February Falling Up

I can only describe February as falling up because health-wise I am up on upswing. I’m still not really running yet (I’ve gone for four under-three-mile runs, but who’s counting?). I’m not really running but I haven’t fallen down either. Hence, falling up.

We had a snow day from work, I took a few days off for my birthday and we took a trip to New Jersey so I was able to get in a fair amount of reading. I spent President’s Day reading, too. Oh, and I almost forgot. I’m barely running so there’s that, too. Needless to say, I’ve been reading a lot. Weirdly enough, for all the reading I’ve done you would think there would be more books. Oh well. Speaking of the books, here they are:

Fiction:

  • Dead Room Farce by Simon Brett. Read in three days.
  • Captivated by Nora Roberts. Read on my iPad in four days.
  • Backup Men by Ross Thomas. Read in five days.
  • The Almond Picker by Simonetta Hornby.
  • Color of Money by Walter Tevis. Read in five days.

Nonfiction:

  • City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.
  • Full Steam Ahead by Rhoda Blumberg.

Series Continuation:

  • Beyond Euphrates by Freya Stark.

For Fun:

  • Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline.

Sarah, Plain and Tall

MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Reason read: for the fun of it (because I wanted something super quick to read).

Book summary (taken from inside cover):When their father invites a mail-order bride to come live with them in their prairie home, Caleb and Anna are captivated by her and hope that she will stay.” Not exactly. Widower dad places and advertisement for a wife and Sarah answers. One of the first things she tells them is that she is “plain and tall.” What follows is delightful story about the lengths people will go to in order to banish loneliness. Anna and Caleb are hungry for a new mother and want to see their father happy again so they welcome a stranger with open arms. But, probably the most heartbreaking sacrifice is made by Sarah herself. She gives up the coast of Maine and the ocean for the prairies of the Midwest. I have no idea how she does it.
As an aside, I was glad to learn this is the first book in the Witting Family series. When I finished Sarah, Plain and Tall I didn’t want to leave them, especially Sarah.

Edited to add quote: “There is something to miss no matter where you are” (p 42). How could I forget putting this in the review? I love this!

Author fact: MacLachlan won a Newbery Medal for Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Book trivia: Sarah, Plain and Tall was made into a movie starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.

Nancy said: Nancy said Sarah, Plain and Tall was good for both boys and girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 22).


Ballet Shoes

Streatfield, Noel. Ballet Shoes. New York: Bullseye Books, 1937.

Reason read: Streatfeild was born in the month of December. Read in her honor.

The children in Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes reminded me of the very ambitious Melendy family in the Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright. Each child in both families has a special talent and  the adults are super supportive of each and every endeavor. But, Streafeild has a twist to her story. The Fossil sisters in Ballet Shoes aren’t sisters at all and they pursue their talents in order to avoid going into debt. Pauline, Petrova and Posy are all orphaned children adopted by kindhearted yet often absent fossil collector Great-Uncle Matthew (GUM, as he is affectionately known). While Gum is off on another expedition Pauline finds the theater, Posy is a natural at ballet and Petrova prefers aviation and motor cars to the stage but she does what she can. The “sisters” may be very different from one another but they share one important truth, their self-decided last name of Fossil. They create a vow to honor the name and renew that vow every year on each girl’s birthday. It’s a very cute story.

Author fact: Streatfeild wrote a bunch of books for children. I have four books on my list. It should be noted, however, Fearless Treasure has been difficult to borrow from a library so it’s on my “trouble” list.

Book trivia: The edition of Ballet Shoes I read was illustrated by Diane Goode. A second piece of trivia: Ballet Shoes is mentioned in the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie, You’ve Got Mail. Meg plays the owner of a small bookstore for children and Tom is the evil big box bookseller destined to put her out of business. There is a memorable scene where Meg visits Tom’s store and helps a woman chose Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes.

Nancy said: Streatfeild is known for her “shoe” books (p 84).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fantasy For Young And Old” (p 83). Obviously, Ballet Shoes doesn’t belong in this chapter.


American Pastoral

Roth, Philip. American Pastoral. Read by Ron Silver. Beverly Hills, CA: Phoenix Audio, 2005.

Reason read: Father’s day is in June.

Where does one begin when trying to describe American Pastoral? The jumping off point might be to say this: in the beginning of AP reoccurring character Nathan Zuckerman is attending his 45th high school reunion where he runs into the brother of Seymour “Swede” Levov. The Swede was a high school athletic god with the seemingly perfect life. Through this meeting the reader hears the details of how Seymour’s life ended up. But, that’s oversimplifying the story in a huge way. Zuckerman’s narrative dies off and American Pastoral becomes more of a commentary on a variety of subjects. At the center is Swede Levov and the continuation of his perfect high school life (now in the 1960s in the suburbs of New Jersey; successful upper class businessman, married to former Miss New Jersey). Everything is perfect. Enter the Vietnam War and a willful, protesting daughter. All hell breaks loose when Merry commits an act of terror, bombing a post office and killing a man. American Pastoral takes a look at what it means to be a family facing falling apart and scandal, what it means to have faith, what it means to lose faith, what it means to be an American, what it means to be un-American and everything in between.

