Should It Stay or Should It Go

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post with the title question “Should We Stay or Should We Go,” I am facing the dilemma of culling my bookcase – what books should stay and which should go?

Although it is more likely books on my shelves have been read and forgotten, it is with horror that I realized I have books gathering dust I’ve never read. Some were lovely gifts, some were well intentioned purchases for future reference, some I had no idea why they were there. In good conscience I could not give away a book I’d never read, so I ventured into the realms of the forgotten books.

Nora Ephron died too young but left behind a wealth of humor and sarcasm that would have made Dorothy Parker proud. Two years before her death in 2012, Ephron began organizing the 557 page memorial to herself in The Most of Nora Ephron, published in 2013. The book seemed overwhelming when I received it, and because I was one of the many readers who took her death personally, I kept the book but could not read it. Now I am laughing through her descriptions of her ex-husband, the “Jewish prince” who cannot find the butter in the refrigerator in “Heartburn,”and pausing from Ephron’s profiles of famous women to look up Julie Nixon Eisenhower to see if she is still alive (she is).

The Most of Nora Ephron includes her books, plays, scripts, early columns, graduation speech, poems – even a few recipes, some no one should ever make – lima beans and pears in molasses.

I read her entertaining “Afterword” to the screenplay of When Harry Met Sally and her homage to Gourmet Magazine. I skimmed over her irate blogging on the politics of Bush and Cheyney and found her funny and poignant poem on the last page of the book – “What I Will Miss” – anchored with “pie.”

Ephron’s voice came back to life in the pages, and despite pausing to watch Meryl Streep play Ephron in her autobiographical movie, I finished reading it in a day.

Back to what to do now having read The Most of Nora Ephron. I could donate the book to the libary, give it to a friend to enjoy, or return it to the shelf next to my copy of The Most of P. G. Wodehouse. What would Lionel Shriver do?

The Disappearing Act

The title of Catherine Steadman’s The Disappearing Act appealed to me. Like Maria Semple’s “Bernadette,” sometimes disappearing seems promising. But Steadman is the author of the thriller “Something in the Water,” soon to be made into a Reese Witherspoon movie, so I expected a page-turning drama. The Disappearing Act focuses on a story closer to the author’s alter ego as an actress in London, and the “gaslighting” will have you wondering who the villain really is.

After Mia’s live-in boyfriend surreptitiously dumps her, she leaves from London to Hollywood for a series of auditions, following her successful portrayal of Jane Eyre and her nomination for the prestigious BAFTA award. In the waiting room of one of these auditions she meets Emily, another actor, and the plot thickens.

Returning from putting money into the meter for Emily’s car, Mia finds Emily has left, without her wallet and car keys, and she is determined to get them back to her. A series of plot twists ensue, with the punctuation of a new love interest, a handsome and wealthy producer who meets her when she is plugging the meter. After a series of unsettling incidents – someone breaks into her apartment, her car is mysteriously sabotaged, threatening notes appear – Mia is not sure who to trust. Steadman keeps the plot moving in different directions, until finally resolving the obvious.

The Disappearing Act is a fun and quick read – just the kind of story to distract and entertain.

What I’m Reading Now:

I almost forgot I ordered the two books from Libby, the library’s email guru, but they both appeared together and both due in less than 21 days. I better get reading:

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan and The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Any suggestions on which to start first?

The Plot

While some of us were wallowing in our discontent in 2020, Jean Hanff Korelitz was writing another bestseller. If you enjoyed the thrill of “The Undoing,” the HBO series based on her book “You Should Have Known,” The Plot will be no less satisfying. Perhaps you’ll figure out the true villain before the end, but getting there will still have you reeling.

Looking for his next book, after having two mediocre tomes published, Jacob Bonner hits the jackpot with a story told him by a student in his creative writing workshop. When he discovers Evan Parker has died of an overdose without finishing his book, Jacob seizes the opportunity to appropriate Evan’s narrative and write it himself. The book “Crib” is an instant success, with a movie directed by Spielberg in the offing.

While on his book tour, he has two life-changing occurrences: he meets Anna, his future wife, and he receives the first of a series of threats accusing him of plagiarism. Korelitz then begins to insert excerpts from the popular “Crib” as she continues with Jacob’s successful yet now harried life as a writer. The conceit is mesmerizing and clearly leads the reader into a series of complicated but satisfying plot twists.

