August 4, 2022
I read sixteen books in July–surprising even myself.
The first half of the month I immersed myself in mysteries. See my July 14 post. https://wordpress.com/post/livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/949 During the second half of July I read three novels from my TBR list, and I recommend with pleasure each one.
- French Braid by Anne Tyler. I’ve read most of her long list of books, enjoying some more than others. This one is especially good. Few people write dialogue as well as Tyler does, for one thing, and few people create a window into family relationships as she does. True, the characters are often quirky, but still, recognizable. In this story the family members maintain distance from one another, not out of dislike or fear, but simply this is the way it is. The title is referenced towards the end of the book describing a French braid when it is undone, “ripples, little leftover squiggles…that’s how families work, too. You think you’re free of them, but you’re never really free; the ripples are crimped in forever.” (p. 234) Later, Tyler writes, “This is what families do for each other–hide a few uncomfortable truths, allow a few deceptions. Little kindnesses…and little cruelties. (p. 342) Classic Tyler
- Three by Valerie Perrin. Her earlier novel, Fresh Water for Flowers, was the first book I read in 2021 and was one of my favorite books that year. It remains a favorite. I loved Three, as well. The title refers to Etienne, Adrien, and Nina who grew up together, forming their own kind of family. The story moves between their growing up years and years much later. Sometimes a scene is repeated, but the second time we, the readers, know much more than we did the first time we read it. Much of the story is told by Virginie, but we don’t know who she is till much later in the book. “Intriguing” is the word that occurred to me as I read this book. Flawed characters, for sure, but characters who want to live as their better selves. One line that stays with me, “How many people do we miss out on in a lifetime?” (p. 261)
- Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. After reading her most recent novel Great Circle in June https://livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/06/09/book-report-great-circle-by-maggie-shipstead/, I knew I wanted to read her backlist. Seating Arrangements is her first novel, published in 2012, and it is worth reading. The story takes place the weekend of a wedding–Winn and Biddy’s oldest daughter, Daphne is getting married to Greyson. Daphne is seven months pregnant, which doesn’t seem to be an issue for anyone. The wedding party gathers at the family’s island home, and the story could have focused on any one of the characters, but this is really the father’s story. “His wedding had been a wedding, not a family reunion and missile launch and state dinner all rolled into one.” (p. 93). Winn is attracted to one of the bridesmaids, and his younger daughter Livia is recovering from an abortion and being dumped by her boyfriend, and there is the matter of the beached whale. Shipstead not only tells a story well, but I love her rich descriptions and her often ironic tone. Now I am ready to read the next novel on her backlist, Astonish Me.
I feel I should mention another novel I read in July, Bewilderment by Richard Powers. I’m not sure I loved this book, but it felt like an honor to read it, and at times the story of a widowed father, Theo, and his unusual nine year-old son, Robin, moved me to tears. Theo doesn’t accept the encouragement from Robin’s teachers to start him on medication, but instead homeschools him and enrolls him in an experimental kind of therapy. Theo is an astrobiologist and often tells Robin stories of imagined planets. All this is in the context of a world that seems to be destroying itself and Trumpian anti-science politics. I’ve not yet read Powers’ The Overstory–I know I should. I know I will, but not yet.
As part of my morning meditation time, I am reading, slowly, very slowly, Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self by Kathleen Dowling Singh, which has been on my shelf for several years, and it is worth the wait and the intentional slow pace. Other than that, I am not reading much nonfiction right now. I do recommend, however, a writing book, Getting to the Truth, The Craft and Practice of Nonfiction by the editors of Hippocampus Magazine. Excellent essays.
it’s going somewhere without ever taking a train or a ship, an unveiling of new, incredible worlds. It’s living without having to face consequences of failures, and how best to succeed…I think within all of us, there is a void, a gap waiting to be filled by something. For me, that something is books and all their proffered experiences. p.73The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin
What did you read in July? Anything you recommend? I would love to know.
One of my favorite online sites for books and reading is Modern Mrs Darcy. Yesterday her post was a list of mystery series to read while waiting for the new Louise Penny! https://modernmrsdarcy.com/what-to-read-next-louise-penny-readalikes/
One of my favorite blogs about writing is Brevity. On Monday, August 8 you can read an essay I wrote called “Writing in a Garret.” I hope you will read it and would love to know your response. https://brevity.wordpress.com