Glad I Read: My Salinger Year

My Salinger YearSometimes a book just picks me up in its pretty arms and carries me away for a while. Such was the case here. Joanna Rakoff picked me up and deposited me in a sort of timeless world where books and writing matter more than anything else. This is the year Rakoff accidentally fell into a job at a literary agency – a place stuck in the early 60’s despite a calendar which read 1996, a place where the obsessive reclusiveness of J.D. Salinger controlled behavior, a place where a young woman could discover her passion.

This is just the kind of memoir I love to read because I recognize so much of myself in Rakoff – the yearning, the confusion, the inability to take action when she should. Mostly, I recognize a kindred spirit in terms of book love. Along with her, I lament her boss’ inability to “get books.”

“She’d never spent entire days lying on her bed reading, entire nights making up complicated stories in her head. She’d not dreamed of willing herself into Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre so that she might have real friends, friends who understood her thorny desires and dreams. How could she spend her days—her life—ushering books into publication but not love them in the way that I did, the way that they needed to be loved?”

I love this idea that books need to be loved to fully come alive. I concur. It’s not what this memoir is about but it’s the background idea that drew me in and kept me engaged. Ironically, what pushed me away is that the book becomes more and more about Salinger and Salinger’s writing the longer it goes on. I’m just not in the Salinger Fan Club, so I automatically took an emotional step back just at the time I should have succumbed completely to the story.

But, really, it’s not much of a complaint. Rakoff is engaging and intelligent enough that even I could set aside my personal opinion to appreciate what she is writing. And, I love her retelling of her limited interactions with the man himself.

“Writing makes you a writer,” he’d told me. “If you get up every morning and write, then you’re a writer. Publishing doesn’t make you a writer. That’s just commerce.”

Ultimately a very satisfying memoir and one I won’t soon forget.

Read alikes
The Catcher in the Rye
Rules of Civility
Lit
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

W…W…W…Wednesday: Books read, reading and to read

Back with a new W…W…W…Wednesday. Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for inspiring so many of us to get involved in WWW Wednesdays. It’s always a great way to connect.

www_wednesdays44

I’d love to know what everyone is reading.  To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…(or post a link to your blog.)

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

 

What are you currently reading?

The Sleepwalker's Guide to DancingLoving The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. My mom read it recently and has been on a campaign to get people to read this book. Only 100 pages in but so far she’s right. Fractured family. India. Generation gap. All good stuff. I was reading To the Lighthouse, but it was not suiting my mood. I really do like Virginia Woolf, but I’m not in the right place for dense, cerebral prose right now.

 

My Salinger YearWhat did you recently finish reading?

Over the weekend I finished My Salinger Year (another tick in the non-fiction column). Rakoff just carried me away with her story of a literary agency stuck in time. Although I’m not personally a Salinger fan, I still got caught up in this year in her life because of the engaging writing and her vulnerability. (Review to post tomorrow.) I also finished my audio book, Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel which was so creepy and disturbing and violent, that I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.

FangirlWhat do you think you’ll read next?   

I have a huge stack of library books which I picked up yesterday, all of which demand to be on the top of the pile. My books include new titles from great authors, like Ian McEwan and T.C. Boyle. I also have Rowell’s Fangirl, which I hope will restore my love of Rowell. I might try to zip through that first.

Happy reading everyone!

 

*All book covers are images saved from Goodreads

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles? Please feel free to share a link to your own W…W…W…Wednesday posts or share your reading plans in the comments.

 

#100HappyDays: Days 51-60

I can’t believe how quickly the past 10 happy days have flown by. Now that I am into the second half of this challenge, I’ve found it’s become a part of my daily routine. I am truly, consciously, intentionally aware of happiness and I am very thankful.

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude, a challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, I am limiting myself to something I can photograph. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images.

51Day 51: Fall baseball, game 1 for Patrick. Playing on the big field. That’s him up to bat for the first time. I’m behind the iPhone with a lump in my throat. Where did the time go? — at Baseball Alley.

52Day 52: Admiring the sculpture outside the Berwyn Library with Connor. I was just going to take a pic of the sculpture but Connor insisted on getting it. It’s way better this way. #reading #booklove #publicart

53Day 53: out to dinner at Paisan’s Pizza. Ordered the sampler platter in honor of Aunt Therese. A bit of an inside family joke, but that’s OK.

54Day 54: Out to lunch at Lalo’s with great women and great margaritas. What could be better? Maybe the fact that one friend I’ve had for 20 years and one was brand new.

