Lovely Bones

Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Reason read: Father’s Day is June 21, 2020. Susie’s father never gave up on finding Susie’s killer. A father’s love triumphs against all tragedies, doesn’t it?

This is the sort of book that takes you by the throat and hold you in a death grip like Darth Vader. I say this because there are times when I could not breathe while reading The Lovely Bones because I was either actively holding my breath, or choking on the different expressions of heartbreak. In truth, every emotion (think stages of grief) floats just under the icy surface of reality as a dead girl narrates “life” after murder. Susie Salmon was an ordinary girl who knew right from wrong; knew the man in the cornfield wasn’t quite right, but yet curiosity got the better of her. Now, she is suspended in this alternate universe of “heaven” while watching her family, friends, and community cope with her murder. In her heaven, reality is a school-like atmosphere while she blandly looks down on the world she left behind. She is unmoved when her mother seeks a drastic remedy for grief, or when her would-be boyfriend almost finds her body.
What impressed me the most about The Lovely Bones was the end. Sebold did not feel pressured to give into a Hollywood ending. It might be a spoiler alert, but the ending is more realistic than what you would see in a movie. I’m alright with that.

As an aside, I have been watching Mind Hunter on Netflix (just started, so don’t ruin it for me) and The Lovely Bones keeps popping into my head every time another Georgian boy goes missing. I kept asking how? every single time.

Quotes I liked, “There wasn’t a lot of bullshit in my heaven” (p 8), and “In violence, it is the getting away that you concentrate on” (p 37).

Author fact: The Lovely Bones was Sebold’s first novel.

Book trivia: everyone knows The Lovely Bones was made into a movie in December of 2009. I still have yet to see it.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Lovely Bones original and shocking.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…My name is Alice” (p 1).


June Travels

Of course I am not really traveling anywhere, but for the first time in a couple of months I have (finally) gotten back to reading. and. And! And, I did drive a car for the first time since 3/19/20. There’s that. In truth, I have been reading all along, just not with the pleasure and leisure I used to have. All of that is slowly coming back, in part due to the realization it’s okay to disappear into the pages from time to time. It is okay to read with no other agenda. I have started to think of the books as different forms of travel. Without further ado, here are the books for June:

Fiction:

  • The Second Summer of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. Places I’ll go: Washington, D.C. & Alabama.
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Places: Pennsylvania & something like heaven.
  • Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Places: around Sweden.
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Places: Barcelona, Spain and thensome.
  • Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. Places: My back yard of Western Massachusetts and Honduras.
  • Garden of the Gods by Gerald Durrell. Place: Cofu, Greece.

Nonfiction:

  • Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro. Places: all around New England

Creature of Habit August

Last month (okay, yesterday!) I whined about how I have been feeling uninspired writing this blog. I think it’s because I haven’t really been in touch with what I’ve been reading. None of the books in July jump started my heart into beating just a little faster. “Dull torpor” as Natalie would say in the Maniacs song, Like the Weather. Maybe it comes down to wanting more oomph in my I’mNotSureWhat; meaning I don’t know if what I need or what would fire me up enough to burn down my yesterdays; at least so that they aren’t repeated tomorrow. I’m just not sure.
Hopefully, these books will do something for me:

Fiction:

  • African Queen by Cecil Forester – in honor of the movie. Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the movie!
  • Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas (EB/print) – in honor of August being Friendship month.
  • Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (EB/print) by Laurie Colwin – in honor of August being National Grief Month.
  • Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen (EB/print) – in honor of August being Frazen’s birth month.
  • Beauty: the Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (EB/print) – in honor of August being Fairy Tale month.

Nonfiction:

  • Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge (EB/print) – in memory of Florence Nightingale. August is her death month.
  • American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana (EB/print) – a memoir in honor of August being “Selfish Month.”
  • If there is time: What Just Happened by James Gleick – in honor of Back to School month.

Series continuations:

  • Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (EB/print) – the penultimate book in the Foundation series.
  • Die Trying by Lee child (AB/EB/print) – the second book in the Jack Reacher series.

Early Review:

  • Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm (started in July).
  • Open Water by Mikael Sturm.

Oneiron

Lindstedt, Linda. Oneiron: a fantasy about the seconds after death. Translated by Owen Witesman. London: OneWorld, 2018.

Reason read: I requested this book as an Early Review from LibraryThing.

