This week has been totally schizophrenic has it not? Monday morning’s soul crushing snow and cold which gave way to an afternoon full of sun and warm breeze, the beauty of yesterday (have we seen anything like that since October? I don’t think so!) and then today cold spitting rain. It’s April and my boy T.S. Eliot was not lying when he called it the ‘cruelest month’. I don’t know about you but I found myself literally chasing sun this week. Whenever it was out, so was I and I was amazed at how it elevated my mood and outlook. The People of the Weather say that this Sunday is going to be amazing while the beginning of the week will be a sodden sorry mess which I suppose gives credence to the whole April showers, May flowers thing, so I charge everyone with the following task: Go outside and play. Take a walk, plant a pansy, visit the beach and report back. I promise you that you will be amazed at how good you will feel. This week we have lots of things, some midlife, a couple for the ages, hoarding, tension, the reappearance of Jeanne, an amazing debut novel, and what would Friday be without The Playlist?
Let us begin!
Barbara M is showing her gathering skills this week. “I absolutely love Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities by Kevin Kelly. A Thank You to Lois for bringing this book to my attention. It is a modern version of The Whole Earth Catalog filled with solutions to things you never knew you needed solutions for. I’ve already bought one to give as a gift. It’s filled with things I never knew I needed: a JarPop easy jar opener, E.A.R. foam earplugs, a Black and Decker Accu Mark Level. It’s a catalog and so much more with helpful advice like how to keep track of your books and which seat to choose on an airline. It’s an encyclopedia of useful and useless facts, objects and sites guaranteed to keep you glued to your computer for hours and hours.”
Sweet Ann is reading a book that has rapidly become a darling of the Reader’s Advisory Department, The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol. “This is a French novel which was translated into English but anyone can relate to it. The characters in this story are dealing with job loss, infidelity, disgruntled teenage children and other midlife issues. The story centers on Josephine whose husband leaves her to raise crocodiles in Africa with his mistress. She and her two daughters are devastated and the eldest, Hortense is angry at her mother for her father leaving. Josephine's life becomes more complicated when her sister convinces her to go along with a crazy scheme. This is a light, enjoyable read that will make you smile. I think this book is a great way to welcome spring or bring to the beach in a couple of months.”
Miss Elisabeth of the CL spent a pleasant 117 minutes this week with one of my personal favorites. “I actually squealed with glee when I saw it: The Long Hot Summer is streaming on Netflix! This is one of my all-time favorite movies. The chemistry between Paul Newman and his future wife, Joanne Woodward, is so crackling it leaps off the screen. They play characters that embody the archetypes we saw them as: Newman is the drawling, gorgeous outsider with a heart of gold and charisma aplenty, while Woodward is an ice queen with a molten core. I think it’s one of the sexiest movies (with no sex!) ever produced. The script was based on two William Faulkner short stories, one of which, Barn Burning, can be found in The Art of the Short Story in the Literature section, or on audio in Collected Stories. This is a must-see, and it’s very rarely available on streaming sights, so watch it while you can! “
Virginia the Tall Cool Texan is heeding my advice. Good Girl Virginia! “Having never read E.L. Doctorow, I was on the verge of picking up his new book, Andrew’s Brain when Jen made the recommendation to first try an earlier work of his, Homer & Langley. I am so glad I did because I just loved the book. This novel is based on the infamous New York hoarders, Homer and Langley Collyer. Doctorow takes considerable historical liberties by extending the brothers’ lifespans and exploring their inner lives. It is well-written, interesting, fun but at the same time absolutely tragic when you realize these two men had real lives with serious problems that in the end destroyed them.”
Steph is reporting back from last week. “To complete my report on The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara: Wow! I loved it. I like nothing more than being surprised by a book, and this book surprised me on multiple fronts. Yanagihara is a spectacular writer. What’s impressive beyond her obvious ability, though, is her ability to write in the pompous voice of a horrible person while simultaneously skewering that person. Further, though she builds up tension so subtly that I’m not sure I’d be able to expect it on a re-read. This tension builds to the point of near breath-holding in the final sections. I only wish I had read it sooner.”
