44 Scotland Street

Smith, Alexander McCall. 44 Scotland Street. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.

Reason read: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is in June.

This is a delightful book if the characters do not drive you nuts. You will meet the community of 44 Scotland Street and the surrounding neighborhood: Tim, Jamie, Bertie, Irene, Stuart, Big Lou, Hugh, Angus, Ronnie, Mags, Pete, Christabel, Melanie, Domenica, Matthew, Bruce, Gordon, Raeburn, Todd, Sasha, Lizzie, and Pat. Twenty year old Pat is at the center of the story. Newly relocated to 44 Scotland Street, she rents a room from vain Bruce Anderson and finds a job in an art gallery with Matthew. She is sort of at a loss as to what to do with her life (she’s on her second gap year from university). It is only after a painting from the art gallery goes missing that the plot picks up, albeit a little predictably: Bruce is an exaggerated narcist who Pat can’t help but fall in love with, while Matthew, sweet and a little bumbling, falls in love with Pat. There are heroes and villains at 44 Scotland Street. They all have their moments of love and loss. At the center of it all is a painting that may or may not be worth some money.

Author fact: Smith has a new book coming out in October. Check it out here.

Book trivia: 44 Scotland Street started off as a daily in a newspaper so it was written as it was being published. Before that, it was an idea from a conversation with Armistead Maupin at an Amy Tan party.

Playlist: “As Time Goes By,” “The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen,” “Good-Night Irene,” “Play Misty for Me,” Red Hot Chili Peppers,

Nancy said: Pearl called 44 Scotland Street “entertaining.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scotland: More Than Haggis, Kilts and Ian Rankin” (p 198). Interesting to note that Ian Rankin does appear in 44 Scotland Street as himself.

Main Street

Lewis, Sinclair. Main Street. Floating Press, 2010.

Lewis, Sinclair. Maine Street. Read by Barbara Caruso. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1996.

Reason read: Minnesota became a state in the month of May.

This is the satirical story of Carol Milford and her desire to transform her new husband’s little town of Gopher Prairie. While Dr. Will Kennicott is the celebrated hometown physician Carol is the new girl; the sophisticated, educated, and stylish “city girl” (having been a librarian in the metropolis of St. Paul, Minnesota). Her hopes and dreams for the little community are often met with bemusement, confusion, and more than a little resentment. From every angle Carol’s energy and enthusiasm to change things make the townspeople nervous resulting in stubborn denial. It isn’t long before, with all of her reform attempts failed, Carol yearns for adventure and big city culture. Even becoming a mother is not enough to contain her. She wants to shake things up and does so by falling in love with a young tailor. While the community tongues wag, Carol grows more emboldened and daring, finally leaving Gopher Prairie.

I have to get this off my chest, first and foremost. I didn’t really care for Carol Kennicott, nee Milford in the beginning. Early on she was a snob through and through. While traveling to Kennicott’s provincial little town she watches people on the train and is disappointed to see they are peasants. Previously, she didn’t believe in American peasants. Now she is witness to poverty and in her dismay she calls the less fortunate, “stuck in the mud” (p 42). She hasn’t even seen her husband’s town but already she is utterly panicked by the thought of living “inescapably” in Gopher Prairie (p 50). It isn’t until she removes herself from the wretched town that she learns what it means to belong somewhere.

Quotes which captivated me: “The rest of the party waited for the miracle of being amused” (p 51), “She felt that she was no long one-half of a marriage but the whole of a human being” (p 447), and “But sometimes he vanished; he was only an opinion (p 511).

Author fact: Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930.

Book trivia: Because this satire offended small town Alexandria, Minnesota they banned Main Street from their library.

Nancy said: Nancy described the plot and said Main Street “is probably the earliest Minnesota novel” (p 27).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust twice. First, in the chapter called “Big Country: the Literary Midwest (Minnesota)” (p 27) and again, in the chapter called “Libraries and Librarians” (p 139).

…And Ladies of the Club

Santmyer, Helen Hooven. …And Ladies of the Club. New York: Berkley Books, 1985.

After 1,433 pages what exactly did Santmyer have to say? …because I have to confess, I didn’t finish it! …And Ladies of the Club is a sweeping, multi-generation saga that spans 64 years in a small town in Ohio. It begins when two college girls are invited to join a literary “club” to study and discuss influential authors of the day. The two girls take their invitation to membership very seriously and act accordingly. After all, their group consists of a mix of women with varying marital and political statuses. For example, Anne is chosen to go first. She studies the poetry of Browning to present a critique to the group and is chastised for being immature in her thinking. However as the group grows it is these different stages of life and opinion that sets the stage for Santmyer to paint the bigger picture – the trials and tribulations of life in a small town immediately following the Civil War. This is a time when men snickered at the silly, “harmless” interests of their wives. A time when health and reputation could deteriorate with a single, innocent event.
I will admit, this was a tedious book to read. In order to finish it within the prescribed 30 days of June I had to allocate 50 pages a day. I think that would have been realistic and maybe even fun had the main characters been more reined in and the story, well…more interesting. Any book that takes 50 years to write is going to have its share of inconsistencies. …And Ladies of the Club was no exception. Sometimes the plot dragged on minute by minute in great detail. Other times a whole year is covered in less than a blase chapter. My biggest complaint Santmyer spent more time (considerable more time) painstakingly recreating the era in which the characters lived than on personality development. That is to say, no one character was developed fully enough for me to have an understanding of, never mind much less like! There were so many characters (spanning several generations) that I couldn’t keep them straight. In a nutshell, …And Ladies of the Club uses a literary society to focus mainly on the political, social, and economic recovery of post Civil War Waynesboro, Ohio.

