A Short Wrap-Up and How It All Began

 

I am reading an old Penelope Lively book  – How It All Began – a comforting light read as I try to avoid the news and politics.   Charlotte, an older woman, falls after she is mugged and breaks her hip.  This one action triggers a series of events affecting her family and strangers she has never met, seven overall  – the butterfly effect rippling through lives.  Lively reminds the reader how little control we have over everything.

As the the catalyst for a cast of characters with a range of emotions and experiences as their lives are derailed, Charlotte rallies, recovers, and continues with a constructive life as Lively’s chapters consider those around her.  Charlotte’s fall requires her to move in with her daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Gerry, which leads to Rose taking time off from her job with an old historian, which leads to her boss asking his niece, Marion, to accompany him on a lecture trip, which leads to Marion’s leaving a message for her married lover, which leads his wife to discover the message and file for divorce.  And so it goes – a series of sometimes unfortunate events.

Charlotte is a retired English teacher, and her wise pronouncements sometimes seem worth noting for future reference.  As she convalesces, she notes how her circumstances have changed her reading habits to magazines and, horrors, pulp novels, until finally when she is able to read a Henry James novel again, she considers herself on the road to recovery.  I am not a fan of Henry James, but I did find her book, What Maisie Knew, in my library system – and maybe I’ll read it, but I doubt it.

Penelope Lively’s characters follow life’s chaos and uncertainties, a comfort to all of us living in that inevitable vein. Lively was a children’s book author before writing novels for adults and her first book, the children’s novel Astercote (1970) is about modern English villagers who fear a resurgence of the medieval plague – seems timely with the recent outbreak of a deadly virus from China. I’ve ordered the book from my library.

 

Other books I have been reading:

Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Famous for her Ruth Galloway mystery series, Elly Griffiths new book – Stranger Diaries – has none of her familiar characters but this stand alone mystery seemed familiar. I was sure I had read the book before and even knew the murderer, but I was wrong on both counts.  I was sure she was the murderer, but she was not.

 

The Key by Patricia Wentworth

A 1946 paperback with browned pages, some taped back together, turned out to be a great story.  When Michael Harsch is found dead (soon after he finally perfected his formula for the government) in the church behind a locked door with a key in his pocket, the mystery begins.  The inquest rules suicide but Miss Silver knows it is a murder, but who did it?  Despite its age, the mystery had a modern twist and held my attention throughout.

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

If you are a fan of the irreverent “Good Place” series, you will relish Hackwith’s Library of the Unwritten.  A librarian who was human but didn’t make it past the pearly gates, Claire oversees books not yet written; the library is in hell.  When one character escapes from his book to meet with his author on Earth, and another soul offers stolen pages from the devil’s Coda in exchange for living among the angels, the action starts, and never falters.  An exciting ride through different worlds where the devils are more fun and the angels tend to be judgmental and arrogant, the book swerves through lives and characters.  Noting the cautionary note to all procrastinating authors (me included) – “there’s nothing an unwritten book wants more than to be written” – I listened to the book on Audible and found myself speeding up the narrative to get to the next chapter.

AND FINALLY –

Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? – A Mother’s Suggestions by Patricia Marx and Roz Chast

Skip the introduction and go immediately to the one-liners With Roz Chast’s illustrations for motherly advice you can use.  Here are a few:

  • Never do anything you can pay someone to do.
  • If you feel guilty about throwing out the leftovers, put them in the back of your refrigerator for five days and then throw them out.
  • When it comes to raising children, nothing beats bribery.
  • Resist the temptation to buy clothes on your skinniest days.

A FOOTNOTE:

I am listening to a scary story on Audible – Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me.  Scary stories tend to keep my attention when listening, and this one started with a Mexican woman and her daughter in dire straits (before American Dirt was published).