Quote I liked, “The candor stopped just where it should have begun” (p 798).

Author fact: Roth won a Pulitzer for fiction after writing American Pastoral.

Narrator fact: Ron Silver is also an actor, appearing on Chicago Hope – a show I have never seen.

Book trivia: American Pastoral was made into a movie starring Ewan McGregor in 2016.

Nancy said: “Popular fiction of late has as its text of subtext a family in trouble” (p 82), naming American Pastoral as an example.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First, in the chapter called “Families in Trouble” (p 82) and again a couple of pages later in the chapter called “Fathers and Daughters” (p 84).


“Mendocino”

Packer, Ann. “Mendocino.” Mendocino and Other Stories. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2003.

Reason read: June is short story month

In the title story Bliss is visiting her brother on the ten year anniversary of their father’s suicide. Instead of finding an ally to her grief, Bliss is shocked to learn Gerald found happiness in an unlikely place: the cozy life he has built with his girlfriend, Marisa. Everything about Gerald’s new perspective rubs Bliss the wrong way until she realizes it’s not about her father anymore.

Author fact: Ann Packer also wrote A Dive From Clausen’s Pier which I’ve already read.

Book trivia: Mendocino is comprised of ten stories.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).


A Celibate Season

Shields, Carol and Blanche Howard. A Celibate Season. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Reason read: April is National Letter Writing month…or so they say.

In a nutshell, a couple is separated by a wife’s internship. The husband stays behind to care for the home life. Together, they decide to handle their separation with minimal phone calls and visits, choosing to communicate primarily through handwritten letters. In truth, I had a love-hate relationship with A Celibate Season. On the one hand, I am a big fan of the epistolary technique. I like the subtle voyeurism of reading someone’s mail, especially strangers. I also found it interesting that what remained impossible for the characters to disclose to one another went into an unsent letter, thus keeping with a true epistolary technique. What I didn’t appreciate was the obvious breakdown of the marriage very early in the exchange of letters. I hated to see it coming that soon. Was it obvious to anyone else when Chas starts moving furniture around as soon as Jock is gone? Or when both of them start criticizing the people (strangers to each other) in each other’s lives? Does Jock bait Chas by mentioning her boss’s inappropriate comments? Or does Chas poke at Jock by admitting the cleaning lady disliked Jock’s kitchen curtains enough to remove them? Before page 50 I predicted Jock would have an affair with Austin and Chas would sleep with Sue. Ugh.
Probably the most realistic argument Chas & Jock have is about money. Chas is an unemployed architect, taking care of their two children while Jock is the money maker. Chas can’t pay the furnace repair bill while Jock frets about needing a new dress for a House of Commons reception.
One last gripe – I don’t think quoting long conversations verbatim is realistic in a letter.

Note to self: stop reading the “Questions for Discussion” section of books before finishing the book itself. I was disappointed by the question about Chas and Jock’s marriage, “Has the “celibate season” made it weaker or stronger?” That to me implies a non-ending ending; one of those ambiguous yet ubiquitous, it’s-up-to-the-reader endings. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Book trivia: A Celibate Season was a play before it was published as a novel.

Author(s) fact:
Carol Shields – Shields died in 2003.
Blanche Howard – Howard went on to write a memoir of her friendship with Shields in 2007.

Nancy said: not a lot. She just said A Celibate Season is a good epistolary to read, if you like the technique.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the intriguing chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 80).


Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Diaz, Junot. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Diaz. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

From the very first pages of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which I will from now on refer to as “Wondrous” because the title is too long), you are sucked in. The narrator goes on and on about “fuku” curse and the superstition of it all. It’s amusing and chilling all at once. All the while, you are hoping fuku doesn’t set its sights on you. But if it does, you also hope to have a little zafa (counterspell) hanging around.

When we first meet Oscar, he is seven years old and the year is 1974. He is the “GhettoNerd at the End of the World” trying to have two girlfriends at once. The story switches gears for chapter two (1982 – 1985). Oscar’s sister, Lola takes over the story in first person. She is a feisty runaway girl with typical teenage angst. From there, the narratives keep changing. Each voice tells a new story (just wait until you get to the story of Lola and Oscar’s mother, Belicia from 1955 to 1962). Through the generations, all the while the fuku is circling this doomed family. The writing of Wondrous is rich and enveloping. You cannot help but get completely drawn into the lives of every character.

Favorite lines (and there are a few), “The talkback blew the fuck up” (p 6), “You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children, not about the world, who has always been suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams” (p 55-56), and “Even at the end she refused to show me anything close to love” (p 208).

Reason read: New Jersey became a state on December 18, 1787.

Author fact: Junot also wrote Drown which is also on my list.

Book trivia: Pearl recommended listening to the audio of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao so I did both. I listened to the audio to and from work and read 10-15 pages on my lunch break. Also, Wondrous won a Pulitzer.

Audio trivia: The audio is read by Jonathan Davis and an unknown female…unless Davis does an extraordinary job sounding like a woman?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 54).