What I’m reading

December 20, 2020

I haven’t commented on my reading in years on this site, but I still have bookmarks in several at one time. I am about to start Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. I read the author’s The Warmth of Other Suns several years ago and got pulled in by her stories of African American families as they moved from the Jim Crow South and tried to make lives in the North. I recalled all those years of teaching Raisin in the Sun, Black Boy, and Huck Finn. It also brought me back to all of Toni Morrison’s novels over the years, especially the broken-hearted story of Beloved.

I’ve read many books during this year of COVID. Most are hazily remembered. Not many landed as memorable. I worry that my concentration is not what it used to be, or maybe I simply fall asleep too easily with a book in my hand. Nonetheless, I still love a good story and the feel of a book in my hand.

87 thoughts on “What I’m reading

    • About E Dickinson in “Lives Like Loaded Guns” by Lyndall Gordon: ‘It’s a mistake to spot Dickiinson in all her poems; the real challenge is to find our selves. She demands a reciprocal response, a complementary act of introspection. For the poem to work fully we have to complete it with our own thoughts & feelings. Her dash is not casual; it’s a prompt, bringing the reader to the brink of words; there is the need to speak, if only to ourselves.” p 111 (Fabulous book about the poet, writing, her family… all of it! – Jan)


      • Wonderful, Jan! I’ve read it, too. Loved the book. Love her. When I visited her home in Amherst, I lingered for hours. Such a powerhouse of images and ideas. Not easy and definitely not simple.


  1. “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in the all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”

    Beloved by Toni Morrison


  2. “Many mornings, when the wind has come up during the night, the trees around my house thunder like high surf that swells and ebbs without cease.”

    Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

    So true. I grew up far from the ocean, but the tide and surf sound just like the endless wind that swept across miles of fields and got caught up in and swirled around by the pine grove north of our house. If you climbed a tree in the grove, you swayed with the wind — and could see for miles.


  3. Julia, this is from “The Freshest Boy” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Basil is a sad kid in a boarding school just trying to fit in. I love this quote because it is so true that we don’t know the moment when our words or actions can hurt or help another person.

    Basil flushed and made a poor pass. He had been called by a nickname. It was a poor makeshift, but it was something more than the stark bareness of his surname or a term of derision. Brick Wales went on playing, unconscious that he had done anything in particular or that he had contributed to the events by which another boy was saved from the army of the bitter, the selfish, the neurasthenic and the unhappy. It isn’t given to us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world. They will not be cured by our most efficacious drugs or slain with our sharpest swords.
    Lee-y! it could scarcely be pronounced. But Basil took it to bed with him that night, and thinking of it, holding it to him happily to the last, fell easily to sleep.”


  4. Love this, Elizabeth.

    In honor of Fitgerald — a Minnesota boy — here’s another quote from one of my favorite Fitzgerald short stories, “Winter Dreams,” which is similar to The Great Gatsby and takes place near your hometown of the Twin Cities.

    “Later in the afternoon the sun went down with a riotous swirl of gold and varying blues and scarlets, and left the dry, rustling night of Western summer. Dexter watched from the veranda of the Golf Club, watched the even overlap of the waters in the little wind, silver molasses under the harvest-moon. Then the moon held a finger to her lips and the lake became a clear pool, pale and quiet. Dexter put on his bathing-suit and swam out to the farthest raft, where he stretched dripping on the wet canvas of the springboard.”


  5. From a book full of beautiful and surprising language, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout:

    “You couldn’t make yourself stop feeling a certain way, no matter what the other person did. You had to just wait. Eventually the feeling went away because others came along. Or sometimes it didn’t go away but got squeezed into something tiny, and hung like a piece of tinsel in the back of your mind.”


  6. I’ve just begun reading The Help, a popular book club book. Has anyone else read it? I’m enjoying it about 50 pages in. The Barrington Book Club will be discussing it soon, so I’m trying to finish it before the session. Any feedback?


    • Finished The Help. It was good, but will not stick with me. Interesting look at a time and place and way of life, but I wasn’t blown away by it. Not sure why it got the hype it did. Missed the discussion at the Barrington Library because the weather was not that great. If anyone read the book and loved it, I would enjoy hearing your comments.


      • Went to the movie this summer and loved it. I usually like the book better than the movie, so maybe this is a comment on the writing and not the story or the characters. The movie was perfectly cast with women I admire.


  7. Just finished another book, Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas, about Mississippi in the early 1960s — same time and place as The Help. It’s about the experience of one college student volunteer during Freedom Summer, when Northern college students traveled to Mississippi to register Black voters. When read in tandem with The Help, it offers an amazing look at the reality of Black lives in the rural South. Hard to believe that was just 50 years ago. As I watch Egyptians struggle for freedom in their own country, I can only hope their peaceful methods can continue.


  8. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

    Powerful story on two levels — about mothers and children and how one woman survives the horrible siege of Leningrad and the loss of her first family. Took a bit to hook me, but the story she tells of life in war-torn Russia from a woman’s perspective was so powerful. Several months ago, I read another book about life in Russia when the Nazis were bombing the city every evening — City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff. Fabulous story full of irony and Vonnegut-esque black humor. This one is quite different, with a young woman’s viewpoint. The modern part of the story wasn’t as powerful or believable for me, so my rating is a 7 and Benioff’s book got a 9 from me.


  9. Now on to a totally different book — The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. After just 30 pages, I can tell this will be quite different from anything I’ve read in awhile.

    Tell me what you are reading!


