November was a fairly good reading month for me, considering I haven’t read much this year. I am pleased with having read four books even though two of them were for book clubs. And all of them set in the US! Rare for me. Here’s a little review of each one:
Mary Coin by Marisa Silver – This was read for a book club that I am co-facilitating at my city’s museum. They currently have an exhibit running called “Picturing Home: Dust Bowl Migrants in Chandler”. It runs through next August and we are reading and discussing books about the Great Depression, the dust bowl and migrant workers every other month through then. Mary Coin is based on the life of the woman in Dorothea Lange’s iconic photo Migrant Mother. Purely fictional, it was interesting but didn’t have much to add to our understanding of the time period. It was just kind of lackluster.
The Dog of the North by Elizabeth Mckenzie – This book, however, was spectacular! It takes place mainly in California and is told from the viewpoint of a woman who is getting divorced, has no money and travels to Santa Barbara to try to help her nutty (and mean) grandmother declutter her house. Chaos ensues. Hilarious chaos. It is just too hard to describe this book without giving the fun away, but it is wacky and full of heart. It reminded me of Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny or Laurie Colwin’s books with more body humor. Just pure fun on every page and I laughed my head off. It releases in March in the US.
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine – Another lucky find from scrolling my library’s ebook offerings. It caught my eye because it is set in Denver and I love reading books set in the West of the USA, as it seems almost everything takes place in NYC or New England. This is set in the 1930’s and follows one Mexican family as they endure prejudice, poverty and romantic troubles. There are flashbacks to their ancestors which gives a dynamic picture of how this family came to be where they are and inherit the gifts they possess. Great storytelling – I read it in a few days.
The Removed by Brandon Hobson – The other book club read for the month. I chose it to read in November for Native American Heritage Month. Told in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of members of a Cherokee family in Oklahoma, this novel follows them after 15 year old Ray Ray is shot and killed by a police officer. Each family member deals with the grief and anger in a different way and each is entirely convincing and well drawn. There’s lots of spirituality in the narrative and a sense of connection with ancestors – not unlike in Woman of Light. The great thing about this novel is that I loved it more after we had discussed it. So much to process and admire.
It’s been nearly a year since I last posted and I feel like nothing has changed yet so much has changed. Days after that post in August a building next door to my library exploded (due to a gas leak) and damaged the foundation, roof and walls of the library. We closed to the public for the next six months and I was sent to work at our main branch – to where I was permanently reassigned so I never returned to my old library. And now I’m working on the collection development team, selecting most of our new print and digital items. It’s a wonderful change and I love what I’m doing, but it hasn’t been without stress, conflict and sadness.
The past six months have also brought the death of two friends from cancer, one of whom I was visiting in Manchester when she went into the hospital. I’m so incredibly grateful that I was able to spend a couple of good weeks with her before she became so ill, but I’m devastated by her death and will miss her terribly.
Reading has not been a priority lately and I’ve read less in the first half of this year than in probably my entire adult life. I have the desire, I just do not have the concentration. I’m hopeful the next six months will see a return to my usual joyful reading life but I’m taking it slowly and am not forcing it.
Hoping anyone reading this is having a better book journey than I am this year and that this finds you healthy, happy and flourishing.
I have heard people talk of Laurie Colwin for years, but mostly about her food writing. Her book of food essays, Home Cooking, is a beloved title among many foodies and readers (Nigella Lawson is a fan). I was vaguely aware that she wrote novels, too, and when I saw this book at a second-hand bookshop in Texas last October I added it to the stack and resolved to try her writing. And I’m so glad I did! I really enjoyed this very quirky, funny novel about two cousins, Guido and Vincent, and their search for love and contentment. Both their characters are very well-drawn as are those of the women they end up marrying. The writing, the plot and the characters are all just delightful, charming and, yes, cozy. I have not read anyone quite like Colwin before, but I think if you like Barbara Pym you would probably like the understated humor here and the true pleasure she takes in writing about domestic affairs. I am looking forward to reading more of her books soon and was really pleased to see that they will all be re-issued this year.
