Friday, December 29, 2023

Reading Year at a Glance 2023

2023 on Goodreads2023 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fruitful reading year of 72 titles, 17,475 pages, and ratings averaged 3.8. Most of my collection was from the U.S. but 26 titles were translations and 9 were poetry collections. Apparently, twenty of my authors were men. Authors new to me numbered 25 and included Sophie Divry, Elissa Bassist, and Tan Twan Eng. Old favorites continued to be favored, i.e. Ian McEwan's Lessons, Diane JohnsonThe true history of the first Mrs. Meredith and other lesser lives and Muriel Spark The Abbess of Crewe. My non-fiction selections were 18, anchored by Nabokov's memoir (Speak, Memory).
Books published in 2023 came to 25. The oldest was Nabokov's. The stories that excited me the most were The English Understand Wool and The Wren, the Wren(Irish)and Foster(Irish), although I was quite taken with Australian author Helen Armstrong (The Children's Bach). I thought The true history of the first Mrs. Meredith and other lesser lives was a delight and an ingenious history and Mary Ruefle'sThe Book pleased me with its discussions of friendships, of plums. Authors new to me were Sophie Divry, Elissa Bassist, Tan Twan Eng and Marie NDiaye.
Just read Val's valiant effort to reduce her number of TBRs to 195. My 1164 TBR's are really books I want to read so the longer the list, the more curious and interested in variety I appear, no? Such a didact! My shame would be the number of books on my shelves which I have yet to read, and still I buy more. These two categories conflate in my records. I read Susan Hill's Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home and aspired to do as she did, stop buying books and curtail library usage, until the landings were cleared. In fact, one of my categories toward this end is "Howard's End is On the Landing" (HEIOTL). I also chuckle familiarly over Nick Hornby's The Believer columns where he reviews books bought and books read and sometimes there is no overlap. I understand. I now must catalog the HEIOTLs with new vigor and make next year's 70-book goal to read my own books.

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Saturday, December 16, 2023

The Lunatic

The Lunatic: PoemsThe Lunatic: Poems by Charles Simic
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some of these short poems delight me with the poet's everyday metaphors and his sardonic wit: "Looking for a Soul Mate," a sort of dating app description "Recovering puff pastry and almond cookie addict,,,Now seeks a comfortable brownstone free of cats/..And where he'll be free to mingle with bankers and lawyers/And sit in their wives' laps like a much-pampered pet." Or "Meet Eddie" "Whose life is as merry as a beer can/Hurling down a mountain stream...Are you ready to meet your Maker?"
Others didn't work as well for me: "Dark Night," his soulful verse about God and Satan, each playing Solitaire or "Passing Through," but I like his dogs, his cats, his fish, his fleas and birds and poems of winter. My favorite was this one (perhaps emblematic-of-the book?) with lines "About life being both cruel and beautiful" and "the sight of a dog free from his chain."

"So Early in the Morning"
It pains me to see an old woman fret over
A few small coins outside a grocery store -
How swiftly I forget her as my own grief
Finds me again - a friend at death's door
And the memory of the night we spent together.

I had so much love in my heart afterward,
I could have run into the street naked
Confident anyone I met would understand
My madness and my need to tell them
About life being both cruel and beautiful,

But I did not - despite the overwhelming evidence:
A crow bent over a dead squirrel in the road,
The lilac bushes flowering in some yard,
And the sight of a dog free from his chain
Searching through a neighbor's trash can.

If you want to read the best review of this book, see s.penkevich on Goodreads

Thursday, December 14, 2023


LessonsLessons by Ian McEwan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ian McEwan's Lessons is an old-fashioned, compassionate, multi-generational tale of a literary figure, this time a mother who leaves her baby son and her husband to become a novelist, and the father who stays home and raises the child. I couldn't put it down.

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The Wren, The Wren

The Wren, the WrenThe Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was impressed with Anne Enright's The Wren, the Wren about three generations in a Dublin family and their interactions interspersed by samples from the poet father. While there are some difficult moments in this story, and I don't recommend it to my sister who prefers happy tales, the writing is sheer joy.

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Tom Lake

Tom LakeTom Lake by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tom Lake was a braided story (then and now) of a mother relating her glamorous past life as an actor to her clamoring daughters. Having a story run in two parts can be frustrating to the eager reader. It is like looking for the sexy parts or the who done it section. In this story, you're curious as to what happened to him, to them, and how she ended up with a cherry farmer. The characters are all beautiful, compatible and sympathetic; the dogs are sweet; the cherries are relentless in their need for harvest. The story has good forward motion riffing off the play, Our Town. But I wanted a bit more of an edge. I wanted to have at least one character who does not defies the odds and I guess that was "the golden boy, Duke." But there is a lot of happy family story before Duke's failings become evident, and I would have liked more reflection from the once-smitten mother to hold my interest. It's still Ann Patchett and that's worth a lot, but not my favorite of her titles. Take me back to Bel Canto.

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The Children's Bach

The Children's BachThe Children's Bach by Helen Garner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My new favorite author is Helen Garner. The Children's Bach is an antipodean (a chance to use that word!) domestic novel of parents and children, friends and lovers, siblings and spouses, beautifully written, loosely structured, not long but an honest examination of the social freedoms of the eighties with musical references. Effort is required to keep track of the eight major characters. It's a good companion read to The Spare Room which covers friendship and concerns about mortality at a later stage in life.

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Monday, December 11, 2023

Abbess of Crewe

Abbess of Crewe (Panther Books)Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Sisters, be sober. Sisters, be vigilant" A slim, comic satire harkening back to Watergate isThe Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark in which a renegade nun named Felicity dallies with a Jesuit in the garden of the Abbey, is excommunicated and seeks revenge by exposing her order to sabotage, blackmail and undo publicity. Delightfully wry, the Abbess remarks: "Sisters, let me tell you a secret. I would rather sink fleshless to my death into the dry soil of some African or Indian plain, than go, as I hear Felicity (the randy nun) is now doing, to a psychiatrist for an anxiety-cure." Given to quoting poetry, the Abbess is a success on television but one worries when she is called to Rome with the offending tapes recorded in the Abbey.
Perfect holiday fare.

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Friday, December 8, 2023

The House of Doors

The House of DoorsThe House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The House of Doors touched all my buttons in a good way: beautiful writing, literary references which had me looking up bios and movies and stories of W. Somerset Maugham who is fictionalized in this novel. There was romance, murder, and an exotic locale. Tan Twan Eng keeps us moving along at a fine pace using the alternate chapter structure of Maugham, then Lesley, the storyteller. Does anyone read Maugham now? Other than his colonial racism, he's a master of description, place and people. I read The Letter and Other Stories and want to see the Bette Davis movie.

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