How to describe this book? Odd? Maybe. It is the imaginative story of seven unique women who are caught in a space somewhere between death and the final destination, wherever that may be. It is obvious all seven women have passed away but they themselves are not fully cognizant of that fact. They aren’t even sure they know where they are except to say they are in a white room devoid of detail. Each woman has a thoroughly detailed personality and an elaborate past to match. More time is spent telling the reader where they have been instead of moving them forward to where they are going. It gets heavy at times. Certain scenes are graphic.

Disclaimer: I normally only chose two different types of books from LibraryThing for the Early Review Program: nonfiction and debut novels. For some reason, the premise of Oneiron (pronounced o.ne:.ron from the Greek, meaning dream) fascinated me: seven women meet in an undefined space only seconds after their deaths. They are in the space between life and afterlife. The don’t understand this in-between world.

Second disclaimer: I was not prepared for the lesbian sex scene right off the bat, only four pages in.
Truth be told, I had a hard time with this. I could put it down for days weeks and not miss the characters I abandoned. I didn’t find a likable woman in the bunch. Maybe that was my problem.

Author fact: Lindstedt’s debut novel was Scissors. Another useless piece of trivia: Lindstedt has amazing cheek bones. She could model in her spare time. Maybe she does.

Book trivia: Oneiron has already won the Finlandia Prize, Finland’s highest literary honor. Another piece of trivia: Oneiron is organized a little differently than American published books. Table of contents is in the back while the author bio is in the front.


Marching Out

March was one of those weird months. A few Nor’Easters. A few miles run. A few books read. We had two school closings in back to back weeks so that helped with the reading, but not the run. I finished the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race just two minutes off my time last year. Considering I didn’t train (again) I’m alright with that. There’s always next year! Here are the books:

Fiction –

  • The Good Son by Michael Gruber
  • Roman Blood by Steven Saylor
  • White Man’s Grave by Richard Dooling
  • Witch World by Andre Norton
  • Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis

Nonfiction –

  • All the Way Home by David Giffels
  • Slide Rule by Nevil Shute

Series Continuations –

  • Coast of Incense by Freya Stark – to finished the series started in honor of her birth month in January.
  • Entranced¬†by Nora Roberts

Early Review for Librarything –

  • Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt (started)
  • Infinite Hope – Anthony Graves

Poetry –

  • New and Collected Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz (not finished)

Fun – I’m not finished with either fun book so I won’t list them here.


The Art of Dying

Weenolsen, Patricia. The Art of Dying: How to Leave This World with Dignity and Grace, at Peace with Yourself and Your Loved Ones. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Reason read: February (in some circles) is Psychology Month.

Do you need to be terminally ill to read this book? I hope not. But, I would think having a terminal illness would help to read this book more effectively, especially when performing the “Meaning of Disease” exercise 40 pages in. It’s the first of many exercises surrounding the subject of terminal illness. It’s difficult to answer some of Weenolsen’s questions as a seemingly healthy person. But, back to my original question. It prompted another: how many healthy people have read this book and stored information away for when a life threatening illness eventually¬† settles in? As it stands right now, we are all terminal, but does anyone plan (beside the hypochondriac) for a terminal illness?
This book is chock full of information but probably the biggest surprise was Weenolsen’s humor. Sometimes snarky, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, there was a lightheartedness to some of her chapters; as if humor would make the subject matter easier to swallow. [Note: in my case it did, once I identified why death made me so squirmy.]

Before reading The Art of Dying I had to wonder what prompted Weenolsen to devote her life to the subject.

Quotes that put things into perspective immediately: On the subject of dying: “We can look neither into the sun nor death directly” (p 3) and “People want to name the disease” (p 48). On the subject of letting go (in this case, a neat house): “If you’re not dust-sensitive, think of the layers as mounting thick enough to hatch something – and then to keep them around as pets” (p 66).

Author fact: Weenolsen is a psychologist who specializes in death and dying and counsels people on both.

Book trivia: As I mentioned before, I didn’t expect humor from The Art of Dying. The jokes come out of nowhere. Weenolsen has this quirky sense of humor that emerges every so often.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 100s” (p 64).


“Winter”

Ponsot, Marie. “Winter.” Springing.New york: Alfred A Knopf, 2002. p 225.

