Quoting the Quill: Why Read?

 

I’m back with my weekly round-up of great quotes. I’ve changed the name, inspired by the art and the brilliance of Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic which I found this week. She’s invited people to participate so here I am, jumping on board in my own way.

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From Haruki Murakami

“Have books ‘happened’ to you? Unless your answer to that question is ‘yes’, I’m unsure how to talk to you.”

This is the first Quoting of the Quill I stumbled upon and what drew my attention. These words could form my life motto! It’s not as if I think everyone needs to read as voraciously as I do, but when I meet someone who doesn’t “get reading,” I know we can be friendly but never really friends. Sad but true.

From Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.

A follow-up to the first quote from one of my favorite writers, this is today’s Goodreads Quote of the Day. I’ve walked in so many other worlds and so many periods of history thanks to books. I can’t imagine living any other way. (If you haven’t yet read The Namesake, I highly recommend.)

From Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.”

I adore this distinction between print and audio books (as I adored the entire book). I’m relatively late to the audio game and confine my listening to my daily commute. I still prefer the printed word because I like to do some of the creative work, but the image of the “fuzzy knit cap” is one I can’t shake. That’s exactly what it’s like to listen to a really good audio book.

From Penelope Lively, Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir

“Reading fiction, I see through the prism if another person’s understanding; reading everything else, I am traveling…The one entirely benign mind-altering drug.”

Do you sense a theme in this week’s quotes. Yes, I love reading writers who love books as much as I do. Lively is an author I can always count on for great writing, so it’s no surprise that her memoir relishes her life in objects that include lots and lots of books. I want to be her friend.

From Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

And a departure from the reading theme, but I couldn’t help including this great paragraph from the brilliant Joan Didion. When I first read this collection of essays a couple of years ago, it blew me away for its precise, straight-to-the-heart observations on living. So much of what she writes about in terms of politics, sexuality and self-knowledge is timeless.

Looking for more great quotes?  Check out: More Quoting the Quill at Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic or Thursday Quotables at Bookshelf Fantasies.

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention this week.

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June Reading Wrap Up

The month of June offered a pretty terrific mix of books to read, both in new releases and me finally settling down with some “meant to reads.” I spent time with two of my favorite authors, Jonathan Tropper and Dan Chaon, plus cemented my love for Ruth Ozeki. I found three new authors and started the beautiful Americanah, which I’ll undoubtedly review in July.

June 2014 Reads

Here’s my June reading list, best to worst.

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki — already reviewed

We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride – already reviewed

Among the Missing by Dan Chaon

I love best Chaon’s ability to tap into our innermost insecurities for examination. From the insecure widow looking for comfort from an inflatable torso in “Safety Man,” to a survivor wracked with unspeakable guilt in the title story. He doesn’t cross the line into magical realism but his stories retain an other-worldliness that appeals to me. It’s the stuff of deepest fears and imaginings, our dreams and nightmares, and even our everyday weaknesses. All of these stories somehow hinge on a seemingly random twist of fate.

“It’s not like it ruined my life, I was going to say, but then I didn’t. Because it occurred to me that maybe it had ruined my life, in a kind of quiet way–a little lie, probably not so vital, insidiously separating me from everyone I loved. ”

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez — already reviewed

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement – already reviewed

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper (audio)

Not his best work, but any Tropper is good reading. The story felt familiar — Zach is a 30-something Jewish guy with serious father issues who faces a life-altering crisis. Drama, humor and fist-fights follow. It’s the standard Tropper mix but I’m OK with that. Sometimes I want something familiar and not too challenging. I like that Tropper’s protagonists, for all their self-pity, are smart, acerbic and disarmingly self-aware. (Scott Brick is a great narrator for Tropper’s work.)

“Somewhere there’s a therapist alone in his office staring wistfully at the door, just waiting for a patient like you.”

China Dolls by Lisa See — already reviewed

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

It’s a great premise — a family trapped in the car together as they drive from Alabama toward California to witness the Rapture, which is scheduled for Saturday. The narrator is a 15 year-old girl, insecure in comparison to her bombshell sister and in search of life’s meaning before it all ends. Religious fervor. Coming of age. Sexual awakening. Family drama. These are all components I love, but it never quite came together.