In other news, my garden has not quite lived up to my expectations! Nearly all my sweet peas died except for one pot that is still thriving (though I’m not sure for how long as it has suddenly become very hot here). I do have some sunflowers sprouting and I know they usually can survive our hellish summers so I have lots of hope for them. I am also planning to sow zinnias and cosmos which can sometimes survive the heat. If anything exciting happens (such as actually getting blossoms) I will be sure to share.
Like many museums and cultural centers, the Bronte Parsonage Museum has taken a financial hit while closed due to covid. There is some fear that they will not be able to continue operating beyond this year. That would be such a tragedy. I really enjoyed my visit to the museum in May 2019 – it was a highlight of my trip to England. Being in the very place where the Bronte sisters wrote and lived was inspiring and illuminating (who knew it was so small!) and I would have visited again in April if my trip hadn’t been cancelled.
In an effort to raise funds the museum is currently taking donations, which you can read about here. A group of scholars have also organized a one day virtual event called Bronte2020 which will have some fabulous Zoom talks and panels, including a conversation with Sally Wainwright, creator of the excellent Bronte biopic To Walk Invisible. All proceeds from registrations will go directly to the museum.
The event is this Friday, September 4, and you can register at the Bronte Parsonage Museum site. I have taken the day off from work and plan to attend as many of the events as I can, though they start at 1:45 am Arizona time!
Please consider donating to the museum or registering for the Bronte2020 event. Let’s keep the Bronte Parsonage Museum open!
Hello everyone! I hope you’ve been well during this unsettling and strangely consistent madness. I’ve been hit with low-grade loneliness and boredom, but am otherwise fine. I am still working at the library. We did shut down for two months back in the spring, but we have been open in some form since mid May. Currently, we are open for hold pickups and 45 minute appointment blocks for patrons who need to use the computers, fax, scan or study at a table. This set up is working quite well and I’ve heard it might continue through September, but we never know for sure (which has been one of the hardest parts of working through a pandemic).
Has your reading been affected by Covid? Mine certainly has. I have read more than I thought I would, but not as much as I could have. As we enter into our sixth month of the pandemic I am really craving good books and that has meant returning to reads I have already visited – and know I am guaranteed to like. I recently reread Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Pure delight and enjoyment. And now I am rereading Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. Yes, it is a sad and devastating look at infidelity and betrayal. But it is so good on the dynamics of families and women’s sacrifices. It is so well written. After I finish the Whipple I think I will move on to One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, a novel I absolutely adored when I read it about 6 years ago. I am pretty sure I will still adore it and am going to savor my reread. After that? I might revisit a Marghanita Laski or return to At Mrs. Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor. We shall see.
I’ve read a few books lately, but haven’t had time to do individual posts on each one so I’m just sharing my brief thoughts on them here:
The Good People by Hannah Kent – I read this for one of my library’s book clubs and though I found it riveting, it didn’t inspire a very good discussion. And I’m not sure why. It takes as its subject the conflict between folk superstition and Catholicism in a rural village in Ireland during the early nineteenth century. The writing flows really well, the historical details are rich and descriptive and the central conflict is truly complex. But the book club members didn’t have much to say about it. This might have colored my enjoyment a bit, but it is well worth a read.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – This is another library book club choice (I now lead two book discussions a month at my library) and was one of the most praised books of last year. Alas, I didn’t care for it very much. The writing is poetic and the story is told in vignettes, which I quite like, but the characters were almost solely depicted in terms of their sexuality and physical desires and that put me off. Not the descriptions of sex, but the fact that the characters aren’t defined by much else.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel – Like many readers I loved Station Eleven by this author and was so excited when I saw that a new title by her was to be published this year. I was fortunate to get a review copy and spent a lovely few days savoring it. This book is not a disappointment at all but it is a very different sort of book from Station Eleven. It centers on the fall-out from a Ponzi scheme collapse and how it affects different people who’ve invested in the scheme and who’ve been involved in it. I loved the interconnectedness of their stories and St. John Mandel’s quiet writing style. It really is a book to linger over.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – This is one of the “hot” books of spring and is another review copy I gobbled up. But not comfortably. It depicts the abuse of a fifteen year old girl by her forty-something teacher. And it is very hard to read at times. It is very nuanced and the author does an admirable job of making us see how sick these attachments are. They are not love stories. They are full of manipulation, gaslighting and abuse of authority. A very unsettling yet timely novel.