Jeanne has been quiet these past weeks. A little too quiet if you ask me. Here is what she’s been up to. “I have been busily reading 2014 Nutmeg nominees to get ready for Nutmeg @ Night and trying to catch up to the fantastic four Children’s Librarians. Maybe that won’t happen, but I am having so much fun trying. My current favorites are The Candymakers by Wendy Mass and Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn. I have also been listening via Overdrive and Hoopla so here is my audiobook playlist. I absolutely loved A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. The narrator, Colette Whitaker was perfect and the story, while a tragedy in the very recent past, was compelling with great characters and fantastic dialogue. I enjoyed Divergent and Insurgent by Victoria Roth and read by Emma Gavin. One of our esteemed colleagues says this is cookie cutter dystopia, but if you haven’t read the other cookies, who cares? I tried The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philip Sendker and I am not sure if it was the narrator, Cassandra Campbell or the story, but I abandoned that about half way through. I went on to listen to Orange is the New Black: My Year in A Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman; also narrated by Cassandra Campbell. It is a memoir of the author’s time in Danbury’s Federal Correctional Institution. She served several years of time after doing something very stupid and illegal while a student at Smith. I thought Campbell was a perfect voice for the author and the many different inmates that Kerman meets. I am currently hitting PLAY on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and read by David Pittu. This book has gotten a lot of great press and I have high hopes.”
I am totally in love with Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth. This debut novel, based on the author’s life has me savoring each and every sentence. Mary Byrd Thornton is a matron of a certain age living her life in a Mississippi college town when the phone rings one morning. It’s the police telling her that she and her family will need to go back to her childhood home in Virginia because they have cracked the long cold case of what happened to her nine-year-old stepbrother back in 1966. The writing is rich and descriptive and just downright darkly funny in a way that it seems only southern writers can be. This one comes out in June and I am buying lots of it.
DJ Jazzy Patty McC has left The State Up North this week for the Wrong Coast. While I am sure that this is an improvement in climate, I am not sure that it is an improvement in general. “This week I boarded a Boeing 767 headed for Los Angeles to enjoy a respite of sorts, an opportunity to relax, catch up with friends, soak up some sunshine and perhaps bury my feet in the sand. What I hadn't planned for was spending 4.5 hours seated with a man who was violently ill the majority of the flight. Let's just say that there were not enough plastic bags to contain the fluids or prevent it from hitting the deck. I'm giving myself a reboot. Right now I'm sitting on my cabana balcony overlooking a work of art by David Hockney in the swimming pool. Foster the People just shot their video here yesterday for their new song Best Friend and today the radio world will descend on the hotel for the Worldwide Radio Summit. I think I'm going to get in the car, drive out to Santa Monica, dig my toes into the sand, soak up some rays and listen to some tunes. This just might be the reset button I need. So today, find your reset button, push play and chase after some sunshine. I'd be willing to bet it will put a little spring into your step.”
This week I have been thinking about the nature of Lost and Found. Sometimes you lose things and it’s perfectly fine if not downright welcome. Lose ten pounds? Sign me up! But lose your temper or your sanity? Not so good. It would appear size is not a factor when we lose things. You can lose a needle in a haystack or one of those annoyingly necessary earring backs, but you can also lose a jet over an ocean and this week it would appear a circus lost some elephants. Last week it looked like we had finally found spring only to lose it again this week. The same is also true of finding things. Find some trouble? Not so good. Finding your bliss? It can be as elusive as that aforementioned needle but a wonderful thing when it happens. What are Sweet Ann’s Words of Wisdom this week? “Lose the blues and find the good!” Duly noted, Ann. As for spring, I am happy to report that we wrote our check for our CSA Shares this week. This has to mean that we are just that much closer to warm sun and blue skies. This week we have a RHONY, two friends, disgrace, a dinner, quarantine, Chicago, Papa H, and of course The Playlist!
Let us begin!
Caroline takes time out of her crazy schedule to share what she’s reading when she’s not here or being the mother of twins. That she can get anything read at all is a miracle to me. “To quote Phaedra Parks, 'Everybody knows...' Everybody knows I never met a Bravolebrity book I didn't like. But let's be honest - some are better than others. Thankfully, Carole Radziwill's new novel, The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating, is well worth the read, due in large part to the fact that she was actually an established author before she was a Real Housewife of New York City. Her celebrated memoir, What Remains, recounted her life as a journalist and her husband's battle with cancer. The newest NYC housewife, Kristen, recently described Sonja and Ramona as her ‘crazy drunk aunts.’ Well I think it's safe to say that The Widow's Guide to Sex and Dating is the crazy drunk aunt of What Remains. Quirky, fun and compelling, you won't want to put it down. At least not until Housewives comes on.”