  10. Adored The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery so much that I began reading it all over again when I finished the last page! Not so much a story as a fable with a some incredible sentences on Art and writing and grammar and the power of language. As young Palermo realizes at the end:

    “…maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude of time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. … from now on, for you, I’ll be searching for those moments of always within never.
    Beauty in this world.”


  11. Finished The Lace Reader … not sure why I finished it. I guess because it was based in Salem, MA, and mentions the Salem witch trials. Never came together for me. Tried too hard to be bizarre and clever, but only made it to contrived and confusing. At least for me.


  12. Just finished The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng. We’ll be discussing it at the East Providence Library book club on Tuesday. I’ve missed several discussions this year, so I’m hoping to make it to this one. The writing was beautiful, story was powerful, so why was I not as moved as I should have been? I didn’t rush through it, but the main character never really connects for me. Maybe there’s no really strong female in this book.
    “…and all the lost members of my family, we were beings capable mainly of love and memory. These capabilities are the greatest gifts given to us, and we can do nothing else but live out the remembered desires and memories of our hearts.
    And that is the point of life itself, I whisper into the night …”
    Those words are on the last page of the book. It’s set on the island of Penang, when it was under British rule in 1939 and then through the years of WWII when the Japanese took over the island. War’s senseless brutality takes over as the main character, a young half-Chinese, half-British teen learns that a man he trusted has used him to infiltrate his beautiful island home. It’s all so very sad. I had trouble understanding the Japanese sensei that Philip befriends. The idea of reincarnation enters the story many times, which was interesting, but seemed to stir up more questions about the two men for me.
    Definitely worth the read though!


  13. Our book club read The Help (best seller)in January, also. Main Street (classic)in February, a book I started reluctantly, but really enjoyed. March was Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them(international/social issues). Honestly, I didn’t get through all five short stories. This month is The Road by Cormac McCarthy(someone’s favorite author), another book I wouldn’t have taken off the shelf if not for book club. I was up most of the night, couldn’t put it down.

    How does your group select books?


    • Hi Irene!
      Thanks for taking the time to share your reading! I remember reading The Road, and not putting it down either. So painfully sad but so full of love, too. I haven’t read anything else by McCarthy, but I do have another book of his on my “to read” shelves.

      I go to the book club at my local library. The librarian asks for suggestions at the end of every year and then selects the books from among those that she can get several copies from around the state. She said that next year she’d like to pick a book from every decade of the 1900s. That could be interesting!

      Does Nebraska have a One Book program or anything like that? Rhode Island libraries pick one book that they suggest everyone read during the year. I have that book too — still haven’t read it though. It’s nonfiction, something like The Unforgiven Moment, about a soldier’s experience in Afghanistan (I think). Like I said, I still have to read it.

      People are always giving me books to read after they’ve read them, so I must have another 4 or 5 that I have to read and return. One book I might suggest, if you haven’t read it yet, is Olive Kitteridge. You probably won’t like Olive at first, but she grows on you.

      Happy reading!


  14. I am re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird for book club. I fell in love with the movie when I saw it so many years ago and then read the book. I’ve reread the books a few other times, but it is so much a part of my life. I so love Scout’s voice in this book. I have difficulty with Harper Lee’s personal story. I wonder who she is and if she writes today. I wonder about her connection with Truman Capote and how he didn’t credit her work on In Cold Blood. I wonder if it’s because he felt he had helped her write this book — payback, maybe.

    I never taught Mockingbird in high school. It was taught in 10th, maybe 9th. I’m kind of glad I didn’t have to do that. I’m afraid today’s kids would not like this book — maybe too tame by today’s standards. But when it came out I think it broke barriers, told hard truths, painted pictures of a world people glossed over, through the clear eyes of a child. Much like Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield, but I think her eyes are even purer than theirs.

    The character of Boo Radley stays with me. Maybe we all have a Boo in our lives.

    If you haven’t read it in awhile, I would urge you to do so. There’s more here when you read it as an adult. Makes you walk in others’ shoes again.


  15. Just finished A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. I didn’t like the fact that the point of view goes inside everyone’s head — omniscient. Interesting premise, but it wasn’t very believable, lots of redundant filler and I really didn’t like any of the characters all that much. Good writing but not much here. I’d give it a 6 out of 10.


  16. Just finished Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (with accents on each “i” — would love to know how it’s pronounced). A very quiet book — absolute opposite of Reliable Wife. It’s about a young woman who emigrates to the US from County Wexford, Ireland (that’s the cool part, where Meylor ancestors are from). The thing is she could be one of millions of young immigrants who come here on their own, not out of sense of adventure of desire to be successful, but because her family thought it was her best shot at a life. She struggles with homesickness and we sit inside her head as she makes these decisions based on her perceptions, fears, guilt and frustrations (like all of us!). Toibin captured this whole experience so well.


  17. I am reading Middlemarch by George Eliot this summer. Whew! Never thought I’d say that, but I am. And I am loving it. When I began the first section, I thought I wasn’t going to make it through the first few pages without falling asleep (I have a tendency to do that). But now that I am deep into the 800 pages, I am flying through (most of) it. If anyone else has read it, let me know what you thought. I am reading it as part of a book club — I even took half a day out of work today so that I could go and talk about the book with others who are reading it (all retired except the librarian)! I know, I know. Nerd-maximus. I didn’t tell anyone why I was taking the afternoon off. But I just wanted to go — seems like a lot of words to read without talking about them with someone!

    Lots of quotes, but here’s just a short exchange between Will and Dorothea in Ch. 40:

    Will: “What is your religion?”

    Dorothea: “To love what is good and beautiful when I see it.”