Best line: “If she could only reach Anne before the meeting – it would be dreadful to sit all afternoon with good news locked in your bosom” (p 58).

Author Fact: Santmyer was in a nursing home when …And Ladies of the Club was finally finished. Many feared she wouldn’t live to see its publication. She did and at age 88 she was a literary success thanks to clever marketing and publisher pushing.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Small-Town Life” (p 202).

Less Than Angels

Pym, Barbara. Less than Angels. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1980.

My impression of the first 50 pages of Less Than Angels was that the plot was very slow-moving, like a wide river with almost no perceptible action. Indeed, the first 50 pages are the reader’s surface introduction to at least fifteen different characters and only the very beginnings of a plot. Some of the characters are unnecessary to know for they never resurface again. Others are more important. On the whole, Less Than Angels is a community of contrasts. Professors of Anthropology mingle with fledgling students. The aged and retired cast a skeptical eye on the young and impulsive. Frenchmen stand baffled by the British. At the center of the story is Tom Mallow, a distinguished yet vain anthropologist caught between a relationship with a sophisticated older journalist and a younger wide-eyed student. In addition, Less Than Angels is an excellent study of English culture (lots of tea-times and interesting meals) along with the typical social graces and faux pas.

Favorite lines: “Curiosity has its pains as well as its pleasures, and the bitterness of its pains must surely be the inability to follow-up everything to its conclusion” (p 9) and, “And so it came about that, like so many other well-meaning people, they worried not so much about the dreadful things themselves as about their own inability to worry about them” (p 41)

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Barbara Pym: Too Good To Miss” (p 195).

House on Oyster Creek (with spoiler)

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:

  • irritation
  • seething
  • contempt
  • staunch
  • “heart seemed to harden” (p 3)
  • bleak
  • rebellious
  • stark
  • “nothing pleased him” (p 6)
  • fury
  • bitter
  • “fit to kill” (p 7)
  • “real hatred” (p 8.)
  • rigid
  • suspicion
  • jeer
  • scorn
  • irritated
  • contemptuous
  • darkening
  • “glance was poison” (p 11)
  • infuriating
  • infuriated
  • “patience stretched to breaking” (p 13)
  • shuddered
  • “spasm of disgust” (p 13)
  • icy

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.

Wobegone Boy

Keillor, Garrison. Wobegon Boy. New York: Viking, 1997.

It is strange to (finally) read something written by Garrison Keillor. For years and years and years I have heard wonderful things about Lake Wobegon Days and it seems,  for even longer, I have heard Keillor on NPR radio. Yet – nothing in print has been before my eyes or in my hands. Ever. Go figure.

John Tollefson is the manager of an academic public radio station. He has an idyllic life that is boring him to tears. His job, his home, his relationships, all are going well – so well that he no longer feels like he is in the drivers seat. Coasting through everything his life lacks depth and more importantly, it lacks meaning. John, with the help of his can’t-commit-to-marriage girlfriend Alida, sets out to make his life more interesting by opening a farm restaurant and other daring risks. John is perpetually guided by history, the life stories of his ancestors – a butcher, publisher, politician, among a wild cast of others, and a philosophical slant unlike any other.

While the plot of Wobegon Boy is a little slow and laborious, the voice is exceptional. As John Tollefson tells his story you cannot help but often laugh out loud. The sly wit and juicy humor radiate from every page. I wanted to quote line after line until I realized I what I really wanted was to quote the entire book.

Here are a few of my favorites: “Lake Wobegon was a rough town then, where, all on one block, for less than five dollars, you could get a tattoo, a glass of gin, and a social disease, and have enough left over to get in a poker game” (p2). See, by page 2 it’s funny! Here’s another one, “You could romp naked in periodicals and copulate on the carpet, and the librarians would be grateful if, after climax, you took down a magazine and thumbed through it” (p 7-8). Knowing the importance of circulation statistics, yes. Yes, we would be grateful.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Minnesota)” (p 28).

Goodnight, Nebraska

McNeal, Tom. Goodnight, Nebraska. New York: Vintage, 1999.

