"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Sunday Salon --- It is not time to panic

In honor of Independence Day, my 4th of July rose is blooming this week!

Weather:
Lovely. The only problem? When the weather is lovely and not too hot, everyone decides it's time to mow their lawns. It is downright noisy around here.

Take a roadtrip with books: Here are my suggestions for a road trip with books from US States and Territories. Jump aboard.

Don't panic: After the terrible debate between Biden and Trump it seemed like everyone went into immediate panic, asking if Biden is too old to lead the country for four more years. I went to bed on Thursday thinking all kinds of doom and gloom thoughts, imagining a world with Trump as president again. Ugh. But I awoke with a renewed determination to spread the word -- All is well. We mustn't panic. So today I am sharing with you snatches of tweets, videos, memes, etc. to help you find your Zen on this topic, too. (I recognize that some of you won't care at all, and today's blogpost may not be for you. That's okay, just come back next week when I talk about my favorite things -- books.)
  • Lawrence O’Donnell hosts “The Last Word” on MSNC at 7:00 PDT. This 20 minute segment REALLY helped settle me down. I look on it as a public service. View his opener on MSNBC. You’ll feel better. (If you only watch one thing, this is what I recommend.)
  • Biden in North Carolina a day after the debate. He has his mojo back. Link here to YouTube.

  • "Biden is going to win. Buck up! " A helpful article by - Robert Hubbell

  • One the same line: An editorial In the Philadelphia Inquirer "To serve our country, Donald Trump should leave the race."
  • Some focus groups turned toward Biden after the debate. 80% said the debate did not change their minds. (DailyKos)
  • And this:

  • Trump lied. No fact-checking was done during the debate. After the debate this guy on posted this fact check on CNN. 


  • Biden Won the Debate. When you are talking to others about the debate insist that Biden won the debate. (Dkos)

    Trump Lied, Biden Told the Truth

    We knew that CNN wouldn’t fact check Trump real time. So we have to do it. We need to get on social media and simply say, “Biden won the debate because Trump lied every time he opened his mouth.” Then provide ONE example...maybe two. But not three or four.

    Trump Makes Personal Attacks, Biden Makes Plans to Help Americans

    Biden won because he didn’t resort to schoolyard personal attacks. He calmly told America what he’s done for them and what he’ll do for them during the next four years. Then provide one example of how Biden has and will help Americans.

    Trump Tried to Be A Bully, Biden is a Statesman

    Biden won because he was serene and civil as the President of the greatest nation should be.  Trump blustered and attempted to bully the President because that’s all he can do. He has no plans or principles.  

    Trump is Just Plain Ignorant, Biden Knows the Score

    Biden won because he had the facts at hand. Trump is all wind and hot air because...well, because he doesn’t know anything.  

    So, get on Facebook, Instagram, and all your other social media. Write a letter to the editor. Text all your friends.  In every correspondence say,  “Biden won the debate and here’s why….”  and use one of the  points above. Or come up with one or two of your own.

    We should control the narrative. We can control the narrative. A lot depends on it.



  • Most important: Don't panic!
And now the palette cleanser: More photos of the 4th of July rose blooming in my yard this week leading up to our Independence Day.



Happy 4th of July!



-Anne

Fun Activity: Take a Road Trip Acoss the US via Books

 


Goodreads posted a summer project challenge: to read a book set in each of the 50 states and territories of the US. I looked over the list and was delighted to see I'd read quite a few of the books, and snapped up the challenge to fill in any blanks in those states/territories. I've included their titles if I've read/liked the suggestion or changed it if not.  Here is my list, hyperlinks are provided for reviewed books.

 ALABAMA

ALASKA

AMERICAN SAMOA 

  • Options: Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan; The Smell of the Moon by Lemanatele M. Kneubuhl

ARIZONA

ARKANSAS

CALIFORNIA

COLORADO

CONNECTICUT


DELAWARE

  • The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (Unfortunately, I never reviewed this book.)