  18. Hi Julia, here’s one of my favourite quotes;
    “I tucked my hand behind my back hooking a couple of my fingers around a couple of Scout’s and squeezing. Her squeezing back was all the scaffolding in the world.” The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall


  19. I hate to admit that I am still stuck in Middlemarch — about 600 pages in, with 200 to go. This section isn’t going as quickly. I fall asleep every time I start reading. So, I’ve also picked up The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood, who’s a writer living in Providence. I heard her read from this book at the Atheneum a few years ago. Still determined to finish Middlemarch though — I was promised that it was “life changing.” Still waiting! 🙂


  20. Finished The Knitting Circle today … and began knitting tonight! Finished a baby cap that will probably fit a four year old! LOL!!


  21. FINALLY finished Middlemarch by George Eliot, the huge chronicle of small-town life in England during the Victorian era. Our surroundings may have changed, but Eliot made me realize that human nature has been hardwired for centuries. We are who we are. I ripped through the first four sections, but then fell into a rut with the next three. Out of sheer determination I finished the eighth section. Liked Mary Garth the best, and there wasn’t enough of her in the book. Dorothea is an amazing woman, but a bit unbelieveable for my taste. However, I’ll end with this quote about her:

    “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts: and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

    I like the idea of the hidden life … and am glad I visited 800 pages of it. Thanks, GE.


  22. I’m now reading a more modern classic for book club — Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. My copy of the book is full of underlining and folded page corners from the first time I read it. I remember loving the book and Hurston’s incredible language. So, again, I folded some page corners and agreed with all my underlining. Not quite as enamored this time, but still in love with her original images and voice. Glad I reread it.


  23. ” … Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.”

    ending of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston


  24. Finished Michael Cunningham’s book, By Nightfall. I loved his book, The Hours, so I was expecting that same clear, painful, flute-like beauty in his writing. Found this one more difficult because I really didn’t like the characters or the premise. What I did enjoy was the inside perspective on the art dealers world and New York City. It was also interesting to see a discussion on modern art and its lack of beauty — and it was honest and real. I’d read it for that again. The story itself was too weird with too many unconnected strands that needed more reason for being — the daughter, Bea, and the dead brother. Again, sad and painful, but too klunky.


  25. Finished reading this month’s book club choice, Room, by Emma Donoghue. Fast read told from the point of view of a five year old. Once you realize what’s going on (fairly quickly) and how creepy it is (just as quickly), I wasn’t that blown away by the story. I found it compelling but, I don’t know, there just wasn’t much there beneath the covers. I won’t give away the premise or where it goes, but it seemed to follow a fairly straight line, no surprises.


  26. I woke up at 4 a.m. to finish Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout, author of one of my favorite books, Olive Kitteredge. This was her first book, and I loved it — hard to believe something shaped so well and so lovingly is a first book. Echoes of Olive in the story, but this one is about the relationship between a mother and daughter and the small town and people in their lives.

    They are small, insignificant people dealing with their vast secrets, past and present. I love how Strout includes the tracings of other people’s lives in the story and how it makes the story reverberate in so many ways.

    Quote: I’m looking. I remember every sentence seemed to stop me in Olive’s story. The language here is not as honed. Maybe more needed to be cut here, because Strout’s passages about the “hot, dry” summer seemed to harp on and on. Maybe what Strout learned was to pare down the language to a fine point. But the beginnings are all here: the habits that paint a character in a few strokes, the point of view, the depth of character. The pain.

    Here’s one: “But what could you do? Only keep going. People kept going; they had been doing it for thousands of years. You took the kindness offered, letting it seep as far as it could go, and the remaining dark crevices you carried around with you, knowing that over time they might change into something bearable.”

    Great NYT review: http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/01/17/reviews/990117.17bernet.html


  27. Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout

    Another good story with an unusual premise and interesting characters. Surprising that Strout has written only three novels. Hope she’s working on another one. This one is again set in small-town Maine and focuses on a young minister, who is struggling to keep his faith alive and his family together after the death of his wife. Strout paints the world of secrets and gossip and also looks at the minister’s pain through the eyes of his young daughter. There are some things that don’t work so well, but there’s so much more to love here. Ultimately, about love, learning to give and receive.

    “Where there are people, there is always the hope of love.”


  28. Just finished Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. Long read about two friends over30-some years … would have been a good beach read. Went to all the tried and true places that these kinds of stories go to — including the ending. I guess I have to read one of these “bestsellers” every once in awhile so that I can appreciate books that break barriers and stretch beyond the expected.


  29. Just finished this month’s book club selection, “The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, This beautiful little meditation on friendship and family and memory was a wonderful read, something I would have never picked up on my own.

    The story is about a math genius who can only remember 80 minutes at a time after experiencing a terrible head trauma years ago. It is told through the eyes of his (11th) housekeeper who learns to care about this old, lonely man. She has a young son who ends up coming to the professor’s house every day after school. They are his only friends.

    The professor shares his passion for math (specifically prime numbers) with this young mother and her son. It made me wish I had learned math from someone with such passion — instead of developing lifelong math phobias. At the end of the story, I still had so many questions about the professor. How can we ever get to know a character that has only 80 minutes of memory. But these limitations did not limit the friendship of these three characters.

    This simple story will stay with me for a long time.


  30. Last night I finished a Jodi Picoult book, Sing You Home. I’ve read several other Picoult books that I really enjoyed — but this one is not in that category. It was like she had an agenda, and she checked off every stereotype she could. Really disappointing. Plus she wrapped it all up and blew off the ending as expediently as she could after dragging out the story for 400 pages. I do like her ability to go into so many characters’ heads, but I am getting tired of the different fonts and chapters that denote a move to a different character’s point of view. The first time, it was cool. Now, it’s just lazy and repetitious. Not much of anything positive to say. I think I liked the mother of the main character the most, and that’s not saying much. One good thing — I think this one weaned me off Picoult books for good.