55Day 55: Pat & I celebrating the long-awaited marriage of our friends Tim & Tom. One of the most heartfelt and meaningful ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed. #love —  at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church in Chicago.

56Day 56: Final tomato harvest + good Italian bread. Simply add butter, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Thanks for breakfast Pat.

 

57Day 57:  A quiet living room and a free hour to read. What a delightful surprise. #amreading

58Day 58: The time a high school student baked cupcakes for our entire floor. Yum. I never fail to be impressed by the generosity of the students at my alma mater.
59Day 59: #tbt stolen from my mom. I want to focus on the cake (which was awesome) and the wallpaper (which still gives me nightmares) but I’m too freaked out about seeing Matty’s face so clearly in this pic.
60Day 60: I know it’s another throwback, but I forgot I had almost the whole Murguia clan in this photo from my wedding. #family

 

 

 

How about you? How do you practice gratitude?

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.

Very Glad I Read: The Stone Diaries

The Stone DiariesA true case of better late than never, I am so glad I finally read this book. It’s both epic and humble, quiet and bold, a true masterpiece in both content and style.

We meet Daisy the moment she is born in 1905 and follow her life until it ends sometime in the 1990’s. The book reads almost like an in-depth memoir, except that other perspectives (or versions of Daisy’s story) keep breaking into the narrative. Shields also chooses the third person, even when we are reading Daisy’s thoughts, which keeps just the right amount of distance between the reader and the characters.

Without being any sort of feminist track, the book is very much a woman’s story of the 20th century. For the most part Daisy takes the “traditional” path, but that doesn’t mean her life is without drama. “Orphaned” at birth, shuffled from Canada to the United States, widowed early and long-lived, Daisy faces each phase of her life searching to fill the void of her inner loneliness.

“We accept, as a cosmic joke, the separate ways of men and women, their different levels of foolishness…Men, it seemed to me in those days, were uniquely honored by their stories that erupted in their lives, whereas women were more likely to be smothered by theirs.”

Shields has such a light writing hand, I felt more like I was peeking in on Daisy’s life even though I was fully immersed in every thought and action. That’s a tricky balance and Shields handles it beautifully.

“In the middle of writing a check she forgets the month, then the year. She’s gaga, a loon, she’s sprung a leak, her brain matter is falling out like the gray fluff from mailing envelopes, it’s getting all over her furniture.”

This is my second Shields novel, and again I am reminded how sad it is that her life was cut far too short by cancer.

Read alikes:

Olive Kitteridge

Unless

Cover image uploaded from Goodreads

August Reading Wrap Up

August started strong, but then I stumbled for a couple weeks in terms of reading. I just wasn’t motivated to dive into (or finish) anything.  Distressingly, I set two titles aside for later — not quite giving up, but waiting for a better time. In better news, I did complete by Dusting Off The Bookshelf challenge — more to come on that this week.

By the numbers: 8 books, 8 reviews on Goodreads, 3 reviews on alenaslife, 1 oldie from my shelf – #dustingoffmybookshelf, 1 from my 2014 personal challenge (non-fiction), 2 audio, 2 set-aside

August 2014 books

From most to least favorite: (Overall, I really ended up liking everything I read this month)
Shotgun Lovesongs, Nikolas Butler, already reviewed

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan, already reviewed

The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews #DustingofftheBookshelf

So wonderful and quirky and unexpected. Black comedy at its best. I am ashamed that I have not gotten around to writing the review this book deserves.

“It’s impossible to move through the stages of grief when a person is both dead and alive, the way Min is. It’s like she’s living permanently in an airport terminal, moving from one departure lounge to another but never getting on a plane. Sometimes I tell myself that I’d do anything for Min. That I’d do whatever was necessary for her to be happy. Except that I’m not entirely sure what that would be.”

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel, Alan Bradley (audio book)

I am very sad to have completed this book, as it is the last in Bradley’s 6-book Flavia de Luce series. I have truly adored each and every installment in the series and The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is no exception. This is the only one, however, that I don’t think would stand alone without reading the preceeding novels. This finale ties together many outstanding questions left from the 5 murders Flavia has “solved” in her 11th year. I listed the audio versions of all these books except the first. Jayne Entwistle does a magnificent job bringing these books to life.

“Why is it that the facts closest to our noses are the ones that are hardest to see?”

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, Allie Brosch 

Not my typical read at all — a collection of comedic illustrated essays — but I had heard really great reviews from readers I trust. And I’m glad I snapped my mini-reading funk with this book. I read this in one sitting with no problem. Fast-paced, acerbic humor (as in I was laughing out loud at the pool) balanced with heartbreaking honesty. I recognized myself several times throughout. It’s really good read.