FLORIDA

GEORGIA

GUAM 

HAWAII

IDAHO

ILLINOIS



INDIANA 

IOWA

KANSAS

  •  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

KENTUCKY

  • Horse by Geraldine Brooks

LOUISIANA

MAINE

MARYLAND


MASSACHUSETTS

MICHIGAN

MINNESOTA

MISSISSIPPI

MISSOURI

MONTANA

NEBRASKA


NEVADA

NEW HAMPSHIRE

NEW JERSEY

NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS (AND OTHER TERRITORIES IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC)

  • Option: The Not-Quite-States of America: Dispatches From the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA by Doug Mack
     

NEW MEXICO

NEW YORK

NORTH CAROLINA

NORTH DAKOTA

OHIO

OKLAHOMA

OREGON

PENNSYLVANIA

PUERTO RICO 

  • Options: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez; The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferre

RHODE ISLAND

  • My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

SOUTH CAROLINA

SOUTH DAKOTA

  • Options: The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge: A Lakota Odyssey by Joe Starita; Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

TENNESSEE

TEXAS


UTAH

U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

  •  Option: The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

VERMONT

VIRGINIA

WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON, DC

WEST VIRGINIA

WISCONSIN

WYOMING


I've read most of my choices within the last fifteen years, since I began blogging. A few titles I had to go back further in my reading history to find. As you see, I only need to read five new books to fill out my list, clearly I need to focus on books set in US Territories. But now I have some titles I am willing to explore.

I selected nonfiction titles if I haven't read a good novel set in a state. If you have a suggested book from those states, I'd love to hear from you.

Now I challenge you to make your own READ ACROSS AMERICA list or make one for the counties/states/provinces/regions from the country where you live. I'm off on my reading road trip. See you later!

-Anne

Friday, June 28, 2024

Review: NIGHT WATCH -- Where I try to figure out why this book won the Pulitzer?

To the shock of just about the whole world, Night Watch by Jayne Anne Phillips won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. No one was talking about this book. It wasn't on anyone's end-of-year best books of 2023 lists. (Fact check:  this compilation.) Awarding this high literary honor to Night Watch and the other two finalists felt like a minor league team won the world series without anyone knowing they were even in the playoffs.

So why did Night Watch win the Pulitzer. Let's see if I can figure anything out.

Night Watch is set in West Virginia before, during, and after the Civil War. Instead of focusing on slavery or on the death tolls of the battles, this book examines the horrors citizens had to endure in the aftermath of the conflict. It also shines a light on one example of enlightened treatment of the mentally ill during this time period.

ConaLee, the twelve-year-old daughter of a man who went off to war and never returned, opens the book with her first person narration. The point of view switches throughout the book as other characters come in and out of focus, but ConaLee is the only one who tells her own story. She was born after her father left for war and her mother, Eliza, is raising her alone in the mountains of Appalachia, with the help of a neighbor, Dearbhla, an Irish healer who acts like her grandmother.  At some point a terrifying man arrives and tells ConaLee to call him 'Papa'. She thinks this man is her father. He is not, but he stays on and tyrannizes Eliza to the point where she has a complete mental and physical breakdown. There is a horrifying rape scene which is so graphic I cringe to think of it. Finally this terrible man dumps both ConLee and her mother at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. This ends up being a good thing because the director is following the moral practices of  Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, an actual historical person. Under the care of the director of this facility, Eliza starts to recover and ConaLee, who is posing as her nurse, find solace from their tortured life outside. While inside they meet a cast of characters among them is the Night Watch, a man with a history of his own.

Kirkus Reviews describes the book as having "haunting storytelling and a refreshing look at history." The Guardian sums up its review with "Night Watch is tough, even excruciating at times, but small notes of grace make an appearance throughout the novel." While Dwight Garner, writing a review of the book for the New York Times said, "Jayne Anne Phillips’s new novel...is sludgy, claustrophobic and pretentious. Each succeeding paragraph took something out of me." And Greg, a vlogger at Supposedly Fun, had this to say, "I hated, hated, hated this book." He explains several of his issues deal with the confusing way Phillips tells the story, dribbling out details, moving backwards and forward in time, including unnecessary characters and information that does not move the story forward. He thinks the Pulitzer Committee made a mistake in selecting Night Watch.

Wow. Some good and some extremely eviscerating comments from reviewers who know a whole lot more than me about what makes a book a good one. I was especially shocked by the NYT times reviewer calling the book sludgy and claustrophobic. Is such a negative review even allowed? 