    • Oh, no! I bought that book. I usually love her books for many of the reasons you say and was looking forward to reading in over the break from classes. Well, I guess I may get weaned off her books also… they are addicting!


      • I cried my way through My Sister’s Keeper, my first Picoult book. Read one about an Amish teen who had a baby, another that echoed the shootings at Columbine and one more about a family with a daughter whose bones broke like twigs all the time. This one does not come close to any of these. Sorry!


  31. Just finished two very short books. One I loved, one I didn’t get.

    The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a beautiful long essay about Japanese “picture brides,” from their boat ride over to the US to the Japanese detainment camps during WWII. It’s 129 pages and there are incandescent images on every page. Otsuka did tons of research to get the details of their stories, and it is told in a “we” perspective. The technique reminded me of the first story in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” I loved it.

    The second book, Walks With men by Ann Beattie fell flat as flat can be. I’ve always enjoyed Beattie’s short stories. At least I remember liking them. It’s been a long time since I’ve read one. The book, again short, was about a young woman who moves to NYC and falls for an older, seemingly wise man. Well, he’s a boorish loser and even I can see that. She’s supposed to be an uber-smart writer type and she falls for him. Okay, so story line could be interesting, but Beattie’s story is not. This one will stick with me because it was so bad.


  32. Pingback: Looking for a book to read? « Between Land and Sky

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  34. Just finished The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon. Why, oh why, don’t I quit books when I know they are going sour? I think this one teased me along with its setting in Rome. Gordon is a respected writer, but this one was another totally involved piece of writing, similar to Cunningham’s (above). I wonder if there’s some autobiographical element to this one. It seems very self-serving. (And here I am criticizing writing that is self-serving. Sorry.) Anyway, at least my self-serving pieces don’t get published. It’s about two people who meet up again in Rome some 30 years after being their first loves. It fell flat for me for many reasons. At no point in the story do I feel any regret or longing in these two people. They are curious about what could have been, but they seem to have moved on. The man has more to bear because he is the one who messed up the most and got the raw end of the stick. Can’t believe he stuck it out with the woman who messed up his life. But who am I to say anything about that. But they both seem to be in relationships now that make them happy, so no reason to stray. And that’s the obvious ending. Too cerebral. Not enough emotion. Sorry, Mary.


  35. Finished my first book on my new Kindle, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s the first in a trilogy of books about a nihilistic world of the future. It’s getting a lot of buzz and will be a movie soon, from what I hear.

    It was a good, action-packed read but nothing amazing — like a packet of peanut M&Ms. Melts in your mouth, but not in your hand — great read but nothing sticks around as that memorable.

    I know others loved it, so I can appreciate the power of the story.


    • I’ve seen the previews for the movie. Looks interesting. This title was the winner in our SD Young Adult Reading Program (YARP). Haven’t read it yet though.


  36. Finished reading this month’s book club book, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, a Norwegian writer. I really enjoyed it because, again, it was something I would never select for myself. Book club books are like picking a wrapped gift out of a box and finding a nice surprise inside that you didn’t expect.

    Anyway, this novel offered a disconnected story about an aging widower who’s just bought a home out in the middle of nowhere in cold, sober Norway, where he doesn’t know (or expects not to know) anyone. Anyway, his just-as-solitary neighbor down the road turns out to be the brother of a boy he used to be friends with during his visits to a summer cottage with his father. And this kick-starts memories that have been locked away for a long time of his father.

    The story of one summer decades ago turns out to be a turning point in his life and a time when he learned about his father’s secret past. There is much to like here: the writing is beautiful. There is so much left hanging: and isn’t this so often true about our own understanding of our parents’ lives. I loved it — others in the group, not so much. When I finished the last page, I turned back to the first page, and began again. That’s how much I liked it.

    I will be looking for other titles by this author.


  37. Finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. I found it a bit difficult to read on my Kindle because I kept wanting to go back to look at pictures, and that isn’t easy to do on a Kindle. The review I read said the book is hilarious. Thought so for the first few pages, but then I just felt sorry for this little boy who lost his dad in 9/11. He’s holds a terrible secret and a key that he thinks will unlock his father’s past. And, of course, it does, although not in ways you’d expect.

    It’s also the story of a couple that lived through the Dresden firestorm during WWII. I first learned about this horrible killing of civilians in Vonnegut’s modern classic, Slaughterhouse Five.

    This is a powerful story, told in a powerful way — through the eyes of a little boy who misses his dad. The movie just came out, so I’d like to see it. But I worry that it will be too sappy, too cutesy and drown in the horror of 9/11.


  38. I read Heaven is for Real. For real? I feel sorry for the family to have dealt with such medical trauma, and it sounds like the little boy really did almost die. But the minister doth protest too much. He spends most of the book trying to get you to believe that his son, the son of a minister, had no conception of angels and Jesus and heaven. Now I find that hard to believe since these images fill the pages of all children’s Bible stories. I still remember pulling down the big Bible in our house and lingering over drawings as a small child, and those paintings are still seared into my brain. He should have let the boy simply tell his story, instead of injecting so much of his own “gosh darn, how could he describe it so accurately” feelings into the book. Lots of stories out there about near-death experiences. I heard they made a mint on the book. No doubt another is on its way. To the many, many who loved it, I’d love to know what made it such a great book for you.