Such a short poem and oh so seemingly uncomplicated! Don’t be fooled by its length or lack of veiled meaning. It is a snapshot of two neighbors, living side by side. Two mothers, their sons had grown up as friends. Only now the reader finds out one mother has lost her son to suicide. The other doesn’t know what to say. Isn’t that always the way? There is pain in this surviving-son’s mother’s voice as she struggles with words and sentiments. It’s elegant and emotional.

And to think I read it thinking it was going to be about winter (because I can’t wait for it to be over). That will teach me to judge a poem by its title!

Favorite line, “Both boys hated school, dropped out feral, dropped in to separate troubles” (p 225).

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. So. There. This is the first poem of the month!

Author fact: Ponsot’s book The Bird Catcher won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 1998.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Poetry Pleasers” (p 189).


To Heaven and Back

Neal, Mary C. To Heaven and Back: a Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again.Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2011.

I was supposed to deliver this book to my mother. My aunt bought a copy for all of her sisters and it was my charge to make sure my mother got hers. Of course I had to read it before passing it along. I read it twice.
I am not a religious person. I lost my faith when my father passed away. Unfortunately there is very little anyone can do to make me believe in Heaven, Hell, or even God at this moment. I do believe in spirits and angels and a reason for everything. I think my father is still with me in weird ways, but I do not believe in the Bible.
Having said all that, I had a deep appreciation for Dr. Neal’s story. While it is centered around a religious faith there were moments that resonated with me; passages that moved me to tears. Dr. Neal was kayaking in Chile when she had a terrible accident and technically drowned. she was pinned under water way longer than a person should/could survive. While she was dead she experienced heaven and Jesus holding her. She believed she was spared because her purpose in life on Earth wasn’t finished. Throughout the rest of To Heaven and Back Dr. Neal recounts different moments where her presence saved the life of someone else or God’s presence had a hand in guiding her to make the right decision. Even after her son is tragically killed she found a spiritual way to push through the pain. It is an uplifting story of inspiration.


Sept ’12 is…

September 2012 started in Colorado. It was nice to disappear for a week! Here are the books:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook ~ in honor¬† of Roosevelt’s birth month
  • American Ground: the Unbuilding of the World Trade Center by William Langewicshe ~ in remembrance of September 11, 2001. I will be listening to this on audio.
  • Tear Down the Mountain by Roger Alan Skipper ~ in honor of an Appalachian fiddle festival that takes place in September.
  • The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper ~ in honor of boys going back to school.
  • Ariel: the Life of Shelley by Andre Maurois ~ in honor of National Book Month.
  • Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl ~ in honor of a kid named Matt who was deemed a hero in September.

So. That’s the Challenge plan. For other books I have been told I won two Early Review books from LibraryThing but since I haven’t seen them I won’t mention them here. My aunt wants me to deliver a book to mom so I, of course, read it on the way home from Colorado so it’s already finished: To Heaven and Back: a Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again by Mary C. Neal, MD. It was an amazing book.


Ten Hours Until Dawn Postscript

This should be a ps at the end of the Tougias review but somehow it doesn’t seen appropriate to put it there. What I am about to say has nothing to do with the review but is essential to the enjoyment of the book. LISTEN TO THE AUDIO BOOK! Seriously. I wrote my review before listening to the acknowledgments and thank yous and the I-couldn’t-have-written-this-book-without-you spiel. I should have waited until all that was over. Here’s what I would have included:
Listen to the very end of Ten Hours Until Dawn. What you will hear will chill your heart and break your soul. Listening to the actual radio calls between Coast Guard stations Glouster, Salem and Peabody and Frank Quirk, Captain of the “Can Do” is breathtaking. You spend so much time hearing an actor portray these people and you spend so much time with Tougias’s words that when the real exchange is finally heard it’s like a punch to the gut. On a personal note, I felt actual anger listening to the captain of the Global Hope fumble for the correct terminology to describe his situation. I felt sheer helplessness listening to Charlie Bucko make the mayday call from the “Can Do”. Listening to these people blew my mind. Maybe I am so moved because my father was a tried and true Coastie. To be sure I have been thinking of him as I heard Frank Quirk’s brave voice on the radio. Next month marks the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing; a man who died while trying to save the life of another.
But, back to Ten Hours Until Dawn. I have to admit this is one of those rare times when I want to read the book even after hearing the audio version. This is a story that truly resonated with me.