So why did the Pulitzer Committee select Night Watch over standouts like North Woods, Tom Lake, Absolution, and The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store? Greg criticizes the clandestine process the Pulitzer uses to select their winners. No one even knows who the judges are until after the process. No short list of books are announced ahead of time. Each year's panel of judges can use, and do use, whatever set of selection guidelines they choose. These guidelines, therefore, change every year. 2023 Pulitzer prize went to the two top books of the year so Greg wondered it this year's committee decided to do the opposite and give the award to a more obscure book. In fact, Michael Chabon, one of the juror's this year, wrote, "Beyond the winner and 2 runners-up, I want to shine a light on three excellent books, among the many nominees I deeply dug, by less well-known, less heralded writers." This tells me that at least Michael Chabon was focused on bringing forward less well-known works to light in his role as a Pulitzer judge. How maddening is that? Ann Patchett, James McBride, Alice McDermott were all at the top of their game and they and their books get shoved aside because Night Watch was less well-known. That seems like a ludacris reason to select a book for this award.

In January I created a tiered ranking list of all the Pulitzer novels I've read. I created the categories myself, from BEST to DIDN'T LIKE and several levels between. Right now, if I were to place Night Watch onto my tiered ranking list, it would be on the bottom level, 'Didn't Like', with Tinkers, A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Breathing Lessons. I wouldn't go as far as Greg, who hated the book, or Dwight who thought the book sucked the life out of him. But I doubt I will tell anyone to read the book and might even go into details why I hope they don't. I'll start with a warning about the rape scene. Ugh. Shivers. 😖

What are your thoughts on this book or the Pulitzer Prize winners in general?


2024 Twenty Books of Summer Challenge

8 / 20 books. 40% done!



 

 


Thursday, June 27, 2024

Review: TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS (10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION): ADVICE FROM DEAR SUGAR (+Friday56 Sign-in)


Title:
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS (10th Anniversary Edition): ADVICE FROM DEAR SUGAR by Cheryl Strayed

Book Beginnings quote:

 

Friday56 quote:

Summary:

For more than a decade, thousands of people have sought advice from Dear Sugar--the pseudonym of bestselling author Cheryl Strayed--first through her online column at The Rumpus, later through her hit podcast, Dear Sugars, and now through her popular Substack newsletter. Tiny Beautiful Things collects the best of Dear Sugar in one volume, bringing her wisdom to many more readers. This tenth-anniversary edition features six new columns and a new preface by Strayed. Rich with humor, insight, compassion--and absolute honesty--this book is a balm for everything life throws our way. (Publisher)

Review: Last year I had to have physical therapy for several months. My physical therapist was a traveling PT, a person who traveled light with few strings. We would chat as she delivered my treatments but found we didn't have a lot in common. She did read, however. Books to the rescue again. She wanted to know all the titles I could recommend and in return I asked what she recommended. Tiny Beautiful Things was her reply. I hadn't heard of the book but I knew the author, Cheryl Strayed, from her memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I immediately added the book to my TBR pile of books I hoped to read soon. I am so glad I did.

Tiny Beautiful Things, the 10th anniversary edition: Advice from Dear Sugar has aged very well. I was touched by every single answer 'Sugar' gave her readers. At the time of her writing this column few people had heard of Cheryl Strayed because her very popular book Wild hadn't been published yet. I couldn't believe at the deftness with which she as Sugar got to the bottom of each problem/question. She was like the best counselor helping her patients to realize they were focusing on the wrong issue or catching them in their own deceptions. She was brilliant. 

My favorite pieces of advice from Sugar were those related to grief. In the Friday56 quote the questioner, Stuck, asks if it is okay to still grieve long after the death of a baby from miscarriage. Another questioner asks Sugar how he can go on living after the death of his young adult son. A husband wonders how he can help his wife with her grief over the premature death of her mother, a mother-in-law he never met but a person whose presence is large in their marriage. Sugar's replies to all these people were so spot on, so perfect, so personal. I cry just thinking about the replies. To Stuck, she first expresses how sorry she is that her baby died. Then Sugar goes on to remind Stuck that people who tell her to get over it have not really ever suffered. "They live on Planet Earth, while you live on Planet My Baby Died." She goes on to encourage the reader to find other people who live on the same planet, who have experienced the death of a child. These are the people she needs right now.

In fact, Sugar's advice, often accompanied by stories from Sugar's own life, often points the reader to seek help. No wonder people wrote in to Dear Sugar seeking help. What a comfort her advice must have been to these people. And the advice was also practical. To the husband whose wife grieved her dead mother, she advised him to say he was sorry over and over. And also to bring up the mother conversations -- "I know your mother would be so proud of how you handled that situation at work". He couldn't undo his wife's grief but he could let her know how much he cared.