 

Listen to The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Magical, compelling, adventurous, scary – and just plain fun – Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a book to take you out of your doldrums and into another world.  I listened to this book on audilbe and the narrator’s clever changes in voice from villain to heroine, from young to old, from awe to terror – had me walking extra steps and driving an extra mile to continue the story.  After a while, I just gave up and turned up the sound on my iPhone.

In the story you will follow January Scholar as she navigates her life through the beauty of the world and the ugliness of evil characters to find her true identity.    January is left with her father’s wealthy employer in Vermont as he travels the world searching for old valuable pieces for his employer’s collections.

One of the most satisfying elements of the book is having the villains get their due – irrevocably beaten back and punished.

Words and stories are the catalysts, as each chapter reveals another piece of January’s life, from small girl to mature woman with the power to open doors into other worlds through her writing.

The book within the book is The Ten Thousand Doors, which tells of magical doors between worlds.  When her father goes missing, January decides to leave Vermont to find him. As she travels to new countries through new Doors, January becomes fearless and learns to use her words to live a free and exciting life.

The stories are as mesmerizing as Scheherazade, and even if you are not a fan of fantasy, you will appreciate the magic and the possibilities in opening another door and hearing a good story.  I did.

Books to Start 2020

A new year, a new decade, a new look, a new book.  I have three books to start..  Have you read them?

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow

I learned a new word listening to Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, an auspicious way to start a new year of reading.  The word is temerarious – defined as reckless or rash, as in “having a temerarious disposition.”  But maybe you already knew.

As the story begins, the narrator is a young girl, condemned by that term, simply because she has curiosity and imagination – and her name is January.  I’ve progressed to the second chapter with her aged to seventeen, and am convinced this audiobook will entice me to walk more (a resolution many of us may have made in the new year) as I listen and escape through doors into adventure.

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

I still use the recipe for spiced hot chocolate from the movie Chocolat, based on Harris’s book-  https://potpourriwithrosemarie.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/read-the-book-and-drink-the-chocolat/

Revisiting Vianne Rocher in her French chocolate shop in Harris’s The Strawberry Thief enticed me to hope for more sweets.   Although Harris has written books since Chocolat, this is the first sequel, continuing the story.

 

by Jacqueline Woodson

After a long time on the library wait list, Woodson’s Red at the Bone is finally available to me.  Tangentially, I just finished listening to Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House.  I had read and reviewed the book when it was first published, but I needed to prepare to discuss it in a book group.  The narration by Tom Hanks was like reading it for the first time.  How does this connect to Red at the Bone?

Woodson and Patchett have a mutual admiration society.  I had heard Patchett sing Woodson’s praises, and then watched them together on stage answering questions about Commonwealth and Another Brooklyn for a Library of Phlladephia program.  Their new books (The Dutch House and Red at the Bone) have a common theme in the story of a mother who leaves her child/children.  It will be fun to compare notes.

What are you reading in January 2020?

 

 

Amazon, I Give Up

It’s getting harder to avoid Jeff Bezos. I had sworn off buying books, joining Prime, or anything else from Amazon when the pop-eyed titan clashed with Hatchette book publishers. In 2014 The New York Times reported “(Amazon) controls nearly half the book trade, an unprecedented level for one retailer. And the dispute showed it is not afraid to use its power to discourage sales.”

The desire to own the universe has expanded since then to some of my favorites. Amazon is now the force behind the Washington Post, Audible, Goodreads, Whole Foods, Airbandb, and Uber. And “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is only available on Prime Video. I may not be able to hold out much longer from the persuasion of persistent marketing.

th  Yes, Virginia, I did finally give in and subscribe to Amazon Prime – bingeing on Mrs. Maisel and Jack Ryan. I christened my Whole Foods account today with a sweep of my App, buying many of the tempting (but not needed) Prime Savings items. I laughed at John Kelly’s article in the Washington Post with his stack of unread New Yorkers (he knows me well), and I dowloaded more books on Audible.  I’ve read and enjoyed most of the Goodreads Choice Awards including Moyes’ Still Me and Hannah’s The Great Alone, but I still wonder why most of the prestigious book award winners were not included.  Where were?

