terribly difficult one.
Schmidt, Heidi Jon. The House on Oyster Creek. New York: NAL Accent, 2010.
Probably the most distracting aspect of Schmidt’s style of writing was her almost fanatical need to portray Henry as the older, colder, and uncaring husband. I get it. Schmidt wants the reader to cheer Charlotte on when she meets a man more to her liking, more to her temperament, more to her everything. You aren’t supposed to hate the damsel in distress. You aren’t even allowed to dislike her. In order to make the damsel’s potential affair acceptable said damsel’s husband needs to be bad. Very bad. If the husband is really awful you wind up begging, praying for that knight in shining armor. In an attempt to make Henry bad I think Schmidt went overboard. As a result Henry became a caricature of the very worst. In the first chapter alone (we’re talking 13 pages) there were over 24 negative words associated with Henry. Here are some, but not all, of the words and phrases used to describe Henry’s words, actions and demeanor. I left out dialogue with Charlotte:
- “heart seemed to harden” (p 3)
- “nothing pleased him” (p 6)
- “fit to kill” (p 7)
- “real hatred” (p 8.)
- “glance was poison” (p 11)
- “patience stretched to breaking” (p 13)
- “spasm of disgust” (p 13)
To make matters worse, on the other side of this marriage is Charlotte and her demure, sweet, sensitive, caring, loving, “made of empathy” personality. Schmidt is not as fanatical about driving that point home. But, you get the point just the same.
However…once I got beyond page 14 I loved The House on Oyster Creek. Charlotte is a little self-righteous at times but after putting up with Henry all those years she deserves to. While House on Oyster Creek focuses on Charlotte as she makes her way the book is really about the entire community she joins. Schmidt is extremely accurate when introducing Charlotte to the new community. when it comes to a tight-knit community there will always be this Them and Us attitude. You could be in a community for over 30 years and just because you are the first generation to do so, you are still the newcomers in town. The more generations you can brag of, the more clout you have in the community.
Of course, I had favorite lines that I really hope Schmidt keeps in the book, but I won’t quote them here.
I have to admit I never rooted for Charlotte to have an affair. There was something so broken about Henry that I think Charlotte owed it to him to work it out. When Darryl ends up marrying someone else I was happy. I can admit the story ended exactly how I wanted it to end.
Shields, Carol. Happenstance: Two Novels in One About a Marriage in Transition. New York: Penguin, 1994.
The very first thing I noticed about this book is how it is arranged. I understood that Happenstance had originally been two very separate stories, published with two very different names. The husband’s side of the story was the original Happenstance (published in the early 80′s) and the wife’s side of the story was called A Fairly Conventional Woman. The wife’s story was published sometime later. The version of Happenstance Nancy Pearl suggested was the combined stories of the husband and wife. So, back to the arrangement of the book – her side has a pink cover with a photo of a woman’s upper torso in a frame. To see his side you have to flip the book upside down and over. His cover is blue with a photo of a man’s lower legs in a frame. Clever. I started with the wife’s story because if the book were to sit on a shelf properly (spine displayed correctly) it is her cover you see first when you pull it off the shelf. I’m sure this is the way Shields meant it to be read even though the husband’s story was written and published first.
In the first 50 pages I couldn’t tell if I liked Mrs. Brenda Bowman. She seemed too persnickety to me. Too particular. Too fussy. I am prone to comparing characters to myself, especially if we have something in common like upbringing, hobbies, schooling, age, or certain circumstance. In Brenda’s case, it was age. We are almost the same age. So, by default her actions made me seem fuddy-duddy. I don’t act that old, do I? Her husband seemed more laid back in an odd, disconnected kind of way. Together, they made up a marriage that needed some waking up, some simultaneous letting go. Both husband and wife had the opportunity to cheat on the other. I don’t think it’s a plot spoiler if I say the wife comes closer to doing so than the husband, even though the husband has a better excuse.
The most honest line in the whole book, “You could become crippled by this kind of rage” (p 49). How true.
What I liked the best about Happenstance is the idea of two sides of the same marriage. Both husband and wife notice small things while separated: Brenda notices small accomplishments like going out of town by herself. Jack notices small changes in the family he has practically taken for granted.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Carol Shields: Too Good To Miss” (p 197). I have to say I am sad that breast cancer took the life of this great author.
Packard, Georgeann. Fall Asleep Forgetting. New York: Permanent Press, 2010.
I have a love-hate relationship with books like Fall Asleep Forgetting. The problem is Packard’s writing is too good. Like a delicious meal I couldn’t slow down when it came to eating it up; devouring whole chapters at a time. What’s wrong with that? In truth, this is a book meant to be savored slowly. The writing is delectable, deliriously rich and expressive. One minor distraction is character focus is a little out of focus. I would have preferred Claude as the obvious heroine rather than swirled in a mishmash of other incredibly strong personalities. Because Fall Asleep Forgetting really is about Claude and her strange involvement with a married couple, Paul and Sloan, that fact really needs to be teased out. Paul is dying and his wife is bisexual and mentally ill…sort of. Claude is caught up in their relationship until it becomes her relationship, her obsession, but as I mentioned before, she is not the only one. There is nine-year-old Six and her parents Rae and Sonny, Cherry the transvestite owner of the trailer park where most everyone lives and her partner Barton, and elderly Mr. and Mrs. Saugerties. Each one of these characters has a unique and tantalizing story.
Quotes that I really hope are kept: “Once your parents hate you for who you are, the scorn of others in mere child’s play” (p 42), and “I see now that equal parts repulsion and attraction make for the most voracious form of lust” (p 124).
Personal note: I was really excited to see e.e. cummings quoted at the beginning of the chapter called “The Curving Support of Feather Pillows” (p 129). ‘Milly and Maggie and Molly and May’ is a great poem. My only argument would be against calling it a poem about just Maggie because Milly, Molly and May all had important parts.