    Ben Breedlove’s simple message is much more powerful. And he didn’t make a penny. And he died on Christmas. Watch it.


  39. I finished Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown. It was the book club’s choice for February, since we were supposed to meet on Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t make it. It was a sweet book, set it an English village during the summer of the Apollo moon landing (which was an interesting touch). It’s about the village postmaster who realizes that he has fallen in love (for the first time in his life) with a woman who has spent the past 20 years taking care of a mentally challenged man (whose rich father travels the world to escape him). It keeps taking odd twists and turns and went on a bit too long for me. Very nice ending, but I got a bit impatient with the English countryside quaintness of it all. I think I liked the mentally retarded character the most.


  40. Finished Then Again, Diane Keaton’s autobiography that connects her life to the journals her mother kept most of her adult life.

    Things I didn’t realize:

    1. Annie Hall IS Diane Keaton. Keaton’s mother’s name was Hall, and Diane was called Annie as a child. I haven’t seen that movie since it came out in the late 70s. I remember going to that movie with Anne Ratcliffe at the theater in college town in Ames.

    2. Keaton was “with” Al Pacino at one point in her career. She never married, and I guess I knew that. She was also with Woody Allen and Warren Beatty. Quite a variety of men!

    3. She has two adopted children that came into her life after she turned 50. She’s now in her mid-60s.

    I enjoyed the book. The writing wasn’t great, but I did like the look at her mother’s life and journals. I wonder what it was like for my own mom to devote her adult life to children and husband. I just can’t imagine NOT working, so it’s hard to know what that would be like or how it would feel. I’m not putting it down, I just have no concept of that life. And I wish I could have, or would have, asked my mother what she would have done if she had a career. I think she would have been a nurse.

    Anyway, I rarely read autobiographies, so this was quite a change for me, especially since Keaton is still alive. Just love her style. And it all began with Annie Hall — thin ties, big jackets, vests and high-waisted, pleated pants.


  41. If you need something completely different from Hunger Games, consider reading Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan. But only if you’re age 50 or over. You shouldn’t have to enter Emily’s world or fret about it or even know it’s on the horizon until then.

    I love Emily. It wasn’t until pretty far along into the book that I realized, finally, really?, that nothing dreadful or final or even slightly memorable was going to happen to her (or her aging dog).

    This is a story about the everyday life of an older (80!) woman whose husband has been dead and gone for quite awhile. Her worries, her fears, her pettiness, her honor, her pride. I loved it. O’Nan seems to tag along on the heels of his mother or a upper middle-class aunt. So many details. Not silly or trite, just real.

    The one thing that I didn’t see was very little discussion of her own aging body, her life as a woman. Maybe she’s past that at 80, but I don’t think so. Rarely does O’Nan go there at all, and it sounds like she must have been a pretty good looking woman in her prime.

    Beyond that, it was a sweet, quiet surprise. Like finding a half-pack of M&Ms in your car that you can enjoy all to yourself on your ride somewhere.

    Here’s a link to an NPR review that offers some more postive words:



  42. I finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot for my book club. Once again, a choice that I wouldn’t have selected without it being handed to me. It’s more of a Mallory book, so I hope she reads it sometime. Henrietta was a black woman, who, in 1951, was being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Tissue samples were removed without her family’s knowledge. They were used to create HeLa, the first “immortal” cell line. I had no idea there was even such a thing or how earth-shattering this discover was. HeLa has been and continues to be used in groundbreaking medical research. However, Henrietta’s five children had no concept of the cell line or its purpose until decades later. The story follows the historical story of the cell line and the emotional story of the family’s loss and poverty. It opened my eyes to medical history and how cell lines are still used in medical research today. Hard to comprehend the misunderstandings that the family dealt with. There’s still so much education that needs to take place in this country.


  43. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
    – Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Le petit prince or The Little Prince)


    • Love this quote, Lea. I had never read The Little Prince, so I went out and bought it a few weeks ago and read it. So it is especially touching that you should post this now. Thank you!


  44. I’m embarrassed that I haven’t posted any reviews in so long! I have been reading, but not finishing much. But I did finish the second Hunger Games book and I just finished my book club selection, too. So I will have to get back here and post comments soon. A bit crazy lately! 🙂


  45. I finished the Hunger Games trilogy. It was a quick read but didn’t stick with me long. Fast-paced writing, but not much to chew on. Consequently, not much to write about.


  46. Just lost everything I just wrote. Suffice it to say I reread Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury with my reading group the same week he passed away. I couldn’t remember the story very well, so the second reading was more like a first time. It was more powerful than I expected — especially the scene of the old woman burning her home, her books, herself.

    I want to remember this quote by from the novel because it reminds me of Bradbury:

    “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”


  47. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

    I just finished this book while flying back and forth to Charleston, SC. On first glance at the title, I’m sure people were thinking I was reading 50 Shades of Grey. Thank God I wasn’t — this one is MUCH better.

    This fictional story based on true accounts, tells the story of a young Lithuanian teenager and her family, who are deported by the Russians to Siberia in 1941. At the same time her country is being taken over by Nazi Germany.

    The family is separated from the father early on and the mother, Lina and her brother must survive in conditions worse than animals. When I read stories like this (and there are many from all parts of the world), I always wonder how others can find the place in themselves to be so brutal. What switch do they have to turn off to act the way they do?

    And then I see a viral video of young teens picking on a 68-year-old school bus monitor and I realize again that there is a very finest line between evil and humanity.

    Lina’s story ends two years into their time in Siberia, but many Lithuanians did not return from Siberia until 10 years later. And, when they did return, their country was still controlled by Russia and they could not speak of the horrors they endured until the 1990s, when Russia collapsed. Their stories are just now being told. And because the U.S. was aligned with Russia against the Nazis, there is even more guilt and silence surrounding their plight.

