WWW Wednesday — Fall Reading Version 1.0

September’s Baccalaureate
A combination is
Of Crickets — Crows — and Retrospects
And a dissembling Breeze

That hints without assuming —
An Innuendo sear
That makes the Heart put up its Fun
And turn Philosopher.

Emily Dickinson

Here’s a little anecdote about this poem, and Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite poets. I remembered that she had written a  little poem about September — and aging — but I couldn’t find it in my copy of her collected poetry. So I searched the Internet, using the terms “Emily Dickinson September poem”. I found the poem, but I also came upon the following quotation by Suzanne Supplee (an author with whom I am not familiar): “Emily Dickinson, in my opinion, is the perfect (although admittedly slightly cliche) poet for lonely fat girls.” I’d been so happy to find the poem, which was as lovely as I remembered, and then Suzanne Supplee had to go and take the wind right out of my sails. I’m not going to let that quote (which I’m sure was taken out of context) ruin Emily Dickinson for me. I’ll be turning the beautiful line “Of Crickets — Crows — and Retrospects” over in my mind for a long time.

What am I currently reading? What did I just finish reading? And what will I read next?

9781594634475I’m about halfway through Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, which I almost put down after the first 30 pages or so. Several reviews (both from professional critics and from readers I trust) convinced me to stick it out, and I’m glad I have — I’m thoroughly absorbed now. I have a love-hate relationship with Groff’s writing style — some sentences amaze me with their originality, while others strike me as pretentious. A review on NPR raves about Groff’s writing:

The book is a master class in best lines; a shining, rare example of that most unforgiving and brutal writer’s advice: All you have to do is write the best sentence you’ve ever written. Then 10,000 more of the best. Then find a way to string them together into the story of something.

Which is what Groff has done here. And if you do want to learn how to be a great writer, you could do worse than skipping out on that M.F.A. program or pricey writer’s retreat, dropping 28 bucks on this book, studying the hell out of it, and then spending all that money you just saved on gin cocktails and hats. It’s that good. That beautiful. Occasionally, that stunning.

I’m warming, just a little, to the characters, now that I’m in the second half of the book (“Furies”), but at first I found them not only unlikable but unrealistic. As one commenter on NPR said,

Amazing writing. Absolutely beautiful. My question for the author: Do you think people like this couple actually exist, and you are delving into their psyches, or are you purposely creating otherworldly main characters? I have met many people from many different walks of life but have never met anyone even remotely like Lancelot and Mathilde. Am I just not meeting the right people? Is it all just metaphorical?

All I can reveal about the plot is that it revolves around a marriage and the two people’s very different perceptions, and that it’s very well constructed. Sounds like Gone Girl, right? Both have their share of melodrama and plot twists. Fates and Furies is rooted in Greek mythology, with plenty of Shakespearean references (one of the main characters is a playwright), making it self-consciously literary while Gone Girl presents itself as a straight page-turner. I’m looking forward to following the discussion on NPR, which has chosen it to discuss on the Morning Edition Book Club.

y648I need something light and funny to counterbalance the darkness in Fates and Furies, so my current audiobook is Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. Yesterday I drove several miles past my exit because I was having so much fun listening to Amy. She jumps from childhood to Second City to motherhood to Saturday Night Live, with several guest readers — including her mother. I know the print book has lots of photos and illustrations, but it can’t be as entertaining as the audio — although I have to be honest and tell you that it’s not as good as Bossypants, by Amy’s good friend Tina Fey.

9780804140164I just finished reading The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Resilience in an American Town, by Ryan D’Agostino. The devastating true story of Dr. William Petit, who lost his wife and two daughters — and was critically injured himself — in a brutal attack in the family’s Connecticut home. Amazingly, Petit has not only survived but managed to rebuild his life. This book, which I read in one day, is a real-life companion to Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family.

9780399173004Because every serious book needs to be followed by something light and amusing, I read Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails for Your Everyday Dramas, by two English professors — Caroline Bicks, Ph.D. and Michelle Ephraim, Ph.D.

Now some of you may be thinking: Booze? Professors? Isn’t this why we need to get rid of tenure? But hear us out. Shakespeare wasn’t just interested in Fate, Revenge, and Tragic Flaws. His plays are saturated with alcohol-related themes, and it’s our job to know about them.

These Shakespeare scholars obviously had a blast putting together this collection of recipes for cocktails and appetizers. Every page contains fun and interesting Shakespeare trivia; reading this short book is a bartending course and Shakespeare seminar combined.

y648-1What’s next? Because I can never get too much of World War II, probably Early One Morning by Virginia Baily, about the decision a young Italian woman makes to save the life of a young Jewish boy — a decision that has repercussions 30 years later. The reviews describe the novel as not just a war story, but as an adoption story. And because I always need a laugh, Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam, the “semi-true” tale of Hickam’s parents’ journey from West Virginia to Florida with their pet alligator in tow. I started reading the ARC a couple of months ago, and misplaced it — I just found it, and can’t wait to pick it up again, because it’s sweet and nostalgic and funny. It’s a rough world, and as I just heard Elizabeth Berg say, there’s nothing wrong with a little sentimentality.