  • Pulitzer Prize winner Less by Greer
  • Pen/Faulkner Award winner Improvement by Joan Silber
  • National Book Foundation Award The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
  • Man Booker Prize Winner Milkman by Anna Burns

51qvrvMLUoL._AC_UL200_SR200,200_On a quick search, I found I could, if I wanted to, order wine from Amazon, as well as my favorite Illy coffee, products from Trader Joe’s, and live goldfish – but no puppies…yet.

I hope Jeff Bezos appreciates my contribution to his space race – but I doubt he’s noticed.

Book Club Bait – A Novel and a Nonfiction Study by the Same Author of Where the Crawdads Sing

What an opportunity – same author, two books – a fiction and a nonfiction book.  Read both but read Where the Crawdads Sing first.

Where the Crawdads Sing

51ZnaGuoiiL._AC_US218_How could a child survive alone in a North Carolina coastal marsh?  Why did the local townsfolk ostracize the child instead of helping her? What survival lessons are to be learned from the natural world of plants, insects, and animals in the wild?  Who killed Chase Andrews? What is a crawdad, anyway?

These are only a few possible questions to discuss after reading Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdad Sings, an amazing coming of age story intertwined with science and observation of nature  – with a compelling unsolved murder mystery thrown in to keep the pages turning.   A respected scientist and winner of the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing, Owens successfully inserts scientific observation within this compelling fictional tale of a young girl who effectively raises herself after she is abandoned in a ramshackle shack in the Southern marshland.

Five year old Kya’s mother walks away one day and never comes back.  One by one her four older brothers and sisters leave too; only her abusive alcoholic father is left, and eventually he is gone.  Although she tries attending school for one day, the taunting she receives is unbearable to this sensitive and shy child; she never goes back, and lives in solitude for most of her young life.  Her social interactions are limited to the seagulls and the fish.

A born naturalist and observer, Kya becomes an expert in the natural life of the marsh, taking samples and creating precise drawings to document her findings. Owens cleverly connects Kya’s observations to lessons and secrets she adapts for survival.

“Kya honed her skills of harvesting mussels by watching the crows; she learned about dishonest signals from the fireflies; she learned about loyalty and friends from the seagulls.”

As she grows into a wild beauty, she attracts two young men from the town – Tate, who shares her love of nature and teaches her to read, and the former high school football captain resting on his laurels, who lies to her with promises of marriage to get her to sleep with him.

The story alternates years from Kya’s young life as the “Marsh Girl” and her present day (1969) trial for murder.  The storyline is easy to follow, and the ending is satisfying, but the story offers so much more.  Owens is painlessly educating the reader while teasing out a possible murder mystery.

I really wanted a book in my hands, so I bought the hard cover, but I did check the audible version first (sadly I had no credits available) and the sample had endearing Southern accents in the dialogue.  Either way – a good book with an unlikely combination of being both informative and suspenseful.

51DPKT-EQEL._AC_US218_Cry of the Kalahari

Owens has co-authored three non fiction nature books with her husband, Mark Owens: Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savannah, all  based on their research in Africa.  Where The Crawdads Sing is her first foray into fiction.  I found Cry of the Kalahari in my library system, and am now reading through this nonfiction account of two American zoology graduate students who embarked on their own research study in the Kalahari Desert in the 1970’s.

“After selling virtually everything they owned to fund their daring trip, they flew to Africa with only $6000 in their pocket, determined to live in the wild and study animals that had never encountered humans before. This is the tale of their seven years spent in the desolate wilderness of Botswana, with only the animals for company… camping out in the Kalahari Desert with lions, jackals and hyenas regularly wandering into their camp.”

The book has a conversational style almost like reading their diary – but also includes scientific observations and over thirty amazing close-up pictures of them with lions sleeping nearby, jackals investigating their tents, and other wild animals looking at home in their camp.