    This is a book written for teens, but the writing is powerful and gripping. I will remember Lina.


    • Just finished Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. This was RI’s One Book this year, so it’s been on my list for awhile. Geraldine Brooks was here to talk about her book in the winter, but I didn’t make it to the discussion or the breakfast in the spring.

      Let me say the book is wonderful. It is based on the true story of the first Native American Indian to graduate from Harvard back in the late 1600s — when Harvard was in its first handful of years of existence.

      The story is told through the eyes of a young woman, who is the daughter of a kind Puritan minister. She lives on Martha’s Vineyard, among those who don’t agree with the harsher Puritan faith that boils on the mainland.

      She meets Caleb as a young girl and their friendship grows up through various trials. She ends up going with Caleb, another Indian student and her brother to work at the prep school the three attend to prepare for college entrance exams. She is there to work in exchange for her brother’s schooling.

      Brooks is excellent at weaving history and story and narrative. I don’t like overtly historical lit, but Brooks lets the story occur naturally. The voice of the young girl is, I’m sure, accurately portrayed with the vernacular of the time. I particularly found the word “somewhen” interesting because it obviously is a word that has been lost along the way. Somewhen, I wonder?

      Check it out. Good read — and amazing story!


  48. While poking around in the library, I found a new book by Stewart O’Nan, Last Night at the Lobster. I remembered how much I had loved another book of his, Emily, Alone (reviewed here in post dated March 28). Lobster is a short book (less than 200 pages), so I picked up two more short books by O’Nan: The Odds and A Prayer for the Dying.

    I’ve finished Last Night at the Lobster and The Odds. Both are quite different from each other and from Emily, Alone — which I liked. Lobster takes a look at a small group of workers at a Red Lobster on the last day the restaurant is open.

    It felt more like a long short story, but the characters were all very likable and believable. It also seemed so current as corporate America cuts its losses without blinking an eye, while people lose their livelihoods without doing anything wrong. And even as they close up shop, these good people still try to do their best, deal with the guilt and find ways to cope with the loss of their little restaurant that sits at the dark, snow-covered edge of a mall parking lot.

    The Odds, another long short story, follows a middle-aged couple as they go on a second honeymoon to Niagara Falls. They are facing bankruptcy and divorce because they have lost their jobs and their desire (I gess there are similarities between the two). Over the course of the weekend, they begin to see their life together diffferently. The end hinges on an all-out game plan to beat the odds by betting all they have left on black, or was that red, or does it really make a difference? Very sweet story …

    I’ve just begun Prayer, which is set in a small town in Wisconsin in the 1800s. O’Nan is an incredible storyteller. I’ll be back to tell you more about this one — and am sure to read more by him. One more similarity among the three: the main male character is a sweet guy with flaws.



  49. Hi Julie! Just finished The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty and Heft by Liz Moore and I loved them both. I also read Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman and can’t say I liked that one much. It’s pretty bleak subject matter and written in kind of a distracting way. I think this is her first book. Laura Moriarty, though, is one of my favorite authors. Summer’s such a great time to read….can’t wait to hear what else you’re reading!


    • Hi Chris! Thanks for sharing your summer reading. i will have to check out Moriarty. I’ve never read anything by her, and I’m going to need to latch on a new author soon. Thanks for stopping in and letting me know you were here!


  50. I finished Prayer for the Dying last night and am haunted by it. Reminded me of Camus’s The Plague. Set after the Civil War in Friendship, WI, it tells the story of a small town that has to be quarantined due to an outbreak fo diptheria. It is told from a distanced “you” technique that might bother some, but I can understand why O’Nan used it. First-person would have been too close, but in second-person a conversation can develop between the narrator and his conscience that is the crux of the story.

    The narrator is a Civil War veteran who lived through hell during the war and was reborn in this town with a wife and daughter and who fills all the town’s most needed roles — the sheriff, the undertaker and the minister. And then the deaths begin, the devastation of an approaching wildfire and his constant questioning of himself and God.

    Too dark for many I am sure, with little to save Friendship in the end, but it packed more in (less than) 200 pages than most tomes twice the size. I’ve already begun the next O’Nan called Wish You Were Here. It’s actually about the same family from Emily, Alone. I’m already 100 pages in and loving it.I’m amazed by O’Nan’s ability to see inside the souls of so many different characters.


  51. Wish You Were Here by Stuart O’Nan

    Finished this one awhile ago. It is the book that came out before Emily, Alone, about the same family. Emily, her two grown children and their families travel to their summer home for a week of family time. The story looks at what’s going on in every character’s head during that one week — that’s nine different points of view. At first it was interesting to see how each person sees the week and their own private fears and worries. But after awhile, even though each person is going through some rather major trauma and life changes, the week seemed to take a long, long time. In other words, I liked Emily, Alone a whole lot more.


  52. Pingback: My Homepage

  53. Ahhhhh! I can’t believe I haven’t written anything here in so long. Well, I have been reading. Of course. But it’s been so long since I’ve LOVED what I’ve read. I worry that’s it’s the WAY I’ve been reading lately. Hurried. Impatient. Half-involved. Falling asleep after three or four pages. I need to fall in love again. Right now I am reading a bear of a book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Joet by David Mitchell. I’ve never read anything by Mitchell, but I have heard he is a genius. I am 150 pages in and still feel like I’m treading the surface — haven’t fallen into the place or the story. It’s definitely interesting, and I can see how easily he weaves in the many threads. I won’t give up. Never do. Just hoping I feel a spark soon!