“Why didn’t I feel things the way others felt them? It wasn’t that I didn’t care about people. It was more like I couldn’t really believe they were real.”

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James – already reviewed

Bark by Lorrie Moore

I really did not like this story collection despite the quality of the writing, which is often brilliant. Once again, I have finished reading Lorrie Moore and wondered why her work does not appeal to me at all. Instead of feeling engaged and satisfied and moved, I feel like I’ve just gotten off a roller coaster. I went for a crazy ride, zig-zagged and looped, but in the end I got nowhere and have a slight headache. I know Moore has passionate fans, some of whom are my good friends, but I saw none of the humor or tenderness or truth they find in her work.

“Rage had its medicinal purposes, but she was not wired to sustain it, and when it tumbled away, loneliness engulfed her, grief burning at the center in a cold blue heat.”

Also read in May

I didn’t come close to posting reviews of everything I read in May. I’m still trying to get back into the blogging groove and, perhaps, not all of them warranted an individual post.

So, what was I reading? From best to worst…

Individual posts went to What is the What and All the Light We Cannot See, my two 5-star reads for May.

The PossibilitiesThe Possibilities

by Kaui Hart Hemmings                                4 stars

I loved this novel of grief, life and possibility. Admittedly it was a little slow to get started, but what a rare treat to read a book that just keeps getting better and better. Sarah St. John is lost in a world of grief 3 months after her son Cully dies in an avalanche. She craves “knowing” but has more questions than answers. Her dad, Cully’s father and her in-the-midst-of-divorce best friend alternately comfort and irritate. Into all if this comes Kit with some answers that lead to more questions.

“You can’t compare and rank heartache. Pain is pain is pain. There is no precise measurement. No quarter cup.”

The Snow QueenThe Snow Queen

by Michael Cunningham           3.5 stars

From the start, this novel reminded me of La Boheme (or Rent for less operatic readers). We have illness, addiction, sex, money problems and even “visions” all in a crumbling apartment. The quality of writing alone rescues this novel from sappy to breathtaking. Cunningham so completely embodies his characters and captures their thoughts, fears and dreams, that even when I didn’t particularly like them, I was still interested.

“People are more than you think they are. And they’re less, as well. The trick lies in negotiating your way between the two.”

The Temporary GentlemanThe Temporary Gentleman

by Sebastian Barry   3.5 stars

I love the book’s Irish-ness. I love the lyrical, reflective moments. I like learning about early and mid-century Ireland as well as Accra…Barry really writes the stranger in a strange land well. I can’t even fault his protagonists, two young hopefuls busted and broken by booze and war. It’s all the makings of a great read, but it never quite clicked into gear for me.

“Just now and then, in my effort to form some sort of narrative, to touch accidentally on something rawer than a mere wound…I have evoked the gods of truth, and they will have their way with me.”

Frog MusicFrog Music (Audio)

by Emma Donoghue                        3 stars

I wanted to like this novel much more than I did. I’m a big fan of Donoghue and appreciate the thoughtful detail she puts in to her historic fiction — in this case 19th century San Francisco at the peak of a heat wave and small pox epidemic. It’s the details, I think, that bog the novel down. I’m normally a sucker for atmosphere, but in this case, all of the information seemed to make the book drag on for too long.

“better keep your mouth shut and seem stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”

The Red HouseThe Red House

by Mark Haddon               1 star

The premise – two estranged families on holiday together – holds so much potential. The author’s track record – The Incident of the Curious Dog in the Nighttime – predicts great writing. The ambition – stream of consciousness from alternating perspectives – indicates something interesting. All of the components should have combined into a great novel. Instead, I spent 3 days with a muddled, confused, overly-ambitious mess of a book.

“Family, that slippery word, a star to every wandering bark, and everyone sailing under a different sky.”

January books — 2013 off to a strong start

Not only is my 2013 off to a very quick start (I’ll never be able to keep up the 10 book/month pace), it’s off to a good one. Of the 10 books I completed in January, most were well above average. A couple surprised me. A couple disappointed me. And all made me glad I love to read.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

4 stars

fun homeA very quick, if mildly disturbing, read. This is my first experience with a graphic-book and I found the illustrations sometimes really added to the limited text,but in some cases stole from the sharp, crisp writing. Bechdel does not shy away from the discomfort inherent in not only her own coming out story, but the complicated back-story of her father’s closeted homosexuality. The complex father-daughter relationship was fascinating to me and I would have liked that to be fleshed out even more (in terms of text). Overall, I was impressed by this memoir.