I listened to the audiobook of Tiny Beautiful Things which was narrated by Cheryl Strayed. It was a perfect decision to have the author, Sugar herself, read out the advice she had given her readers. Everything about the experience was so authentic. I'm sorry I missed the book when it was first published in 2012, but I am so glad I found it after it's 2022 reissue, which has a few updates and additions from the original.

My rating: 5 stars, the only 5-star book I've read all month.


2024 Twenty Books of Summer Challenge

7 / 20 books. 35% done!

My first book of the 2024 Big Book Summer Challenge, 400 pages.



Sign up for The Friday56 on the Inlinkz below. 

As many of you know Freda over at Freda's Voice hosted #Friday56 for many years. On September 7, 2023 she told us she was going through some personal stuff and could no longer host. I've attempted to reach her but have had no reply. So I will host The Friday56 until she comes back. Help me communicate with past participants so they can figure out where and how to find me, please post this post's URL on your blog. Don't forget to drop a comment on my post also! Thanks.

Also visit Book Beginnings on Friday hosted by Rose City Reader and First Line Friday hosted by Reading is My Super Power to share the beginning quote from your book.

RULES:

*Grab a book, any book
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your e-reader
(If you want to improvise, go ahead!)
*Find a snippet, but no spoilers!
*Post it to your blog and add your url to the Linky below. If you do not add the specific url for your post, we may miss it!


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

-Anne


Monday, June 24, 2024

TTT: Books Published in 2024 on My TBR List

 
Top Ten Tuesday: Books Published in 2024 on My TBR List

I have a lot of trouble thinking about anticipated book releases when I haven't even gotten to all the books on my TBR (To-Be-Read) List. That got me thinking. How many books have I placed on my list this year which were published/will be published in 2024? A lot more than I thought. My guess -- I will read about 25% of these books. The rest will someday be unceremoniously removed without a backward glance.

What you are seeing are screenshots from my Goodread pages. The date you see isn't the publication date, it is the date I placed the titles onto my TBR.  (Not very helpful information but sort of interesting so you can see how streaky I am about adding titles.)

Wow. That is a lot of books. 31. If my estimation is correct, I will will only read 7-8 of these books. And right now I want to read them all!

Most likely to be read: All three poetry books (A Year of Last Things; The Moon That Turns You Back; You Are Here);  and books by favorite authors (K Hannah; T Orange; M Robinson; A Towles; G L Yuen; R Ogle.)

Least likely to read: Nightwatching (horror); The History of the World in Twelve Shipwrecks (Bad ratings.) And the ten or so I can't even remember why I added to the list.😂

Of the 32 books only three haven't been published yet, but there is still a half a year left to add many more 2024 books to the list. Oh dear! I'll never catch up.

-Anne-Anne

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Sunday Salon -- June 23, 2024

Sometimes it's all about the sky.


Weather:
Right this moment it is sunny and cool. Yesterday was sunny and warm. We understand a low pressure system is moving into our area, hence the drop in temperatures today. It is also expected to be a bit windy.

Saying goodbye: Yesterday we drove south to Portland for a memorial service for our cousin's wife, Dawn (a cousin-in-law?) Dawn died of cancer just two years after my cousin, Brad, died of a heart attack. The service yesterday was a beautiful event where many lovely and happy memories were shared about Dawn's life and the impact she'd had on others. That is the thing. Do any of us really know how we touch others? Do we really know the inner workings of even beloved family members? I learned things about Dawn yesterday that I never knew and I've known her for fifty years. It is hard to say goodbye but I am so grateful for the opportunity the service provided to learn more and to love deeper. RIP, Dawn.