    Anyone else fall in love with a book lately? Let me know!


  54. Mitchell’s book (above) proved to be an incredible story. I’m glad I held steady and finished it. It is divided into sections, which end up fitting together. The voices of the various characters are amazing. I have to admit that I picked up three other books by Mitchell right after that and never finished any of them. Maybe I needed time away from such weighty tales. I just finished a very popular book called Gone Girl. Argh! Can’t think of the author right now. I don’t know — it sucked me in, but the ending was horrid. And because it’s the ending, I can’t even give it away. She’s a good writer. The characters had no redeeming value as human beings whatsoever, so I guess that they deserved each other. That’s all I’ll say.


  55. Long time. No writing about reading. But here’s one that will stay with me: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s been out for awhile, and, I must admit, I almost gave up on this one. It took many, many pages to capture me. I liked Harrison, the main character, but I didn’t know where the story was taking me.

    It seemed a bit aimless, although interesting, for a long, long time. It tells the story of a young boy growing up in the early 20th century, going between Mexico and the US, with a parent in both worlds. Each world seemed a bit incomplete — he wasn’t telling the whole story. And that, the untold story, is at the crux of this book: What we don’t know about people, and what we make up to fill in the holes.

    As a popular writer in the 40s and 50s, with a unknown, “unAmerican” past, Harrison is scurged during the McCarthy era. Every fact about his life is a lie or half truth — and this becomes his truth. I enjoyed the writing and the bits of history that woven in throughout. Again, it’s not an easy read. I knew nothing about Mexican history or Trotsky or Frida Kahlo, and this was the only way I would have ever entered that world.

    Again, a book from our East Providence Library book club — again, I thank Joyce for taking us into the lacuna.

    la·cu·na (l-kyn)
    n. pl. la·cu·nae (-n) or la·cu·nas
    1. An empty space or a missing part; a gap.


  56. “I dread to do what I do now, commending a man’s life into the bleak passage to some other place, be it filled with light or darkness. This is my small raft. I know not what waits on the other side.” — last lines from The Lacuna

    “I wonder that : Who be ye?” Violet Brown


  57. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-07-16/entertainment/35487335_1_armenian-genocide-consul-german-soldiers

    With a four-day Memorial Day weekend, I was able to finish another book rather quickly — The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian who wrote another book I read, Midwives.

    This is the story of the systematic killing of the Armenian people in the early 20th century and the people who were caught up in the times, the secrets and the silence. It’s a story I would not have known anything about until this book, except for a student I had several years ago. His name was Jeff Chakouian, and he was a powerful athlete who could barely fit into the desks of a classroom. He wasn’t that excited about English class, but he was respectful and funny and had lots of friends.

    We must have been talking about the genocide of the Jews in Germany, when he told the story of his Armenian ancestors that his grandmother had told him. He knew he had lost many relatives in Armenia. He was upset because he also knew the Jewish people had experienced horrendous loss, but he couldn’t understand why no one seemed to care that his ancestors had been exterminated in much the same way just years earlier.

    The book is a fictionalized story that focuses on the author’s own family’s loss in Armenia. It weaves in and out of the past and present as Bohjalian ties up the strings between the generations and the book’s many characters. His descriptions of the horrors of war — and how children and women were most often the victims — are among the hardest and starkest I have ever read. I wasn’t quite expecting to read about such brutality, so at first I felt it was there for shock value. But then its purpose — and the similarities to other war atrocities — became clear. How do we do what we do in the name of religion or patriotism? How do we human beings do it? If the stories aren’t told, we condone the killings with our silence.

    Bohjalian’s book was powerful and memorable. If I ever see Jeff again, I will tell him to read the book.


  58. A lovely idea here.

    I’m just starting a two-part bio of Auden and most excited. Much too early in the reading to have anything significant to share … a couple of hours into it. Maybe another day.

    Nothing quite like a good book, is there? 🙂


  59. Well, you asked for it. “What have you read lately that’s stuck in your mind?”, you said. I’ve had a real reading feast these last few weeks. In preparation for this little break I’d picked up a few well-regarded books from the remainders bin (I’m sorry publishers, but sometimes readers need a break and must be allowed not to feel guilty buying books on the cheap!).

    The Booker-shortlisted “The Garden of Evening Mists” was another of Tan Twan Eng’s explorations of place (Cameron Highlands, Malaysia) and memory (Japanese invasion, insurgency), beautifully written, evocative, but there was something too ephemeral about the characters – I didn’t burn to know any of them. From ephemeral to gut wrenching, with Sonali Deraniyagala’s “Wave”, her descent into near madness following the loss of her entire family in the Boxing Day Tsunami. Powerful and important, I think, to face our own losses.

    Alistair Horne’s “But What do you Actually Do?” was, as an autobiography, disappointing – though in truth this might be because I’ve never read any of his books! On the other hand, the glimpses of his life as a writer, historian and traveller, and the people he met, the conversations he had – was a little disquieting. Here was a life I’d have loved to have inhabited. Surprisingly, it’s a book that will make the “must be packed up and sent back home” pile just before I return to Australia.

    Lucid Gypsy recommended “How it Happened” by Sharaf Fatima Haider, which was as hilarious as it was illuminating about modern Pakistani girls and arranged marriage.

