“Verlie I Say Unto You”

Adams, Alice. “Verlie I Say Unto You.” The Stories of Alice Adams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Reason read: June is short story month.

My first reaction to “Verlie” is to comment on the blindness of the privileged. Verlie is a maid in Todd family’s home. When news of Verlie’s husband’s death reaches the Todd household no one is sure how to tell Verlie. Their naive expectation of her reaction is one of grief. Never mind the fact Verlie and Horace haven’t seen each other in years. They can’t understand why she smiles at the news. It’s obvious they don’t know their employee even though she has been with them “forever.”

Author fact: Alice’s mother was also a writer, just not as accomplished as Alice.

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


“Roses, Rhododenron”

Adams, Alice. “Roses, Rhododendron.” The Stories of Alice Adams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Reason read: June is short story month.

“Roses, Rhododendron” is a short story of the angsty kind. Jane remembers her coming of age childhood; after her father left them for a younger woman, ten year old Jane’s mother packed them up and moved from Boston to the suburbs of North Carolina. Jane remembers everything being different in the south – the houses, the gardens, the people. She looks back at the  impact made by the relationship she had at the time with her eccentric mother, Margot and the new friendship with a girl her age living in the neighborhood, Harriet and Harriet’s mother, Emily. Jane was fascinated with everything in Harriet’s life. It seemed so calm and dignified compared to her own. Mother Margot had a loose, breezy hold on her daughter while allowing a Ouija board to dictate her own life. Meanwhile, Harriet’s parents appeared to be cultured, educated and refined. It was only when Margot disclosed some unsettling gossip that Jane decided they had more in common than she first thought. But, the biggest surprise came when in adulthood Harriet revealed to Jane she impacted her family just as much Harriet had impacted Jane’s.

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


“Xingu”

Wharton, Edith. “Xingu.” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916.

Reason read: June is short story month.

This is a story of contradictions. Even though this story is less that fifty pages long, it packs a wallop of a punch. Though billed as a satire it is also a humorous and witty commentary on human psychology. Some even think it is a cerebral jab at Henry James after he criticized Wharton’s writing. No matter how “Xingu” is perceived or meant to be perceived, Mrs. Roby is my hero.

In a nutshell, a group of snobbish high society women form a lunch group to gather and discuss didactic topics and one-up each other. In their view, the weakest link is Mrs. Roby, a seemingly not-so-bright woman who doesn’t appear to fit in with them. She asks all the wrong questions and clearly doesn’t know societal protocol. When the group invites an even snobbier author to discuss her latest book, “The Wings of Death,” the event falls apart. Osric Dane is even more dismissive than the snobs in the group. It isn’t until Mrs. Roby one-ups them all by mentioning a xingu philosophy. No one has ever heard of xingu but they all, including author Osric Dane, must pretend they know it well. Only after Mrs. Roby and Ms. Dane leave does the group dare to look up the word xingu and discover they have been duped. Xingu is actually a river in Brazil.

Author fact: something I did not know about Wharton is that she was a designer.

Nancy said: if you have never read Wharton Pearl suggested starting with the novella “Xingu” (p 144).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144).


June Lightning

June is going to go by lightning fast. For starters, there is a concert in Bangor, Maine that I cannot wait for! Then, a concert at home. After that, a week later, an art show reception for my talented sister’s work. Then, a vacation with my best friend (Maine for the third weekend in a row). I will have many opportunities to read. Hence, the huge list:

Fiction:

  • Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson – in honor of the first month of boating weather (EB & print).
  • Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams – June is short story month (EB & print).
  • Afterlife by Paul Monette – in honor of gay and lesbian pride month (EB & print).
  • Jar City by Arnaldur Andridason – National Icelandic Day is in June (AB).

Nonfiction:

  • Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Middle East by Michael B. Oren – the Six Day War started in June.
  • Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself by Dan White – June is national hiking month.
  • I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman – in honor of Gallman’s birth month.
  • Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn – in honor of Zinn’s birth month.

Series continuations:

  • Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
  • Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame – to finish the series started in April in honor of New Zealand’s Anzac Day.

December Books

I opted out of the cutesy title for this blog because…well…I simply wasn’t in the mood to come up with anything clever. What was December all about? For the run it was a 5k that I finished in “about 30 minutes” as my running partner put it. I also ran a mile every day (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day). I think I’m satisfied with that accomplishment the most because I ran even when we were traveling, even when we were completely swamped with other things going on, even when I didn’t feel like lifting a finger. Despite it all, I still ran at least one mile.