“But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.”

Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson, already reviewed

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Despite my “advanced age,” I love that the YA fiction genre really coming into its own, filled with great characters, sharp writing and high emotion. We Were Liars has all of these qualities, plus some additional twists and turns. It just didn’t quite reach the level of an overall great read for me. Wounded and vulnerable and misunderstood teenagers make for great books. I just never quite fell in love with this set the way I think I was supposed to. The other problem here is that I predicted the central plot twist very early on in this novel.

“Silence is a protective coating over pain.”

Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen (audio book)

Perfectly pleasant, very readable, likable characters, good story, interesting setting. Nothing earth shattering here but I can never go wrong reading Anna Quindlen.

“Then when she really thought about it she realized she’d been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed, or had put it down to moods, or marriage, or motherhood. The problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product.”

What I set aside this month…

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: Good book, bad narrator. Set aside the audio 25% in. Must get print version.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley. Lost momentum 2/3 the way through. Will finish this month (?)

 

My August Photo Collage is comprised of book covers uploaded from Goodreads.

Dusting off the Bookshelf – September edition

I did it! I followed through with my August challenge and read one of the many titles lingering on my To-Read shelf.

Loved, loved, loved The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews! So now I’m ready to tackle another title for September. Each month I will choose a few from the middle or bottom of the list (meaning they’ve been sitting and waiting patiently for over a year), determined to read at least one per month. If I can read even more than one, all the better. Any advice or guidance you can offer would be much appreciated.

My September is actually off to a good oldie start, as I’m deep in The Stone Diaries, which I’ve wanted to read ever since discovering Carol Shields through Unless.

Many thanks to Chels & a BookIt’s All About Books and  Books & Cleverness for their never-ending inspiration.

For September 2014, my choices are:

How the Garcia GirlsHow the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. Added to my shelf June, 2011 (published in 1991). Alvarez is one of those authors I know I should have read but haven’t. Not sure why…it’s just never come to pass. I’m also not sure if I should start with this one or with In the Time of the Butterflies (also on my bookshelf).

Goodreads describes it: Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters – Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia – arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind. What they have lost – and what they find – is revealed in the fifteen interconnected stories that make up this exquisite novel from one of the premier novelists of our time.

The God of Small ThingsThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Added to my shelf August, 2011 (published in 1997). Everyone, and I mean everyone, assumes I have already read this modern classic, but I have not. I need to.

Goodreads describes it: The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko’s English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river….

The Art of FieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Added to my shelf in September, 2011 (published in 2011). I love baseball. I love good writing. This seems like a natural.

Goodreads describes it: At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended…Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment—to oneself and to others.

Any advice about what I should choose for September?

 

*All cover images uploaded from Goodreads

#100HappyDays: Days 41-50

Feeling proud and slightly amazed that I’m still going strong in my personal challenge to capture a moment of happiness each day! It’s definitely getting harder with our school/work/sports schedules but I am determined.

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude, a challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, I am limiting myself to something I can photograph. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images. I read that many people who started this project gave up somewhere in the 20s, so I’m feeling pretty happy that I’m still going strong.

41Day 41: Lunch date with Matthew.  We walked to the burrito stand around the corner and then decided to stay and eat there. I am a lucky mom.

42Day 42: Brothers at rest. Must be a break in the soccer/baseball/basketball game. This is my view from my kitchen window right now.

43Day 43: Because on a crazy, chaotic day I can still count on finding random selfies in my photo stream. What a goofball.

 

44Day 44: Very happy to join my Nazareth Academy colleagues in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. My ice bucket is, of course, dedicated to my father. Video on Facebook.

45Day 45: These two closed the pool last night! They’re finishing summer off in style.

46Day 46: Former co-workers, forever friends. Happy to spend time with my favorite Johnstons, Andy and Graham at their annual garden party. #wjinc 

47Day 47: It’s been a long, hard week, but I get to go home to these gorgeous men.

48Day 48: #Selfie happiness while hanging out @ Oakbrook Mall with my guys on a rainy day. So lucky they’ll still take part in my pics.

49Day 49: Ending the summer the same way we started. Swimming at Berwyn Rec followed by Tastee-Freez swirl cones with my boys.

50Day 50: it came too fast, but reality has officially set in. First day of school – 8th, 7th & 4th.

 

 

 

How about you? How do you practice gratitude?

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.