Dunn, Stephen. “A Secret Life.” Landscape at the End of the Century. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991, p 72.
“A Secret Life” has got to be one of my favorite poems of the month. Stephen Dunn isn’t exactly explaining why people have secret anythings. He’s more of the understanding nature. He simply gets it – the idea that people simply must have something they keep to themselves. The line, “It becomes what you’d most protect” defines the secret life perfectly. It isn’t wholly formed from the start. It grows and progresses. It becomes. I think a secret life starts early in the way that an obsession starts without notice. There is no cause for concern when the hoarder furtively buys and smuggles home one china cat, but about the 1001th one when it comes tumbling out of a closet?
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Poetry Pleasers” (p 188).
When I sat down to first write “March ’10 was…” I suddenly became exhausted by the very idea of it. Not sure why. Could it be that 300+ books later and I am finally losing steam? Am I becoming weary of the process? I wasn’t not sure. This recap was designed to keep myself accountable to the “Fill-in-the-blank Is…” post. Something to check back in with, designed to ask myself, “How does what I really read by the end of the month compare to what I set out to accomplish at the beginning of the month?” Truth be known, it has been fun to see how far off the map my reading has taken me. Titles that were so far off my radar are a joy to remember at month’s end. So, in answer to my own questions – no I don’t think I’m burnt out, losing steam, becoming weary of the process. I think I needed to put it back into perspective…kind of like hiking up that bra strap that has slipped out of place…
- Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban ~ turtles and strange relationships. What’s not to love?
- Goodnight, Nebraska by Tom McNeal ~ this should have been a movie
- Jennifer Government by ~ this will be a movie, I swear
- Making of a Quagmire by David Halberstam ~ one reporter’s take on the political firestorm and other events that led up to the Vietnam war and beyond…
- An Armful of Warm Girl by William M. Spackman~this was so bizarre…
- King Lear by William Shakespeare ~ classic.
- The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings ~ in honor of Florida becoming a state in the month of March
Here’s something really cool. I started reading Affliction by Russell Banks because it was on my March list (Russell Banks’s birth month) but it’s also on my April list. That means I can continue reading Affliction in April…That doesn’t happen that often.
For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program I was able to finish two books:
- No Instructions Needed: An American Boyhood in the 1950s by Robert Hewitt, and
- The Man From Saigon by Marti Leimbach.
Just a note on The Man From Saigon ~ It was very interesting to read this at the same time as reading a nonfiction about the same topic.
March was also a month of healing, getting sick again, seeing good, good drums, the weather getting warmer…and lots of training walks!
Hoban, Russell. Turtle Diary. New York: Random House, 1975.
I love Russell Hoban’s work. When Turtle Diary didn’t arrive at the library in time for my surgery I promised myself I would read it anyway – no matter when it came in. It was supposed to be a February book in honor of two things – Hoban’s birth month and a birthday gift to myself (being about sea turtles and all). Instead I read it in one day on March 2nd.
Turtle Diary is alternating diary entries about a singular subject. Two lonely Londoners are captivated by three sea turtles at the London Zoo. William G. and Neaera H. both write about how lonely they look and what it would be like to free them from captivity. Soon their fascination turns to a mutual obsession and wordlessly they begin to hatch a plan…with the inside help of a senior zoo keeper. What is remarkable about William and Neaera is their ability to rationalize their off-kilter worlds. The way they think, feel, and interact with the relationships around them is poignant and sad.
Favorite lines from William: “There must be a lot of people in the world being wondered about by people who don’t see them any more” (p 16), ” Maybe I’m just one of those people so accustomed to being miserable that they use the material of any situation to fuel their misery” (p 68), and “No place for the self to sit down and catch its breath” (p 95).
Favorite lines from Neaera: “I live alone, wear odds and ends, I have resisted vegetarianism and I don’t keep cats” ( 11), “I’m always afraid of being lost, the secret navigational art of the turtles seems a sacred thing to me” (p 31), and “Polperro seemed to me like a streetwalker asking for money to maintain her virginity” (p 38). Someone else had underlined that sentence, too.
PS ~ this was made into a movie, too.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Russell Hoban: Too Good To Miss” (p 113).
For the sake of sanity I have to recap the entire summer. Summer as we think of it in terms of the calendar, not the temperature. June. July. August.
June can only be thought of as a dark and hellish tunnel. In that case, July was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As a result, August was not only getting out of the dark and hellish tunnel but moving as far, far away from it as possible. August was an amazing month!
August was music (loved the Avett Brothers and had a great time at Phish). August was homehome with my best boys. August was also a group of good, good books:
- The Moviegoer by Percy Walker ~ interesting story about a man watching life go by rather than living it.
- Turbulent Souls: a Catholic Son’s Return to his Jewish Family by Stephen J. Dubner ~ this was fascinating.
- The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester ~ another fascinating nonfiction with great illustrations.
- The Mutual Friend by Frederick Busch ~ a novel about Charles Dickens that I couldn’t really get into.
- Those Tremendous Mountains: the Story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by David Freeman Hawke ~ another nonfiction, this time about the Lewis and Clark Expedition (like the title says).
- Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Expery ~ all about war-time aviation.
For the Early Review Program:
- Sandman Slim: a Novel by Richard Kadrey ~ absolutely crazy good book.
- Off the Tourist Trail: 1,000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives ~ an amazing travel book! Really beautiful!
- Finished reading Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni ~ part political, part personal, this was great.
- My First 100 Marathons: 2,620 Miles with an Obsessed Runner by Jeff Horowitz ~ funny and informative, too!
- Running and Being by George Sheehan ~ funny and sarcastic and informative all at once!