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10 New Books I’m Looking Forward to This Fall

That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air … Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.
Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Stegner eloquently phrased what I’ve always believed — September is the true beginning of the year.  January is just another long, cold month of hibernation and diets. Fall is traditionally when the major publishers come out with their “big books”. According to the Boston Globe, “The fall book publishing season mirrors the movie industry’s Oscar-jockeying season. Publishers typically use the last few weeks running up to the holiday buying season to release their most prestigious, and commercially promising, new titles”.

Some of the books I’m looking forward to reading this fall are “prestigious” and some may be “commercially promising”, but those aren’t qualities that are important to me as a reader, or even as a bookseller. On the other hand, I don’t like to engage in reverse snobbery either —  I don’t avoid a book just because it’s popular.

The 10 books on my list sound like what I’ll want to read this fall while curled up with a blanket on my favorite reading chair.

6f7409195b3da2bf053b771b8d91d7efEarly One Morning by Virginia Baily (due September 29)

Published in the U.K. earlier this year, Baily’s second novel tells the story of Chiara, a young woman who impulsively saves the life of a young Jewish boy, whom she names “Daniele”,  during the Nazi occupation of Italy. Her decision reverberates a generation later, when a teenage girl contacts her, claiming to be Daniele’s daughter. The Guardian calls the book “highly original” noting that “The book works because it gives itself fully to its characters and their relationships, from which its ample plot spirals outwards with a confidently handled complexity and depth.”

9780670025770The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (due October 6)

Brooks, who’s written four previous novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning March, is one of my favorite authors. The Secret Chord imagines the life of the biblical King David. In a Publishers Weekly interview, Brooks explains her fascination with King David, describing his story as “encompassing most of human experience: there’s love and loss, triumph and despair, victory and defeat. ‘Everything happens to him,’ she says, pointing out that the biblical account is the ‘first piece of history writing that we have,’ predating Herodotus by 500 years.”

930cb8822e923066f1cfb42fa388117eThe Three Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway (due October 27)

I know this probably isn’t another Boys in the Boat (what could be?), but I can’t resist an underdog sports story — and this one sounds terrific. The “Three-Year Swim Club” was a group of poor Japanese-American children who started their swimming careers training in irrigation ditches in the 1930s and later became world champions. Checkoway focuses on the team’s innovative and inspirational coach, Soichi Sakomoto, an unsung hero whose accomplishments have gone relatively unnoticed.

9781594634475Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (available now)

This is one of the big “buzz” books of the season, so I think I should have an opinion. The first section of the book, “Fates”, chronicles a marriage from the husband’s point of view of ; the second section, “Furies”, provides the wife’s version. I’m slightly worried that Fates and Furies is going to be too self-consciously literary for my taste, but we’ll see.  Longlisted for the National Book Award.

9780307451064The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher (due October 6)

I love narrative nonfiction about quirky topics! This account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini, crusader against charlatans and the spiritualism movement, and Margery Crandon, self-proclaimed spirit medium, is right up my alley.

9780525429777Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell (due October 27)

Clementine came to me on the recommendation of my friend and coworker Kathy, who always picks terrific nonfiction. Published earlier this year in the U.K. to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister, The Independent says that Sonia Purnell’s “compellingly readable”  biography of Churchill’s wife “brings her out from behind the shadow cast by the Great Man and argues for her historical importance.”

y648Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America by Diane Roberts (due October 27)

I’m not crazy about football, but I am intrigued by the sport as an American cultural phenomenon. (The best book I’ve read on the subject — so far — is Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania, by Warren St. John.) Roberts, an English professor at Florida State, says she’s a “conflicted” football fan:”I’m like those people who aren’t sure they believe in the Virgin Birth and the literal Resurrection but still show up for church because they like the music and take solace in the liturgy.”

Schiff_THEWITCHESThe Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff (due October 27)

I’m absolutely fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials, and for good reason — I was born in Salem, along with many of my ancestors. Pulitzer Prize winner Schiff says that we have a “completely skewed idea of what happened” in Salem; “it’s something we all know about, but we actually are relatively misinformed.”

9780804141352The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (due October 6)

First in the new Hogarth Shakespeare series, The Gap of Time is a “cover” version of The Winter’s Tale. The publisher’s website explains that Hogarth has commissioned well-known authors “to write prose ‘retellings’ of Shakespeare’s plays for the modern reader.” These new versions will be true to the spirit of the original dramas and their popular appeal, while giving authors an exciting opportunity to reinvent these seminal works of English literature.” What a great idea!

9780553496642Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (available now)

Ann Kingman recommended this YA novel on my favorite podcast, Books on the Nightstand: “I don’t want to say too much about it, because you really should go into this book without knowing too much about it. All I’ll say is that the main character is a teenage girl who suffers from debilitating allergies that require her to stay inside of her home.” Ann hasn’t steered me wrong yet, so I’m going to add it to my list.

Happy Fall!