As Jacob tries to confront the author of the threats to reveal his plot source, he finds himself in the middle of a family saga and another murder. Eventually, he seems to solve the mystery, but Korelitz has one last reveal at the end of her story, and it’s a good one.

Elizabeth Egan in her review for the New York Time says:

“It keeps you guessing and wondering, and also keeps you thinking: about ambition, fame and the nature of intellectual property (the analog kind). Are there a finite number of stories? Is there a statute of limitations on ownership of unused ideas? These weighty questions mingle with a love story, a mystery and a striver’s journey — three of the most satisfying flavors of fiction out there.

Jake Bonner’s insecurity, vulnerability and fear are familiar to those of us who have faced a blank screen, wondering how or whether we’ll be able to scramble letters into a story. Korelitz takes these creative hindrances and turns them into entertainment. Not only does she make it look easy, she keeps us guessing until the very end.”

A page-turner I could not put down, The Plot. Read and enjoy – just don’t give away the ending.

Whereabouts

A sense of accomplishment is overwhelming me. I donated three large boxes of books ( my covid year of reading) to the Friends of the Library this morning, and it wasn’t easy. After driving past a guard gate and through a tunnel, and stopping to ask a few masked strangers, I finally found the donation pallet described in their email among a warehouse of boxes. I just hope someone finds mine.

I’m reading Jhumpa Lahiri‘s new book “Whereabouts.” She is among my favorite authors and she reached a higher rung on my authors to emulate list when she moved to Italy to study the language and translate books. It’s been over ten years since “The Namesake,” and I was anxious to get lost in one her stories again.

But “Whereabouts” has no plot like her other books. Following a middle-aged woman’s thoughts and observations “on the couch, on the balcony, in bed…” was mundane at first and unclear where it was leading. Lahiri wrote the book in Italian and translated her words to English. Being somewhat biased by my own Italian heritage, I love the flow of the Italian language, and l appreciated the phrasing and descriptions she offered in translation. Sometimes a sentence would offer a window into my own world – “feeling reassured but also dazed by the outside world.”

As the short chapters evolve into a retrospective of her life, the narrator seems to emerge from complaints and despair of the past, and begins to appreciate the present. In the end, she has received a fellowship and is traveling to an unknown country for a year of study. The last short chapter shows her with a mix of hope, anxiety, and anticipation, leaving this reader a little befuddled but nonetheless satisfied.

NPR says “Whereabouts” is the literary equivalent of slow cooking; it demands patience.”

I bought a signed first edition of this book and I plan to reread it now and then. It will not be going to the library warehouse.

Audio Books – Just Listen

Some habits might be good to recover, post vaccine – walking a few more blocks to hear the end of a story or driving another mile to hear the next chapter on audio.  This year’s list of audiobook winners from the Audio Publishers Association has a few I may listen to, but also gave me some ideas for books I may order online to read.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke won Audiobook of the Year. When I asked my local librarian about it, she said she “liked it but it is different.”   Piranesi is a fantasy novel by English author Susanna Clarke,  her second novel and her first since her debut Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, published sixteen years earlier.  It’s about wizardry and magic, and Ron Charles for the Washington Post says “Susanna Clarke’s infinitely clever ‘Piranesi’ is enough to make you appreciate life in quarantine – about a man trapped forever indoors…”  Sounds deliciously weird, and I plan to try reading it.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte, won both the 2021 Young Adult Audie Award and the Multi-Voiced Performance Award.   The title is intriguing and this novel, in verse, about two sisters losing their father, their hero, and finding each other along the way, caught my interest. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion, and she won a National Book Award for her first book, The Poet X.

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Yost of SNL fame won the Humor award.

The full list is here – Audio Book Winners 2021

And a few more stories not on the winner’s list:

  • The Push by Ashley Audrain   – nothing like listening to a psychological thriller.  This one follows a new mom, Blythe Connor, whose concerns about her children are repeatedly dismissed—until a devastating incident sends the entire family reeling.
  • Infinite Country by Patricia Engel – five members of a family that left their roots in Colombia for a better life in the U.S., only to be met with an entire new set of challenges with being undocumented in this country. Written by Patricia Engel, a daughter of Colombian immigrants.
  • The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – with a trio of narrators,  flipping back and forth between the 18th century, when a London apothecary sold poison to women solely to be used on men, to the present, as a young historian finds herself tracking down a series of clues to solve the infamous centuries-old “apothecary murders.”
  • Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – author of Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.  This story follows follows four famous siblings over the span of one all-night, ultimately disastrous party.