Sweet Ann has just finished My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. “This is the first novel in a trilogy that will follow two friends, Elena and Lila from childhood to old age. It opens with the adult son of Lila calling Elena to inquire if she knows where his mother is. Elena begins to reflect on her childhood shared with her best friend Lila in the early 1950's in a small Italian village just outside of Naples. Both families are struggling financially after the war and are attempting to raise their families the best they can. The girls are quite competitive in their relationship in the early years of grade school but as they enter junior high their lives will take different paths. Elena is often jealous of her beautiful friend and Lila often covets Elena's life. This is a very interesting well written novel. As a reader you are drawn into a time when women were not allowed to have opinions and their fathers and brothers could rule their lives. This novel was translated from Italian and I have to say I was glad the novel contained a list of the families in the village in the beginning. I am looking forward to beginning the second novel, The Story of a New Name.”
Steph is in the middle of something. “This week I have been making time to read The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, because I am loving it so much. This book has been piquing my interest as it keeps advancing in the Tournament of Books, beating books that were personal favorites. How could any book defeat our beloved Life After Life in a head-to-head competition? Well, I haven’t finished it yet so I can’t say which is better, but this book is certainly a contender. This debut novel is disguised as a disgraced professor’s memoirs, written from jail after he’s found guilty of molesting one of his children. With nothing to do but reflect on his life, he writes about his youth, time in medical school, and how he stumbled into the secrets of immortality while working with an anthropologist to learn more about one of the last undiscovered cultures in the world. He sends his writing piece by piece to one of his only protégés, who has not abandoned him, and whose presence is made evident by a series of footnotes, alternately explaining and defending the man he still reveres. The effect is spectacular: an incredibly well-written story which is clearly going nowhere good, the tension ratcheting up with every page. I keep crossing my fingers for the train to get stuck in a tunnel so I get extra reading time! I’ll report back next week.
Virginia the Tall Cool Texan is working an interesting take on Lost and Found. One of her topics involves finding, the other involved decided loss. I’ll let her explain. “Food, food, and leprosy…that pretty much sums up what I have been reading this week. I have been in a food rut so I turned to our Home section for inspiration and found Weeknight Wonders by Ellie Krieger and The Chew, What’s for Dinner. Both offer a wide array of recipes but of the two books I prefer Weeknight Wonders. Krieger’s recipes are simple but flavorful and the few I have tried out have been big hits. The Chew, What’s for Dinner is a bit basic but has quick and simple recipes laid out in an appealing and easy to follow manner. While I think this would be the perfect book for a novice cook or a college student, I certainly would use some of the recipes in a time crunch. Moving on to leprosy…I just started Moloka’i by Alan Brennert and I am thoroughly enjoying this historical fiction novel. Recommended to me by a patron, the book is about Rachel Kalama, a seven-year-old Hawaiian girl who contracts leprosy and is taken from her family and sent to the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Devastated by the cruel and abrupt separation from her family, and terrified by new surroundings and constant reminders of the devastating disease she carries, Rachel must carve a new life for herself. “
Laura is enjoying a book that has been a Staff favorite for a while now. “After Visiting Friends, by Michael Hainey is a well-researched quest by the author to find out more about the death of his father who was a larger-than-life newspaperman of the Chicago Sun-Times in the 1960's. It starts with the story told to him since he was six years old: which he did not quite believe: that his father died of a heart attack in the middle of the night, alone on a street in the city of Chicago after having visited friends. Hainey uncovers lies and deceptions by family and friends. It is a story of protection at all costs. But who is really being protected?”
I have a confession to make. I am reading a book that I love but I almost didn’t pick it up. I really liked The Paris Wife and thought that all that needed to be said about the lives of Hadley, Papa H, and Pauline Pfeiffer had been said and we could move on now. But when I read the reviews from the UK that used words like ‘intoxicating’ , ‘breathtaking’ and ‘sublime’ I knew I had to take a peek. Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood is all of those words and it is making my commute a joy. What makes this really wonderful book different is the how Wood begins each of the four sections (one for each wife) with the moment that the current wife knows the next wife has won and Ernest is lost to her. The author has done an amazing job providing each of the women with distinct voices and personalities. I have just begun Part IV with Mary sorting through Ernest’s papers after his death. It will be interesting for me to see if Wood renders Death as Papa’s final bride. This one comes out in May and you are going to not only want it in your beach bag but for your book group come the fall.