On Wednesday I am going to Nashville for the Public Library Association conference and am really excited to get lots of review copies from all the major publishers who will be there. I’ll share what I am able to snag next week!
Hello and happy new year to anyone who is still reading this blog! How is the year treating you so far? Mine is off to a busy start, mostly at work, but I now have this week off and no reading obligations for the library so I am able to read anything I want for a blessed week. It feels exciting yet almost uncomfortable at the same time. And I can’t decide what to read! But I’m sure I’ll sort that out soon and find a book to lead me into my lovely vacation week.
Yesterday I presented my “New Year, New Reads” program to library patrons, recommending 10 books for them to consider reading in the next few months plus sharing three of my favorite books from the last decade. We had 40 people attend once again and the room was full and buzzing with happy readers and book lovers. This is the 5th year I have been presenting these programs at my library and it has slowly become one of our most successful adult programs throughout the entire system. The first time we gave the program I think we had 8 people show up. So to now regularly have an attendance of 40 people who love us and our recommendations is very gratifying.
Because of this I will continue to read buzzy contemporary literature in 2020 in order to fulfill my work obligations, but I also want to read more books just for me this year. Without guilt! And I know I say this every year but please indulge me – I also want to start blogging more regularly in 2020.
What reading or blogging goals have you set for this year?
Hello, friends! I hope you are all having a great September. Mine has been busy – it seems to have gone so quickly. There hasn’t been anything exciting going on, just the usual day-to-day of living. Sadly, though, I haven’t been reading as much as I would like to. I think our continuing heat has addled my brain and made me too lethargic to even read books I have been excited about for months. Such is the reading life. Sometimes we are ravenous, sometimes we can barely swallow a morsel.
So, I don’t have any books to chat about but I would like to know – what is the best book that you’ve read recently? Though I’m not reading much right now, I still love to hear about what others are loving.
Hello, everyone! I hope you’ve had a lovely couple of weeks. Our weather has been unrelentingly hot and oppressive. Usually by this time in the summer we have had a couple of monsoon storms, but there has been nary a drop of rain yet. It is so unusual and a bit frightening, especially as we have a large forest fire blazing near Flagstaff. We are supposed to get rain tonight so I’m crossing my fingers it really happens.
I’ve not been reading much lately and I never do in the summer. Life seems more hectic and work is definitely all- consuming. We’re busier and staff naturally want to take vacation so I am usually left behind. Plus, I think I am a bit weary of contemporary fiction though I keep trying to find something that will click. And when I turn to classics my old guilt creeps in. So I end up reading nothing. One day I hope I figure this out!
Books finished this week: NONE, sadly. What have you read lately?
On my second day in Manchester we visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, another place that had been on my “want to see” list since my last trip to England. It is in a busy residential area of Manchester with houses and apartments and a big park with basketball courts surrounding the pretty Victorian dwelling. Despite the encroachment of the modern world, once you step into the house, you step back in time into a comfortable, high ceilinged-friendly space that is a good representation of what the house would have been like when Gaskell, her husband and four daughters lived there in the nineteenth century.
I really enjoyed my visit to this house where Mrs. Gaskell wrote most of her novels and stories and where she entertained many friends including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and John Ruskin. It is a very “go at your own pace” type of museum where no one hassles you or bombards you with information. I felt more like one of Gaskell’s welcomed friends than a tourist. And there is a lovely tearoom and second-hand bookshop in the basement. I had a cup of tea and a delicious slice of pear tart while deciding which gifts and books to buy. If you are a fan of Gaskell or of Victorian fiction this is a great place to visit if you are in Manchester.
Here are a few more photos:
Books finished this week:
Only one! I finished the very short Let Us Now Praise Famous Gardens by Vita-Sackville West which is a monthly compilation of some of the gardening articles she wrote for The Observer newspaper in the forties and fifties. As I am now obsessed with gardens after my visit to England I devoured her advice and tips though I can’t grow any of the plants she mentions or even really go outside right now without getting heatstroke!