Books, books, books: Last week while I was still busy updating you all about my travels I didn't even talk about books. This week, the opposite is true. This covers what I've read/am reading so far in June.
  • Completed in June, so far:
    • Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders. I worked on this short story collection throughout the trip to Norway and Germany. Many of the stories were difficult to understand and others didn't interest me much, unfortunately. I abandoned the book in the Munich airport with the last story unfinished. I didn't miss it. I am now rethinking my position that short stories are good traveling material. Print. 2.5 stars. Completed/stopped June 8th.
    • The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. I finished this audiobook somewhere over the Atlantic or Canada on our trip homeward. It was a very short audiobook, only 4 hours long. It is written in a very unique style where a chorus of people tell the story about first swimming and then living in an assisted living setting. Audiobook. 4 stars. Completed June 8th.
    • Sipsworth by Simon Van Booy. Another very short audiobook. A very sweet story about the importance of having connections with people. Audio. 4 stars. Completed June 13th.
    • Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love edited by Anne Fadiman. This book was hanging out in the bathroom for over a year, you know, so that no one would be without reading materials when they needed it. The length of time it took for me to finish these essays muted my response but I did get quite a bit of amusement from the project. Print. 3.5 stars. Completed on June 14th.
    • Too Much Happiness: Stories by Alice Munro. This collection of stories I started on the flight home from Europe and while we sat in airports waiting for our flights. I talk about the contrast between the George Saunders and the Alice Munro stories in my blog post. Click on the title to read. Print. 4 stars. Completed June 18tth.
    • Night Watch by Jayne Anne Phillips. The surprise Pulitzer Prize winner this year is about life after the Civil War. It is a very distressing story. It is also confusing at times , jumping back and forth in time. Also there is a VERY graphic rape scene. Horrifying details. I've read a lot of the Pulitzers and this is not my favorite but it still presents a part of history unknown to me before reading this. Review pending. Audio. 3 stars. Finished June 19th.
    • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice from Dear Sugar: 10th Anniversary Edition by Cheryl Strayed. I missed this collection first time around and never noticed it on the Web back then either, but I caught it this time around and enjoyed listening to Dear Sugar's sage advice to her readers. Audio. 5 stars. Finished June 21st. Review pending.
  • Currently reading:
    • The Collectors: Stories edited by A.S. King. This collection of short stories all about collections was the Printz Award winner this year. That award goes to the best YA book of the year. I am enjoying all the stories so far, each is by a different writer and then read by talented voice actors for the audiobook. 43% complete.
    • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. The first book in a very popular series. We listened to this book on our drive to Portland and back. 68% complete.
    • The Bee Sting by Paul Murray. This is a LONG book and I can't seem to make myself read more than a few pages at a time. Have any of you read it? Should I muscle through? Is it worth the effort? Tell me what you think about this book. Print. 8% complete.
  • Upcoming books/audiobooks --These audiobooks are already checked out to me and I'm on the library's clock right now:
    • The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. This book has been on my TBR for a long time and I want to read it and get it off my list!
    • Brotherless Night by V.V. Ganeshananthan. This is the 2024 Women's Prize winner, announced a week ago. I am looking forward to it.
  • Blog posts: 
  • Book Club: This past week we met and discussed Plainsong by Kent Haruf. It was a fun and funny discussion. Everyone really liked the book, too, even though it was published in the late 1990s. Consider it if you are looking for a good book club selection.
I am completely obsessed with the Olympic Trials. All week I've been watching swimming and track and field. 

Have a good week!

-Anne

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Review: SIPSWORTH


Title:
Sipsworth by Simon Van Booy

Book Beginning quote: 

Helen Cartwright was old with her life broken in ways she could not have foreseen.

Friday56 quote: 

The last stop before checkout is the dried good section, from which Helen draws one sleeve of digestive biscuits. Impulsively, she parks her trolley and returns to where there are small packets of unsalted party nuts on hooks at the end of the aisle. She has her tart and her biscuits -- why shouldn't the mouse get something, too?

Summary:

Over the course of a single week, a woman who is ready to die discovers an unexpected reason to live.

Following the deaths of her husband and son, Helen Cartwright returns to the English village of her childhood after living abroad for six decades. Her only wish is to die quickly and without fuss. Helen retreats into her home on Westminster Crescent, becoming a creature of routine and habit. Then, one cold autumn night, a chance encounter with an abandoned pet mouse on the street outside her house sets Helen on a surprising journey of friendship.

Sipsworth is a reminder that there can be second chances. No matter what we have planned for ourselves, sometimes the world has plans of its own. (Publisher)

Review: Sipsworth is a sweet, short story about the importance of connections in our lives. It might be a pet, as the small mouse named Sipsworth, that provides the comfort and urge to go on or it may be one's willingness to be open to the care from other people. Sipsworth is a short novella, 240 pages in length with short chapters and lots of white space on the pages. It can easily be consumed in one sitting. 