This could have been a movie for me. It is the coming of age, and redemptive story of Randall Hunsacker. Although he is just a teenager Randall has been sent to Goodnight, Nebraska to turn his life around. He has escaped a violent past and left behind a broken family in Salt Lake City. Redemption is not what Randall is seeking, at least not at first. Goodnight is a small tight-knit community and Randall’s inclusion is not readily welcomed. He rebels with ridicule in letters to his sister and remains a mystery in school. The only place Randall allows himself to feel anything is by being violent on the football field. Over the course of ten years Randall slowly starts to settle down with a wife and an occupation. It is during this time that Randall realizes redemption is what he needed all along.

My one complaint? At one point the story breaks away from Randall and follows his wife, Marcy, when she decides she needs a fresh start. After Randall starts drinking and becomes progressively violent she leaves Randall behind and escapes to California. There is no real explanation for Randall’s behavior and you almost want the marriage to fall apart.

Favorite lines – one really short and one really long: “Me. I believe in me” (p 126), and “…there are some kinds of love, the ones we’re all after, that are meant for open air and natural light, but there are other kinds too, more than we’d like to think, that come out of the dark and drag us away and tear parts from our bodies, kinds of love that work in their own dim rooms, and harbor more sad forms of intimacy and degradation and sustenance that those standing outside those rooms can ever dream of” (p 260).

BookLust Twist: From more Book Lust in the chapter called, “The Great Plains: Nebraska” (p 108).

Dingley Falls

 Malone, Michael. Dingley Falls. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1980.

I chose Dingley Falls in honor of National Author’s Day being in November. Nothing more random than that.

Even if you didn’t know anything about Michael Malone you would swear his novel, Dingley Falls, is supposed to be a script, or at least the backdrop, to a titillating, slightly scandalous soap opera. The town of Dingley Falls, fictitiously located somewhere in Connecticut, is teeming with odd characters with even more bizarre stories to tell. It is as if the entire community has digested some mild altering hallucinogenic that causes everyone to come unglued. To give a few examples, mild-mannered Mrs. Abernathy suddenly ends up under a tree in the pouring rain having wild sex with a poet she has just met; post mistress Mrs. Haig is forced to retire because of a bad heart. It’s not the job that is stressing her out, it’s a snapping, snarling dog who chases her home five nights a week; Headmaster Mr. Saar has trouble controlling his sexual appetite and will wind up handcuffed to a bed in a seedy motel in New York City, naked and dead, if he isn’t careful. Mrs. Ransom tries masturbation for the very first time only to have some stranger catch her in the act.
The list of characters goes on and on, so much so that Malone needed to list his crazy community individual by individual at the start of his book.

When you discover Michael Malone has years and year of experience as the senior writer for One Life to Live then Dingley Falls begins to make sense. The heightened drama, the outrageous characters, the never-ending bizarre situations in Dingley Falls suddenly become par for the course…just a little more graphic with the sex scenes and violence, the things you can’t show as vividly on daytime television.

Favorite lines: “The elderly shut-in bought a new car every year – each racier than the last – as if she thought she could outdrag death if she only had the horsepower” (p 94). “‘Did you know that until I drink this cup of coffee, anything you know is knowing too much?'” (p 145). “He drank in order to pose count; not like Walter Saar, to get in touch with who he was, but to stay out of touch with who he might have been” (p 157).

BookLust Twist: In Book Lust and More Book Lust. This is a popular book in Pearl’s world. First, from Book Lust in the chapter called, “Southern Fiction” (p 222). From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Michael Malone: Too Good To Miss” (p 160).

Apologizing to Dogs

Apologizing To Dogs
Coomer, Joe. Apologizing to Dogs. New York: Scribner, 1999.

LibraryThing Review: The first thing I thought when I started to read this book is odd, odd, odd. For one, the first character you meet is a man named “Bone.” He’s not called Bone because he’s super skinny. Nothing obvious like that. He’s called Bone because he sucks on a chicken bone all the time. How bizarre.
The whole story just gets weirder and weirder. Elderly Effie sits out on her porch and spies on the neighborhood. She keeps a journal of everything her paranoid self sees. Her neighbors come and go around her, all of them quirky, too. I found the development of each character too shallow to muster up any real feelings for them. In fact, there are so many characters and their development so shallow I had trouble keeping them straight. In all, there are over 18 different characters and each get barely a paragraph at one time. If anyone, I liked Carl the best. In an effort to impress a woman he builds a boat…from inside his house – using the insides of his house. And. And, I liked Himself, the dog. Himself is the star of the story, but you wouldn’t know right away.

Here are a couple of funny/good quotes:
“‘You know what’s wrong with you, Mrs. Haygood? You’ve got opticum rectitus, a growth connecting the optic nerve to the rectum, producing a continual sh!tty outlook,’ Mr. Haygood said. He was oiling a gear on a blue tin tank” (p 34). 
“10:57 Strong marijuana odor from That Big Indian’s. I think one of his bathtubs is creeping over my property line” (p 37). Obviously, this is from Effie’s journal. She’s the funniest one in the book. Her paranoia is great.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 105). Himself is a great dog but he was barely in it.