    From there, it was back to the remainders bin where Christopher Kremmer’s “Inhaling the Mahatma” was a curiously dry exploration of India at the crossroads, but a dazzling insight into the life of a foreign correspondent living and working in one of the most chaotic countries in the world. On the other hand, his “The Carpet Wars” was riveting from start to finish. Using the conceit of his growing admiration, nae, addiction, to “Oriental” carpets, we follow the intrepid correspondent through the hell holes of the modern world, from Afghanistan to Iran, Pakistan to the new eastern republics of the ex-Soviet Union – meeting traders and merchants, war lords, aid workers, and refugees, tracing history, ancient and modern, and how it has shaped the cradle of civilizations and the world today.

    Speaking of un-put-downable – Patti Smith’s homage/biography of Robert Maplethorpe was superb. As much a biography of the time when the denizens of the Chelsea Hotel and New York set the scene for my generation, she writes with insight and some candour about their life together and their pursuit art and fame.

    In a different vein, but also engrossing, was the novelised portrait of the young Hemmingway and Hadley Richardson, his first wife, by Paula McLain. “The Paris Wife” is set primarily in Paris between the wars. Exciting sketches of the crème de la crème of the artistic world of the time, and the fabulous lives they carved out for themselves form an almost voyeuristic backdrop to the scrimping poverty of the newly weds as they struggle towards Ernest finding his voice and getting himself published. As an exploration of a marriage, and the maturing of a young artist, the book is fascinating in its own right, without the added bonus of those glittering times. A good read.


    • Wow! Thank you for taking the time to offer up some titles. I found Patti Smith’s memoir of life with Maplethorpe equally “un-put-downable.” Her writing was superb and I went out and bought her CD right afterward. Paris Wife is on my list, and thank you for the other ideas. Just starting Hildebrande’s WWII story, “Unbroken” for my book club. Should be a good one!


  60. Unbroken was relentless. It was difficult to read and difficult to put down. I felt compelled to read this WWII veteran’s story of his fighter plane going down, being lost at sea and taken prisoner by the Japanese. I felt like I had to witness all that pain and time lost. His struggle to remain whole through it all seems beyond human, but the inhumanity he experienced was humanity at its worst. Why do we do what we do?


  61. Just finished the Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. She wrote Olive Kitteridge, a favorite of mine. Strout goes into the heads of all the major characters — two brothers, a sister, and their assorted wives, children and neighbors. Even the Somali families who have found haven (even if not very happily) in a small town in Maine. It is about the changing world we live in, how nothing stays the same, and how our perceptions of ourselves and our place in the world are mapped out when we are young. I wish I would have liked the characters more — they were too tiresome and selfish. Maybe too much like me. I hope not. Still like Strout’s writing, her storytelling ability, her choice of details to paint a picture of a character. But this one wasn’t as good as Olive — at least for me.


  62. Just finished The Reserve by Russell Banks, who is another favorite author. Loved Rule of the Bone. But this was so bad and disappointing. I kept reading because I thought it had to get better — wooden characters, preposterous storyline. I loved the setting, but even this was unrealistic. Set between the two world wars, it’s about the rich and almost famous, and how they destroy the lives of those that are stupid enough to love them. It’s as if there was a deadline for the book and Banks was late, so he just sent in what he had and an editor shaped the unfinished ending into what the book calls a “mystery.” Totally disappointing.


  63. The Round House by Louise Erdrich

    It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything by Erdrich, a writer of Native American stories. Her novel, Love Medicine, is one of those books that I will always remember, a book of interconnected stories about an Indian family on a reservation in the upper Midwest. This novel continues with a story set in the late 1980s, about a woman lawyer who is raped while she is trying to save a young Indian woman and her baby. Her husband is the reservation judge and her son is 13 years old. The story follows their efforts to try to save their wife/mother from her own destruction as she is wracked with guilt (she saves herself) and the aftermath of rape. It’s a wonderful coming of age story, filled with Indian lore, great characters and prose. Erdrich is a master and, like Kingsolver, tries to use her stories to right wrongs — in this case, the laws governing rape on reservations — especially by outsiders. They all learn lessons here, especially about justice. I’m glad I read this one. Next on to Kent Haruf’s two novels, Eventide (can’t remember if I read it) and Benediction (which is for my reading group).


  64. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
    by Jan-Philipp Sendker

    I read this for my wonderful book club at East Providence’s Weaver Library. I’ve been attending this group fairly regularly since I was a teacher, which means about 8 to 10 years! Can’t believe that.

    Anyway, one of the group members described this book as charming, and I agree. For the most part. It’s the story of a young boy who’s blind and a young crippled girl. Their life and love in Burma is magical and fairy tale-like. I was taken in their story and their ability to find good in a life of poverty and hardship. Believable and fantastical in the same breath.

    But the story is framed by another — more realistic and, for me, hard to believe story. How this young Burmese boy leaves behind the love of his life, regains his eyesight, travels to NYC, becomes a lawyer, marries, has children and then mysteriously leaves all of it behind to return to Burma and the woman he loves.

    His daughter, Julia, now grown up and a lawyer herself, travels to Burma to confront him — only to find a storyteller with a magical love story instead. I won’t give the rest away — no spoilers here. I think this is a book that many would enjoy. I just found it a little too worked over. If you tell a good story well, you don’t have to pile on the technique and frames and heavy construction. If you read it, let me know what you think! Burma (Myanmar now) sounds absolutely beautiful!


  65. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

    This is February’s book club selection. The writer tells the stories of several families in one of the poorest slums in Mumbai, India, over several years. It is almost too much to think that this is how so many people live their lives on the same planet that I live on. This was the National Book Award winner for nonfiction last year. As I read it, I became more and more curious about the writer herself and how she immersed herself in the world of these families. The corruption of every facet of Indian life is appalling, and it makes you wonder about the corruption in our own country. I would definitely recommend this book.


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