DJ Jazzy Patty McC is in da house with these final thoughts Lost and Found. Take it away Patty! “What’s been lost is sometimes found. Isn’t life at times like that? We lose keys, airplanes and socks in the dryer or at least that’s the narrative we tell ourselves. We lose things because we have things. We compare and contrast because we’re human. We sing, dance and create because we can and maybe that’s more important than stuff or things. Now go forth and find something. Find truth, beauty or love in a picture book like the wonderful book Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. Sometimes the meaning of life is right in your hands.”
Happy Spring! We made it! Sweet Ann’s Words of Wisdom this week are again in the form of a question, “Sure you’re alive, but are you really living?” The message from the SoNo Loft this week is “Learn to Fly”. Both are nice reminders that the season has changed and we no longer have an excuse to not be enjoying any lovely day that comes our way. I hope that you were able to partake in some of our Welcome Spring festivities yesterday. I know that my mood measurably improved with the short trip outside to the ice cream truck where I heeded the siren’s song of a Toasted Almond Ice Cream Bar and a few minutes standing in the sun. This weekend do something that makes your heart soar and reminds you that you are indeed living life to its fullest. This week we have Quebec, Russia, and some Wisconsin Death Trip. And what would the weekend be without The Playlist?
Let us begin!
Abby is enjoying a perennial favorite, Louise Penny. “I’ve just finished book 7, A Trick of The Light in the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny and keep finding nice surprises in each. The first book, Still Life, was enjoyable but not what I had expected. I thought the series would be more intense and dark but instead found them to be on the lighter side and quite sentimental. To my pleasant surprise, as the books continue, Penny does a nice job of peeling back the layers of reoccurring characters, exposing depth and yes, a bit of darkness. One of the books has me wanting to learn more about the history of the separatist movement in Quebec. I am happy to go along for the ride as Penny continues expanding upon the residents of Three Pines, the wonderful Chief Inspector Gamache and his crew.”
Barbara M is heeding some advice. “On the recommendation of two of our patrons I’ve just started reading The Dancer by Colum McCann. It is a novel loosely based on the life of Rudolf Nureyev and so far it is so beautifully written that I want to read it at every available moment. It starts in a small Russian town at the end of World War II as the protagonist discovers his love and aptitude for dancing. We all know Nureyev’s story but I can’t wait to see how McCann tells it.”
Last week I told you all about how much I was loving The End of Always by Randi Davenport. Well, I finished it and while reading the acknowledgements she mentioned a book I had forgotten about as being the inspiration for one of the darker moments in her novel. Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy is one of those books that rapidly become an obsession. This non-fiction work chronicles the years between 1890 and 1910 in Jackson County, Wisconsin. Illustrated with period photographs and accompanied by text from newspapers and diaries, the scene that Lesy paints is far from pretty. Are insanity, poverty and degenerate behavior your cup of tea? Wisconsin Death Trip has it. If you ever find yourself longing for a simpler time, reading WDT will cure you mighty quickly. A classic example is this newspaper account of a Mrs. Carter who appears to be having a rough week.
"Mrs. Carter... was taken sick at the marsh last week and fell down, sustaining internal injuries which have dethroned her reason. She has been removed to her home here and a few nights since arose from her bed and ran through the woods... A night or two after she was found trying to strangle herself with a towel... It is hoped the trouble is only temporary and that she may soon recover her mind.”
How much do you love that? “Dethroned her reason!” Is that not just the most amazing phrasing? And I know I am not alone in my fascination with this book. It was the inspiration for one of our favorites, The Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick and also Stuart O’Nan’s Prayer for the Dying.
DJ Jazzy Patty Mc C. is here with this week’s playlist and and her musings on all things flighty and feathered from The State That Will Not Be Named. Take it away Patty! “This week I boarded a plane and flew with a papier-mâché chicken in my carry-on bag. No one questioned it. It wasn’t even given a sideways glance or thorough inspection. It passed through the x-ray machine and then bounced along under the seat in front of me. Now, soon enough my new abode will be abuzz with snowbirds returning from their southern nests to their northern ones. In this new type of communal dwelling for us, I imagine my children will be hatching some sort of entrepreneurial endeavor that will engage and delight our new neighbors. Until then I will look to the skies for sunshine and do a little bird watching of my own.”