Gilead

Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Fiction

by Marilynne Robinson Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2004 “Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.” Jorge Luis Borges “How do you review a book like Kafka on the Shore?” Chris asked. This is Chris, of the long list of recommended books. No problem, I told him. Wrong. Not easy. Nonetheless I’m going to give it a stab, because the book is a phenomenon and worth the read. I’m not saying everyone will take to this book the way Chris did. It took me awhile. I have this new rule I use, my friend Marge’s rule: Read as many pages you are old, but if the author hasn’t hooked you by then, move on. Too many books and too little time. But by page 54 (my current age), I was still leery. The reality spun by Haruki Murakami (one of Japans most popular authors) isn’t just foreign (taking place in...

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The Guernsey LIterary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Fiction

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows Random Hosue, 2008 Try it.  You’ll like it!  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society needs no deep literary analysis.  It’s simply a good read, recommended by both my daughter (a Generation Xer) and a friend who teacher college level Creative Writing.   What stays with my daughter is the easy way it read and the love story.  What stays with my friend, and with me, is the information gleaned about life during World War II for those English citizens on the Channel Islands off the mainland. A series of letters propels the stories and the plot.  No chapters, just letters from various persons to various other persons, though the main character, Julia, writes most of the them.   I wasn’t sure whether this device was going to grow tiresome.  But it didn’t.  As I said,  it propelled the plot well.  And new...

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Fiction

by Muriel Barbery Europa Editions, 2006 This is one of those rare books whose goal is to speak beautifully about beauty.  Sounds esoteric?  It is in a way.  But don’t let this put you off.  You will meet two fresh and intriguing characters that speak in brief, alternating chapters (and alternating fonts) of their disdain for bourgeoisie culture and the people who create it.  (Now you are really wondering if this is a book you need to read.  Trust – the ending will inspire.) The setting for this novel (translated from the French by Alison Anderson) is a posh Parisian apartment building.  Here we meet Renée, the plump, unattractive (by her own assessment) fifty something concierge who manages the building at number at number 7 rue de Grenelle.  A brilliant autodidact she hides her intellect and role plays being an uneducated peasant, for fear that if her upper class...

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Olive Kitteridge

Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Fiction

by Elizabeth Strout Random House, 2008   I’m sad.  Not because Olive Kitteridge ended – as is sometimes the case when I read an acclaimed book.  (And Olive Kitteridge is acclaimed having won the Pulitzer Prize.) I’m sad because the lives of so many of the characters, “day after day unconsciously squander their lives.”   This is not a reason to avoid this novel.  Just fair warning. Truly there are all kinds of reasons to read it.  For one – the concept is fascinating.  The novel is a series of short story/chapters linked by the appearance of one Olive Kitteridge, resident of Crosby, Maine (are all the other characters in each chapter.)  Hence the title – Olive Kitteridge . I’m not always a lover of short story collections.  But I Stout kept me glued to each story,  curious as to how and when Olive would appear.   Sometimes it was no...

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Let the Great World Spin

Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Fiction

by Colum McCann Random House, 2009   I heard Colum McCann interviewed about this marvelous “symphony of a novel” as Frank McCourt called it, before his death. His novel had won the National Book award (an award that always makes me look again). The novel is set in August of 1974 and the interconnected stories in each chapter are each related to an actual event: Phillipe Petit, walking a tight-rope strung between the still existent Twin Towers. It is a marvelously complex novel – full of surprise with the clever way the various characters touch each other’s lives, unwittingly, unknowingly. Recently – I’ve learned from friend and poet Jack Ridl the power of not looking directly into a subject, but glancing in another direction. In so doing – we can take in more fully, more creatively, the subject that is being addressed. This is not a story about September...

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Firmin

Posted on Aug 31, 2015 in Fiction

by Sam Savage Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2009   I’m a reader. And I love to read a book that leads me to another book that leads me to another book that leads me to even another book. This petite novel, Firmin does this. Delightfully so. I’m not normally attracted to fantasy books where the protagonist other than human. There have been a few. The Narnia series (though I read this first when I was 11.) A couple of books written from a dog’s point of view. But usually – not. So I wasn’t sure about a novel where the main character is a rat (Firmin) who teaches himself to read the novels he had here-to-for feathering his nest and/or eating when desperate for food. However – Firmin was recommended by the same person who recommended The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. He has good taste. And he...

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Edgar Sawtelle

Posted on Jul 10, 2015 in Fiction

by David Wroblewski HarperCollins, 2008 Edgar Sawtelle is mute – though he is not deaf.  We meet him in the first chapter – a young boy reading old documents that give him and us a history of how the Edgar’s parents came to dwell near the great red barn and how the Sawtelle dogs began to be bred.   We ease in to the story through Edgar’s eyes though we will hear bits and pieces told by other characters too.  Trudy his mother, Claude his father’s ex-con brother and even through the eyes of Almondine, Edgar’s “nurse-maid” dog.  (This latter not an easy point of view to write but David Wroblewski makes it believable, moving.) In her interview with David Wrobleweski, Diane Rehm suggested that Edgar Sawtelle was a boy and a dog book for grownups.  And it will resonate with all of us who love dogs.  But the book...

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City of Thieves by David Benioff

Posted on Jul 10, 2015 in Fiction

by David Benioff, Penguin, 2008 The siege of Leningrad. Who can bear to pick up a book on that subject? And yet – the book came highly recommended, so I picked up a copy on one of my too frequent visits at the bookstore. I’ve read. It is exquisitely written – and it is important. As is every single book that reminds us that war is hell on earth. David Benioff leads us in gently. The novel’s opening chapter has a screen writer (David) interviewing his grandfather (Lev Beniov) about the war years he never talks about. (The similarity in the names has raised the question of whether this novel is based on a true story.) His grandfather doesn’t want to remember, but his grandson is persistent. And so in the second chapter the old man’s story begins. The setting is Leingrad (or the city of Piter/Peter as the...

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Zoli

Posted on Mar 2, 2012 in Fiction

by Colum McCann Random House, 2006 “If you keep quiet, you die. If you speak, you die. So speak and die”   – Tahar Djaout That is one of the three epigraphs that begin Colum McCann’s story of Zoli.  A story – about the Romani, or – as often called, often pejoratively called – Gypsies. A nomadic people they have resisted for centuries, even well meaning attempts to offer them four walls, permanent homes.  And so often they call themselves simply – travelers. Zoli and her grandfather are Romani travelers.  They had been away, together, when the men had come.  The ones who had forced all her family, all the others with them in the circled wagons – on to the ice, to the middle of the frozen lake.  Women, children, babies, men, the old ones, the horses, the wagons. Forced them onto the ice and then encircled them with...

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This Side of Brightness

Posted on Feb 19, 2012 in Fiction

by Colum McCann Picador/ Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1998 This Side of Brightness is not an easy read. Though it’s an important one. As are all the books I’ve read by Colum McCann. This is my third. The first one – Let the Great World Spin (a National Book Award winner) was sheer genius. Set in New York at the time of Phillipe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers the novel tells of the interconnecting lives of those who all witnessed Petit’s feat. Evoking for the reader – stories of interconnecting lives in the aftermath of 9/11 . Ingenious. The second one was Zoli – which invited us to consider the pligt of the Romani/ Gypsy people. The discrimination against them, their own traditions that would prevent them from pleading their own case, believing it is shameful, even dangerous to let others know too much...

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