Enough of that. In addition to running I read. Here are the books finished in the month of December. For some reason I surrounded myself with some of the most depressing books imaginable:

Fiction:

    • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – read in two lazy afternoons
    • Fay by Larry Brown – devoured in a week (super sad).
    • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (AB/print) – confessional: I started this the last week of November fearing I wouldn’t conquer all 600 pages before 12/31/17 but I did. (again, super sad book).
    • Wanting by Richard Flanagan (really, really sad when you consider Mathinna’s fate).
    • Between the Assassinations by Avarind Adiga (sad).
    • The Beach by Alex Garland (again, sad in a weird way).
    • God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (the last of the sad books).
    • Nero Wolf of West Thirty-fifth Street: the Life and Times of America’s Largest Detective by William Stuart Baring-Gould.

Nonfiction:

  • Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman – read in three days. The only real funny book read this month.

Series continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha by Dorothy Gilman – read in the same weekend as Ballet Shoes.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Brain Food: the Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi (started).

For fun:

  • Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes by Erin Taylor.

Between the Assassinations

Adiga, Aravind. Between the Assassinations. New York: Free Press, 2008.

Reason read: in celebration of the Vivah Panchami festival (usually takes place in November or December).

Between the Assassinations is a series of connected short stories that take place over the course of one week in Kittur, India. The stories focus mainly on the poor of Kittur, their perceptions of the caste system and how they survive their lot in life. Some face it with hatred and revenge, as  does Shankara in “Day Two (Afternoon): St. Alfonso’s Boys’  High School and Junior College” (49). Some recognize family and the act of sticking together as being the only option like Keshava and Vittal in the beginning of “Day Two (Evening: Market and Maidan” (p 107). Others are constantly scheming like George in “Day Five (Evening): The Cathedral of Our Lady of Valencia” ( p 243). Every character has a deep personality and even deeper desires. Be forewarned,  most of the stories are desperate and all leave a chill in the air.

Quotes I liked, “A man might be stabbed in daylight, but never at night, and never while sipping tea” (p 31) and “His caste seemed to be common knowledge to people who had no business knowing it” (p 63).

Author fact: Adiga also wrote The White Tiger which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: At the end of Between the Assassinations there is a chronology of events occuring in Kittur between October 31st,  1984 and May 21st, 1991. It begins and end with assassinations, hence the title of the book.

Nancy said: nothing in particular except to say it is Indian fiction to be included in the India chapter (p 214).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 212).


God Lives in St. Petersburg

Bissell, Tom. God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005.

Reason read: In recognition of the Decembrist uprising on December 26th, 1825.

God Lives in St. Petersburg is comprised of six short stories:

  • Death Defier – Two journalists are stuck in war torn Afghanistan and taken captive. Favorite line, “He disliked such emotional nudism” (p 21).
  • Aral – A biologist falls prey to a former KGB officer with a grudge. Best lines, “Hunger stumbled, heavy-footed, inside her stomach” (p 64).
  • Expensive Trips Nowhere – A hiker’s marriage is challenged when his wife develops a bond with their Kazakhstan guide. Best sarcastic line, “Jayne had stabilized into a teeth-clenched toleration of Douglas’s parents, Park-and-Seventieth gentry who never understood why their son had settled for “some mousy midwestern girl” (p 96).
  • The Ambassador’s Son – Alec is a spoiled ambassador’s son with a penchant for finding trouble. Favorite line, “Finally we had arrived at the shores of his unfaithfulness” (p 145).
  • God Lives in St. Petersburg – a teacher finds himself in a terrible situation with a student.
  • Animals in Our Lives – while walking around a zoo, a married couple watch their marriage disintegrate.

Bissell thrives on the theme of entrapment. Every story centers around a character’s inability to get away from an unpleasant situation. Whether it be ugly people, bad drugs or heartbreak.

Author fact: Bissell also wrote Chasing the Sea which is also on my Challenge list. I’ll be reading that in May 2047…if I am lucky.

Book trivia: Be prepared. There is a twinge of sadness to every story.

Nancy said: Nancy admitted Bissell hasn’t written a peace corps memoir but she thinks his experiences “certainly informed several of his other books” (p 176).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go from the chapter called “Peace Corps Memories” (p 175). There is nothing specifically about the Peace Corp or remembering it in the book though.