Now that I am done with the book I hope to buy a copy for my mother, age 95, who tries awfully hard to retain friendships and human connections but often has to lean in to her friendship with her dear cat, Juniper. I know she will appreciate it, too.


2024 Twenty Books of Summer Challenge

6 / 20 books. 30% done!




Sign up for The Friday56 on the Inlinkz below. 

As many of you know Freda over at Freda's Voice hosted #Friday56 for many years. On September 7, 2023 she told us she was going through some personal stuff and could no longer host. I've attempted to reach her but have had no reply. So I will host The Friday56 until she comes back. Help me communicate with past participants so they can figure out where and how to find me, please post this post's URL on your blog. Don't forget to drop a comment on my post also! Thanks.

Also visit Book Beginnings on Friday hosted by Rose City Reader and First Line Friday hosted by Reading is My Super Power to share the beginning quote from your book.

RULES:

*Grab a book, any book
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your e-reader
(If you want to improvise, go ahead!)
*Find a snippet, but no spoilers!
*Post it to your blog and add your url to the Linky below. If you do not add the specific url for your post, we may miss it!


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter
-Anne

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A compare and contrast of two short story collections


I recently returned from a trip. I like to carry short story collections with me when I travel figuring that I can easily consume a story or two on a flight, train trip, or at the end of an exhaustive day. For this trip I selected Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders and Too Much Happiness: Stories by Alice Munro. I selected these books for the same reason: the authors were both regarded as excellent short story writers and both had received awards for doing so. 

Tenth of December was a National Book Award finalist in 2013, won The Story Prize that same year, and The Writer's Prize in 2014. In addition, George Saunders wrote an excellent book, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, analyzing the art of the short story. Reading that book felt like taking a class by a master himself.

Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, cited as a "master of the modern short story." She also won the Booker International Prize in 2009 for her overall contribution to fiction on the world stage. Many say she revolutionized the architecture of the short story, especially in the tendency to move backward and forward in time. She could "accommodate the entire epic complexity of the novel in just a few short pages." Alice Munro just died in past May 2024 and I wanted to read something by her as a sort of memorial to this genius of the form. I also had a used copy of Too Much Happiness on my book shelf. It has been hanging out there for many years. If I finished it on the trip I would have no trouble leaving it behind.

Unfortunately for me and for Tenth of December, I started the Saunders book first when I was in the throws of rather surprisingly bad jet lag and cold symptoms. Every evening as I was settling down to bed I'd crack open the book but could only muster a page or two of the story before my desire for sleep overwhelmed my desire to read. Saunders stories were longer than I expected and it would sometimes take me days to finish just one story. Because of this I found that I would lose the thread of the story, forget characters, or just didn't "like" many of them. I was also surprised by the number of stories that I would consider Sci-Fi or futuristic, though one of these stories is the clearest of all the stories in my memory. "Escape from Spiderland" is about a man, Jeff, who is convicted of a crime and sent to an experimental prison where he becomes a guinea pig for the development of pharmaceuticals. The ending is chilling. I found "The Semplica Girl Dairies" too long and frankly hard to follow. It took me days to read and I kept forgetting what all the abbreviations meant. When I read the summary of this story in Wikipedia, I realized I never actually figured out what was going on at all. I left this collection of stories in the Munich airport, with the story which gave its name to the book half unread. I probably should have stopped earlier. I hope someone picked it up and enjoyed and appreciated it more than I did.

That left me with Too Much Happiness for my trip home. With my jet lag and cold symptoms under control, I could better focus on my reading and immediately found Munro's writing style easy to understand and enjoyable. I no longer had to guess at the plot or wonder about the setting. In fact, I could picture the settings for almost all the stories. My favorite stories in the collection were both quirky with surprising endings. "Free Radicals" focuses on Nina an elderly woman whose husband has recently died and she is confronted by a home intruder. "Child's Play" focuses on two young girls who meet at camp and their lives are forever intertwined by events from that summer.

Clearly I liked the Munro collection better than the Saunders' one. But, I should say, Saunders' novel Lincoln in the Bardo is a masterpiece, and so is his aforementioned, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain. I like his writing I just didn't care for this collection of stories by him. Even though Munro stopped writing in 2013, I would still recommend you try one of her collections if you want to read some excellent short stories.