He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not.”

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

4 stars

Previously reviewed

The air would smell like taffy and drying seaweed, and they would wear white, and there would be still more happiness. So much happiness. It was almost as exhausting as this relentless February.”

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

3.5 stars

Previously reviewed

Is it possible to have nostalgia for a time in which you never lived? I’m sure there is a word for this phenomenon in German — beautiful, absurd, and twenty letters long.”

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

3 stars

the chaperoneI really liked so much of this book (including Elizabeth McGovern’s excellent narration), but it just went on so long. I felt like it had several false endings, places where I was finished but then it kept going. Maybe the problem is just that I didn’t expect an epic when I began. The story covers almost 50 years of Cora’s life in a great deal of detail. And while I find the 20th century interesting background, I was frustrated at Moriarty’s need to touch on so many different “issues” — Prohibition, adoption, gay rights, reproductive rights, suffrage. Add to that, Cora happens to witness or read about dozens of historical events. I began to feel manipulated after a while. What a I loved was the relationship between Cora and Louise Brooks. I would have been much more satisfied had she ended the book after their summer together.

The young can cut you with their unrounded edges…but they can also push you right up to the window of the future and push you through.”

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

3.5 stars

Deceptively simple story about a Bengali woman, Amina, who meets her American husband on-line, moves to Rochester and struggles to bring her parents to America. Immigrations, marriage, family, desire, truth are the themes all tangled under the surface story.  I liked Amina a lot and thought the author brought up many interesting questions, but the other characters didn’t seem as truthful to me. I couldn’t understand their motivations or transitions,which is what prevents a higher rating. I would read more of this writer.

You thought you were a permanent part of your own experience, the net that held it all together — until you discovered that there were many selves, dissolving into one another so quickly over time that the buildings and trees and even the pavement turned out to have more substance than you did.”

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

4 stars

Reviewed previously

You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audio)

4 stars

Another great installment of Harry Potter. I can see that the tone of these novels has really darkened considerably. There were moments when my youngest was truly afraid. It’s quite an accomplishment that, even knowing that Harry will survive, I feel the danger and fear he faces. The suspense and environment are so rich, that “spoilers” don’t even interfere with the drama. Can’t wait to start the next one.

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

2.5 stars

I really, really wanted to like this book but I couldn’t. In fact, I cared so little about it when it was over that I didn’t write any sort of review or notes and now I can only remember a disabled teenager, a grieving loser-ish thirty-something and a trip in a van where they pick up all sorts of oddballs. It sounds like a premise I’d love (kind of Little Miss Sunshine), but it never came together.

I know I’ve lost my mind. But I’m not concerned, because it’s the first thing I’ve lost in a long time that actually feels good.”

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories byLudmila Petrushevskaya, Anna Summers (translation)

Dozens of short stories, most about people whose lives are not going to work out no matter what they do or hope for. I’m sure they are a reflection of the author’s Soviet reality, but, not only were they depressing, I never found any one or any moment to hold on to. Reading this was like skipping stones over a very flat, dark, lake. Ultimately unfulfilling. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin Books in exchange for my honest review.

A Red Herring Without Mustard (A Flavia de Luce Mystery #3) by Alan Bradley

4 stars

A Red Herring without MustardWhile other books were failing me, Flavia was there to bring a smile to my face. As usual, this precocious 11 year-old amateur chemist/detective found herself embroiled in murder and mayhem. While there is a certain formula to all these books, Bradley wisely goes deeper into each character with the succession of novels. We learn more about Flavia each time and get to know more about her long-lost mother Harriet, who posthumously plays a huge role in the emotional undercurrent of this book. The “Buckshaw Chronicles” are a smart, entertaining, emotionally fulfilling series of mysteries. I’m so grateful their interesting titles drew my eye a couple of years ago.

Whenever I’m with other people, part of me shrinks a little.  Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company.”