June ’12 was…

I had high hopes for June. Unreasonably so, I think. I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided the difference of a day would make everything better. What’s May 31 into June 1st other than Thursday into Friday? One day into the next? Silly me. June was a few things – a return to the run, a funeral heard around the world, a trip to an exotic island…

Here is the book list:

  • A River Runs Though It and Other Stories by Norman MacLean ~ in honor of river cleanup month. I can see why they made the first short story into a movie, but why not the other two? They were equally as good as the first. I read this in five days.
  • Death of Ivan Ilich by Leo Tolstoy ~ in honor of June being the best month to travel to Russia…that is, if you even want to travel to Russia. I guess you would need the desire before you decided the best time to go…I read this over three lunch breaks.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter: the Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset ~ again, chosen for the best time to travel somewhere. In this case, Norway. Note: this is only part one of a three part story. I will be reading the rest in July and August.
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus ~ in honor of I honestly don’t remember what. Something celebrating Algeria, I’m sure. This was deceptively simple to read. Read over five lunch breaks.
  • The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff ~ read in honor of June being family month. Some family!
  • Damage by Josephine Hart ~ in honor of Father’s Day…well, sort of.

Two Early Review books came in, courtesy of LibraryThing:

  • Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports by Tim Noakes, MD. I didn’t finish this in time to consider it an official June read, but at least I started it in June.
  • Who Should I Be? a Novel From Life by Sheila Heti ~ this was slightly delusional but I loved it.

    One audio book on cassette while I worked out:

  • D-Day by Stephen Ambrose ~ in honor of well, D-Day – June 6th 1944. Duh.

I should also note that I had an audio book for the flight to HI. I listened to July’s selection for the entire trip to and from the islands.


Death of Ivan Ilich

Tolstoy, Count Lev N. Dramatic Works: the Death of Ivan Ilich.Translated by Leo Wiener. New York: AMS Press, 1968.

Death of Ivan Ilich opens with Ilich’s death already a reality in the year of 1882.

As a person struggling with the death of a loved one there were certain parts of Death of Ivan Ilich that struck a nerve with me. Early in the story Ilich’s colleagues are standing around discussing his death, having just learned of it. One man exclaimed, “And here I have not called on him since the holidays. I was meaning to all the time” (p 4). That bears repeating. I was meaning to all the time. Exactly.
I found Death of Ivan Ilich to be extremely psychological and painful. Here is a relatively young man of 45 who dies from an unexplained illness after falling off a chair. He bruises his side and mysteriously falls ill a short time later. Even more troublesome – he never recovers from this fall. Was it cancer? Many scholars seem to think so. What I found particularly disturbing is the lack of care and sympathy his family feels for him. His wife and daughter all but cast him aside once they realize he is dying. Only his long-faithful butler remains true to him.
The actual death of Ivan goes largely unexamined. Instead we crawl into Ivan’s mind as the dying process takes its toll. In the beginning he is indignant, believing as a good man who has led a moral life he does not deserve such a fate. He questions his life’s purpose and begins to compare it to that of his butler. While he never accepts his death at the end he seems to understand it.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Russian Heavies” (p 210).


July ’11 was…

Where the fukc do I start (besides the fact that I’m posting this very late)? July 2011 was hell with a twisted sense of humor. Chronological speaking the first week of July was first a new car, then a wedding, then a quick trip to Monhegan and Kennebunkport (not impressed). A first week of fireworks and fun. The second week of July was an eight hour drive to Chautauqua, New York to see (from dead center second row, thank you very much) Miss Natalie Merchant at her best. A stunning performance I won’t soon forget. The third week was another trip to Maine, burying my grandfather, having my house robbed, and struggling to make sense of administrative setbacks. Week four was Kisa having to replace a tire on the truck, replace a cracked skimmer on the pool, our hot water heater flooding the basement in the middle of the night and lots and lots of home security upgrades. The ongoing issue is Jones freaking out. I don’t know what happened during the robbery but I do know he’s not the same. Insane to get out, he claws and cries and scrambles frantically at every door and window. He acts like a tortured prisoner. In the midst of all this chaos I have tried my best to keep reading. It was only semi-successful. Many fitful starts, few finishes:

  • Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts ~ in honor of it being a book within reach while I was on Monhegan. I think this should be a movie.
  • House of Mirth by Edith Wharton ~ in honor of New York becoming a state in July. Greedy book. I didn’t completely finish it. I got the point three quarters of the way through it and got the point.
  • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe ~ in honor of Burton Bennett’s birthday. This was made into a movie & no, I didn’t finish the book or see the movie. Another greedy book.
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin ~ in honor of it being a book in the library. I was ten pages shy of finishing this one.
  • It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong ~ in honor of the Tour de France. I will never look at this book the same way again for it was what I was reading on the ride home from the burial…and yes, I finished it …when we pulled into the driveway.
  • Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field ~ in honor of going to Rachel’s “home” state, Maine.
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen ~ I barely finished this (supposed to be read in August in honor of Franzen’s birth month). I’m waiting for the movie version.

And for LibraryThing and the Early Review Program:

  • Deadly Indifference: The Perfect (Political) Storm: Hurricane Katrina, the Bush White House and Beyond by Michael D. Brown and Ted Schwarz ~ I didn’t finish this. After awhile it got really repetitive with all the blame and finger pointing.
  • Pretty by Jillian Lauren ~ I loved this book. I loved how raw and messed up it was.

We ended July the exact same way we started it – with a road trip and awesome music. A blog about Rebecca Correia’s fantastic farm show will be posted on the other side.


Ruby

Hood, Ann. Ruby. New York: Picador, 1998.

Olivia has lost her husband, David, to a reckless driver, killed while jogging along a country road. Olivia, only 37, is faced with immeasurable grief and the nagging guilt that she had something to do with his death. In an effort to move on with her life she resolves to sell their summer cottage and put the past behind her. Only she can’t. A pregnant, defiant, wayward teen has made herself at home in Olivia and David’s seemingly abandoned house. Within a few minutes of confronting her, Olivia begins to bond with Ruby, seeing more of herself in the teenager than she would like to admit. What Ruby and Olivia can admit to is the fact they need each other. From this point forward Ann Hood’s storytelling is a psychological dance between the needy yet tough Olivia and the tough yet needy Ruby. Both of them want something from the other. Both are willing to manipulate the other to get it. The story becomes a page turner because you want to know who wins.

I like books that make me wander off topic. I enjoy small tangents every now and again. Olivia mentions her plan of stenciling the words to “a William Carlos Williams poem about plums” on her cottage wall. After surfacing from the instant sadness of lost dreams the image made me want to reread the poem in question, ‘This is Just to Say.’ Of course after rereading ‘This is Just to Say’ I had to find and reread Flossie Williams’s reply to “Bill.” Together they are a poetic commentary on marriage; communication between husband and wife.

Favorite line-, “Better to share the blame than to carry it all alone” (p 19). I found this interesting because most people want to put the blame 100% on someone else, never mind sharing it.

Some nitpicking. The reader is first introduced to Olivia’s world after Olivia’s husband has been killed by a reckless driver. Because the tragedy has already occurred the reader is anticipating the demise. You never get a chance to fall in love with Olivia and David as a couple. As a result the impact of Olivia’s grief is diminished. You don’t end up feeling as sorry for her situation as you could if you had been confronted with the shock of loss at the same time.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the very first chapter called Adapting to Adoption (p 2). Nancy Pearl calls Olivia ‘Livia.’ Interesting. It must be a (another) typo because nowhere in the book does anyone call Olivia ‘Livia.’

PS~ A Review in Library Journal called Ann Hood “Barbara Kingsolver without the whimsy.” I think it’s the other way around. Barbara Kingsolver is Ann Hood without the whimsy. I don’t see Kingsolver as whimsy at all. The Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible are far from whimsy!


“Funeral II”

Szymborska, Wislawa. “Funeral II.” New and Collected Poems. New York: Mariner Books, 2000. p 206.

This poem disturbed me to the core. To read it quite literally it is people standing around before (or after, or anytime in between) a funeral and gossiping. This sort of thing happens all the time. Events like funerals and weddings bring people together. Conversations are bound to happen, especially when people haven’t seen each other since the last milestone – wedding, or funeral…
I think what disturbed me the most is that I could identify with it so readily. I, too, have stood around making small talk; commenting on the people strangers around me. Call it catty. Call it human nature. It happens.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Poetry Pleasers” (p 189).