2024 Twenty Books of Summer Challenge

5 / 20 books. 25% done!


 


-Anne

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Review: REREADINGS: SEVENTEEN WRITERS REVISIT BOOKS THEY LOVE

Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love
edited by Anne Fadiman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 2005.

I picked up Rereadings at a used bookstore years ago. Why this book? First, I had read Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris and loved LOVED it. I devoured that book with a fat highlighter in my hand. Ultimately the whole books became one big highlighted section after another. Perhaps this book was just as good. Second, rereading books is always a problem for me. Should I or shouldn't I? I wondered what authors thought of rereading their favorite books? If they thought it was a worthwhile practice. I decided to find out. As Fadiman said in her opening essay about the project, "The problem with being ravished by books at an early age is that later rereadings are often likely to disappoint."

Last summer I finally plucked Rereadings off my bookshelf and then very unceremoniously placed it in the bathroom where it could be easily reached if one were to spend more time in the small room and needed a diversion. 😏. One never makes fast progress with this type of book and indeed it took me over a year to complete it. Due to the slowness of the reading I would often lose my way and have to start essays over again from the beginning. I even read one essay three or four times before I realized I'd already completed it. Not ideal. 

The rereadings project began when Fadiman became the editor of a literary quarterly, The American Scholar. It was decided that each issue would contain an essay written by an author after rereading a book they read and enjoyed before they were twenty-five. This book is a collection of Fadiman's seventeen favorite essays from that endeavour. She purposely selected essays that were dissimilar and from authors from all around the world. Of the seventeen authors included, I've only heard of one before, Allegra Goodman. Of the books these authors reread I have only read two, Brideshead Revisited and Pride and Prejudice. About the books I hadn't read, some of the authors wrote in such a way it didn't matter if I were familiar with them or not. It was more like reading a short autobiography where the author showed how the particular book helped guide them through some life issue or another. Imagine the author's delight to learn that the book still had something to say to them decades later. But other writers assumed that readers of the essay were familiar with the book they reread and their essays were difficult to slog through.

My favorite essay was written by David Michaelis. He is a biographer and was born the same year as me, 1957.  He didn't reread a book. He reread the liner notes for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the Beatles. As a ten-year-old he used his own money and bought of copy of the famed album. Often, he said, he would sit and read the liner notes without the music playing.
I settled into the habit of sitting cross-legged and alone, ostentatiously studying Sgt. Pepper's words without playing the stereo at all. It was a deliberate act to read the Beatles without the music. Using my eye instead of of ear to ransack the lyrics for hidden adult meanings turned even a ten-year-old into a seeker of ambiguity, an investigator of the imagination, a devotee of poetry... My true experience of Sgt. Pepper was as a reader.
On his rereading of the liner notes, Michaelis noticed how the fantastical world created in Sgt. Pepper was still dependent on the real world. Sgt. Pepper was supposed to be about a world before 1967 but looking back Michaelis saw that world, the one created by and for the Beatles, as very THEN.

When I read the essay about Sgt Pepper liner notes, I bookmarked it and asked my husband, also born in 1957, to read it. He did and then we had a very animated discussion about our memories of reading liner notes on albums as we were growing up. Both of us spent much time sitting in front of our stereo players with the record album turned to the back side or open like a book, scrutinizing the lyrics to every song. In case you were born after 1980 you may not know what I am talking about. See photo below:
It is thought that Sgt. Pepper was the first pop album to include all the lyrics on the back of the record sleeve. The print was tiny, but legible, at least in the beginning until it got worn away from use. Not long after The Beatles started including lyrics on their albums, all rock/pop groups did the same thing. And it got more and more elaborate. Here is an example of the liner notes inside the double album of Elton John's 1973 Yellow Brick Road which my husband owned and loved:

But I digress.

The point of my examples and all the essays is that rereading book (or liner notes) won't render the same experience we had when first we read them, but the second (third or more) time will render something new and probably just as delightful. "Is a book the same book—or a reader the same reader—the second time around? The seventeen authors in this witty and poignant collection of essays all agree on the answer: Never...And as every bibliophile knows, no love is more life-changing than the love of a book."

Instead of reading this book about rereading, I challenge you to reread an old favorite today. Maybe you will find yourself falling down an old rabbit hole to wonder and joy you once experienced as as a young reader.



2024 Twenty Books of Summer Challenge

3 / 20 books. 15% done!